Chicago “Days of the Dead” with Alice Cooper!

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If there’s any event here in Chicago that signifies the transition from fall to winter it’s gotta be Days of the Dead. Last year I remember arriving on a clear evening only to leave later that same night amid piles of the season’s first snow while dodging salt trucks on the way home. Thankfully that didn’t repeat itself this year; just a simple thirty degree drop in temperature that’s held ever since. So far as the fans go, a tornado probably wouldn’t keep them away and this year promised something extra special. You could practically feel the exuberance on social media when it was announced that rock/horror legend, Alice Cooper, would headline their celebrity guest list. Not only would the singer/song-writer/actor be signing autographs for fans but they could also do a professional photo-op with him for an extra $55 which, in the expo world, is actually pretty darn cheap. It was a smart move as it guaranteed this convention not only see it’s “regulars” but a fair share of newbies as well.

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VHS Video Cover Art – Time to bring that old video store back home!

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So how many of you can remember that crazy time in American history when we didn’t have Netflix, Red Box, or Amazon instant streaming? If you can recall those Dark Ages, then let me date you even further by asking if you remember when VHS tapes were king and the only place you could get your fix of those was at a local video store? I grew up in Homewood, Illinois and was about twelve years old when the phenomena of home video first began. I can still remember the excitement of us watching my dad attach our first VHS player to the family television set. The idea of being able to watch a movie when you felt like it, or taping shows off your favorite channel so you could catch them later, seemed just too good to be true.

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“Dinosaur World” in Glen Rose Texas: Fakey but Fun!

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Less than five minutes after leaving the Dinosaur Valley State Park, I continued my prehistoric odyssey just down the road at a place called Dinosaur World. This Texas attraction is actually one of three in the United States with the other two in Florida and Louisville. Since I’ve yet to see those I can’t say whether or not they’re all set up the same way or if they offer different dinosaurs.  What I do know is that it helps make this little patch of Glen Rose a dinosaur lover’s haven. You’ve got real dinosaur tracks for the more serious minded at the State Park, life-sized dinosaurs and activities for kids and families here, and the Glen Rose Creation Museum in-between the two for fundamentalist Christians who believe dinos existed with humans before dying out with Noah’s flood. Without getting into a religious/scientific debate, let’s just say I couldn’t drive past that one fast enough to get to Dinosaur World! They’d just opened for business as I passed through their elaborate gates and I was the only one there. I couldn’t wait to walk through their front door which had a T-Rex looming above and two Parasaurolophus trash receptacles on either side. As mentioned, this event definitely caters to kids and families though, in a related story, I’m still very much a kid at heart when it comes to dinosaurs!

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A T-Rex in Texas: Dinosaur Valley State Park’s Sinclair Giants!

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Ideally, cross-country road trips are planned well in advance and performed with the company of a good friend or family member. A couple of weeks ago, however, I basically tossed conventional wisdom out the window in favor of doing a quickly-thrown-together solo vacation to Texas.  It wasn’t without purpose, mind you, I had to be in San Antonio for my son’s Air Force training graduation on Veterans Day. I’d gotten the date of this proud event just a little over a month before it happened so I suppose the sensible thing for me to have done would have to simply flown in from Chicago for the weekend. Instead I decided it would be a lot more fun spending a week on the road while scrambling to get hotels and giving some out-of-state friends last minute notice that I’d be passing their way. I basically treated it as I would any Terror Daves road trip, minus a Dave. That meant lots of zoos and goofy roadside stops along the way which, in this case, included a town full of albino squirrels and a great white shark sitting in someone’s front yard. It also meant dinosaurs.

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The Lone Sinclair Dinosaur at Brookfield Zoo

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I was a young boy when my parents first took me to Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo and it would have a profound effect on me. The sight of their infamous Asian elephant, “Ziggy,” would inspire a lifelong love of elephants while a lone statue standing at the park’s west end would solidify my fascination with dinosaurs. Back in the early ‘70s when I was growing up, just about every dinosaur depicted was either T-Rex, Triceratops, Stegosaurus, or the long-necked Brontosaurus (later changed to “Apatosaurus” before recently going full circle). The zoo’s dinosaur, however, was none of these but rather an obscure duck-billed variety called (at that time) a Trachodon. Despite what I’d seen in books and cartoons, this dino gave me something none of the others had…a sense of scale. For the first time I could look up and appreciate the true size of these amazing, prehistoric beasts. Over forty years later, I’m fortunate to still be able to see this dinosaur standing at the zoo though only recently gaining an appreciation for the treasure that it is.

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