Museum Month: Spark Museum Of Electrical Invention

I was enchanted from the moment I hit the start button on the “Ben Franklin discovers electricity” display. A nerd at heart, I love history and gadgets and complicated objects that look like they could be steam punk sculptures but actually, changed the course of history, of modern life. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Enrico Marconi and that cultish nerd of all nerds, Nikola Tesla, all have a place at the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention in Bellingham, Washington.

I’ve made the pilgrimage to this oddball temple of electricity two, or three times. Something crazy always happens. A docent played Queen’s “We Are the Champions” on the theremin. (Sorry, we asked, that guy doesn’t work there anymore. You’ll have to settle for this YouTube video.) A tall skinny guy with an encyclopedic knowledge of the dangers of current sparked off the Tesla coil. A gray-haired veteran wound up the gramophones and played the songs of another era, dragging us backwards through time. I swooned over the Bakelite radios, the brass and oak telephones and a TV with a round display. I took off my hat and my hair stood up, full of static from playing with the hands-on experiments that are targeted at kids – but who’s not a kid when there’s the blue snap of sparks and the chance to stick a balloon on the side of your mate’s head?

The museum has been around in various incarnations since 1985. They moved in to their expansive space in downtown Bellingham in 2001. If you’re even the tiniest bit geeky, you’ll need more time than you’d expect to knock around the old brick warehouse. If a docent offers to show you how something works, say yes, you won’t regret it.

And a tip, hardly a secret one, but worth knowing all the same: when your blood sugar drops from all that dorking it up over Leyden jars and radio tubes, head across the street to Rocket Donuts. They’ve got bacon maple bars, vintage sci-fi on the TV in the seating area, and a life-size replica of Gort from “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Nerd heaven.

[Photo: Vacuum Tube Displays, American Museum of Radio & Electricity by Lumachrome via Flickr (Creative Commons)]

Skybus to Cut Flights and Add More

Rats! Be still my heart. I just heard that Skybus is canceling its Columbus to Bellingham flights starting in the spring.

I wrote that line last Thursday after I heard it on one of my local news stations, but I couldn’t get a confirmation if this was indeed fact. Skybus wasn’t talking on their website and whatever I did find, was a vague might. Today, it’s official. My husband even called me downstairs with the news. “No more flights to Bellingham,” he said, pointing to the headlines on the front page of the paper. I, of course, went into my, “Oh, I knew that,” mode.

What a disappointment. Besides Bellingham’s flights ceasing in March, so is the San Diego route and one of the LA flights. Triple darn. My husband was getting ready to book a cheap flight to San Diego to see his cousin. I do have to say, that if you plan ahead, you can get a flight to Seattle for almost as cheap as our Bellingham flight was this summer. By the time we were finished paying for luggage, two beverages and priority boarding, I think we were up to $360 a piece. I’d rather pay a little more for the service and not have to be at the airport with a child before the crack of dawn.

Skybus has a new round of $10 tickets through May on all their locations, but we can’t make up our minds where we want to go or when. It’s too hard making decisions so early in the morning and by the time the caffiene has kicked in, it’ll be too late for us, but if you’re awake, go for it. There are more flights to Ft. Meyers, Florida and Greensboro, North Carolina now, and you can fly directly from Portsmouth, New Hampshire without going through Columbus on a few of the flights.

Skybus: Montana Via Seattle, Washington

A few days ago, I was kvetching and in a quandary about how exactly we would go to Montana. (see post) After checking with every cheap airline ticket site I could think of to see if maybe, just maybe, prices might have dropped since the last time I looked, I did break down and buy four SkyBus tickets. What made me hit the pay button had to do with the calendar that highlights each month with a ticket price listed for a one-way flight each day. Neil mentioned SkyBus price ranges in one of his posts as well. Since we want to be in Philipsburg, Montana on July 28th for the Flint Creek Valley Days parade, the latest we can fly to Seattle is the 26th. That ticket was $150 per person. A ticket on the 25th cost $175, and the 24th was $280.. The tickets over the weekend were even more. My fear was the $150 would jump to $175 if I waited one more day to think about it and we’d be again wondering if we should suck it up and drive.

So, I hit the pay button after deciding that– no, we would not pay the extra $10 each for priority boarding on the trip back and we would forgo the extra travel insurance until I figure out if we actually need it. (That would add $65 to the cost of the total) We’ll still need to pay for four suitcases, maybe five at the airport. This will be $5 a piece. (The 5th suitcase is for bedding since we stay in a teepee in downtown Philipsburg, but that’s another story.)

Once I hit pay, I found out that it’s recommended that we get to the airport two hours early. Because the flight leaves at 7 in the morning, that means 5 o’clock. WHAT!!!! Without assigned seats we kind of need to get there early. There isn’t any priority boarding for people with small kids unless you pay for it, and we didn’t pay for it since the flight from Columbus to Seattle didn’t have any more priority boarding available. There are limited priority passes. Of course, maybe I could just put my five year-old son in between two people, hand them coloring books, crayons and a juice box or two to keep him occupied and hightail it towards a few rows back.

Another reason to get to the airport early is because my husband is a big guy. If he doesn’t get an aisle seat, heavens, that won’t be fun. I’m interested to see if there’s a mad dash for the door when it’s time for general boarding or if they give people colored boarding passes that sort you by first come first serve. I have to say, it does make me a bit nervous that I haven’t actually talked with a person who works for Skybus and won’t be able to until I show up at the airport. I assume they have people who work at the airport. There is not a number to call with questions. The website does have a place you can email questions, but doesn’t promise to answer them in a timely way. I emailed at the end of April to ask why I got a warning in red saying the web site wasn’t secure during one of the times I planned to pay. I have yet to hear back. Back then, we would have spent only $800 plus taxes for the airfare part of the trip. By waiting for an answer, it cost us $400 and priority boarding. When I did break down and whipped out the credit card, I still got the security warning, but decided to take a chance and pay anyway.

Our next travel arrangement involves tracking down a deal on a rental car. Since we actually fly into Bellingham, I hoping it is cheaper than Seattle.