Whenever I receive one of my favorite films on DVD for Christmas, I typically watch the deleted scenes before the main feature. I am always curious to see what footage did not make it into the finished work.

As I write throughout the year, I have experiences on the road that do not make it into the final drafts of my columns. I always enjoy spotlighting some of these experiences at year’s end, so I have written up my third annual “deleted scenes” column.

Superman Celebration

My wife and I took our two children in June on their first trip to Superman Celebration in Metropolis, where they both checked out the many brightly garbed folks who turned out for the annual superhero costume contest there. We stopped several times during our walk through the downtown to have our photos taken with Superman, Flash, and other comic book characters.

One of the attractions that drew us to this year’s celebration was an appearance by actors John Glover and Cassidy Freeman from “Smallville,” a television show that my wife and I faithfully watched throughout its 10 seasons. The two actors played Lionel Luthor and Tess Mercer, who are the father and sister of Superman’s archenemy Lex Luthor.

We arrived at the celebration’s celebrity guest tent just in time to hear the two actors share anecdotes about their years on “Smallville,” including the time Freeman startled co-star Tom Welling (Clark Kent/Superman) with her ferocious portrayal of a zombie. My wife, a frequent contributor of submitted photos for my columns, later snapped a photo of the actors as they posed in front of the towering Superman statue downtown.


In April, I made my annual pilgrimage to Roger Ebert’s Film Festival (Ebertfest) at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign. My wife and I attended the opening night showing of “Joe Versus the Volcano,” a 1990 Tom Hanks film that I had somehow missed seeing.

My wait was worth it. Joe’s comical journey from working at a dreary factory to facing off with a volcano on a tropical island was impressive to see on the Virginia’s screen, which is 56 feet wide by 23 feet high. The theatre, which dates back more than 90 years, shows films in an ornate two-level auditorium. The Virginia, part of the Champaign Park District, is closed for renovations and is set to reopen in the spring.

“Joe Versus the Volcano” cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt, who has also worked on “The Help” and many other films, took the stage after the showing to field questions. Famed film critic Roger Ebert, an Urbana native, draws a variety of notable actors, directors and other motion picture industry professionals each year to his festival.

Cross-country train trip

Earlier this year, I wrote about my daughter and I riding Amtrak’s California Zephyr from Galesburg to Sacramento, Calif. and back in March. I have spent some long trips in the cramped confines of a car or airplane, which has made me appreciate being able to stretch my legs on a train. The experience is kind of like traveling on a rolling hotel.

My daughter and I explored both levels of the sleeping car where we, as well as my mother and sister, spent our nights on the bi-level Zephyr. We also visited the neighboring sleeping car, the dining car, the Sightseer car and its lower-level café, and all of the coach cars near the front of the train.

We had fun looking out the back window of the train as it entered and exited long tunnels through the Rocky Mountains. It was fascinating to see the sunlit area at the end of the tunnels grow progressively smaller as the train moved farther into the darkness.

Snacking in the Sacramento area

Our trip to Sacramento was focused on visiting our aunt in suburban Elk Grove, so we did not do much sightseeing. Still, we took time to try some of the regional chains of restaurants and food retailers there.

We stocked our hotel room mini-fridge with food from the bountiful sections of fresh produce, deli items and baked goods at the nearby Nugget Market, probably one of the best supermarkets I have ever seen. I especially enjoyed the Thai smoked salmon and seasoned asparagus from the deli. We also chowed down on fresh-made cheeseburgers and french fries from an In-N-Out-Burger, an iconic chain in California.

As far as food goes, a highlight of the trip for us was going to a See’s Candies shop in Elk Grove. The California-based See’s company has been making chocolates and other candy since 1921.

The staff at the Elk Grove shop, decorated with See’s trademark black and white decor, was generous in giving out samples from the long display case of chocolates. We left with a bag of individual chocolates, little boxes of seasonal chocolate St. Patrick’s Day Potatoes (surprisingly tasty), and cases of our favorite Awesome Walnut Square Bars. I am hopeful that a few of these bars will find their way into our Christmas stockings.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Contact Stroud at rstroud@jg-tc.com or 238-6861.