Eichler Returns to Ireland

Eichler Returns to IrelandStep 1 .. Illinois to DC

Here's a bit of background. I really hadn't planned on going to Ireland at all this hunting season. I'd made no plans, and even as late as October I wasn't really in the mood for it. But then I spent time in Virginia hunting in the company of Rosie and Grosvenor Merle-Smith, and sort of on the hinting of Rosie I became energized. I'd been to Ireland hunting once on my own and it wasn't as fun without the Merle-Smiths. However, those worthies were down on going to Ireland as well, both because our last trip there together a year ago January was a bust, and that they were making their own expensive progress through the grass country of Leistershire to chase fox with some of the big names in English foxhunting. It took some convincing, but a trip was scheduled for the last little part of January 2000 and the first week of the month we're currently in.

A few different dates for the trip were kicked around, I guess, but an intriguing plan was put forward by Grosvenor which included not as much Irish hunting but did include a trip to New York and attendance at the Masters of Foxhounds Ball. My reluctance to visit New York was overcome by the opportunity to wade around in some swanky places and to revel therein, and I decided to give it a whack. Thus was born the trip that was to become the spiritual and karmic (is that a word?) antithesis of our last foray to Ireland. To borrow a phrase from my brother who also had a trip with similar properties, we were on the "Doom to Good Luck" tour.

Before I launch into trip descriptions, let me make an observation and offer some advice if I may, advice I thought I had taken to heart but apparently had let lapse in my portfolio of common sense. If you're making travel plans in conjunction with other people, talk to your companions to set up said plans so that they coincide. Communicate! I assumed, and Gro assumed, and we all know what happens when one assumes. This was the first instance of doom to good luck.

I assumed that Grosvenor, Rosie, and I would catch a car ride from their home to one of the Washington area airports and then fly to New York. They assumed I would drive from Illinois to Keswick, VA. What we didn't know was that our individual bases of consideration had changed. I was in no mood to drive the fourteen hours between Streamwood, IL and Keswick, VA in possibly snow filled conditions, and Grosvenor was unwilling to trust the airlines to brave those same possibly yucky elements and get us to New York on time. I refer you to our trip from last year where snow on the highway about killed me in Indiana and the same storm kept us from making a connection in New York for Ireland. Changed bases of consideration.

I booked a flight to Washington, Dulles and was counting on renting a car to get me to Keswick, which we could then use to go back to the airport the next day, obviating any need for me to drive fourteen hours anywhere. Grosvenor had booked three spots on Amtrak from Charlottesville, VA, hard by Keswick, to New York City, figuring the train was less likely to be stopped by bad weather than a plane or automobile. Do you see how we were not necessarily connecting up? No need for a rental car and thus no good way for me to get from Dulles to Keswick.

How do you fix that problem? You book a second round of air travel from Dulles to Charlottesville because your first round of tickets were made through Priceline at a lovely discount that, alas, doesn't allow for any monkeying with flights, times, or destinations. I was able to make another reservation on a different airline and the problem of getting on the train with the Merle-Smiths Thursday morning was solved. For the time being. Last year there would have been no chance for such a last minute accommodation, but we could feel our karma turning.

I had a hint of just such a turn in our collective luck Tuesday, January 25th when my sister-in-law offered her chauffeuring services over those of my brothers, allowing me to pack for my journey at a reasonable pace on the morning of the 26th and arrive at the airport within minutes of departure rather than the frantic midnight packing and long wait at the airport terminal that my early to work brother offered. I was able to get a god night's rest on the 25th (strangely enough to be the last of such lengthy sleep for a long while.)

Packing was going to be quite a challenge in and of itself. I needed two sets of hunting clothes for Ireland, including two sets of long underwear in case of cold weather like we endured last year in January. I needed some sort of regular street wear for the times between, before, and after hunting, like on the plane and hanging out in New York and Virginia, but not too much of that sort of stuff because I needed to minimize the weight. And finally, I needed a sport coat, slacks, tie, and a full flight of tuxedo gear for those times when jeans and a sweatshirt or my hunting frock coat were not enough. Additionally, I had a pair of rubber boots stashed in Ireland, but none in Virginia, so I had to haul along my Dehner Brown topped dress boots. Those went over my shoulder in beige trimmed green nylon boot bags and garnered comment wherever they went. I debated carting a saddle and was forced by circumstance to abandon that debate. In hind sight, thank goodness the saddle got left back.

I was most of the way through assembling the puzzle that was my luggage, about ten o'clock, when the phone rang. Salesmen usually call at that time of day and I was very ready to hang up at the first whiff of sales pitch. Instead, the call was from U.S. Airways calling several hours ahead of flight time to tell me my flight had been canceled. Oh Crap! My neat little house of cards travel plan was about to be trashed before its inception. Doom! But wait, the snow storm that was causing the problem was running out of steam and a second flight out later in the day was still on time and would get me to Pittsburgh with time to spare. Good Luck! The phone rang a few more times that morning, but the airline was never again on the other end of the line. Have you ever had that happen to you, though? An airline calling up to notify of a cancellation and making every attempt to accommodate. U.S. Airways did, and my estimation of that franchise jumped up exponentially.

The Interstate from Chicago's western suburbs to O'Hare Airport, or at least, the interstate that we took was relatively free and clear of traffic and confusion or delay, always a condition to be noted. I walked up to the ticketing agent, relieved myself of the burden of most of my gear, and trundled on over to the specified gate for my flight number. The flight took off on time, was a little bumpy, but landed in Pittsburgh with all essential parts still attached and functioning, and I settled in to await my flight to Dulles. I had some time between flights so I wandered around Pittsburgh's terminal and was duly impressed. I was told that the local Pittsburghians (or whatever their appellation is when referred to in the collective) go there to shop. I was skeptical at first, but upon seeing how things were with my own eyes I understood the attraction. The main terminal was laid out like a fancy shopping mall, and I was even induced to buy a new pair of shoes (L.L. Bean having changed the styling of my beloved Blucher Mocs beyond all bearing.)

I had meant to purchase the shoes on my way back through this airport mall in a weeks time, but something told me I should strike while the iron was hot, so to speak. Or, to put it another way, you may never be this way again. I was doubly induced to eventually buy as my flight to Dulles was pushed back due to weather. The dreaded "D" word. Delay! The same storm that had canceled my earlier flight from Chicago to Pittsburgh was playing merry hobb with Boston and the East now. Little worry lines were etching themselves into my countenance, and I could hear the faint echoes of the footsteps of Doom.

I made a call to Grosvenor and apprised him of my possibly precarious flight situation, vowing to keep him posted on my travel experiences, such as they were. And, sure as shootin', ten minutes after telling Gro to hang loose we were all told to go hang. The equipment we were to use to get to Dulles was late in arriving for turnaround but was at the gate. No air crew, however. We waited to see if a replacement could be scared up, none could, and then it was determined that the plane we needed to use was broke down anyway and not going anywhere even if we had ten air crews all clamoring for the privilege of conveying us. The gate crew gave us the option of a flight to anywhere we wanted to go and the thought of hopping a plane to St. Thomas had to be beaten back with surprising force of will. Scramble time.

I called Gro and explained my plight. We hatched a plan whereby I'd meet the Merle-Smiths in Washington D.C. and catch up to the train there rather than in Charlottesville. This was a bit of a delicate operation as Gro had had to fight for our three train reservations out of Charlottesville, eliciting a comment from regular Amtrak ticketing staff that they were shocked and amazed that Gro could come up with tickets in a way not open even to them. Part of the secret is found in Gro talking to someone above that lot's heads. My mission was to ascertain whether I could join the train in Washington without screwing up the entire reservation. And, I'm thankful to say, that with a bright cheery voice and polite manners I was able to make just such an arrangement. One problem solved.

Okay, I'm staying overnight in Washington D.C., but without any kind of prior hotel reservation in a place known for pricey hotel rates. Gro's half remembered hotel suggestion, the Americana, with no phone number attached, recommended in part because lots of air crews lay over there, was all I had to go on. The AT&T operator who assisted me in my phone search for the number to this mythical place was on screen 21 and about to give up when we found the right listing in Arlington, VA (how was I to know if the place was in Virginia, Maryland, or the District itself?) And they had a room for the night at half the going rate of any other place so close to the train station. Good luck and a place to stay. Second problem solved.

My flight from Dulles to Charlottesville was now useless, and costly, and I was now obliged to call Travelocity, the Internet travel firm through whom I had booked the extra flight. I spent possibly twenty minutes with a semi-frustrated woman from Travelocity in fixing that snag. I say semi-frustrated because she initially got it in to her head that I was a disgruntled customer. She must have been used to people calling up and complaining to the high heavens and was quick to take umbrage. I assured her I was not put out in the least, though I couldn't honestly tell you why. At that point things were getting screwed up and straightened out in such quick succession that I was left with a somehow pleasant yet dizzying feeling of what must have been euphoria. Go figure. In any event, we got my United flight to C-ville canceled, a new ticket out of Charlottesville issued for the return leg of my journey, and I left her with a warm and fuzzy feeling because she had indeed helped me out of a tricky, complicated situation. Third problem solved.

While these negotiations of hotel accommodation and airline travel realignment were taking place, my fellow would be Dulles travelers were done mobbing the U.S. Airways gate/ticketing agents. I waited in no line at all, was booked on to the next flight to Washington Reagan International Airport, was assured that my baggage would be rerouted and would I just check back in an hour to make sure that deed had been done, and was given a ten dollar food voucher for my trouble with no prompting. Last year at that time we had to scratch and claw for a place to sleep and a voucher for food because of airline delay. Fourth and fifth problem solved (didn't even know food was a problem until it was taken care of.)

I bought the shoes, drank some Guinness, ate some Godiva chocolate, spoke with my loved ones via the telephone, determined my bags were in the right position to accompany me, got on the plane to D.C. and had a pleasant trip to our nations capital. The kind people at the Americana picked me up not five minutes after I called them, at an arrival doorway mere steps away from both the baggage carousel dispensing my correct amount of luggage and the pay phone I used for summoning purposes. I was checked in quickly and efficiently, and though it was after Midnight, I didn't have to be to the train station until nine the next morning. I actually went to bed with a smile on my face.

I'll end here for now. As you can see, no hunting has taken place yet, and none will for a while yet. But for those of you who read of my adventures in conjunction with hunting in Ireland have to appreciate the absolute switch between last year's January trip and this. The next installment gets us to New York, with more examples of the strange dichotomy of doom and good luck that we were treated to.

Step 2 .. New York and the Ball (and the journey thereto)

I spent a restful, if brief, night in the Americana Hotel in Arlington, VA, just across the river from Washington D.C. General Lee and his wife, whose former property I was probably sleeping on that night, would never have recognized the place. But, I recommend that particular hotel to all of you. I must have gotten about five hours sleep, more than if I'd made it all the way to Charlottesville and the Merle-Smith abode, less than I could have if I'd spent an extra erg of energy to break out my travel clock to check the time. The Americana provides no in-room time keeping devices.

I grabbed an unhurried shower, sped up a bit by the fact that the drain was slow and I don't fancy standing in knee deep water while sluicing off, and when finished made my way down to the complimentary donuts, bagels, and juice in the lobby. I snarfed a cruller and a cup of O.J., asked for a cab with my hands full if not my mouth, and was directed to a red curtsey phone hanging on the wall by the lone elevator. Juggling my meager breakfast and huntcap (said cap kept in hand in a nylon hat bag because there is no real good place to pack such an awkward item!) I found that singular phone and felt like the president of the United States calling the Kremlin on a dedicated hot line. The phone was even red.

I stood for a few minutes on hold and was told I'd have a wait of twenty to thirty minutes before the cab arrived. I'd made the call at eight in the morning, and the train was due in at Union Station in Washington around 9:30 a.m. Oooh that was cutting it close, but what ya gonna do. I'd wandered back to the donut table and was picking at a bagel, you'd best eat when you've the opportunity 'cause you never know when you'll get the chance again, when the front desk lady announced my cab had arrived. fifteen minutes before I expected it. Actually not bad timing if you discounted the bagel literally hanging out of my mouth as I maneuvered my gear through the front door and into the interior of the cab. The picture of elegance I was not.

Now, you may wonder who cares about a cab ride to the train station, and normally this would not be newsworthy. However, D.C. had taken a hit from a snow storm, clogging up the streets with unlooked for snow from the weekend, and the city was still digging out from this natural surprise. Many folks who had no business driving, let alone driving on snow, were out in force during this morning rush, and no route to anywhere was guaranteed. In fact, my cabby, kind soul that he was laid out some options for me. We could take the most direct, and cheapest route, to the train, or we could backtrack along the way he'd just come to pick me up. The latter option cost more, but was known to be free of blockages while the route that would normally have been swiftest and least dear had the look of wreckage about it. I chose the known path that time, and it made all the difference.

As we drove along my cabbies preferred route, we glanced over at the bridge we'd decided to steer clear of, only to notice cars at odd angles on the over pass and emergency vehicles with sirens sounding and mars lights flashing on their way to the scene of a snow induced crash. We congratulated ourselves on our prowess, sharing stories of driving in the snow and how some places, like Chicago or Minneapolis (home to the cabby) could learn to deal with the white stuff, but that places like Washington D.C. were bound to have the same mistakes repeated over and over again. During our little tete a tete I took note that we were passing such notable places as the Pentagon, and various monuments to past U.S. Presidents. Union Station loomed in very good time, comparatively.

Bidding adieu to my cab driving friend, I wandered into the newly resurgent D.C. train station. Many of the same upscale shopping mall establishments I'd surprisingly encountered in the Pittsburgh airport had also opened doors in this train station. You could spend some serious time here, and I did wander a bit searching out the place I'd catch the train I could only hope Rosie and Grosvenor had boarded back in Charlottesville. We were booked on the Crescent, a cool old train route that starts in New Orleans and ends up in New York City, and having experience with train stations and their schedules (three years of commuter law school), I quickly found the time and platform and went in search of same.

I'm still not sure what whim or perhaps prompting of the Force made me duck into the Amtrak Customer Service Center, but stop in I did, and that was one o the luckiest things I did all trip. I found an extremely helpful lady, explained my situation (needing to board the train in Washington though I should have been on it from C-ville), and was shocked to find out I'd need an escort to get to trackside to meet my intended train. I hadn't planned to be escorted, and when the time came to board I'd have been lost big time. This nice lady escorted me through several security checks, just whisked me along past doors that would have stymied my if I'd not stopped to check in with her office. I had no back up plan if the train was denied me and I'm thankful it wasn't.

This lovely Amtrak person stood with me at trackside while we waited for the Crescent to arrive, warding me from any would be ticket checker/vagrant shifters. Trouble with frozen switches was causing a slight delay. We talked about the rehab of the station, the soon to arrive new high speed train to New York, and the passing of an era in the fazing out of the old dining cars and their fresh cooked meals in favor of airline style precooked fare. Eventually she felt the need to help other unfortunates such as myself and left me in the care of one of her compadres as she waved me goodbye and pleasant trip.

Eventually the train made the station, and I searched out the conductor to tell my tale to a fresh set of hopefully sympathetic ears. I was also on the lookout for one of the Merle-Smiths and found both the conductor and Grosvenor within ticks of the clock from each other. Gro waved me toward a train doorway, and the conductor was already primed with the story of my plight and waved me right on the train. No muss, no fuss, although I had to wait for what seemed like the entire car load of people to exit before I could get out of the freezing trackside out-of-doors. Seems New Orleans to Washington is a popular leg of that train's regular journey. I handed the lighter of my two grips to Gro, boarded the train, and heaved a sigh of contentment that all was now right with the world. We spent the next five hours in conversation and contemplation.

After passing through sections of our country I'd never passed through before, we finally raised New York City in our sights and pulled up to final destination trackside right on time. Trusty old trains. Of course, riding the train had brought out train stories, of which the Merle-Smiths had a surprising abundance. You must ask them of their connection to rolling stock some time.

We grabbed our gear, some of which was checked through and ostensibly awaiting retrieval in some nebulous baggage area of what we came to find out was Penn Station in New York. Grosvenor was on about going to the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station and having cocktails and oysters with a friend, an event Rosie and I were all ready to get behind because any kind of comestibles would have gone down a treat at that point (food service on the train was sketchy.) We two were both eyeing up a Krispy Kreme donut shop while waiting for the checked baggage to arrive, a notion squelched by Gro and his Krispy Kreme prejudice, but we were hungry!

Okay, the checked bag arrived, kind of a big one for the usually light packing Rosie and Grosvenor, and we determined to look for the Oyster Bar. Of course, we were looking for the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station. Determined not to give up the chase, but equally disoriented, Gro lead us into the upper atmosphere of the street level, still looking for a cool old grand building like he remembered from times past. We emerged to the tinted glass and steel structure of Madison Square Garden and finally figured out we were at Penn Station, nowhere near Grand Central and the mythical Oyster Bar, and also found it was cold as a brass bra in a deep freeze outside. On to our New York accommodations!

We stood in a taxi line as our extremities were rapidly stripped of feeling on their way to frostbite. Grosvenor was least prepared for this change in weather, and only the fortunate loan of a scarf by one who packs for most eventualities (my grandmother would never be pleased to learn I'd gone anywhere without my rain gear!) saved his ears from severe pain. He looked rather comical, but was warmer, and thus ready to hail a cab when our turn arrived and brave the river of black sludge that was the curbside water hazard. Never was a taxi ride more welcome that that moment, and nothing froze solid or dropped off.

This cab brought us to the recently acquired home of one of Grosvenor's cousins, one Meg, and her Swedish banking husband Tomas. I include this description for several reasons, not the least of which because I was expecting to stay in a closet for two days and instead found myself in a palace. Meg and Tomas were, like what I'm coming to realize about the entire Merle-Smith related clan, fun, intelligent, generous, and adventuresome. They live on an entire floor of an apartment building overlooking ABC studios and half a block from Tavern On The Green, and the place was put at our disposal. Do you begin to see the pattern of good luck I'm trying to outline?

Meg had some resume work to accomplish, but directed we three travelers to a nearby eatery, height O'Neal's, and we betook ourselves there to put some food in our tummies ere we fall down from lack of blood sugar. I discovered that Guinness goes down very well with an exotic mushroom pie that day. A lesson I intend to keep repeating until I get it completely right (fat chance of that happening.) And, with our little snack accomplished, we returned to the palace, I mean apartment, and made ready for the evening.

Grosvenor, in his capacity as MFH, kitted up in full fig to dine with others of his ilk that night in a Masters only dinner and meeting. He looked dashing, as he was told by his cousin and wife, and off he went to rub shoulders and chow down with a foxhunting crew. Rosie, myself, Meg, Tomas, and four of the Merle-Smith's train related friends from West Virginia, in New York on a bit of a holiday and to see old friends, made our way to a French bistro next door to O'Neals' of afternoon and mushroom pie fame.

You may attempt to berate us for not covering more ground and searching out more tantalizing spots to explore, but I must remind you that the air temperature that week was at or near zero, and the windchill wasn't helping matters any. In fact, the week before our arrival in the Big Apple, Meg and Tomas had battled with the aftermath of a frozen and broken water pipe in their building, two floors up, water cascading and rushing about everywhere, and were given a running list of preventative instructions to stall a repeat performance by apartment staff both days we were there. It was actually pretty desperate, and the less time we spent in the fresh, brisk air searching out cool, new places the better. Besides, I was treated to Coq au vin and a creme brulee that would be hard to beat anywhere, and Cote du Rhone to match. So there!

To finish off the evening, the lot of us, minus our lone minor and her grandmama, adjourned to the Oak Bar at the Plaza, the gathering place of may people in scarlet eveningwear. Many things can be had at the Oak Bar, including Irish whisky and conversation, and plenty of that was flowing. I was introduced to several MFH's and you'll forgive me if the names didn't stick. I also encountered Max and Barbara Naegler and was able, to my surprise, to introduce that pair to another pair famous FOL denizens. Rosie and Gro. We all got on famously, and spirit soared and were poured. We closed the joint down around one or two, I don't know, and thus ended first in a long string of late, late nights for yours truly.

Although this will make this message kind of long, I'll push on to the Ball the next night.

The Friday of the Ball was to be a leisurely day of perhaps sight seeing, or perhaps lazing about for me, but Grosvenor dashed those plans when he proffered a morning listening to Edmund Porter of the Eskdale and Ennerdale Hounds, Fell pack from England. Fell hounds intrigue me with their stamina, drive, and virtually handsfree hunting style, and so I gathered myself together early in the morning to be ready to sit and listen by nine in the morning. Not happy about the foreshortened sleep routine, but glad for the chance to hear about Fell hounds.

Nine came and went, the appointed hour as laid down by Gro the night before, and no one but me was stirring. I heard Tomas leave for the bank, and ran into Meg as she walked around on tip toe with a sore head from too much Cote du Rhone from the night before. Finally Gro bolts covert, dressed in a jacket and tie (necessitating a wardrobe change in myself) and off we sped for the site of the meeting and talk. We missed the meeting, but made the talk, complete with audio visual of Fell hunting and narrated by a man whose father and grandfather hunted the same pack as he now had for years and years. I can't remember the exact time frame we're talking and don't want to guess for fear of belittling the accomplishment. There is a video tape one can buy with all six Fell packs featured and it's a tape well worth the viewing. Thanks to Grosvenor for including me.

The Bloody Mary's that accompanied the talk went not very far toward dispelling our hunger (skipped breakfast), so we cut across Central Park in January and collected Rosie, heading back to O'Neal's for lunch (hoping for more mushroom pie,) but leaving Meg back as she was still dealing with a touch of the bottle flu. Much to our sorrow, no mushroom pie is included on the lunch menu, but we consoled ourselves with Guinness and some excellent soup. A consensus was reached mandating a nap before the festivities of the ball and such did we attempt to undertake.

I can't say I actually slept very much that afternoon, though I needed it, but a new place with people rattling around in it make it hard for me to nod off unless completely tired out, and I guess I was too keyed up in anticipation of the ball to come. We spent some pleasant hours listening to the cool Asian adventures that Meg and Tomas had had, Rosie doing a her seamstress/beadstress routine as she reaffixed some delinquent bangles and sparkles to her ball outfit. Seeing the seed beads and thread brought back many memories (story for another time.)

Rosie was glittering, Grosvenor was dashing, and I was a slight disappointment in that I purposely left my formal tails at home. I warranted too much risk to my precious green threads, and I absolutely need them for the end of April with no chance of replacement in case of mishap. So, I was in a boring old tuxedo suit, but I'd like to think I filled it out in a satisfying manner.

We said our good-byes to our hosts and piled into a cab on our way to the Pierre and the MFH's Ball. Another great feature of the Bergstrand's (Meg and Tomas') apartment is the ready availability of taxicabs. The car hires dump people at the Tavern on the Green and then cut down Meg and Tomas' one way street for a reload. Tre convenient.

We were slated for a rendezvous in some watering hole located within the Pierre in anticipation of gathering together our dinner and table companions before moving on to the Ball itself. We were to round out the continuation of our trip into Ireland with the addition of a fellow from Charlottesville by the name of Eric Gibson, which worthy walked in the door of that Hotel Pierre satellite bar soon after own arrival. He blew into the room in formal Oak Ridge scarlet evening attire, a cape and silver mounted walking stick completing his ensemble, and a huge grin on his face. He lead off with a joke and we were laughing up until, and even after we parted some seven days later.

Ed Harvey and his wonderful wife Ada, Ed a member of last January's escapade, joined us next, and catching up with that pair was fun. Ed has numbered his days at the Washington D.C. PBS station, is building a largish home in Orange, has purchased a well suited mount, and is settling in for the life of the foxhunting country squire. I thought the smiles on the pair of their faces would eventually require surgery to remove they seemed so happy.

Hard on the heels of the Harvey's were Grosvenor's parents. I'd heard stories, but real life was better. I spent the next half hour in shared conversation with Gro's mother, Kitty, and can only hope I held up my end of the conversation. Anyone who discounts their own family as an asset to treasure is missing the boat, whether by choice or circumstance, and I think Grosvenor and Rosie know they have a treasure on their hands.

Okay, most of our group had assembled in that bar with the addition of John Henken and his daughter Andrea (?), John the West Virginian with the shared Merle-Smith train history, and we shoved off for the lofty heights of the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Pierre. The Ball commences.

We checked our coats and made our way to the check in table to, well, check in. No sooner had I stopped to survey the scene than I spotted a familiar Illinois face. A dear friend of our family, and a lady who started her foxhunting career at the end of a lead line in England and finished her riding days in our huntfield at Foxboro some eighty years later, walked into the room with the illustrious Lynn Lloyd of Red Rock Hounds in Nevada. Meagan and Lynn have been friends going back to Lynn's own Illinois days, I knew they would be arriving in company, and was happy to see they and their own circle of friends arriving to the ball. Funny where you meet people, isn't it?

Our dinner table was situated very close to the stage occupied by the famous Lester Lanin (sp?) and his big band. We were eleven seated around a table designed for ten. In a former life I used to set up and tear down banquet and meeting halls such as the one we occupied that night, so I knew we would be sitting close for the evening. Not bad, though. The rest of the celebrants for that night filtered into the dining area from the relatively cramped cocktail space just outside the ball room doors and the meal service commenced.

The room was as you might imagine it. The finery of the people inside was reflective of and reflected by the intricate scrollwork, gilt, and mirrors on walls and ceiling. Some who were there were disappointed by the lack of standards kept to by the women that night, in which I refer to not all ball gowns done in classic black, but it never registered in my mind until pointed out to me much later. I was just happy to be there.

During Dinner service, of which we were given to eat a very nicely done rack of lamb and some other stuff on my plate that was obviously overshadowed by the lamb, Lester and his band let their music waft over and around us in tones calculated to foster rather than inhibit conversation. Desert was something closely akin to a chocolate souffl

Eichler Returns to Ireland

Eichler Returns to IrelandStep 1 .. Illinois to DC

Here's a bit of background. I really hadn't planned on going to Ireland at all this hunting season. I'd made no plans, and even as late as October I wasn't really in the mood for it. But then I spent time in Virginia hunting in the company of Rosie and Grosvenor Merle-Smith, and sort of on the hinting of Rosie I became energized. I'd been to Ireland hunting once on my own and it wasn't as fun without the Merle-Smiths. However, those worthies were down on going to Ireland as well, both because our last trip there together a year ago January was a bust, and that they were making their own expensive progress through the grass country of Leistershire to chase fox with some of the big names in English foxhunting. It took some convincing, but a trip was scheduled for the last little part of January 2000 and the first week of the month we're currently in.

A few different dates for the trip were kicked around, I guess, but an intriguing plan was put forward by Grosvenor which included not as much Irish hunting but did include a trip to New York and attendance at the Masters of Foxhounds Ball. My reluctance to visit New York was overcome by the opportunity to wade around in some swanky places and to revel therein, and I decided to give it a whack. Thus was born the trip that was to become the spiritual and karmic (is that a word?) antithesis of our last foray to Ireland. To borrow a phrase from my brother who also had a trip with similar properties, we were on the "Doom to Good Luck" tour.

Before I launch into trip descriptions, let me make an observation and offer some advice if I may, advice I thought I had taken to heart but apparently had let lapse in my portfolio of common sense. If you're making travel plans in conjunction with other people, talk to your companions to set up said plans so that they coincide. Communicate! I assumed, and Gro assumed, and we all know what happens when one assumes. This was the first instance of doom to good luck.

I assumed that Grosvenor, Rosie, and I would catch a car ride from their home to one of the Washington area airports and then fly to New York. They assumed I would drive from Illinois to Keswick, VA. What we didn't know was that our individual bases of consideration had changed. I was in no mood to drive the fourteen hours between Streamwood, IL and Keswick, VA in possibly snow filled conditions, and Grosvenor was unwilling to trust the airlines to brave those same possibly yucky elements and get us to New York on time. I refer you to our trip from last year where snow on the highway about killed me in Indiana and the same storm kept us from making a connection in New York for Ireland. Changed bases of consideration.

I booked a flight to Washington, Dulles and was counting on renting a car to get me to Keswick, which we could then use to go back to the airport the next day, obviating any need for me to drive fourteen hours anywhere. Grosvenor had booked three spots on Amtrak from Charlottesville, VA, hard by Keswick, to New York City, figuring the train was less likely to be stopped by bad weather than a plane or automobile. Do you see how we were not necessarily connecting up? No need for a rental car and thus no good way for me to get from Dulles to Keswick.

How do you fix that problem? You book a second round of air travel from Dulles to Charlottesville because your first round of tickets were made through Priceline at a lovely discount that, alas, doesn't allow for any monkeying with flights, times, or destinations. I was able to make another reservation on a different airline and the problem of getting on the train with the Merle-Smiths Thursday morning was solved. For the time being. Last year there would have been no chance for such a last minute accommodation, but we could feel our karma turning.

I had a hint of just such a turn in our collective luck Tuesday, January 25th when my sister-in-law offered her chauffeuring services over those of my brothers, allowing me to pack for my journey at a reasonable pace on the morning of the 26th and arrive at the airport within minutes of departure rather than the frantic midnight packing and long wait at the airport terminal that my early to work brother offered. I was able to get a god night's rest on the 25th (strangely enough to be the last of such lengthy sleep for a long while.)

Packing was going to be quite a challenge in and of itself. I needed two sets of hunting clothes for Ireland, including two sets of long underwear in case of cold weather like we endured last year in January. I needed some sort of regular street wear for the times between, before, and after hunting, like on the plane and hanging out in New York and Virginia, but not too much of that sort of stuff because I needed to minimize the weight. And finally, I needed a sport coat, slacks, tie, and a full flight of tuxedo gear for those times when jeans and a sweatshirt or my hunting frock coat were not enough. Additionally, I had a pair of rubber boots stashed in Ireland, but none in Virginia, so I had to haul along my Dehner Brown topped dress boots. Those went over my shoulder in beige trimmed green nylon boot bags and garnered comment wherever they went. I debated carting a saddle and was forced by circumstance to abandon that debate. In hind sight, thank goodness the saddle got left back.

I was most of the way through assembling the puzzle that was my luggage, about ten o'clock, when the phone rang. Salesmen usually call at that time of day and I was very ready to hang up at the first whiff of sales pitch. Instead, the call was from U.S. Airways calling several hours ahead of flight time to tell me my flight had been canceled. Oh Crap! My neat little house of cards travel plan was about to be trashed before its inception. Doom! But wait, the snow storm that was causing the problem was running out of steam and a second flight out later in the day was still on time and would get me to Pittsburgh with time to spare. Good Luck! The phone rang a few more times that morning, but the airline was never again on the other end of the line. Have you ever had that happen to you, though? An airline calling up to notify of a cancellation and making every attempt to accommodate. U.S. Airways did, and my estimation of that franchise jumped up exponentially.

The Interstate from Chicago's western suburbs to O'Hare Airport, or at least, the interstate that we took was relatively free and clear of traffic and confusion or delay, always a condition to be noted. I walked up to the ticketing agent, relieved myself of the burden of most of my gear, and trundled on over to the specified gate for my flight number. The flight took off on time, was a little bumpy, but landed in Pittsburgh with all essential parts still attached and functioning, and I settled in to await my flight to Dulles. I had some time between flights so I wandered around Pittsburgh's terminal and was duly impressed. I was told that the local Pittsburghians (or whatever their appellation is when referred to in the collective) go there to shop. I was skeptical at first, but upon seeing how things were with my own eyes I understood the attraction. The main terminal was laid out like a fancy shopping mall, and I was even induced to buy a new pair of shoes (L.L. Bean having changed the styling of my beloved Blucher Mocs beyond all bearing.)

I had meant to purchase the shoes on my way back through this airport mall in a weeks time, but something told me I should strike while the iron was hot, so to speak. Or, to put it another way, you may never be this way again. I was doubly induced to eventually buy as my flight to Dulles was pushed back due to weather. The dreaded "D" word. Delay! The same storm that had canceled my earlier flight from Chicago to Pittsburgh was playing merry hobb with Boston and the East now. Little worry lines were etching themselves into my countenance, and I could hear the faint echoes of the footsteps of Doom.

I made a call to Grosvenor and apprised him of my possibly precarious flight situation, vowing to keep him posted on my travel experiences, such as they were. And, sure as shootin', ten minutes after telling Gro to hang loose we were all told to go hang. The equipment we were to use to get to Dulles was late in arriving for turnaround but was at the gate. No air crew, however. We waited to see if a replacement could be scared up, none could, and then it was determined that the plane we needed to use was broke down anyway and not going anywhere even if we had ten air crews all clamoring for the privilege of conveying us. The gate crew gave us the option of a flight to anywhere we wanted to go and the thought of hopping a plane to St. Thomas had to be beaten back with surprising force of will. Scramble time.

I called Gro and explained my plight. We hatched a plan whereby I'd meet the Merle-Smiths in Washington D.C. and catch up to the train there rather than in Charlottesville. This was a bit of a delicate operation as Gro had had to fight for our three train reservations out of Charlottesville, eliciting a comment from regular Amtrak ticketing staff that they were shocked and amazed that Gro could come up with tickets in a way not open even to them. Part of the secret is found in Gro talking to someone above that lot's heads. My mission was to ascertain whether I could join the train in Washington without screwing up the entire reservation. And, I'm thankful to say, that with a bright cheery voice and polite manners I was able to make just such an arrangement. One problem solved.

Okay, I'm staying overnight in Washington D.C., but without any kind of prior hotel reservation in a place known for pricey hotel rates. Gro's half remembered hotel suggestion, the Americana, with no phone number attached, recommended in part because lots of air crews lay over there, was all I had to go on. The AT&T operator who assisted me in my phone search for the number to this mythical place was on screen 21 and about to give up when we found the right listing in Arlington, VA (how was I to know if the place was in Virginia, Maryland, or the District itself?) And they had a room for the night at half the going rate of any other place so close to the train station. Good luck and a place to stay. Second problem solved.

My flight from Dulles to Charlottesville was now useless, and costly, and I was now obliged to call Travelocity, the Internet travel firm through whom I had booked the extra flight. I spent possibly twenty minutes with a semi-frustrated woman from Travelocity in fixing that snag. I say semi-frustrated because she initially got it in to her head that I was a disgruntled customer. She must have been used to people calling up and complaining to the high heavens and was quick to take umbrage. I assured her I was not put out in the least, though I couldn't honestly tell you why. At that point things were getting screwed up and straightened out in such quick succession that I was left with a somehow pleasant yet dizzying feeling of what must have been euphoria. Go figure. In any event, we got my United flight to C-ville canceled, a new ticket out of Charlottesville issued for the return leg of my journey, and I left her with a warm and fuzzy feeling because she had indeed helped me out of a tricky, complicated situation. Third problem solved.

While these negotiations of hotel accommodation and airline travel realignment were taking place, my fellow would be Dulles travelers were done mobbing the U.S. Airways gate/ticketing agents. I waited in no line at all, was booked on to the next flight to Washington Reagan International Airport, was assured that my baggage would be rerouted and would I just check back in an hour to make sure that deed had been done, and was given a ten dollar food voucher for my trouble with no prompting. Last year at that time we had to scratch and claw for a place to sleep and a voucher for food because of airline delay. Fourth and fifth problem solved (didn't even know food was a problem until it was taken care of.)

I bought the shoes, drank some Guinness, ate some Godiva chocolate, spoke with my loved ones via the telephone, determined my bags were in the right position to accompany me, got on the plane to D.C. and had a pleasant trip to our nations capital. The kind people at the Americana picked me up not five minutes after I called them, at an arrival doorway mere steps away from both the baggage carousel dispensing my correct amount of luggage and the pay phone I used for summoning purposes. I was checked in quickly and efficiently, and though it was after Midnight, I didn't have to be to the train station until nine the next morning. I actually went to bed with a smile on my face.

I'll end here for now. As you can see, no hunting has taken place yet, and none will for a while yet. But for those of you who read of my adventures in conjunction with hunting in Ireland have to appreciate the absolute switch between last year's January trip and this. The next installment gets us to New York, with more examples of the strange dichotomy of doom and good luck that we were treated to.

Step 2 .. New York and the Ball (and the journey thereto)

I spent a restful, if brief, night in the Americana Hotel in Arlington, VA, just across the river from Washington D.C. General Lee and his wife, whose former property I was probably sleeping on that night, would never have recognized the place. But, I recommend that particular hotel to all of you. I must have gotten about five hours sleep, more than if I'd made it all the way to Charlottesville and the Merle-Smith abode, less than I could have if I'd spent an extra erg of energy to break out my travel clock to check the time. The Americana provides no in-room time keeping devices.

I grabbed an unhurried shower, sped up a bit by the fact that the drain was slow and I don't fancy standing in knee deep water while sluicing off, and when finished made my way down to the complimentary donuts, bagels, and juice in the lobby. I snarfed a cruller and a cup of O.J., asked for a cab with my hands full if not my mouth, and was directed to a red curtsey phone hanging on the wall by the lone elevator. Juggling my meager breakfast and huntcap (said cap kept in hand in a nylon hat bag because there is no real good place to pack such an awkward item!) I found that singular phone and felt like the president of the United States calling the Kremlin on a dedicated hot line. The phone was even red.

I stood for a few minutes on hold and was told I'd have a wait of twenty to thirty minutes before the cab arrived. I'd made the call at eight in the morning, and the train was due in at Union Station in Washington around 9:30 a.m. Oooh that was cutting it close, but what ya gonna do. I'd wandered back to the donut table and was picking at a bagel, you'd best eat when you've the opportunity 'cause you never know when you'll get the chance again, when the front desk lady announced my cab had arrived. fifteen minutes before I expected it. Actually not bad timing if you discounted the bagel literally hanging out of my mouth as I maneuvered my gear through the front door and into the interior of the cab. The picture of elegance I was not.

Now, you may wonder who cares about a cab ride to the train station, and normally this would not be newsworthy. However, D.C. had taken a hit from a snow storm, clogging up the streets with unlooked for snow from the weekend, and the city was still digging out from this natural surprise. Many folks who had no business driving, let alone driving on snow, were out in force during this morning rush, and no route to anywhere was guaranteed. In fact, my cabby, kind soul that he was laid out some options for me. We could take the most direct, and cheapest route, to the train, or we could backtrack along the way he'd just come to pick me up. The latter option cost more, but was known to be free of blockages while the route that would normally have been swiftest and least dear had the look of wreckage about it. I chose the known path that time, and it made all the difference.

As we drove along my cabbies preferred route, we glanced over at the bridge we'd decided to steer clear of, only to notice cars at odd angles on the over pass and emergency vehicles with sirens sounding and mars lights flashing on their way to the scene of a snow induced crash. We congratulated ourselves on our prowess, sharing stories of driving in the snow and how some places, like Chicago or Minneapolis (home to the cabby) could learn to deal with the white stuff, but that places like Washington D.C. were bound to have the same mistakes repeated over and over again. During our little tete a tete I took note that we were passing such notable places as the Pentagon, and various monuments to past U.S. Presidents. Union Station loomed in very good time, comparatively.

Bidding adieu to my cab driving friend, I wandered into the newly resurgent D.C. train station. Many of the same upscale shopping mall establishments I'd surprisingly encountered in the Pittsburgh airport had also opened doors in this train station. You could spend some serious time here, and I did wander a bit searching out the place I'd catch the train I could only hope Rosie and Grosvenor had boarded back in Charlottesville. We were booked on the Crescent, a cool old train route that starts in New Orleans and ends up in New York City, and having experience with train stations and their schedules (three years of commuter law school), I quickly found the time and platform and went in search of same.

I'm still not sure what whim or perhaps prompting of the Force made me duck into the Amtrak Customer Service Center, but stop in I did, and that was one o the luckiest things I did all trip. I found an extremely helpful lady, explained my situation (needing to board the train in Washington though I should have been on it from C-ville), and was shocked to find out I'd need an escort to get to trackside to meet my intended train. I hadn't planned to be escorted, and when the time came to board I'd have been lost big time. This nice lady escorted me through several security checks, just whisked me along past doors that would have stymied my if I'd not stopped to check in with her office. I had no back up plan if the train was denied me and I'm thankful it wasn't.

This lovely Amtrak person stood with me at trackside while we waited for the Crescent to arrive, warding me from any would be ticket checker/vagrant shifters. Trouble with frozen switches was causing a slight delay. We talked about the rehab of the station, the soon to arrive new high speed train to New York, and the passing of an era in the fazing out of the old dining cars and their fresh cooked meals in favor of airline style precooked fare. Eventually she felt the need to help other unfortunates such as myself and left me in the care of one of her compadres as she waved me goodbye and pleasant trip.

Eventually the train made the station, and I searched out the conductor to tell my tale to a fresh set of hopefully sympathetic ears. I was also on the lookout for one of the Merle-Smiths and found both the conductor and Grosvenor within ticks of the clock from each other. Gro waved me toward a train doorway, and the conductor was already primed with the story of my plight and waved me right on the train. No muss, no fuss, although I had to wait for what seemed like the entire car load of people to exit before I could get out of the freezing trackside out-of-doors. Seems New Orleans to Washington is a popular leg of that train's regular journey. I handed the lighter of my two grips to Gro, boarded the train, and heaved a sigh of contentment that all was now right with the world. We spent the next five hours in conversation and contemplation.

After passing through sections of our country I'd never passed through before, we finally raised New York City in our sights and pulled up to final destination trackside right on time. Trusty old trains. Of course, riding the train had brought out train stories, of which the Merle-Smiths had a surprising abundance. You must ask them of their connection to rolling stock some time.

We grabbed our gear, some of which was checked through and ostensibly awaiting retrieval in some nebulous baggage area of what we came to find out was Penn Station in New York. Grosvenor was on about going to the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station and having cocktails and oysters with a friend, an event Rosie and I were all ready to get behind because any kind of comestibles would have gone down a treat at that point (food service on the train was sketchy.) We two were both eyeing up a Krispy Kreme donut shop while waiting for the checked baggage to arrive, a notion squelched by Gro and his Krispy Kreme prejudice, but we were hungry!

Okay, the checked bag arrived, kind of a big one for the usually light packing Rosie and Grosvenor, and we determined to look for the Oyster Bar. Of course, we were looking for the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station. Determined not to give up the chase, but equally disoriented, Gro lead us into the upper atmosphere of the street level, still looking for a cool old grand building like he remembered from times past. We emerged to the tinted glass and steel structure of Madison Square Garden and finally figured out we were at Penn Station, nowhere near Grand Central and the mythical Oyster Bar, and also found it was cold as a brass bra in a deep freeze outside. On to our New York accommodations!

We stood in a taxi line as our extremities were rapidly stripped of feeling on their way to frostbite. Grosvenor was least prepared for this change in weather, and only the fortunate loan of a scarf by one who packs for most eventualities (my grandmother would never be pleased to learn I'd gone anywhere without my rain gear!) saved his ears from severe pain. He looked rather comical, but was warmer, and thus ready to hail a cab when our turn arrived and brave the river of black sludge that was the curbside water hazard. Never was a taxi ride more welcome that that moment, and nothing froze solid or dropped off.

This cab brought us to the recently acquired home of one of Grosvenor's cousins, one Meg, and her Swedish banking husband Tomas. I include this description for several reasons, not the least of which because I was expecting to stay in a closet for two days and instead found myself in a palace. Meg and Tomas were, like what I'm coming to realize about the entire Merle-Smith related clan, fun, intelligent, generous, and adventuresome. They live on an entire floor of an apartment building overlooking ABC studios and half a block from Tavern On The Green, and the place was put at our disposal. Do you begin to see the pattern of good luck I'm trying to outline?

Meg had some resume work to accomplish, but directed we three travelers to a nearby eatery, height O'Neal's, and we betook ourselves there to put some food in our tummies ere we fall down from lack of blood sugar. I discovered that Guinness goes down very well with an exotic mushroom pie that day. A lesson I intend to keep repeating until I get it completely right (fat chance of that happening.) And, with our little snack accomplished, we returned to the palace, I mean apartment, and made ready for the evening.

Grosvenor, in his capacity as MFH, kitted up in full fig to dine with others of his ilk that night in a Masters only dinner and meeting. He looked dashing, as he was told by his cousin and wife, and off he went to rub shoulders and chow down with a foxhunting crew. Rosie, myself, Meg, Tomas, and four of the Merle-Smith's train related friends from West Virginia, in New York on a bit of a holiday and to see old friends, made our way to a French bistro next door to O'Neals' of afternoon and mushroom pie fame.

You may attempt to berate us for not covering more ground and searching out more tantalizing spots to explore, but I must remind you that the air temperature that week was at or near zero, and the windchill wasn't helping matters any. In fact, the week before our arrival in the Big Apple, Meg and Tomas had battled with the aftermath of a frozen and broken water pipe in their building, two floors up, water cascading and rushing about everywhere, and were given a running list of preventative instructions to stall a repeat performance by apartment staff both days we were there. It was actually pretty desperate, and the less time we spent in the fresh, brisk air searching out cool, new places the better. Besides, I was treated to Coq au vin and a creme brulee that would be hard to beat anywhere, and Cote du Rhone to match. So there!

To finish off the evening, the lot of us, minus our lone minor and her grandmama, adjourned to the Oak Bar at the Plaza, the gathering place of may people in scarlet eveningwear. Many things can be had at the Oak Bar, including Irish whisky and conversation, and plenty of that was flowing. I was introduced to several MFH's and you'll forgive me if the names didn't stick. I also encountered Max and Barbara Naegler and was able, to my surprise, to introduce that pair to another pair famous FOL denizens. Rosie and Gro. We all got on famously, and spirit soared and were poured. We closed the joint down around one or two, I don't know, and thus ended first in a long string of late, late nights for yours truly.

Although this will make this message kind of long, I'll push on to the Ball the next night.

The Friday of the Ball was to be a leisurely day of perhaps sight seeing, or perhaps lazing about for me, but Grosvenor dashed those plans when he proffered a morning listening to Edmund Porter of the Eskdale and Ennerdale Hounds, Fell pack from England. Fell hounds intrigue me with their stamina, drive, and virtually handsfree hunting style, and so I gathered myself together early in the morning to be ready to sit and listen by nine in the morning. Not happy about the foreshortened sleep routine, but glad for the chance to hear about Fell hounds.

Nine came and went, the appointed hour as laid down by Gro the night before, and no one but me was stirring. I heard Tomas leave for the bank, and ran into Meg as she walked around on tip toe with a sore head from too much Cote du Rhone from the night before. Finally Gro bolts covert, dressed in a jacket and tie (necessitating a wardrobe change in myself) and off we sped for the site of the meeting and talk. We missed the meeting, but made the talk, complete with audio visual of Fell hunting and narrated by a man whose father and grandfather hunted the same pack as he now had for years and years. I can't remember the exact time frame we're talking and don't want to guess for fear of belittling the accomplishment. There is a video tape one can buy with all six Fell packs featured and it's a tape well worth the viewing. Thanks to Grosvenor for including me.

The Bloody Mary's that accompanied the talk went not very far toward dispelling our hunger (skipped breakfast), so we cut across Central Park in January and collected Rosie, heading back to O'Neal's for lunch (hoping for more mushroom pie,) but leaving Meg back as she was still dealing with a touch of the bottle flu. Much to our sorrow, no mushroom pie is included on the lunch menu, but we consoled ourselves with Guinness and some excellent soup. A consensus was reached mandating a nap before the festivities of the ball and such did we attempt to undertake.

I can't say I actually slept very much that afternoon, though I needed it, but a new place with people rattling around in it make it hard for me to nod off unless completely tired out, and I guess I was too keyed up in anticipation of the ball to come. We spent some pleasant hours listening to the cool Asian adventures that Meg and Tomas had had, Rosie doing a her seamstress/beadstress routine as she reaffixed some delinquent bangles and sparkles to her ball outfit. Seeing the seed beads and thread brought back many memories (story for another time.)

Rosie was glittering, Grosvenor was dashing, and I was a slight disappointment in that I purposely left my formal tails at home. I warranted too much risk to my precious green threads, and I absolutely need them for the end of April with no chance of replacement in case of mishap. So, I was in a boring old tuxedo suit, but I'd like to think I filled it out in a satisfying manner.

We said our good-byes to our hosts and piled into a cab on our way to the Pierre and the MFH's Ball. Another great feature of the Bergstrand's (Meg and Tomas') apartment is the ready availability of taxicabs. The car hires dump people at the Tavern on the Green and then cut down Meg and Tomas' one way street for a reload. Tre convenient.

We were slated for a rendezvous in some watering hole located within the Pierre in anticipation of gathering together our dinner and table companions before moving on to the Ball itself. We were to round out the continuation of our trip into Ireland with the addition of a fellow from Charlottesville by the name of Eric Gibson, which worthy walked in the door of that Hotel Pierre satellite bar soon after own arrival. He blew into the room in formal Oak Ridge scarlet evening attire, a cape and silver mounted walking stick completing his ensemble, and a huge grin on his face. He lead off with a joke and we were laughing up until, and even after we parted some seven days later.

Ed Harvey and his wonderful wife Ada, Ed a member of last January's escapade, joined us next, and catching up with that pair was fun. Ed has numbered his days at the Washington D.C. PBS station, is building a largish home in Orange, has purchased a well suited mount, and is settling in for the life of the foxhunting country squire. I thought the smiles on the pair of their faces would eventually require surgery to remove they seemed so happy.

Hard on the heels of the Harvey's were Grosvenor's parents. I'd heard stories, but real life was better. I spent the next half hour in shared conversation with Gro's mother, Kitty, and can only hope I held up my end of the conversation. Anyone who discounts their own family as an asset to treasure is missing the boat, whether by choice or circumstance, and I think Grosvenor and Rosie know they have a treasure on their hands.

Okay, most of our group had assembled in that bar with the addition of John Henken and his daughter Andrea (?), John the West Virginian with the shared Merle-Smith train history, and we shoved off for the lofty heights of the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Pierre. The Ball commences.

We checked our coats and made our way to the check in table to, well, check in. No sooner had I stopped to survey the scene than I spotted a familiar Illinois face. A dear friend of our family, and a lady who started her foxhunting career at the end of a lead line in England and finished her riding days in our huntfield at Foxboro some eighty years later, walked into the room with the illustrious Lynn Lloyd of Red Rock Hounds in Nevada. Meagan and Lynn have been friends going back to Lynn's own Illinois days, I knew they would be arriving in company, and was happy to see they and their own circle of friends arriving to the ball. Funny where you meet people, isn't it?

Our dinner table was situated very close to the stage occupied by the famous Lester Lanin (sp?) and his big band. We were eleven seated around a table designed for ten. In a former life I used to set up and tear down banquet and meeting halls such as the one we occupied that night, so I knew we would be sitting close for the evening. Not bad, though. The rest of the celebrants for that night filtered into the dining area from the relatively cramped cocktail space just outside the ball room doors and the meal service commenced.

The room was as you might imagine it. The finery of the people inside was reflective of and reflected by the intricate scrollwork, gilt, and mirrors on walls and ceiling. Some who were there were disappointed by the lack of standards kept to by the women that night, in which I refer to not all ball gowns done in classic black, but it never registered in my mind until pointed out to me much later. I was just happy to be there.

During Dinner service, of which we were given to eat a very nicely done rack of lamb and some other stuff on my plate that was obviously overshadowed by the lamb, Lester and his band let their music waft over and around us in tones calculated to foster rather than inhibit conversation. Desert was something closely akin to a chocolate souffl

Foxhunting