It’s an Adventure

I know, we haven’t written anything in forever so this is going to be a bit of a long post. It has been a tough few months. A quick summary of our travel plans (or lack thereof).  We had lots of travel scheduled for this summer. Sue and her niece were planning on going to Italy in May, Sue and I were planning on going to Baltimore to see my son/daughter-in-law, We also had booked an Alaskan cruise and trip to Denali, Fairbanks and the Arctic Circle in July.

Hannah

COVID knocked all these plans to the curb. So far, the only trip we managed was a road trip to Baltimore in May to see my son, daughter-in-law, and their brand new baby girl, Hannah. Sue and I are both first time grandparents and neither rain nor snow or pandemic could stop us from visiting our granddaughter (regrets to the USPS motto). We left early in the morning and did the 11-hour drive in one quick jump, stayed in our own AirBnB and spent every moment we could with our baby. After two weeks we drove back home and resumed our regular lives.

A ton has happened since then. 

In late July we noticed that the housing market was quite strong and since our plan has been to get out of Chicago, we placed the house on the market. To our great surprise, we had an offer on the house in three days and a deal to sell it on the fourth. Wow. We were both mentally prepared for the house to sit on the market for months, so we did not invest much time and effort in looking for a new place to live. We knew we wanted to be back on the East Coast, someplace warmer than Chicago (not a difficult ask provided we were not planning on moving to Canada!) and preferably near to Baltimore, so we could work on our spoiling the grandchild skills. 

Oh, did I mention the buyers wanted to close in just about a month? The new owners have an elementary-school-aged child and want to get him into school at the start of the year.

So there we are. It is the end of July. We have sold the house, we have no idea where we are going to live, and we have a fairly short runway before we are homeless. There was, of course, only one potential solution. 

ROADTRIP!

We arranged for a dog sitter for Rosie — our 12 year old German shepherd — and we hopped into my car and drove east to find a place to live. We left early on Thursday and drove straight through. We stayed with my sister in PA as Hannah’s parents’ house was full with other visitors that weekend. My sister lives about an hour and half north of Baltimore, so not too far. We spent Friday and Saturday looking for a house to rent.

It was a very frustrating weekend. The rental market is very fragmented, and difficult to work with. We used all the websites, contacted what seemed like a million brokers, saw a bunch of houses, but in the end we did not manage to rent anything. Having a large dog made us a less suitable candidate and while we would submit applications, the places all seemed to go to someone without a dog. Time to suck up a bit: Thanks to both Steven’s family and mine plus our friends for being an incredible safety net. We knew we wouldn’t be homeless. I am grateful and keep thinking about all the people who aren’t as fortunate as we are.

We decided to leave my car in PA. It seemed to make sense to only have one car to drive out there when we moved, to our new (and entirely ephemeral) house together, especially since we would have Rosie in the back seat. (He neglects to mention that that brilliant idea was mine. Braving the plane was a bit nerve-wracking, but we flew Southwest, which doesn’t sell middle seats. Apparently, right after we flew, they decided that cleaning the plane after each flight was taking too long, so hmmmmm.)

Fast forward a week or so, and through the magic of the internet and some good old fashioned phone work we found Janette. She is our Realtor and newest best friend. I spoke to her on Saturday, explained what we were looking for (3 beds, 2 baths, backyard, dog friendly, within 45 minutes of Hannah) and she said the most comforting words I have heard during the search: “Leave this with me. I will find you a place, this is a game and I hate to lose.” Janette was as good as her word. She found places, looked at them, did video tours with us, spoke to the owners to make sure that they were OK with the dog. She is a whirlwind and lo and behold she found us a place.  A nice raised ranch. (This message is for Sue alone: no no no no….It is a not a split level! Let me mansplain this to you {he’s so funny, isn’t he?} [AGAIN]: A raised ranch has the living quarters and the sleeping quarters on the same level and a lower basement area. A split level has the sleeping quarters half a floor above the living quarters and a lower level sitting area — I feel better now) outside Annapolis. 

Whew — no longer going to be homeless, but the clock was ticking. We now started really working. I made a spreadsheet (YAY!) of all the things I figured we needed to do. We hired movers, started to cancel our utilities, cleaned out all the stuff that you never get around to clearing out when you live somewhere for 16 years (read: old paint, old toys, old scraps of wood, metal and ceramic from previous rehab projects and previous owners) and started packing. We dedicated two hours a day to packing and clearing the house. It is really quite surprising how fast it went. After a couple of weeks, pretty much everything that we do not use on a regular basis was packed. 

Happiness is a good spreadsheet

Probably the hardest part of this move is leaving all our friends. We both have been in Chicago for 15+ years and we have a pretty active social life. In “normal times” we would have a great big Labor Day weekend party (in part to help us eat up all the food in the house) with everyone invited. In a pandemic world, that just isn’t possible. We have been meeting with our friends one on one, which is, of course, much more difficult to arrange and much more time consuming. It seems like we are going out (outdoor dining only and with only one other couple) multiple times a week and we just hope we have not missed anyone.

One week and two days until moving day.

Wow…there stills seems like so much to do! But instead, I think I sit on the deck and watch the sun go down…

So Much for Our Plans…

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Wish we were here

Wouldn’t you know it? Just when we thought we were all set with our travel plans, the world goes and gets a virus. Too flippant? Sorry. It has been a rough couple of weeks.  We last wrote about our trip to New York and Boston that ended on March 8. We were home just about a week and our governor, quite rightly, closed down businesses, schools etc. and we were sequestered to our home.

Thankfully, neither Sue nor I show signs of the Covid-19 virus, but we are both going a bit stir crazy from being inside (yesterday we walked 5 miles, just to be out in the fresh air). Our sense of humor is critical to our mental well being and in response to both working from home, we have developed an imaginary co-worker (Ragnar) who is a total pain in the ass. Every glass left on the countertop, every light left on, every door left open is Ragnar’s fault. I know, it isn’t much, but it keeps us laughing and not complaining about each other.

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or here

We should have been in Houston this week. If you do not recall, we were heading to Houston as the last of our one-week trips to someplace warm (or at least out of Chicago) over the ). Sue’s brother lives there and the grand plan was to show up for her niece’s birthday and catch an early season Mets game (so before they were officially eliminated from the postseason (damn Yankees fan)). The quarantine put an end to that trip.

Sue has a trip scheduled with another niece to Italy to celebrate her high school graduation. That trip is planned for the end of May, but, alas, we both expect that they will need to postpone that until who knows when.

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Or even here…

Finally, our trip to Alaska in July is also looking uncertain. Even if we are granted parole from this quarantine, it seems unwise to board a ship with thousands of other people many of whom may or may not have been quarantined. Who knows if they could still be carriers, which makes it seem especially unwise as we were planning to travel with my mother, who is over 80.

So there we go, or there we don’t go. Whatever. We are shifting our thoughts from our travel plans to our attempts to recover the amounts we have already committed to these trips and sighing heavily for the trips not taken and the fun not had.

I hope this doesn’t come off as complaining. It is a bit, but we are grateful that we are all well and looking forward to the simple joys of seeing our friends, eating out, and being able to find toilet paper at the grocery store.

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or watching this sunset.

Not So Bad for a Work Day

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Just another beautiful beach

Today was a relatively quiet day as we spent most of the day working. It is pretty amazing to think about the fact that I can do my job from anywhere. All I need is internet and mobile phone connectivity. I was on a call this morning that seamlessly connected Costa Rica, New York and Chicago. I am old enough to remember when the cost of international calls was measured in the tens of dollars per minute. Now, I pay $10 a day to make unlimited calls, send unlimited texts and use virtually unlimited data on my phone. Amazing.

20200205_133304We did take a bit of time out to go for a long walk on another beautiful beach–I have no idea the name of it. But, suffice to say that it is wonderful. The birds on the beach did not seem the least bit bothered that we were walking by.  I believe the white ones are cranes, and the others are pelicans.

 

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Either a pelican or a great photo of my mother.

After our walk, we hopped back in the car, returned to Playa Flamingo and had lunch at Coco Loco. We sat outside literally on the beach and had lunch.  (I had a watermelon slushy. I love watermelon slushies! Can it get better than sitting on the beach with a watermelon slushy? Not really.)

After lunch, it was back to “the old salt mine” called work.  Although it is really hard to complain when my “office” is the patio and the background to my video conferencing is palm trees.  Yes, I must admit, I did take time to gloat about the weather to my–no doubt former–friends in our Chicago office.  Sorry, I don’t feel bad for reminding them that is was 90 degrees and sunny here, while it was 32 and snowing in the frigid tundra.

For dinner, we wandered over to a local beach restaurant called The Beach House.

All in all, a nice, quiet, working day.

PS. In case you were wondering a group of pelicans is called a pod. I believe these are the New Orleans basketball team on some sort of hiatus.

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Travels with My Niece

A few years ago, for her bat mitzvah, I took my niece to Paris. She picked the spot and I am lucky enough to have friends who live there, so we had a homey Parisian extravaganza. Now, with high school graduation just around the corner (wow, that was fast!) we are planning our next trip. Once she got into the college of her choice (!), she was able to pin down a spot: Italy. So right after graduation in May, off we go.

I have only been to northern Italy and that was in a different life, so I am figuring it is a hit-the-hot-spots tour. We already have plane tickets to Rome and back. I have learned from Steven, so I have a spreadsheet with three different itineraries to show my niece. They are basically Rome, Florence, Venice, and sometimes Sorrento/Capri. I am leaning toward a long day trip to Venice from a base in Florence, but Aunt Susie will do whatever her niece prefers.

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Yes to the Trevi Fountain. When in Rome, be total tourists!

When I travel with my niece or nephew (and mostly with Steven, too), I prefer an AirBnB because we can each have our own space and stock up on snacks or breakfast. I get that Americans are spoiled, but I am trying to avoid the places that have a sofa bed as a second bed. I don’t want to sleep on that, and I’m not going to ask anyone else to either. I will write another post on how I go about choosing AirBnBs, but for now: no sofa beds!

Maybe I am weird, but Rome has never been at the top of my list. Now that I know I am going, I am excited. Plus, I grew up in New York, so crowded, loud, frenetic, a little grimy (this was New York before it was invaded by Disney) mixed into my culture don’t bother me. In fact, I like it that way. It’s homey. All suggestions on what we can’t miss are welcome.

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Venice: See it before it sinks

Florence is one of Steven’s favorite cities, so seeing it without him is a little sad, but I am sure that if we went back, there’d be plenty more to see and do. My niece has her heart set on Venice, a place I would skip, but once again, Aunt Susie will do whatever her niece desires. I think we will both enjoy Sorrento and a ferry ride to Capri. I would like to go to Pompei, and while it’s not the top of my niece’s list, I’m sure she will endure.

Oh yes, we might do a little shopping and partaking of the local cuisine.

 

Working in the Sunshine

I woke up today to see snow on the ground; true, was only a light dusting, but I am reminded once again, that I live in Chicago in the winter (my feeling are summed up by this song). On the bright side, tomorrow will be mid-40s and more importantly, I have started the countdown to our first trip of the year.

Our trip to Costa Rica starts on February 1, so at this time I have 28 days to get through—really 27 because it is already evening here and we leave very early in the morning on the 1st.  I am counting the days. As Sue mentioned, she will be learning to Scuba dive, sitting on the beach, taking day trips who knows where and living the Pure Vida while  hitting the cerveza. (I am really hoping to have some work. Honest!)

I will be working.

I am in no way complaining. I will sitting (hopefully outside) at Karl’s place in shorts, a T-shirt and wearing sun screen—not bad for February. However, since I will be working, I am beginning to worry about being connected and all the things I will need to lug down there in order to be able to work.

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My new laptop

Let’s start with my laptop, of course. I will need power, micro and USB-C cables for various peripherals, and a long Cat-5 Ethernet cable in case the WiFi isn’t so good. I am also thinking I might bring along a WiFi repeater that I have stored in the junk box downstairs. We don’t use it at home, and if the WiFi isn’t so good, perhaps I will set it up somewhere to get a boost (so I can sit outside of course). In the next week or so, I will have a look at Playa Flamingo to see if there is a coffee shop that says it has WiFi, so that if the coverage isn’t good at Karl’s, I can head there and get connected. Then me being me, I will need backups for pretty much of everything—just in case.

Brick phone
Only the latest cell phone for me!

I will need a working mobile phone.  Like most people these days, I live on my phone. (He is worse than the Millennials and Gen Z.) My company does not have a phone system; we all work on our cell phones and have a soft number assigned for work.  I hope we have decent phone coverage there, but if we don’t it works fine on WiFi (see the discussion above about the WiFi extender).  I will contact my provider and arrange for an international call package. I get a half gig of high speed data per day on the plan for $10, so unless I need to use the phone as I hot spot, that won’t be an issue.

 

All in I am really excited for the trip. This post has taken me 30 minutes to write, which means I am 30 minutes closer to the warm sunny weather. In my head, I see this:

me working

But I do worry about it being this…

me not working

Maybe I need an extra backup plan….

Slumber Party

 

I love traveling with my husband, but sometimes I need something different. Travel with my women friends feeds a different aspect of my soul. Friday, I drove to Sawyer, Michigan, where three of my friends and I spent a night drinking wine, talking, and creating soul collages. As much as I love Steven, I don’t think he would spend a day losing track of time as he hunted through magazines for the perfect picture to complete his collage (So right on so many levels). In fact, I got the quizzical look I expected when I told him what we had done.

20191109_145315There wasn’t really anything to do: no WiFi, no TV (horrors of horrors! No TV or Internet! – I am so happy I wasn’t invited), no real town to go to. It was fabulous! We were surrounded by woods, apple trees, and quiet. I am blessed with amazing friends around whom I feel both supported and loved. I feel like I can be my true self around them. In fact, I am at an age where if I can’t be my true self around someone, I don’t bother, but these are women I feel at peace around.

As you already know, when I travel, I want to be on the go: doing, seeing, exploring. I didn’t understand the power of stillness. I’m not saying I want to do this every weekend, or even once a month, but the restorative nature of it was amazing. Plus, I got to pretend I can create artwork without words.

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Soul-collage table

We are lucky that one of us has generous friends who lent us their beautiful home. While I don’t want to own a second home, I now understand the appeal.

Update: We have decided to put off our grand adventure to Southeast Asia for a year. We are in the midst of too much uncertainty and upheaval. I am sad, but I am also sure we will not give up on it.

Happy Birthday

 

It is my mother’s 82nd birthday next week. Ever since she turned 80, we (my brother, sister and I) have been working extra hard to give her special birthdays. This year, we decided that it would be good fun for all of us to pay her a surprise visit in Florida, where she lives during the winter.

My brother lives in Dallas, my sister in Pennsylvania and I live in Chicago, so the first step was finding a weekend near her birthday that would work. We settled on the week before, as both of them were traveling for work the following weekend and my daughter is coming to Chicago the one after that. OK. Step one was completed⁠—we knew when we were going⁠—Thursday, Oct. 31 to Sunday, Nov. 3.

Move to step 2. Arrange travel. We all hopped on to our favorite travel sites and looked for flights that would all arrive around the same time. One quick round of confirmation texts and we all booked our tickets. My sister and brother were set to arrive at 2:00 and 2:30, my flight is scheduled for 3. My mother lives about 30 minutes from the airport, so all in we figured we get to her at about 4.

Move to step 3. Figure out how to ensure that my mother was at home when we arrived. Time to call in the co-conspirators. I called my Aunt Es and Uncle Albert who live about 20 minutes from my mother. After quickly letting them know that nothing was wrong (seems like anytime anyone calls these days, the first thought is what is wrong), I explained our plan. They were more than happy to help. To quote (or at lease paraphrase) my uncle: “Not to worry, we will tell her (my mother) that we are going to be up there and want to take her to dinner, then we will arrive, have a glass of wine and, you know, stall until you all arrive.”

The plans were set, all we needed to do was wait for the day. My brother and sister had uneventful flights and arrived right on time. However, Chicago weather is never your friend, and once again it did not disappoint. Snow. Yes, snow on Wednesday (just about an inch at the airport) and then then snow again on Halloween. My flight was delayed. Not too much, about 45 minutes, but then I had to check my carry on bag, which would have to be collected at baggage claim, not on the jet bridge. Oh dear, now we are arriving around 5.

My brother and sister texted my aunt and uncle to let them know. Luckily for us, they have concocted a story for my mother that involved waiting for my cousin to arrive. They quite admirably stretched out the stall for another hour while we got my luggage, piled into an Uber and headed to my mother’s condo.

20191102_112119We are planners. My brother, sister and I all thought through the approach as my mother’s living room faces the building entrance way.  We asked our Uber driver to drop us off at the next building and we circled around to entrance at that back of the building.

We snuck up to the door.

Knocked.

My mother yelled come in.

We yelled, “Trick or Treat,” and walked in.

To say she looked confused would be an understatement. We burst into a very very very very off key (and for me out of time) rendition of Happy Birthday.

My mother clutched her chest (a heart attack looked possible!!!!), tears streaming down her cheeks and great big smile on her face. Isn’t my husband the sweetest?!?!?!

ma

After a few minutes of hugs and kisses, everything settled down. We knew my mother was fine when she looked at my aunt and uncle and promptly declared. “You knew this! I will never speak to you again. Now let’s figure out where to have dinner.”

We are spending the weekend doing what we do best together.  Sitting around, eating, talking about our respective families and basking in the glow of a really great surprise.

…and in case you were concerned.  Aunt Es and Uncle Albert were forgiven by the time we got to the Thai restaurant for dinner.

Graduation Trip #2: The Early Stages

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Yes, we will be going somewhere here 🙂

Yesterday was the first day of my niece’s senior year of high school, so we are definitely overdue for planning her graduation trip. There’s something amazingly special about traveling with my niece and nephew. You may remember my trip to London with my nephew for his graduation. It was fabulous, and not just because the weather was great, but also because I get to see the world through the eyes of smart, young people who are grateful and enjoying every minute.

My niece and nephew are very different. He had a definite plan and settled on London rather quickly. My niece has also narrowed down her hot spots … to Europe. To be fair, I think she is mostly talking about Spain, France, Italy, and maybe Croatia. She mentioned Copenhagen, but then decided that it was very expensive, but she’s open to ideas. There’s always Iceland, everybody’s favorite these days it seems. The only thing she knows for sure is that she doesn’t want to go to Greece, with me. She has a Greek friend and they are planning a trip someday.

We have more than enough time, but still, part of the fun is letting your imagination go wild and entertaining all the options. Here are a few of the items we still need to narrow down:

  • Are we going to one place? Two? A sampler plate?
  • If we decide on the sampler, what type of transportation?
  • How about a cruise? Yes, we both get seasick, but we can get patches. (I don’t believe anyone who says I won’t feel the boat; I get seasick looking at boats. I’m still game, though.) (when she refers to “anyone” that means me…I have never felt the boat when I have been on cruises).
  • How long is the trip? (will they even bother to come home?)
  • City? Country? Beach? Mountains? All of the above?
  • On our own or package tour? 
  • Mediterranean? Scandinavian? East? West?

I could go on, and the truth is that it is entirely up to my niece. There are tons of places I want to go and even if we end up somewhere I have already been, it will be a completely different experience with her. Ultimately, I don’t care. You only get one graduation trip with your niece, so wherever we end up, it’ll be the best.

The Utah Desert in August

File:Woodbury Desert Study Area.Par.4030.Image.jpgYes, we are going to the desert … in August. Why? Good question. Here’s the thing: Whenever I go on vacation, I think, “I could live here. It’s so relaxing, beautiful, exciting, peaceful, happening, etc.” You can fill in whatever adjective floats your boat. Then I think, “But of course it’s great. There’s no dog waking me up early. No alarm, no schedule. Vacation money is different and I’m not sitting in traffic.” Reality bites.

The trick, if you’re really exploring places as more than vacation destinations, is to go completely off-season. St. George weather in August: High temperatures in the high 90s and low 100s. I have no problem with that, especially because it cools off into the 70s. My cutoff for feeling comfortable is 75. After that, I need a jacket or pants. But, what’s it like wandering around St. George when it’s 100 degrees? Are the streets deserted? What about the flipside? Is there heating in the houses? I don’t like to be cold.

When I travel, I can pretty much find something great about everywhere, because I am an explorer. Something new is something awesome. It may only be awesome once, but that’s OK because I tend not to go back to places unless friends and family are involved (or it’s Paris). There’s always a new place on the list.

The difference this time is that we are thinking of this as a place to live. Eek! Not, as one of my dear friends would say, “our forever home,” but a home nonetheless. This is a different kind of travel. Somewhere between vacationer and wanderer. Wanderer is appealing, except for the 11-year-old German shepherd, so this is a good compromise. Nevertheless, it’s a grand adventure, and I’m not keen on travel (or life) without adventure. Who knows? We may love it and find our “forever winter home.”

The “Joy” of Booking Travel

We are all set to go to St. George. We spent this week searching airfares, hotels in Las Vegas, AirBnB’s in St. George, and rental cars. It always ends up being more complicated than it should be and there are way too many permutations that can’t be searched at once. Our plan is to fly to Las Vegas on Saturday, stay overnight, then drive to St. George in the morning. We will look around St. George from Sunday to Wednesday and then fly home from Las Vegas on Wednesday evening.

We started on the big search sites like Orbitz and Travelocity. The nice things about them is that we can search for a package of airfare, hotel, and car. The drawbacks: We could not exclude the basic economy flights from the search and so any pricing required us to separately search for airfare and add back any additional costs if the site allowed us to “upgrade” to regular economy. (I am sure Sue will use a blog post at some point to rant about the injustice of the multi-economy pricing model, but we will leave that for another time. You know it.) I will confine my whine to say that the option to upgrade–if available at all–is usually buried somewhere towards the end of the booking.

We also searched the airline websites, which also offer packages and while we are able to book the right airfare, the hotel booking option is limited–at least on American (and United as far as I could tell) –to a hotel in the city where you are flying and for the entire time you are there. Not what we are looking for, so strike two. We were able to book the flights and then a separate booking on the airline site for the hotel (which got us extra miles!), but it is the same price as booking the hotel from the hotel site. Both of those exclude the mandatory resort fee from the price of the room. I don’t mind if they exclude the costs of options that we may not use (breakfast, internet, parking, etc.) from the listed price of the room. I might not want those extras and so I shouldn’t have to pay for them. But the “resort fee” is mandatory so I don’t have any option but to pay it. Seems like that should be part of the room fee. What next? Mandatory check-in fee? Or perhaps an elevator use tax? Please, just add $35 to the price of the room and just be done with it.

Parking is another issue. Since we need a car, we will have to park at the hotel for one night. I thought it might be a better idea to pick up the car Sunday morning–one fewer day of rental and not paying for the parking would be offset by the cost of two taxi/Uber/Lyft rides from/to the airport. The taxi/Uber/Lyft ride would be $10 each way. When I searched the cars, it is somewhat counter-intuitively $10 less expensive to rent the car on Saturday rather than on Sunday. No idea why. Perhaps there is a sin tax for renting on Sunday, although not likely as it is Las Vegas and if they were going to tax sin, renting a car on Sunday would have to be pretty far down the list. Either way, we have now booked it for Saturday and will pay the $15 to park.

We booked an AirBnB in St. George and I have the same sort of issue with their pricing. he place was listed at about $70 per night but the total was about $350. Last time I checked, and I realize I have been out of school for a long time (although he is allegedly an accountant) 4 nights@$70 per night should be about $280 (for those of you following along with your calculators do this: press the 4, press the * key press the 7 and then press the 0. Now press Enter; you should see 280. I don’t mind paying $350 per 4 nights, but that is NOT $70 per night.

So, here is my recap for this post. 1. Please let me search your site for what I want. 2. Give me a break and allow me to define what options I want/don’t want up front 3. Please organize the prices in a reasonable and logical order and 4. (and finally) JUST TELL ME THE DAMN PRICE. NO MANDATORY FEES OR NO HIDDEN CHARGES.