If I thought I was getting an extra half hour shut eye, I had another thing coming as Linda turned on all of the hotel room lights and gave me the hurry up with her infamous hair drying routine! By now experts in suitcase packing and testing the weight of our suitcases without a scale, we were all packed in, travel docs in my moon bag, Linda’s next to the kitchen sink in her handbag and the lift whisked us down to the already humming lobby. Ria coordinated our final bus trip to Vancouver Airport, where she made a speech, thanking us for lifting her spirits and we in turn thanked her for her professional guidance, adding that we were disappointed that on the seven day journey we hadn’t seen one Bear. (Ria had her own views on that subject!)
1 A Bear spotted in Capilano, the Bear we never saw! Long time friend Alan Swan, himself a Canuck, reckons he and his mates scared all the Bears away when, as kids, they often camped out there and you guessed it, made so much noise the Bears shied away! (See his comment in Canada 2017 Calgary – Vancouver: The Finale)
US Homeland Security have annexed a big chunk of Vancouver Airport and once the group of forty had been relieved of those heavy suitcases, had been screened, smelly shoes X-rayed and belts with steel buckles rethreaded we joined the anaconda lines dedicated to travellers to the USA. I joined the faster moving ESTA visa queue as my new passport had been vetted by a homeland security official way back when, in Atlanta and Linda the slower moving polecat visa queue. The group of forty colluded with Linda to ease her down the line quicker that she might beat me through the turnstiles, but it was not to be! I did, gallantly, await her arrival for many minutes after which we joined another anaconda line for coffee at Tim Horton’s.
2 The row of ESTA robots awaiting the onslaught of travellers heading to the States.
The flight to Minneapolis contained two memorable moments! Number one was the cost of the two glasses of wine dished up by Delta’s Golden Girls and Boys! Number two you may have already guessed, but just in case you are still wondering: Our sound technicians had been busy in-flight and as we taxied to our landing gate at Minneapolis, the head Golden Girl came on the Tannoy welcoming all passengers, adding the usual rules and then welcomed the MTT group to the sound of GoldFish and Deep of The Night! We disembarked with our shoulders pumping through the first Class section!
Just in case this awesome tune has slipped away:
There is no peace for the wicked, as the expression goes, and as soon as we were reassembled into a group in arrivals, the old fogies of the group were marshalled to a smaller courtesy bus and whisked off to the Centre of Excellence at Starkey Headquarters in Eden Prairie. It should be noted here that of the seven, four of us chaps were fogies, the ladies, gorgeous, mature audiologists! Here we were screened, our ear canals emptied of earwax by Greg Stark who must have the patience of an Angel as he, ear canal after ear canal, inspects and with a massive video display to help him, removes the offending and in my case embarrassing amount of accumulation! Although a no-no to all Audiologists and Acousticians, I’m going back to the cotton buds! They work for me!
3 Aptly named The Starkey Centre of Excellence, 6700 Washington Ave, Eden Prairie, Minneapolis. The hub of where it all happens!
Bill Austin had the previous day received an accolade at the United Nations for the work the Starkey Foundation is doing for the World’s under privileged and due to fly out to China on another mission, had postponed that trip so he could entertain the group of forty at his House on the lake that Friday. Bill was working tirelessly in the Centre and the seven old fogies were honoured as the Man fine honed the ear moulds that had been quickly manufactured from the impressions taken earlier. The iPhone users all received top of the range binaural Halo hearing aids that communicate directly with your iPhone and even allows the settings of the Halos to be changed via an app on your phone.
4 Bill Austin at the grindstone, personally fine honing our ear moulds. This really is a great picture of The Man at work!
Being a special needs case with one completely deaf ear, and using a bi-cross system where the deaf ear hearing aid sends sound to the good ear, my hearing needs were met with a pair of Muse IQ hearing aids in Bi-Cross format, which linked via wireless directly to my Starkey Surflink device which, in turn, linked via Bluetooth to my Android cellphone.
5 The RH hearing aid sends sound to the LH ‘aid and when a cellphone call comes in, the call is answered by simply tapping the Surflink Mobile and the call is streamed, in my case, via the LH ‘aid or “good” ear. How cool is that!
Once the fine tuning was done and the group of fogies had been counselled, we hitched a lift to the Auditorium where the balance of the forty were attending lectures. We eased our way in amongst the trainees in very much the same way one does, when late for Church and the sermon is being delivered by the parish priest and a discreet, rather than grand entrance is called for! I tested the Muse IQs by completely blocking my good ear and managed to hear all of what was being said by the speaker and latterly Bill Austin when he took the pulpit! Now if I could just lose the attention deficit disorder and focus more!
6 Starkey’s Auditorium with the group of forty and a certain ADD individual listening intently!
As mentioned earlier about peace and wicked people, our bus, laden with our baggage, then picked us up and took us directly through to Bill and Tani Austin’s lakeside mansion in Eden Prairie, where the party started. Pink couldn’t have written the script any better. Amidst delicious entrees and scrumptious mains, and a certain amount of braggart on both sides, Bill Austin challenged the group of trainees turned party animals to drink his Bar dry! It didn’t take long for inhibitions to fall and Garth Brook’s guitar was whisked from its display stand and Rob Schlimper, our minstrel from the Rio and Galapagos adventure, entertained us with guitar work and voice.
7 Admidst walls bedecked with memorabilia, Rob Schlimper hammering out tunes on Garth Brook’s guitar, as Yvonne listens on!
Rob came up with classics that had us fogies listening intently and the youngsters realising that was where it all started. Then our sound engineers tapped into Bill’s sound system and soon enough it was GoldFish and Deep of The Night and a display of our yoga routine, after which the dance floor opened up and the groupees, trainees and crazies partied until a call went out for a group picture in the mansion entrance hall. Bill and Tani had places to go and their bags packed, ready for an early start next morn, we thanked them for the evening and they in turn thanked us for not trashing the mansion, Bill had won the dry Bar challenge! We parted company after a long and never a dull moment day!
8 A classic staircase portrait with Bill and the group of almost forty, the crazies were partying still! Note the two shocks of hair that stick out in the crowd!
A bus filled with somewhat tired but jolly revellers arrived late at night at the Radisson Blu and as Lisa, our Medifix go to girl, jumped off the party bus to organise our accommodation, the footpath jumped out at her, giving her a nasty fall and subsequent sprained ankle! The rest of us blissfully unaware patiently waited as tough as nails Lisa picked herself up and carried on regardless, getting us all booked in and heading skywards to our sumptuous beds, but not before Linda’s salmon pink cabin case was hijacked!
Exiting the lift from the foyer to the mezzanine floor I spotted the above mentioned pink article disappearing into the lift vestibule, but being wheeled along by Lerato’s lesser half, Mohapi! I called out in loud voice and Linda, hearing my concerned hail, looked down at the case she was wheeling along and sure enough it certainly wasn’t her pink number, but as you guessed, Mohapi’s standard case!
9 Linda’s pink cabin suitcase was hijacked! Mohapi, oblivious of the hijack, swapped with Linda in the lift vestibule!
Once booked in, a call went out that we were to disregard our sumptuous beds and become part of the clan that can that evening! Notwithstanding the long and winding road that day had been and the late hour, a mini group of bovver boys and girls hit the streets around the Mall of America looking for action, drawn by the name Chevys, we came up with a blank there eventually finding a still humming TGI Fridays open for business. The groupees, trainees and crazies had lectures that Saturday morning and were out on the town at 01:00am! Yeeehaah!
Once we had devoured our breakiefas on Saturday morning, and bade our companions for the last week or so, totsiens, a Mall of America boys group of five consisting of Asherif, Derik, Eric, Mohapi and yours truly descended on the MOA, which is directly linked to the Radisson Blu via the mezzanine level corridor. We visited all of those shops us fellas always seek out, coming away with Levis, belts and boots and I’m sure one of us disappeared for a few minutes into Victoria’s Secret! The Sears store in the Mall, although promised unending stocks of tools and gadgets, was low on stock of most stuff, the modern world of online shopping having caught up with famous group. (No problem to one guest at the Radisson Blu though! We followed him from Sears, wheeling a brand new lawn mower, into the lift in the hotel, obviously buying better equipment for his wife to mow the lawn on Saturdays, while he repairs divots on the golf course!)
10 Way to go Mummy!
The amusement arcade in the centre of the Mall has amazing rides, the Avatar Airbender carefully designed to fit under the roof and provide maximum effect as the thrill seeker speeds from certain doom to safety within milleseconds, and the Rock Bottom Plunge roller coaster surely, speaks for itself!
11 With not much room left between you and the roof, the Avatar Airbender “saves” you just in the nick of time!
12 Victoria’s Secrets. Not exactly a Colgate advert!
Out of the blue a newsy message rocked up from my sister Judy, who abides in Paraparaumu, New Zealand, (just north of Wellington), who had heard through the grapevine that we were in Minneapolis, and for our information she wrote: “The area of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St Pauls was first settled by Norwegians and the Lutheran influence and Norwegian customs are today plain to see!” With those words it dawned on me what all the fuss was about over the purple Vikings shirts we had seen on display in many of the sporting goods shops, in the Mall of America. Another snippet for the memory banks! Author’s note: My Dad, from Bergen, Norway also had us used to Norwegian customs, flags, trolls and his woodworking expertise as we grew up in Windy Wellington, New Zealand.
13 Apart from wearing purple Vikings shirts, Minnesotans also celebrate Norwegian Constitution Day with a Lutefisk dish! It is said that Norwegians emigrated to America to escape Lutefisk, but sadly the traditional, gelatinous fish dish followed them!
After morning lectures at Starkey Headquarters the bus dumped the trainees back at the Radisson Blu and adventure started up again in the MOA as we all dissipated in our own directions, eventually meeting up at Hooters, which as you may have realised was an easy find for the boys! We still had the FlyOver America ride to do that evening and Starkey had booked us dinner at Dick’s Last Resort, a unique theme restaurant where insults are the name of the game and although a few insults were traded between staff and client to get the evening on its way, it is the staff who consider the victim and write very adult insults on folded paper hats and place them on the target individual, who just has to like it or lump it! Notwithstanding the insults, it was a fun evening and a certain Kiwi individual just had to dump his shirt and do a Haka, adding some Afrikaans content just for fun!
Next day, Sunday, many of the group of forty used for their MOA shopping, buying stuff for the folks back home, Captain America outfits for the kids and the ladies stocked with up with very sexy garb from you know where to entice the beau back home. The Aquarium and Rain Forest section in the basement was really amazing and worthy of the hour or so we spent there. The source of the great Mississippi River is right there at the twin cities of Minneapolis / Saint Pauls and after that Sunday had ran away with us, and in the blink of an eye it was late afternoon, the group’s whattsapp announced that we were travelling to Psycho Suzie’s on the banks of the Mississippi, to nosh, drink sundowners and celebrate a successful training trip with Trish from Starkey who was our go to girl and our favourite Starkey Miss Fix It.
14 The Fly Over America ride in the Mall of America takes the rider over all the famous spots in the USA, even feeling the water spray at Niagara Falls! For the Canucks there was also a Fly Over Canada adventure ride.
With no bus available, we chose Uber as our travel medium, most sharing Ubervans. Circumstances beyond their control caused Linda and Dan to Uberx, arriving in the restaurant, amidst the group just as the Sun disappeared over the opposite bank of the Mississippi River and a cheer went out! It was a timely arrival! The evening melted away as did the patrons around us, they had said their au revoirs to the Celestial God of daylight, Monday was a work day. For us it was sad to say goodbye but time to go home.
15 Sunset at Psycho Suzi’s. We rocked up just as that glowing orb had dipped behind the far bank of the Mighty Mississippi River!
After a somewhat cheaper, shared Uberx, back to the Radisson Blu our memories flitted around all we had seen and done. From Johannesburg via Atlanta through Minneapolis, onto Calgary with skies darkened by smoke from massive forest fires that were ongoing in Canada, and then via Banff in the Canadian Rockies past all of those picturesque lakes and glacial rivers, through Kamloops on the fringe of the prairies in British Columbia, then onward to Vancouver and Vancouver Island, finally arriving back in Minneapolis for the real crux of the trip, the training on the latest Starkey hearing aids. We had been haunted by adventure for the past eleven days! I wonder how the workshop was managing back in Johannesburg?
16 While you were gone!
They say that Audiologists and Acousticians have the most rewarding profession. We mechanics may suffer under problematic motor cars but once the gremlin is overcome, our reward is flying off on a road test feeling job satisfaction with every turn of the wheel, the late great Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers and Learning to Fly: