6 June 2005
Gearing up

Four weeks from today, I hit the road for my fifth annual World Tour and Celebration of Internal Combustion. This year's destinations were chosen on the basis of Not Been There, Not Done That: there are only two states east of the Mississippi which I have never visited — Maine and Rhode Island — and fortunately for me and my fuel budget, they are in relatively close proximity to one another.

The actual route has yet to be set, though there will definitely be a stop in Philadelphia (thank you, Donna), and one or two others will probably suggest themselves in the next few days as I peer into the old Rand McNally.

I expect this trip to take 17 days, cover 5,000 miles, and cost $2,800. We shall see.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 AM)
26 June 2005
The official WT05 FAQ

When does the World Tour actually happen?

It begins on 4 July, and continues for a bit more than two weeks.

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 relatively unfamiliar territory.

How long is "awfully damned long"?

The first four of these jaunts averaged about 4500 miles; this one will be a tad longer than that.

You've done this four times 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.

Will you be blogging every day?

That's the plan, anyway. You can still read the reports from 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004.

What's the shape of this year's route?

To be determined. So far, the only things that are known for certain is that at some point Maine and Rhode Island will be entered, and that I will pass through Philadelphia. First stop, however, will be the Kansas City metro, since it will be my son's 24th birthday.

Isn't this basically a rewrite of the official WT04 FAQ?

Well, yes, but then it was basically a rewrite of the official WT03 FAQ, and I am not one to reinvent the wheel while I'm on a roll, if you know what I mean.

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

I would have to be extremely fortunate, in the winning-lotto-ticket sense, or extremely smitten, in the "I've been waiting for you all my life" sense. Don't count on either of these actually taking place.

Note: Feel free to post additional questions in the comments box, or by mail if you'd rather.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:56 PM)
4 July 2005
Shoving off from the Big Desk

Things are running a little behind schedule today because of Serious Stormage — as of this writing, we've had an inch and a quarter of rain so far on the northwest side — but otherwise, it's just a matter of packing 16 days' stuff into enough luggage to hold seven. (One of Stinnett's Laws of Travel: "Take half as much clothing and twice as much money.")

First stop is Independence, Missouri, an appropriate spot for the Fourth of July, and what's more, it's my son's birthday.

WT05 begins now.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:25 AM)
A fabulous Fourth

Independence, Missouri — 409.2 miles

I never quite get tired of Route 66. Oklahoma has more of the old Mother Road in drivable condition than any other state, and the stretch just east of Oklahoma City is still great fun, even if they've relocated the actual roadway a few times. And I have a certain amount of resistance to paying the OTA four bucks to shave a couple miles and a few minutes off the drive to Tulsa.

Except that it gets dreadfully dull around Sapulpa, and I dropped off 66 at Bristow to pick up the turnpike, which perked me up somewhat, but not quite as much as listening to Kimberlea Daggy on KWTU, who goes on my list of Voices to Fall in Love With.

I attribute the dullness to creeping suburbia, and it may even be true; just inside Creek County, barely east of Stroud, I spotted a sign for S. 545th W. Ave. Tulsa is spreading.

Sign at a Tulsa church: ETERNITY IS TOO LONG TO BE WRONG.

Unexpected fun stretch of pavement: Lee's Summit Road from the northern edge of Lee's Summit to the southern edge of Independence.

I am encamped at my daughter's place, where we will char the flesh of dead animals and use up a frightening quantity of incendiary devices. As those great Americans, George and Ira Gershwin, once said, "Who could ask for anything more?"

Toll report: Turner Turnpike, Bristow to Tulsa, $1.00.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:08 PM)
5 July 2005
Sunshine on my shoulder

Danville, Illinois — 823.7 miles

Unfortunately, where I need it is on my knee, but driving becomes difficult if I so contrive.

In my ongoing efforts to avoid Interstate 70, I took US 24 across most of Missouri. It's a nice road, a little below average in difficulty, a little above average in scenic quality, and quite horribly paved west of about Salisbury. Since points westward are identified as part of Lewis and Clark's route, I'm assuming that they wanted to retain the original 19th-century surface.

Somewhere west of Moberly was a hand-painted sign for "Bloom'n Idiots Landscaping and Lawn Care." This does not inspire the level of confidence I might desire.

I split from 24 near Hannibal and jumped on US 36, which becomes Interstate 72, a perfectly lovely road for the most part and in really good shape in the less-busy western half of Illinois; it goes to hell right about Springfield.

Illinois being renowned/reviled (choose one) for its gun laws, I wasn't too surprised to see BurmaShave-esque signs for a group called Guns Save Life.com scattered along the roadsides.

And the flak over Jack FM has made it to Champaign/Urbana, although for reasons having to do with local history and/or the desire to avoid paying royalties, this version is called The Chief. Same shtick, though: "The Chief Plays Whatever The Chief Wants." I'm surprised anyone is wanting to play "Layla" still.

Addendum: I found this little blurb at the bottom of the left column of today's Commercial-News:

To our readers: Vending machines and store copies will contain advertising inserts when the advertiser supplies enough. To subscribe, call [number redacted].

Maybe it's just me, but I find it hard to believe that this is a problem. (For the record, I got a coupon book from Kirchner Building Centers — "Your Home Project Partner, Est. 1906" — with my vending-machine copy.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:30 PM)
6 July 2005
Think Nationally

St Clairsville, Ohio — 1206.4 miles

The National Road, as it was called, was designed to connect state capitals as it headed west from Wheeling, West Virginia, and indeed it goes through Columbus and Indianapolis, then turns southwesterly just enough to miss Springfield and Jefferson City. (It also bypasses Dayton, Ohio, but that's another matter.)

US 40 still carries "National Road" signs, but it's been largely supplanted by Interstate 70; just the same, I decided to spend as much time as I could on the old road, which is mostly still drivable in Indiana and western Ohio. East of Indianapolis, US 40 picks up a series of charming small towns, bracketed by the cities of Greenfield and Richmond; it's a serene little drive if you can handle the speed-limit changes. (There's also a Nameless Creek, or so says the sign.)

It's more problematic in Ohio, where current alignments tend to be tricky. (And in Zanesville, you face a fork in the road — in the middle of a bridge.) Still, if you hate I-70 as much as I do, this is the way to go.

These guys were running a truck called the "Semen Shuttle" about 35 miles west of Indianapolis. I didn't stop to ask.

A couple of things I noticed in Richmond: an actual Bank One sign — I guess the merger is taking longer than anticipated — and, at a brokerage office, what looks like a time/temperature sign, which actually displays the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Ohio had a few stretches of road marked "Warranty Pavement," with an expiration date. I have a feeling some of them aren't going to make it.

Across the bottom of my receipt from a BP station in St Clairsville: THANK YOU / LIVE LONG AND PROSPER. Must be some kind of mining tradition.

(Timestamp below in EDT.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:06 PM)
7 July 2005
I'd rather be in Philadelphia

Trevose, Pennsylvania — 1566.7 miles

Okay, close enough. Then again, they're talking heavy rain between tonight and tomorrow afternoon, the remnants of Cindy. (Of course, they define "heavy rain" here as an inch or two; Oklahoma storm spotters will snicker.) And I got some fairly heavy rain yesterday on the road, enough to slow traffic to 45 mph, and almost enough to clean my car, so this doesn't distress me particularly.

I bought a replacement for my Wi-Fi card; it didn't work, but it didn't work differently, so I'm assuming I have port issues. Inasmuch as the software with the new card didn't look anything like the software for the old card, I figure the next step should be to reinstall the software for the old card, which will have to wait until I get home. (The new card was duly returned to the point of purchase.)

It's been four years since I was last on the Pennsylvania Turnpike; I note with some sorrow that while I drove 90 fewer miles this year, the toll was higher. What I wrote back then:

An "easy drive", I was told. Well, some of it is. But the first 160 or so miles could pass for a carnival ride. This road swoops and dives and curls and doubles back on itself so often you wonder if maybe you've gotten on the ramp to a Möbius strip. And that doesn't even include the opportunities to plunge literally into the side of a mountain. After four of these, I was ready to start lobbying Congress for a claustrophobia-care bill.

This year, only three tunnels, though one of them seemed to be leaking, which did nothing for my sense of well-being. On the other hand, there are now areas posted for a 65-mph limit, which I don't remember seeing before.

A shout-out to WRAW radio in Reading, who while I was in their range played nothing newer than 1968 and managed to exhume a Gary "U.S." Bonds record — and not "Quarter to Three," either.

And after I'd proffered plastic to pay for 48 hours in this hotel — well, 44, actually — the chap behind me asked for a quote for a three-hour tour. I am told that there is lodging on this very street that will oblige him.

Addendum: It's pronounced "TREE-vohs," at least by the locals. I distinctly remember an informercial placing the accent on the second syllable, but for all I know they grind those out in a converted porno studio in Van Nuys.

Toll report: Pennsylvania Turnpike, $16.25; total $17.25.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:53 PM)
8 July 2005
Wandering around Philly

Still in Bensalem Feasterville Trevose

I'm sure somebody knows how to tell which is which, but I don't.

And actually, wandering will be limited somewhat early today, owing to the rain. (Maybe I'll go up to Upper Moreland and see if anyone has a cat on a leash.) There will be an earth-shattering event later, though: a pilgrimage to Donnaville.

I'm bringing extra socks, in case the first pair is knocked off.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:23 AM)
Creeping suburbia

I live in a city of six hundred square miles, in the heart of a metropolitan area of a million souls and more. So urban sprawl to me is more or less an everyday thing: while my particular neighborhood dates back nearly sixty years, I don't have to go very far to see the bulldozers at work.

While reading up on Bucks County, a place I have visited only once before, a place almost exactly the same size as Oklahoma City, I hit upon this piece, which says that Bucks is suffering mightily from sprawl issues of its own. This afternoon, I took some time to take a look for myself.

The first Levittown, of course, was on Long Island, New York; William Levitt then turned his attention to Bucks County, where, said Reader's Digest in 1952, wondrous things would happen:

Four thousand homes will be completed by the end of 1952; in the next two years 12,000 more. In ten short years it is expected to be the size of Norfolk, Va., one of the 50 largest cities in the country. Its creators, Levitt & Sons, have singlehandedly built a metropolis overnight.

Which turned out to be hype, mostly; Levitt built for a population of 70,000, and with the subsequent decline in family size and the constraints of local government — Levittown has no government of its own and is partitioned among four Bucks municipalities — the population is currently around 55,000 or so.

Both Levittowns (and a third, in New Jersey, which no longer bears the name) were derided for their lack of variety: "Little boxes," sang Malvina Reynolds, "made of ticky-tacky, and they all look just the same."

Lewis Mumford's criticisms were less lyrical but no less pointed:

It is a one-class community on a great scale, too congested for effective variety and too spread out for social relationships.... Mechanically, it is admirably done. Socially, the design is backward.

Half a century later, do these criticisms still apply? Yes and no. The houses, after years of customization, don't quite look "just the same" anymore. And of course, the prices have risen from Levitt's original $10,000 price point. But fans of "diversity," presumably either ethnic or socioeconomic, will be no more pleased with the 21st-century version than they were before.

During my 50-mile trek through the southeastern half of Bucks County, I decided I wasn't going to be too alarmist about things. Yes, I'd be despondent if everything looked like Street Road, but then again I'd hate for every street back home to look like May Avenue. And while Bucks County has doubled in population since 1960, the rate of growth has slowed considerably.

Still, I'm persuaded that only part of suburban growth is due to people who are hell-bent on living in the suburbs; the trick is to get people back into the central cities if possible. And the city of Philadelphia, alas, isn't booming at all.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:58 PM)
Amazon women on the move

It was six-thirty when I saw them rounding the corner: tall, fierce, formidable. I'd be outnumbered by one, but here were two, and fortunately for me, they were happy to see me.

Donna and her sister Lisa greeted me in downtown Newtown, and we promptly descended upon Isaac Newton's and discoursed on dozens of situations of varying gravity.

Lisa disappeared for a moment and returned with Master Beauregard Duke Bebop W. Le Moko, a charming young fellow who was anxious to make friends. (Bobo also got in a few licks at one Harry, a West Highland White Terrier who was heading in the other direction, or so he thought.) A splendid time was had by all, although one question continues to nag at me: Why aren't the guys lined up at her door yea deep? Did beautiful, smart and funny suddenly become disqualifiers?

For those who demand photographic evidence, be assured that it exists, as surely as the Cake Batter ice cream at the Zebra-Striped Whale.

And just as sweet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:24 PM)
9 July 2005
Twice blessed, twice

North Bergen, New Jersey — 1828.5 miles

After last night's Major Babe Encounter, it seems almost churlish to mention today's lunch date with Janis and Randye, two friends of long standing who were at the center of the gatherings in Jamesburg, mentioned in previous Tour reports, but hey, I have no fear of being a churl.

(Incidentally, both of them are thinner than they were in '03, for which I offer my congratulations and an only-slightly-muted wolf whistle.)

It actually took me longer to get from off the turnpike to the hotel than it did to drive the turnpike, but this is due to my unerring choice of wrong turns when available — or maybe the mind was clouded by all this sudden babeliciousness, something to which I am not even slightly acclimated.

And it continues. Tonight I am granted a rare privilege: access to the Dawn Eden archives, overseen by the erstwhile Petite Powerhouse herself.

Toll report: New Jersey Turnpike, $4.10; total $21.35.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:22 PM)
Spelunking on the second floor

As mentioned previously, I got a peek at the fabled Dawn Eden Archives this evening, and while it's certainly true that I'd have paid her the visit even if all she had was a copy of Sgt. Pepper's, and I mean the soundtrack fercryingoutloud, hanging around Dawn's apartment is one of the best ways I know of to complete your graduate degree in Pop Ephemera. (I, of course, got my sheepskin picture sleeve years ago, magna cum loudest.)

What's more, as I had already learned, she's a first-class dinner companion, which comes in handy if you're going to have a first-class dinner, which we did. (Allow me to recommend the chicken Milanese.) Was it worth two scary cab rides through streets clogged to Bombay standards? You betcha.

Addenda: Dawn has posted an actual photo of the event.

Someone asked me once what she was like. I have now amended my answer to include the following:

"You know someone is knowledgeable about pop music when you find a Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich LP sleeve on the wall.

"Dawn has two of them."

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:19 PM)
10 July 2005
It was funnier than Pawtucket

Woonsocket, Rhode Island — 2075.4 miles

But let us not make fun of Woonsocket. It is an old, established Native American name that means "You might as well be in Massa-freaking-chusetts already." And really, I can't tell you too much about it, since the hotel is something like three-quarters of a block inside the corporate limits and therefore I haven't seen much of anything other than the faux-aluminum diner on an outlot.

(Addendum: I got out a couple of hours later and saw the town. It's bigger than I thought — 45,000 people or so — and, as in most cities that go back this far, it helps to have lived here thirty years to be able to find stuff. I suspect things would be different in Woonsocket, South Dakota.)

The escape from New Jersey was supposed to have been up US 1/9, which eventually drops one onto the George Washington Bridge, but radio traffic warnings and sudden recollections persuaded me otherwise. So I threaded up the east end of Bergen County, saluted the town of Tenafly, where Lesley Gore grew up, and crossed into New York state.

Yes, I know, I missed NYC again. But there are 19 million New Yorkers, and 11 million of them don't live in NYC, so I don't think I got such a bad deal. Besides, US 6 through New York is quite lovely, if inevitably loaded with traffic.

Seen on 6 near Mahopac: Mr. A's Ice Cream and Chicken. I assume they have both white and dark chocolate.

Priciest gas of the Tour so far was purchased in Southington, Connecticut, for $2.379. Not that I'm complaining, really: this was 15 to 25 cents cheaper than anything I saw in New York. Of course, if I'd waited until I'd had lunch (Wendy's on Queen Street), I'd have found it for two cents less, but life is like that. (In this lifetime, I have yet to buy any gas in New Jersey, despite the obvious novelty value of full service.)

Sublime/Ridiculous Department: A shout-out to Mike West on WDRC-FM in Hartford, a man who has the courage of his request line, a man who followed "Surfin' Bird" with "American City Suite." My initial reaction, per my voice recorder, was "My God, he's got guts."

A pizza place near the Connecticut/Rhode Island line is called "Kikapoo," a name which seems both familiar and slightly deranged. I assume it is not related to either the tribe or to that other fine New England product, Kickapoo Joy Juice Indian Oil.

Toll report: Bear Mountain Bridge, $1.00; total $22.35.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:49 PM)
11 July 2005
Deliberately terse

Had a nice little yak (no, not the Tibetan sort) last night with Jay of Accidental Verbosity fame, with Deb and Sadie in the background and Sadie not particularly interested in staying in the background. Seems to me there ought to be a New England Blogger Bash one of these days. (And, well, if the timing is right....)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:31 AM)
York, Bath and beyond

Augusta, Maine — 2322.9 miles

Downtown Providence is a hoot. You (or at least I) wouldn't have thought you could have shoved so much stuff into such a small space, but then I live in what some people think of as the Sprawl Capital of the World. And there are limited-access thoroughfares with low speed limits which are apparently routinely ignored; drivers on a stretch of US 6 posted 35 were doing an easy 60. Still, I had to take a look at it: once upon a time, one of those online quizzes — a serious one, unlike the usual blog fodder — told me that Providence was where I ought to live. And, well, I'm sure I could do worse.

One sign I hadn't seen before cropped up right inside Massachusetts: CAUTION / REDUCED SALT AREA. This being July, when road salt is irrelevant, I conclude that either (1) they're too busy to cover up or take down the signs or (2) this is unrelated to traffic and is actually a mandate from the Food Police.

An antique shop in Brookline: "A Room With A Vieux." Really.

And yes, I went into downtown Boston, partially because of sheer insanity, but mostly because I used to hang out there on weekends when I was a grunt stationed at the former Fort Devens and I wanted to see if I recognized anything. The answer is "Not much." Then again, back in those days I took the T; the view is much different from behind a taxi.

On I-93 near Medford I saw a Nissan Altima with a "Kennedy/Johnson" bumper sticker, and that was just the first of half a dozen. I have to assume this is not referring to JFK/LBJ, but with Massachusetts Democrats, I probably shouldn't assume anything.

Near Yarmouth, Maine I saw the smallest freestanding McDonald's I've ever seen. I mean, it could have been a little bank branch, were it not for the fact that it was sitting next to, um, a little branch bank.

And one last sign: "Welcome to Kennebunk, the only village in the world so named." That's even fewer than Woonsocket(s).

Toll report: I-95 through New Hampshire, $1.00; Maine Turnpike, $1.80; total $25.15.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:16 PM)
12 July 2005
The very ends of the earth

Yeah, I know, spheroid, no actual "ends," yadda, yadda. On the other hand, things that sit on top of the Big Blue Marble do have defined, if occasionally ill-patrolled, boundaries, and as far east as you can get in these United States, assuming we don't annex Iraq or anything, is latitude 44° 48.9' north, longitude 66° 57.1' west.

And that's where I went today, on the basis that if you've seen one charming fishing village with local color, you've seen them all.

Lighthouse at West Quoddy HeadWhat's there is this: a smallish state park with hiking trails and a lighthouse dating to 1858, which replaced one built 50 years earlier under orders from Thomas Jefferson. The lighthouse was automated in the 1980s but is still functioning, and rather a lot of people have been photographed beside it over the years. I asked the volunteers at the Visitors Center, and they allowed that they'd had guests from 48 states. (Alaska? Idaho? Get with it already.) The careful reader will note that this is West Quoddy Head; there's an East Quoddy Head, but it's in New Brunswick, which, last I looked, was in Canada.)

Of course, getting there is half the fun, to the extent that dicing for road room with (other) tourists is fun. One novelty was seeing a prank come to life: in 2003, a radio station in Ottawa mocked the nascent Jack FM format with something called "Frank FM," and today there's an actual Frank FM along the Mid-Coast. (Mostly, I was flipping between WBACH and a little community station in Blue Hill.)

Along US 1 near Machias are two obvious competitors: Cranberry Motors, which sells a variety of GM cars, and Blueberry Ford. How they wound up next door to each other is no doubt the stuff of legend.

Maine 182 from Franklin to Cherryfield is a 12-mile thrill ride, posted 50 when it's not posted 45, and possessed of rapid successions of 30-mph curves. I tried my best to keep it at a solid 60.

And in Lubec, which is the town nearest to West Quoddy Head, I saw not one but two banners promoting University of Connecticut sports. Sounds like it's time to drive back to the Constitution State. (After all, there's no point in going any farther east.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:31 PM)
13 July 2005
Too early for harvest

Southington, Connecticut — 2985.0 miles

(I had to. This town gets such a strong response whenever I mention it.)

Today was a day to explore more of US 202, parts of which I discovered in earlier Tours and which still strikes me as a genuinely spiffy sort of road, even when it passes through New Jersey. I picked it up west of Augusta and followed it all the way to near Ludlow, Massachusetts; of the segments involved, all were new to me except the stretch from Concord to Peterborough, New Hampshire.

The Rent-a-Wreck in Manchester, Maine is advertising: TRY OUR BRAND NEW HYUNDAIS. Does J. D. Power know about this?

I spotted an eatery in eastern New Hampshire boasting RADICAL VEGAN FOOD. I didn't quite have the nerve to drop in and ask for a menu, perhaps because I suspect they could have determined I'd had a steak two nights before.

A T-shirt shop east of Concord makes the following pitch: PREVENT NUDITY. BUY SHIRTS. I think it might also require pants, you know?

And speaking of Concord, one reason I went back through there today was because I remembered its downtown as being a reasonable model for the remaking of Oklahoma City: Main Street is four lanes, there is parking on either side, and pedestrians are accorded the right-of-way. It was blocked off at Park Street, and as I approached I could see why: a small antiwar demonstration — "small" meaning "fewer than ten," at least when I was nearby, which was about 1 pm — taking place. This being New Hampshire, it was a polite demonstration: no bizarre-looking individuals, no signage bordering on the pathological, no screaming unto the heavens. As I detoured around the state offices, I noticed a minivan parked in the space reserved for the Governor. (John Lynch drives a minivan? Who knew?)

And next month there's a chili cookoff in Winchendon, Massachusetts. Admittedly, I don't think first of Massachusetts when I think "chili," but life is full of surprises, none of which were waiting for me at the I-84/I-91 stack in downtown Hartford, which was its usual horrid self.

Toll report: MassPike, 25 cents (one whole exit); total $25.40.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:01 PM)
14 July 2005
Far below Cayuga's waters

Corning, New York — 3273.2 miles

Once upon a time — well, actually, it was 1969 — I applied to Cornell, and was accepted. Sometimes I wonder how things might have happened differently had I contrived to attend (back then, applying to four schools didn't cost a season's worth of gas for the truck), but if I had, certainly this wouldn't be my first trip to the Finger Lakes region.

Up into the Catskills on New York 17, which occasionally flashes "Future Interstate 86" signs. Judging by the number of intersections at grade, it's a far future indeed. But it's a nice drive, especially where it skirts the park, and patrolling seems to be limited to some very specific We Mean It zones.

And for some reason, seeing these mountains and all that greenery, or something, propelled me into some sort of a funk; I'm thinking that I'm on the return leg, after all, and roads become a lot less scenic west of Bristow or so. But maybe it was something else after all, because it took me two spins of "Surfin' Bird," the definitive road-trip song (it's impossible to ignore, yet you can't focus on the lyrics), to get me out of it.

There are signs all along 17 for a store called "Memories," which made me think it might be some sort of Jewish Wall Drug. It's not. It is, however, an interesting little antique store, bits and pieces of other people's lives for sale by the side of the road. (Hmmm. Maybe this is what set me off; is my existence ultimately to be boiled down to a handful of tchotchkes?)

South of there is a Mobil station styling itself "Wally-Mart." Paging the lawyers....

And just off the exit in Corning, where the road really is Interstate 86, is a futuristic glass building. This is not the Corning Museum of Glass: that's in the next block. This is just the Parking Pavilion, and a shuttle runs the 1500 feet or so between the Pavilion and the Museum door. There's tons of stuff in there, including enough glass paperweights to hold down the Federal Register, but the big show lately is a tripartite exhibition of Czech glass works that I found incredibly compelling.

In the Museum — specifically, in the GlassMarket gift shop — was a character I recognized from a dream a couple of nights ago. I'm reserving further comment pending additional revelations.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:00 PM)
15 July 2005
Half a loaf

A quotation from this very site, at the beginning of last summer:

Route 66 is more an historical artifact than an actual highway these days. Part of its allure, I have always believed, was that it cut an odd swath across the country: south across Illinois, turning southwest at St Louis, finally heading straight west at Oklahoma City. There are, however, still-extant US routes that cut even stranger diagonals than that: 52, which drops from the very top of North Dakota to midtown Charleston, South Carolina, and 62, which runs from El Paso to Niagara Falls. I hope to drive both in their entirety while they're still around.

I was looking down the map, and New York 17 intersects with US 62 (yes!) near Jamestown, which suggests the route for the rest of the way home.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:29 AM)
Then again, maybe not

Alliance, Ohio — 3573.8 miles

I knew the US 62 idea was toast the moment I got within a hundred miles of Jamestown and NY 17/I-86 turned into a goat path, and not a good goat path at that. (It's beyond patching; they're actually starting to rip out the old road.) On the basis that suspension repairs on this car are bloody expensive, I ducked down NY 16 into the city of Olean, which was sort of neat in the way of a well-kept Rust Belt town.

Once into Pennsylvania, 16 becomes 646, and suddenly becomes one of those shaded, endlessly-curving country roads of which I'm inordinately fond, although the buzz lasts only about two minutes (three minutes if you're following the signs religiously) before you're propelled into a municipality which presumably takes a dim view of this sort of driving.

With the radio set to Bradford's WBFD (and why not?), I slid around the Allegheny National Forest for a couple of hours, passing through Lewis Run, billed as "the smallest industrial borough in the United States," and eventually landing on Pennsylvania 66, where the fun resumed on an irregular basis, and where I saw a house with a US Route 66 sign, which struck me as amusing in its own right.

In the town of Kane is the Ronald McDonald II Funeral Home, which leads to the obvious question: "II?"

Near Clarion, a dealer in trailers manufactured homes is boasting "Amish Quality." Write your own joke.

At Emlenton, off I-80, a truck plaza is offering, per their sign, "America's Worst Apple Pie." I assume this is sub-Amish quality. I didn't try it, for fear it might actually be good.

Besides, this is the fabled Oil Region of Pennsylvania — you don't see people putting Utahzoil or Magnolia State in their engines, do you? — which draws about 50,000 annually to the Oil Heritage Festival. It occurs to me that Oklahoma is far too embarrassed about its own oil patch, that we'd like to think we're so over that. The people who shriek that "It's all about the OIL!" won't like it, but then again, they won't like the 112 (or so) gallons of unleaded I've burned up to bring you these reports.

And I would appreciate it if someone would say something nice about Youngstown, Ohio, parts of which I drove through in an effort to synchronize myself with US 62. What I saw was uniformly dispiriting, and underpinned with remarkably bad streets to boot. Surely something is good about the place besides a live performance, as advertised on the radio (Y-103), of the Huckin' Fillbillies.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:19 PM)
16 July 2005
With the rain in my shoe

Louisville, Kentucky — 3916.1 miles

Well, actually, the shoes held up pretty well, but intermittent blasts of that cold Kentucky rain made the approach into Louisville more interesting than it needed to be; I was rather hoping for a placid, uneventful sort of day, or at least as placid as one can be after passing by a place called "Toxic Heat," which appears to be an Internet café just east of Canton, Ohio.

Electronic traffic sign seen on US 30 in East Union Township: WATCH 4 STOPPED TRAFFIC. OMG, text talk has reached 2 ODOT.

Seen at a church east of Wooster: GOD FORGETS THE PAST. IMITATE HIM. Does this mean I have to start working six-day weeks too?

This is what's stenciled on the bumpers of the patrol cars in Ashland County, Ohio: http://www.ashlandcounty.org/sheriff/.

Down toward Cincinnati, I spotted a sign for Ohio 126, which is styled the "Ronald Reagan Highway," one of a bazillion things named after Captain Ron. (On an impulse, I sent my first and last name to Google, and I'm now the #2 entry for this name, which is actually impressive considering how common the name is and how inconsiderable my accomplishments are.)

This is the first time I've been to Louisville since the consolidation of city and county government, making this modest burg, they say, the 16th-largest city in the nation. The 2004 Census estimates actually put it 26th, with a population of 556,332, ahead of Washington but behind Denver. (Oklahoma City is now 31st, at 528,042, down two slots from 2000, owing to the Louisville consolidation and the rapid upsurge in Las Vegas; Tulsa has also dropped two slots, to 45th.) The city claims 699,017, behind Columbus but ahead of Austin. I assume the 140,000 or so missing souls are stuck somewhere on I-264 or I-265.

The rain is starting again.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:46 PM)
17 July 2005
Man and Superman

Metropolis, Illinois — 4256.7 miles

Back on Central time at last.

The rain started coming down again a few minutes before I hit Elizabethtown; I had the absurd idea that I'd be safer in a small town than on the big, nasty highway. Well, E-town isn't that small — 23,000 people or so — and after hiding out at a bank drive-thru for a few minutes (well, it was a branch of my bank, and I did use the ATM in the process), I pressed ahead through the storm, which let up after about an hour or so.

One thing I did notice: all the church parking lots were full, storm or no storm, for the next 50 or 60 miles.

US 62 near Rosine, Kentucky, birthplace of Bill Monroe, is marked "Blue Moon of Kentucky Highway," which seems only reasonable. Farther west, in Central City, the road is labeled "Everly Brothers Boulevard," for the same sort of reason. I pulled into Central City for lunch, and chatted up a trio of soldiers, probably Reservists doing their one weekend a month (which would explain the mind-jarring combination of sneakers and camo on one of them). They were in a plenty jaunty mood; I mentioned my own years in fatigues, and one of them said, "It's a pleasure to serve." Gotta love those Kentucky boys. (And the girls, too: while billboards near Paducah offered possible counterevidence, what I see makes me believe that there are no unattractive women anywhere in Kentucky. Must be a state law or something. West of Beaver Dam I spotted a mailbox with the name "Cornett"; I didn't stop to ask, but you never know, or at least I don't.)

Sign at Tradewater Taxidermy: THE BUCK STOPS HERE. Cute.

When I was in Pennsylvania however many days ago, I crossed a bridge from West Trenton Avenue in Morrisville to Calhoun Street in Trenton, New Jersey. The bridge is one of those narrow jobs with lanes about this wide and no actual pavement: it's all steel plates, and they play hell with my nerves. US 45 has something similar between Paducah, Kentucky and Brookport, Illinois, with one minor exception: the Ohio River is about three times as wide as the Delaware, so my synapses endured roughly 27 times as much jangling.

I am just under 600 miles from home at this point; were this the beginning of the trip, I'd try to do it in one day, but right now I'm suffering from Kryptonite poisoning or something.

Actually, I did pay a visit to the Super Museum in downtown Metropolis, across from the actual statue of the Man of Steel Bronze, where I was reminded that Lois Lane and Supergirl were plenty hot. According to local lore, the Chamber of Commerce used to hand out Kryptonite samples to visiting children, but DC put a stop to that, and I assume it's not because they assumed the kids would be visiting planets with different-colored suns.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:03 PM)
18 July 2005
Missouri loves company

Springfield, Missouri — 4567.0 miles

They say "Nature always bats last," which is probably an understatement; Nature can appear anywhere in the order, including cleanup. Certainly the current route of the Missisippi River indicates top-of-the-order hitting: the most expedient way out of southern Illinois today was to cross the Ohio into Kentucky, thread through three counties, jump back over the Ohio into Illinois again, and only then cross the Mississippi.

Eventually this put me into Sikeston, Missouri, which is interesting because US 60, 61 and 62 all intersect there, but also because they have an eatery where the rolls are literally thrown at you. Fortunately, I have a large strike zone.

US 60 thereafter alternates between drab and dandy, and I must thank the young ladies in the black Cutlass Supreme convertible somewhere near Cabool for providing cross-lane entertainment, even if that wasn't their intention. (Four girls on a road trip? This is the stuff of Cinemax at half past midnight.)

Springfield, Missouri, of course, is nothing like The Simpsons' Springfield. For one thing, nobody boasts about the wonders of Capital Jefferson City. And, at a population around 150,000, it's probably too big. But it has its charms: I picked up on a Fargo-esque vibe, a sort of surprise that the town has grown as much as it has. It helps, I think, not to remind yourself that Branson is half an hour away.

More relevant to my existence, as it happens, is the fact that Springfield is the home base for John Q. Hammons, a leading builder of upscale hotels who is developing properties in my neck of the woods. (John Q. owns the Renaissance hotels in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and the Courtyard by Marriott in Oklahoma City; he has a Residence Inn and an Embassy Suites planned for near Bricktown.) None of these is likely to cater to the budget traveler, so I decided to check into his Holiday Inn Express (one of five John Q. hotels in Springfield) to see what he offers at a (barely) sub-$100 price point. Quite a lot, as it turns out; this is a new property, and like the best hotels, how it looks outside is good enough but how it looks inside is marvelous. And in the drawer next to the Yellow Pages, where you might expect Gideon to have left a Bible, you'll find a 2002 biography of John Q., which might be overdoing it a tad. Still, the staff speak of him with reverence, so I wonder how they're taking the merger of Hammons Hotels with an investor group.

Tomorrow wraps it up.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:00 PM)
19 July 2005
It all ends here

Dustbury, Oklahoma — 4915.3 miles

The real question, of course, is "What has changed since I left?" The answer, of course, is "Not much," although I shudder to imagine my electric bill, even with the A/C set on a thrifty 82 degrees in my absence.

Oh, and some Roads Scholar working the exits up in the northeast has come up with a new wrinkle: the speed limit just beyond the Afton/Vinita exit from the Will Rogers Turnpike is 17 mph. I guess this is as fast as you can go and still get the attention of Baron von Tollbooth.

Coming into Afton, the sign at the bridge at Horse Creek shares a pole with this one: RADAR ENFORCED. How they intend to enforce a creek is beyond me. (There are no speed-limit signs for at least 500 feet in either direction.)

Something I didn't know existed, but found on US 60 west of Vinita: Belgian Blue beef. It's billed as low-fat and organic, both of which seem to be worthy goals.

Some things I thought I'd see, but didn't:

  • Kids in Bristol, Pennsylvania, which means I am unable to vouch personally for their sharpness.
  • The George Washington Bridge, mostly out of the sort of fear inspired by WCBS traffic reports.
  • Any official trace of the former village of New Rome, Ohio, which I drove through at somewhere around 40 mph. A couple of businesses on Broad Street make reference to New Rome, but otherwise it's disappeared from the face of the earth.

Final toll report: Will Rogers Turnpike, $1.25; total $26.65.

I did not in fact blow my budget this year: in expectation of even worse gas prices than I saw, I allowed for $2800, and spent $2175. The usual statistics:

Total amount of fuel used, in gallons: 160.1
Fuel consumption, in miles per gallon: 30.7
Worst tank, in mpg: 28.4
Best tank, in mpg: 34.0
Fastest speed attained, in miles per hour: 87
Number of emails accumulated: 1,621
Number of which I actually had some reason to read: 247

The least-pricey tankful was bought at a Kum & Go (!) in Springfield, Missouri for $2.099.

Acknowledgments: Your Humble Narrator would like to thank:

Personal to She Who Is Not To Be Named: Have a wonderful summer.

This concludes the text entries for World Tour '05. I return to the Big Desk, having a Coke and wearing a smile. Thank you for your support.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:05 PM)
27 July 2005
Flashes from the road

Nick with StickThese two pictures (there were others, but I liked these two) were taken on the Fourth of July at my daughter's house in Independence, Missouri, the first night of the World Tour. In the first shot, Nicholas (my daughter's son) wields a sparkler with as much élan as is humanly possible for a child of five and a half, mainly because he's already been informed that the bottle rockets are off limits, thank you very much. (He accepted this judgment with only minor complaint, which tells me that either he's actually maturing a bit, or he didn't hear it all.)

Laney without StickMeanwhile, Laney (my son's daughter) is only two and isn't allowed such scary devices; she'd like you to know that she missed out by this much. And if she had ever been fearful of loud noises before, which I kind of doubt — her father plays the drums, fercryingoutloud — this experience surely cured her of the phobia.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:51 PM)
The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

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