5 June 2003
Announcing World Tour '03

It's only just now starting to take shape, but it begins on 13 July and will continue through the rest of the month and into the beginning of August.

Already things are not happening according to plan, but given the vague, inchoate nature of those plans anyway, I don't consider this a particular disadvantage.

Four venues are on the Must list this year:

Bloomington, Minnesota: The Mall of America, just because. (I will be accompanied for this segment by my two children, both of whom are hoping I will buy them stuff.)

Flat Rock, Michigan: My car would like to meet its parents, so to speak; more important, this gives me a chance to watch Dean Esmay get older.

Jamesburg, New Jersey: Annual pilgrimage to the spiritual home of tollbooths, and a two-day party.

Floyd County, Virginia: Just once I'd like to fact-check Fred on something.

As usual, I will be schlepping a notebook and will post daily updates from the road (well, actually from the hotel room); there will be a Movable Type category set up to keep the pertinent posts together.

Previous World Tours have averaged 4,500 miles or so; I suspect this one will be about the same. This very journey, needless to say, is a slap in the face of the Extremely Green, who envision a world where "Is this trip really necessary?" is exhumed from World War II rationing days and thrown up at motorists at every opportunity, and who can't imagine why someone might want to burn up a couple hundred gallons of gas for fun, fercrissake. In some ways I envy them — I've never quite been able to strike the perfect balance between anxiety and smugness, something they manage almost effortlessly — but they'll never understand the call of the open road, the delight of a perfectly-executed 50-mph apex on a 30-mph curve, the wonder of so many places separated by so much space. Maybe they can think about it while they wait for the bus.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:58 AM)
14 June 2003
More cryptic than TripTik

Despite my best efforts, an itinerary for World Tour '03 is beginning to take shape. I have added to the list of Major Stops:

Brighton, Delaware: Nonexistent for now, but wait.

Herndon, Virginia: I am informed that it came to me in a dream.

Draw a giant clock-face on the contiguous 48 states. If you have a recommendation between noon and three, let me know.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:26 AM)
1 July 2003
The official WT03 FAQ

When does the World Tour actually happen?

It begins on 14 July, and continues through the end of the month, possibly into the first of August.

What makes it a World Tour, exactly, since you're not leaving the States or anything?

Two things: it's awfully damned long, and much of it is through unfamiliar territory.

How long is "awfully damned long"?

The first two Tours ran about 4,500 miles each, about the same length as One Lap of America, except that I did no track time and didn't worry about checkpoints.

You've done this twice before. Why do it again?

Because I can. More to the point, it's good for me to get out of town, and it's good for my car to get a serious workout once in a while.

Can you actually afford this?

The proposed budget is $2200, which of course I can't afford. But given the very real benefits of the Tour — fresh scenery, fast curves, good friends at various stops — I can't afford not to.

Will you be blogging every day?

That's the plan, anyway. You can still read the reports from 2001 and 2002.

Is there any chance you'll say "Screw it" and not go home?

Ask me next month.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:09 PM)
14 July 2003
Start me up

The World Tour, such as it is, begins here.

Over the next seventeen (more or less) days, I will be exploring American roads both major and minor, seeing sights, occasionally seeing friends, and in general doing most of the things that fall under the general heading of "road trip".

For the first few days, I will be accompanied by my children, who haven't really had a chance to do the "Are we there yet?" bit in quite some time. After that — starting this Friday — I'm on my own.

My best guesstimate right now is 4,800 miles, slightly longer than the previous Tours but not at all out of reach; in fact, only on one day do I have to travel as far as 500 miles, way below my personal best (personal farthest, anyway) of 806.

Assuming I can find a place to connect my trusty Toshiba notebook, I will be posting updates each day. The statistics and such will be compiled at the end, as usual. Entries will be in reverse order on the front page, of course, but you can read them first to last in the World Tour '03 category archive (link under "Archives" to your left).

But that's just bloggage. Right now, I have a road to hit.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:51 AM)
The heat is on

Independence, Missouri - 386.8 miles

Isn't it supposed to get cooler when you travel north? I mean, obviously it doesn't do that in Australia, but then again, it's not like I'm headed to the equator or anything.

No matter. This is why God made R-134a. (Why He took away R-12 is a topic for another time.)

Anyway, I'm basking, or something, at my daughter's new place this evening. We just absorbed way too much of a Chinese buffet, something that doesn't happen often enough. Tomorrow she and her brother will fight over the front seat and we'll head north.

That's away from the equator.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:47 PM)
15 July 2003
Everyone is above average

Bloomington, Minnesota - 889.6 miles

Conventional wisdom has it that NAFTA traffic has made Interstate 35, a major north-south route (Laredo to Duluth), utterly impassable for mere car traffic. Maybe it's even true sometimes. But today, the shot straight up I-35 from Kansas City to Minneapolis-St. Paul was quiet — so quiet, in fact, that my two children took turns falling asleep while I took my turn with what traffic there was.

And better yet, it's not so darn hot up here. I actually had to back off the car's A/C from the maximum.

Northern Iowa and southern Minnesota seem to be all of a piece, and a peaceful piece it is. I could see spending a lot of time up here during months which have no R in them. My daughter seems fond of the place, though she really says she wants to live in Nova Scotia. Overall, the Twin Cities are not easy to navigate first time out, but it's a nice place to get lost. I'm starting to appreciate some of the finer points brought out by Lileks in his Bleats.

To Bonnie at Famous Dave's: Will you marry me? (Sorry, that just slipped out.)

And I apologize for the lateness of this entry: I had some minor difficulties getting the Wi-Fi connection at the hotel up to speed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 PM)
16 July 2003
Oh, for confusion

Still in Bloomington

We attacked the Mall of America today, with slightly wacky results. As enclosed retail compounds go, it's pretty impressive, and not just because it's huge; it's downright intimidating at first glance. We spent little, walked a lot.

Afterwards, we did a tour of central Minneapolis, including a drive up the parkway (or something like that) along the west bank of the Mississippi. Gorgeous. I hope our canal development in Oklahoma City ages this well.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:18 PM)
17 July 2003
Phase I completed

Independence, Missouri - 1363.0 miles

Robert Benchley once declared, "There are two classes of travel: first class, and with children." Never before have I had such a deep appreciation of this observation.

Actually, they behaved fairly well, for a couple of ten-year-olds. Unfortunately, they're both in their twenties. I have to assume that it was a lot of pent-up sibling-rivalry goofiness that they didn't get a chance to discharge circa 1990. On the other hand, they did buy most of the food and all the gasoline. :)

I have had no time to look at the rest of the Blogosphere™ this week, though I would like to acknowledge this week's Carnival of the Vanities, hosted by Caerdroia. I'll get a chance to read it eventually.

And a couple of days from now, I should be over this temporary Minnesota accent. Maybe. Tomorrow, I leave (alone) for Indianapolis; 'twill be a long haul, but not heinously so.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:22 PM)
18 July 2003
Stuck here in 46201

Fishers, Indiana - 1840.6 miles

Seemed like every ZIP code in greater Indianapolis was sticky in some way today; there's something going on called Hyperfix, in which they (presumably the Indiana Department of Asphalt, or whatever) are supposed to be fixing the entire Inner Loop all at once, which will be wonderful once they get it done — apparently a couple of hours from now — but for now it's misery to the max.

On the upside, my suite in this anonymous suburb (46038) is not at all sour.

Still, it's been a rough 500 or so miles since KC. My daughter's pride-and-joy tree spewed something hideously sticky onto my car, and five bucks at the car wash didn't quite clean it all up. I-70 through Missouri is just as drab as I remembered it; for the sake of variety I decided to take the downtown St. Louis route instead of the canonical bypass (Missouri 370 to I-270 across the river and back to 70). By the time I got to St. Louis County, there was a curt note that 70 would be closed somewhere downtown, and the last time I was in downtown St. Louis I was about 2.6 sheets to the wind and couldn't possibly remember how to get through the maze of streets in the shadow of the Arch, so I reluctantly pointed myself to 270.

Which, from that onramp, has a blind spot the size of — well, exactly the size of a Dodge Grand Caravan. If nothing else, this gave me the opportunity to demonstrate, to myself if to no one else, the reason why I scorn ABS brakes and don't have them on my car. ("Sometimes I want to lock the wheels, dammit.") Nothing was hit, I never got out of my lane, and my blood pressure rose only slightly, but this put me in a rather glum mood.

Then the rain hit. It had been sprinkling ever since Columbia, but once I crossed into Illinois, the clouds opened up with torrents of rain, just enough to make visibility optional but not enough to loosen up the tree sap. And when it stopped, the bugs, which had been hiding during the storm, attacked with a vengeance.

Which brings me into Indiana, but you know about that.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:13 PM)
19 July 2003
On the edge of the Motor City

Romulus, Michigan - 2161.9 miles

No matter what I did today, I'd still be behind: Indiana is (mostly) on Eastern time, but ignores DST, so crossing over into Michigan cost an hour.

But before that, there was a side trip to make: to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, located in the old Auburn production facility in Auburn, Indiana. Classic American iron in every sense of the word. (Oh, yes, there were a couple of imports in the back: a Mercedes-Benz Gullwing, a Jaguar E-type — but you get the idea.) It was almost a shame to have to get back into a contemporary vehicle to continue the trip. You have to go deep into downtown Auburn to get to the museum — it's nowhere near I-69 — but it stands to reason: the big bucks go out to the highway, while the traditions are tended elsewhere. It's a situation that exists a lot of places besides Indiana.

Two of the four major automotive magazines are based in Ann Arbor, and they complain routinely about the Third World quality of Michigan roads. I didn't cover a whole lot of Washtenaw County, where I-94 is quite acceptable, but I-69 just south of 94 is somewhere between wretched and horrible; I kept looking around for Ba'ath Party members with remote-control devices.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:40 PM)
The Detroit Blog Bash

Still in Romulus

Well, okay, it wasn't billed as such, but rather a lot of us turned out for Dean Esmay's birthday party, and a fine time was had by all, with topics as diverse as Stax/Volt vs. Motown, the historical importance of Desi Arnaz, and why police radar doesn't work on a particular stretch of I-94.

My thanks to Dean and Rosemary, who put together one heck of a party. I have already been warned that they will post Actual Pictures; being old and slow, I had no opportunity to duck.

Update, Monday, 3:45 pm: No pictorial evidence yet, which is a shame since all the women attending were, as they say back in Minnesota, above average, but Dean's posted his thoughts on the matter.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:46 PM)
20 July 2003
1st prize: a night in Cleveland

Cleveland, Ohio - 2386.1 miles

Not a whole lot of driving today, but a lot of sightseeing, some of it deliberate, some of it due to my inability to follow directions.

First stop was Flat Rock, Michigan, where my Innocuous Zoom-Zoom Conveyance Sedan was built during the dog days of 1999. Mostly, I wanted to see if any of its sisters or cousins were being driven by townsfolk, but in a trip through four miles of side streets, I managed to find only one lowly (but immaculate) Ford Probe.

Things I didn't expect to find between there and Cleveland:

· A really big mosque;

· A nuclear power plant;

· A segment of US 6 that is co-signed with Ohio 2 for a whole 900 yards. (This latter is near Huron.)

Tonight, I'm on the edge of the Quadrangle district of Cleveland, overlooking (just barely) the Theatre district. It's 78 degrees, there's a hot tub, and pizza will be delivered presently.

Life is (sorta) good.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:34 PM)
21 July 2003
2nd prize: two nights in Cleveland

Still in Cleveland

To the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum at the crack of, well, 10 am, considerably in advance of the rest of las turistas. Now I have a basic issue with the very concept of this institution — despite ample evidence to the contrary, rock and roll likes to think of itself as way outside the mainstream, and what could be more Establishment than a museum, fercrissakes? — but given the limitations imposed by this particular flavor of schizophrenia (quadrophenia?), the Hall works wonderfully well. The exhibits, for the most part, make some sort of demented sense; attention is paid to contemporary acts, reminding us that it didn't all end when Buddy Holly died/the Beatles broke up/Bruce split from the E Street Band/Britney Spears got a #1 hit [choose one]; and the deadpan is utterly perfect: even the goofiest of exhibits (this would be, I think, the Teen Idols section) is treated with reverence. (As a Debbie Gibson fan of long standing, I would be otherwise incensed.)

The food is slightly overpriced but good, the schwag is slightly underpriced but good, and the staff is incredibly overburdened but willing to help with almost anything this side of an Actual Crisis. And while there is a reasonable argument to be made that the Hall's location in Cleveland is due more to heavy lobbying by the city fathers than to any overwhelming importance the city may have in the grand sweep of rock history — in fact, I could swear that Eric Olsen, who lives here, has made that argument once or twice — well, hell, where else would they put it? Duluth?

Oh, before you ask: I blew $111 on schwag, including a wholly-unnecessary couple of bucks for a poly bag of 45-rpm spindle adapters. Yeah, those little yellow spidery things. I figure it's the least I can do for a place that still stocks 45s.

And if you didn't see that title coming: what's wrong with you?

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:30 PM)
Riding the storm out

Still in Cleveland

I couldn't tell you whether I was in Hough or Fairfax, but one of those districts is where I went for dinner last night in an effort to avoid the usual downtown-hotel eateries with overprix fixe. All I know about either is that Randy Newman singled out Hough in his song "Rednecks" as being on par with such urban hellholes as East St. Louis, but it didn't seem so to me.

Tonight I decided I'd drop in on a downtown watering hole, and since it was only about a block and a half away, I figured I'd walk. It had been raining most of the day, and I figured I could do the distance without getting soaked. Which I did.

Nothing spectacular on the inside: a 40ish buppie couple on their first meet-and-greet, and a handful of guys watching Sportscenter as though the Second Coming was being announced. And me, wondering how long it's been since I've even set foot in a watering hole.

The food was good, the drinks were cold, and the rain started in earnest about twenty steps from the door. I was fairly well drowning by the time I got back to the hotel, although I was still sufficiently functional to ask no one in particular, "Don't they have any drainage in this town?"

Oh, well. Into each life a little rain must fall. It certainly hasn't been falling back home. And the sun, even as I type, is trying to make some sort of cameo appearance in the midst of all this thunder.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:13 PM)
22 July 2003
We got your mountains right here

Beckley, West Virginia - 2688.1 miles

Recipe for sheer panic: Take one winding road through southern Ohio and northern West Virginia. Add three or four construction crews. Marinate in an inch and a half of rain over a period of twenty minutes. Garnish with tearful old Brenda Lee records. It's a wonder I got this far today.

And speaking of old records, a tip of the ol' sombrero to Muzak (!), which is offering a Sixties package of some sort to its subscribers that is three or four orders of magnitude better than three-fourths of the ostensible "oldies" stations out there. Digging up Jan Bradley's lovely and unjustly-forgotten "Mama Didn't Lie" deserves credit all by itself, but playing a James Brown song that isn't "I Got You (I Feel Good)" or "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag"? That's the most unheard-of thing I ever heard of. And the fact that this is being heard, not on your radio or mine, but in a seafood place in Ripley, West Virginia, should embarrass the entire broadcast industry, were it capable of embarrassment, which it obviously isn't.

But enough of this rant. Tomorrow, it's off to Floyd County, Virginia, and Fred is down at the gen'l store picking up some hatches so he can have them battened down by noon.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:44 PM)
Musings in the mountains

Still in Beckley

West Virginia is one of those few states whose population peaked years ago and has never quite rebounded, and I'm really not sure why. Admittedly, mining isn't what it used to be, if it ever was, and some people are convinced for no good reason that the place is full of slack-jawed yokels. The state's balance sheet, though, doesn't seem all that negative:

Plus: Incredibly gorgeous, almost every conceivable type of climate, located near almost everything east of the Mississippi, devoted to friends and family, scary roads.

Minus: Desperately poor, dependent on fluctuating tourist dollars, the aforementioned yokel image, scary roads.

West Virginians are, I must point out, proud of their own: when PFC Jessica Lynch returned home today, every radio station I could pick up south of Charleston was carrying the ceremonies live, and it was the lead story on all the TV newscasts I was able to check. And I don't blame them one bit for that response.

But they resent the sort of stereotyping that prevails in ostensibly more sophisticated areas. From an editorial in today's Beckley Register-Herald complaining about the proposed CBS "reality-show" version of The Beverly Hillbillies:

City slickers would search our neck of the woods for a family to send to Beverly Hills for a year, to live in the big-city lap of luxury while the cameras roll.

Ideally, the casting crew is looking for a mother and father — known in these here parts as Maw and Paw — in their 40s with at least two children. Grandma and Grandpa are welcome too. Must be willing to load up the truck and move to Beverly. Hills, that is.

"We're looking for people who have country smarts, but maybe not so much sophistication," a casting agent, Wendy Cassileth, said last year while on the hunt in Logan County.

Barefoot and toothless should only help the resume, we presume.

It's an idea that's pure, bubblin' crude.

And I don't blame them one bit for that response, either. Of course, I live in a state that is often similarly mocked.

One feature you haven't seen this year is the Toll Report, mainly because up through yesterday, I hadn't paid any tolls. This afternoon, though, I forked over $2.50 to the collectors on the West Virginia Turnpike, which, perhaps surprisingly, is not named after Robert C. Byrd. (Well, you can't have everything, not even in West Virginia.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:43 PM)
23 July 2003
Up the creek

Floyd County, Virginia - 2887.0 miles

The estimable Fred First, proprietor of Fragments from Floyd, and the lovely Mrs. First have graciously consented to put up with my presence for a period not to exceed twenty-five hours. And if you haven't seen Floyd, as 99 point something percent of you haven't, you're missing something: on the edge of the Blue Ridge, Floyd looks like all your best dreams of getting away from it all, rolled into one. And I mean "it all", too; there isn't a Starbucks or a Mickey D's or a Wal-Mart for miles, and just getting to Fred's, if you're not prepared, is easier than the Bataan Death March, but only just.

Still, it's worth it; Fred is one of my favorite folks in the Blogosphere™, and besides, it's not every day I get to park myself at a place with a "Susanna Cornett slept here" plaque.

(Incidentally, Fred says we're actually down the creek. City slicker that I am, I wouldn't have known.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:04 PM)
24 July 2003
The immediate post-Floyd era

Cockeysville, Maryland - 3178.5 miles

I think. Half the paperwork for this hotel reads "Cockeysville", the other half reads "Hunt Valley". Neither of them being actual cities or townships or anything — they're just part of the endless suburban jungle of Baltimore County — it's kind of hard to be sure. I am sure, however, that Floyd County, Virginia will never look like this.

Speaking of Floyd, I managed not to get lost on the outward section of the journey, although things got interesting briefly when a humongous motor home with Florida plates showed up at the exact spot where the blacktop south of Shawsville narrows to 0.75 lane for construction. (Fred, of course, will opine that it could have been worse; had the behemoth lumbered onto one of those single-lane, so to speak, gravelloid pathways such as the one he lives beside, which are barely wide enough for my modest little sedan, surely it would have tumbled over the edge and into the meadow/creek/abandoned pickup [choose one] waiting patiently for just such a source of amusement.)

Virginia, incidentally, is hard to leave. After following a trail of rubber tire shards back to I-81, I drove all the way up to Winchester, exited east to US 340, which re-entered West Virginia long enough for me to take note of Charles Town (which has nothing to do with Charleston) and Harpers Ferry (which has everything to do with John Brown), then put me back into Virginia for a couple of miles between the Shenandoah and the Potomac before finally dumping me into Maryland.

I-70 east of Frederick, incidentally, is posted 65. Anyone actually driving 65 is presumed to be suffering imminent transmission failure; I hit the Tour's peak speed of 92 mph while trying to open a bottleneck.

Toll report: West Virginia Turnpike (from yesterday but forgotten), $1.25; total $3.75.

(Thanks, Fred. It was a blast. A quiet sort of blast, but still a blast.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:20 PM)
25 July 2003
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike

Jamesburg, New Jersey - 3345.7 miles

Only two hours of driving today, and of course I took five hours to do it.

Leaving Baltimore on US 1, I drove over the top of a dam, something unusual for me, ventured into southeast Pennsylvania, and promptly got sidetracked. I took Pennsylvania 82 into the old town of Kennett Square, and on the far side of downtown it turns into one of those slow, winding roads through what seems to be the middle of a forest. Exactly the sort of thing I find irresistible; it should surprise no one that I didn't notice when it mutated into Delaware 82. (Thank you, Mr. Dixon, and you too, Mr. Mason.) Coming back north on Delaware (later Pennsylvania) 52, I headed east, wandered into downtown Philadelphia via the Schuylkill ("Sure-Kill") Expressway, crossed the Ben Franklin Bridge (two lanes out of a possible four were closed), and against the advice of well-meaning friends, cruised through the city of Camden, eventually jumping on the infamous New Jersey Turnpike, where speeds were running between 70 mph and 7 mph, depending on one's proximity to an exit that handles beach traffic.

Time now for some serious partying, so to speak.

Toll report: New Jersey Turnpike, $1.40; total $5.15. (The Ben Franklin Bridge is free coming out of Philly; there's a toll only if you start in New Jersey. Obviously they're trying to tell us something.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:55 PM)
26 July 2003
Live and in person

Still in Jamesburg

Back in the middle 90s, Prodigy (may it rest in peace) was still a viable online service, and a number of regular chat rooms had coalesced outside the structure dictated by the corporate masters. One of those rooms was sufficiently off-center enough to accommodate the likes of me, and I became a regular some time around 1997.

When the service committed suicide in 1999, claiming Y2k issues as the reason for its demise, we were left temporarily distraught, and an effort by Prodigy's successor service to buy us off with an IRC server proved to be more boondoggle than boon. Eventually, several of the regulars set up shop in AOL, and a reduced version of the room continues to this day; it is their party — our party — which I am attending this weekend.

As always, these events are learning experiences, and today I learned that I will never sing "I've Told Every Little Star" in public again.

While I was vocalizing (I really can't call it "singing"), I was gazing off into space and pretending not to look at She Who Is Not To Be Named, who is, as expected, every bit as bright and brilliant and beautiful as ever.

And, of course, every bit as far out of reach as ever, but I expected that too.

Tonight: not sure yet. These things have a way of developing in unexpected ways.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:46 PM)
27 July 2003
Finding a beachhead

Lewes, Delaware - 3527.6 miles

In Delaware, they do things a little bit differently. The mall near Christiana is located away from major highways on its own little asphalt island — despite this, shoppers from all over seek it out, largely because Delaware has no state sales tax — and gas stations are conspicuous by their absence, a situation I tend to notice more readily when I've gone 400 miles on a tank and am wondering just when the last few drops will disappear.

Fritz Schranck, who was kind enough to schlep me around the Lewes area upon my arrival this afternoon, explained the latter phenomenon this way: "We're a state you drive through on the way to someplace else. You don't buy gas here, so we don't sell it." They do things differently in Delaware, dammit.

Lewes itself, while billed as a beach town, seems to be atypical of the breed; while some people come here to bask in the sun, more come to cast a line or a net, and we watched the return of a couple of commercial fishing boats from a vantage point inside a waterside restaurant. (Fritz, bless him, bought.) Still, what I know about beach towns can be written on the inside of a conch shell, so take this with a grain of sea salt.

I am not fully recovered from last night's incident — for one thing, my unerring (ha!) sense of direction seems to be more impaired than usual — but at least I'm not falling apart at the slightest sidewise glance. Not that anyone gives me a second look anyway.

Toll report: Delaware 1, $2.00; total $7.15.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:47 PM)
28 July 2003
Look upon my garden gate

Charleston, West Virginia - 3982.5 miles

"First, there is a mountain," observed Donovan, "then there is no mountain, then there is." It's a safe bet he wasn't thinking about West Virginia, but he could have been; there's always another mountain.

I wouldn't even bring this up except that I did the math last night, figured out I was about 1520 miles from home, and divided the distance into thirds. And not precisely equal thirds at that: the Delaware-to-West Virginia segment worked out to be slighly longer than the other two, which led me to reject the mapper's route recommendation (all the way up to Hagerstown, Maryland? I don't think so) and hack out my own route, which required a trip halfway around the Capital Beltway, the traversal of Interstate 66, and about 150 miles of mountain roads.

Virginia 55 jumps over the state line to become West Virginia 55 after about ten miles, and by then the rain was already coming down by the bucketful. (How come every time I'm in West Virginia, it rains?) The neat thing about 55 is that in about twenty years, if Robert C. Byrd lasts long enough, it will be a serious four-lane semi-expressway, but for now, eighty-five percent of it is the sort of overwound two-lane that is absolutely glorious when it's dry and genuinely scarifying when it's wet. Okay, I volunteered for this, but still, it was frightening in spots, and when I finally got to I-79, I was paid back by a shower twice as heavy.

Still, there was sunshine towards the end, and nothing compares to the southern stretch of I-79 when you can actually see it. Mountain people are legendarily unpretentious, and I believe it has something to do with living amidst all this natural beauty: you know there's always something out there that will likely outshine you and definitely outlast you, so you instinctively avoid hogging the spotlight.

I once said something to the effect that I'd like to retire in a place where the ZIP code starts with 0, 1, or a very low 2. Let's amend that to read "26999 or below". (Not to knock the Carolinas, which run 27000-up, but I've been there and I've done that.)

Oh, and my little shortcut saved a whole 30 miles and probably only took 15 minutes longer than the recommended route, not counting the 10 minutes in queue outside of Moorefield where one of the three consecutive 9-percent grades was hiding a wrecked truck and it took them time to clear off the roads. That smell of burned brake pad, I eventually determined, was actually the fragrance from Moorefield's poultry-processing plants. I don't care. West Virginia is like that; I can forgive them almost anything.

Except, of course, Robert C. Byrd.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:01 PM)
29 July 2003
Full speed behind

St Louis County, Missouri - 4504.0 miles

(I think I'm in Crestwood, but identifying the individual communities in St Louis County [not to mention the city of St Louis, which is not in St Louis County] is a job for someone with greater expertise than I.)

After yesterday's jaunt through the mountains in the rain, it was time for a sunny session on the superslab: I-64 out of West Virginia and across Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois, then across the Mississippi River and into Missouri. And apart from spates of construction here and there (mostly there), it ran pretty quickly; I was averaging a solid 60 mph, without deducting for lunch and/or toilet breaks, until I entered St Louis, where traffic moves at the whim of the gods, if at all.

At this rate, I might actually be home tomorrow night.

Update, 31 July, 11:15 am: I have decided that, barring some sudden influx of contrary information, Crestwood is the place. If you'd like to contradict me, please be prepared to tell me precisely which municipality, if any, contains the southeast corner of Lindbergh Blvd. and East Watson Road.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:38 PM)
30 July 2003
It's a wrap

Dustbury, Oklahoma - 4990.0 miles

Note to the Missouri Department of Transportation: Whatever you're doing to Interstate 44, it isn't enough. At best, it's marginally acceptable; in spots, it's an insult to the fellow who invented pavement.

Speaking of I-44, it becomes a series of three turnpikes in Oklahoma, breaking into free status in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. I usually don't bother with them — it's a running gag, albeit true, that I pay more in tolls to New Jersey, fercryingoutloud, than I do to my home state — but I figured I'd sample them today, reasoning that (1) the speed limit is posted 75 mph, which might be interesting and (2) surely Oklahoma's maintenance can't be as haphazard as Missouri's.

Yes, and yes, sort of. We're doing a better job on 44, at least the parts I saw, but not enough for us to yell "We rule!" from the roof of the world's largest McDonald's (near Vinita). And traffic moves at 75-80 mph, though the big rigs struggle to make it up the long (though not so steep) grades in the eastern sections of the state, at which time a blip to 88 or 90 will get past them without enraging the gendarmes. (I saw five troopers in 150 miles, which must be a record, but only one person was actually busted for something.) And to add some symmetry to the Tour, I exited at Vinita to have my last lunch at the same place I had my first lunch: the Braum's on 66.

One weird aspect of these roads: the toll plaza is in the middle. If you exit before then, they catch you for a smaller sum on the offramp; if you arrive at the toll plaza, you pay the full toll for the entire distance, and if you exit before the end of the road, you are entitled to a partial refund. This strikes me as a desperate attempt to get people to use the electronic toll system.

Final toll report: Will Rogers Turnpike, $1.50; Turner Turnpike, $3.50; total $5.00; grand total $12.15.

And yes, I blew my budget, though not by much: the tentative expense report, subject to minor adjustments, declares $2390, 8.6 percent above what I had planned but not enough to make me tear out my hair in despair. A little over 10 percent of that total went for gas. The pertinent statistics:

Total amount of fuel used, in gallons: 168.4
Fuel consumption, in miles per gallon: 29.7
Worst tank, in mpg: 25.2
Best tank, in mpg: 33.5
Fastest speed attained, in miles per hour: 93
Number of emails accumulated: 1,046 (!)
Number of which I actually had some reason to read: 106

The three worst tanks, all below 27.5 mpg, were the ones in which I schlepped along the kids. In fairness, they picked up the tab for those tanks.

Shout-outs to the following:
The Prodigy Group, for putting up with me for yet another year
Choice Hotels, for untangling the mess I made of reservations
Dean Esmay, for justifying a trip all the way to Michigan (and for introducing me to some first-rate folks)
Fritz Schranck, for ditto to Delaware (and for finding me the only gas station in the state)
The Fred First family, for giving me a little taste of heaven in the Blue Ridge
She Who Is Not To Be Named, because, well, just because — and while I meant every word I said, you should have heard the ones I didn't.

So we end on an up note. Almost.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:27 PM)
2 August 2003
A second opinion

The World Tour is over, but that doesn't mean it's going away quietly.

Last Sunday, you'll remember, I wrote about landing in Delaware and meeting up with Fritz Schranck. Now as a general rule, I don't go out of my way to make myself look like an idiot — sometimes, it just comes naturally — so I didn't go into a whole lot of detail regarding my failure to negotiate the foibles of the First State; if you want the really gory details, well, you'll have to go to Fritz.

Maybe I need a "warts and all" category.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:45 PM)
The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

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