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Special World Tour Edition 2002


Saturday, 6 July 2002, 11:00 am

The World Tour is upon us.

In something less than twenty-four hours from now, Your Humble Scribe will load a fraction of his worldly possessions and most of his vaguely-acceptable clothing into an innocuous-looking sedan and sally forth, or seventh, or something, to begin the second annual installment of One Lap of Nowhere In Particular.

Last year, this little Sunday drive ran 4,444 miles. This year's model will touch down at a couple of the same locations, but the route is utterly different. As before, part of the Tour is intended to give me a look at places I have never before seen, which is why the early segments are routed through Kentucky, a state of natural wonders of surpassing beauty (the Land Between The Lakes, Mammoth Cave, Susanna Cornett) that somehow has managed to escape my notice for half a century or so. There's obviously no way I can see all of it in half a week, but there's also obviously no way I'm going to slide through on Interstate 64 with the delusion that I've seen anything.

Eventually I will wind up in central New Jersey, where I partied last year. Instead of turning southward, though, I'm heading into New England for a few days, partially to see where I did some serious bicycling in my younger days, and maybe to check in with some old friends if situations permit. I'll come back westward through New York State and duck around the Great Lakes, though the exact route of said ducking depends on timing and the mood of the Canadian border patrol.

As per last year's practice, updates will be written daily and posted when the logistics permit. Also as per last year's practice, most of my email will go unread until I return; if you absolutely, positively have to send me something, post it to roadhog at dustbury dot com, which will be monitored daily. (Other mail to the domain goes into the sluice pile, awaiting the editor's delete key.)

Almost everyone to whom I have described this trip reacts with "What are you, nuts?" Then a sigh, and "Gee, I wish I could do that." Actually, you probably can. It's strenuous, sort of, but getting away from it all, or at least from a lot of it, is something you must do on occasion or risk going completely bananas. The downside is relatively minor: there is the expense, yes, though last year's came in comfortably under $2000, and gas prices haven't gone up. And if you're the sort of person who would scold me for all this fossil fuel usage, hold your breath. It's just full of carbon dioxide.

Normalcy, and I use the term loosely, returns approximately 28 July.

>Comment from DavidMSC:
Fare thee well, Charles--may your journey be safe & enjoyable! Looking forward to your on-the-road dispatches.

>Comment from Chaz:
I hope I can still type after holding the wheel all day. :)

>Comment from fredf:
My son did something similar, with identical comments of ridicule followed by envy. Except he did not have the good sense to take a car...walked back roads from Maine to Virginia. The slower you go, the more you see. Drive slowly.

Sunday, 7 July 2002, 8:00 pm

Jonesboro, Arkansas — 519.7 miles

In general, about everything I could do today I screwed up, but the old survival instincts still sort of work.

Normally I scorn online map services, since they inevitably tell you to stick to the Interstates, which makes for a drab sort of trip. Yahoo! says I-40 past Little Rock and then turn northward. I-40 being blah on its best day, which wasn't today what with the bridge out at Webbers Falls for the next few months, I left it near Henryetta with the intention of following US 62 through northern Arkansas and then turning south on US 63. Had I actually done this, I would have come in two hours and eighty or ninety miles earlier.

Cue the late John Belushi: "But NOOOOOOOOOOOOO......!"

Somewhere east of Fayetteville, I got onto Arkansas 16, which is a crazed roller-coaster of a road which goes nowhere in particular and takes its sweet time doing it. (Imagine the fabled Arkansas 7, a road much revered by auto enthusiasts. Now imagine it with no turnoffs for little shops and no traffic.) I dawdled at high speed on 16 all the way to — well, Arkansas 7, which I followed back north to Harrison to get back on US 62. Props to "Hits 96" radio in Harrison for providing the soundtrack for my descent of 7's infamous seven-percent grade: "Don't Fear the Reaper".

After that, things were both anticlimactic and tedious. It took a good 10½ hours to get to this teensy little inn. Wish I could sleep 10½ hours.

>Comment from Vickie C.:
hmmm...519+ miles in the same amount of time I take to travel same number of miles from CT to OH...however, my route is a straight shot usually handled at (I thought) lightning speed. Given your detours, I'm wondering if any sonic booms were heard by nearby residents.

>Comment from Chaz:
8:40 am to 7:10 pm is precisely 10:30, and there was no time-zone change involved, so I can only conclude that I was making really good time while I was going nowhere. Peak speed that I can remember (and I don't stare at the speedo if I can help it) was 84 mph, but this was only briefly. I think.

Monday, 8 July 2002, 5:35 pm

Bowling Green, Kentucky — 872.5 miles

The Missouri bootheel, or at least the part one can see from US 412, is an intensely depressing place, but it was unavoidable today; there can be only so many bridges across the Mississippi river, and I was in no mood to drive down to Memphis or up to St Louis. Things perked up once I got into Tennessee, though I couldn't tell you whether it was because the roads were better, because there was corn planted instead of cotton and rice and Chevy parts, or because I was just happy to be out of there.

Scene: The year 20xx. Grandchild, brandishing a map, wanders over to my desk. "Mom says you know everything."

"Well, that's not quite true. I don't know everything. Of course, there's the question of whether something I don't know is worth knowing in the first place."

The child is not amused, and points to the map. "How come there's this little bitty piece of Kentucky that's not connected to the rest of the state? It doesn't look like an island or anything."

"Been there, seen that."

"Oh, you have not," Mom throws in from the kitchen.

Well, actually, yes, I have. Not that either Kentucky or Tennessee makes it easy to find; I had to exit Tennessee 78 to some obscure county road which connects to some other obscure county road (they're obscure to Messrs. Rand and McNally, anyway) and thread my way past a prison that's not on the map either. The state line is actually marked, and the paving method is markedly different on the Kentucky side, but it's still rural farmland, and having estimated the bullet-holes-to-traffic-sign ratio at about 12 to 1, I didn't hang around long enough to interview any of the residents.

As I understand things, Tennessee and Kentucky had agreed on a border before the surveying was complete and had had no reason to expect something like this. There was some squabbling once the truth of the matter was established, but I can certainly understand it if the warring parties inspected the parcel of land in question and said, "Aw, screw it."

To get across the lakes that define the Land Between the Lakes, one must traverse a couple of 70-year-old two-lane (1.7-lane, if you ask me) bridges. The powers that be want to replace them; the usual suspects object. Some things never change.

I also got a dose of that cold Kentucky rain, the most concentrated delivery being right at the moment I was climbing onto I-65 for a two-mile shot to my hotel room. There are few things in life quite as wonderful as driving blind on an unfamiliar road through a construction zone filled with 18-wheelers. At least, I hope there are few such things.

And I wondered if maybe they'd named a street at the Corvette assembly plant after legendary engineer (and thorn in the corporate side) Zora Arkus-Duntov. They had.

Tuesday, 9 July 2002, 6:00 pm (Eastern)

Winchester, Kentucky — 1197.7 miles

A correction from yesterday: The street that is actually signed Duntov Way is not on the GM Assembly Plant grounds, but on the grounds of the adjacent National Corvette Museum. (I didn't get to take the plant tour; the annual model-year shutdown began, um, yesterday.)

If you did the math, you're wondering how anyone other than a cab driver from the city of New York could possibly take 325 miles to get from Bowling Green to Winchester, a distance barely 200 miles even if you follow the dubious advice of Yahoo! and go through both Louisville and Lexington in the process. You have, however, reckoned without my uncanny ability to size up a complicated intersection in milliseconds and take the worst possible choice.

The first part was easy: an 88-mile drift down the Cumberland Parkway, a road with little traffic, lots of scenery, and a two-dollar toll, collected in three unequal increments. This road inexplicably ends, not at I-75, but at US 27 in Somerset, and I dropped down 27 far enough to find myself hopelessly mired in construction woes. I took the nearest road off, ducked down a side road, and after about 22 miles, found myself out of pavement and out of clues. (Mental note for future reference: There is a reason some Kentucky highways have four-digit numbers, and it's not to imply that they are important.) After rethreading myself, I got into the town of London, where I saw a fistful of sights and took the wrong turn at a downtown intersection marked for easy visibility if there are no trucks around. Be it noted that in Kentucky, this is never the case. So I plunged down US 25 toward the Tennessee line, took the eastern fork where it split, and came back north on Kentucky 11, where I had a revelation about Ashley Judd and why she married that Italian race-car driver: yeah, he's cute, and yeah, he's bucks-up, but the most important thing is that after years on the circuit, doing the most extreme driving possible, he can now handle Kentucky backroads.

On the other hand, you gotta love a road where speeding is academic: 11 is posted 55, except during sharp turns, which turn up roughly every 600 yards. (If there's a straightaway greater than a car length anywhere on 11 between US 25E and Kentucky 80, I missed it.) It's like God dumped a whole load of used ribbon on eastern Kentucky, letting it fall where it may, and then commanding: "Here thou shalt pave." After 25 years around Oklahoma City, which is laid out like a waffle iron, this was something of a challenge, and dammit, I wasn't going to look bad in front of the locals. And I never, ever lost it. Don't ask me how. But in the future, curves that are posted at 25 that I used to take at 35, I am going to assume I can take at 50.

All this and 30 mpg. When natural resources are underground, somebody has to dig them out, and it costs a lot more to conceal the deed; some parts of eastern Kentucky reflect that unpleasant fact, but the rest of us owe the residents our thanks for doing the deed, and I'll sing a chorus of "My Old Kentucky Home" tonight before I cut loose for West Virginia in the morning. And by the way, Neil Diamond was right about the women, at least the bit about shining with their own kind of light. (I expressly disclaim any knowledge beyond that.)

>Comment from Leslie:
I hope you also turned off the cell phone.

>Comment from wamprat:
Sure would like to talk to you; you won't *believe* what's happened here.

>Comment from susanna:
Oh my goodness, are you in my neck of the woods or what! LOLOL! I grew up just 17 miles east of London, and drove the roads you talk about from the time I was 16. That's my country. I'm rolling, here. And btw, I went to school in Bowling Green, worked in Somerset and lived in Lexington too. You shoulda called me for directions.
Hope you're having fun. Did you say you were coming through NJ eventually?

>Comment from Chaz:
Actually, cell service vanished somewhere east of Lexington; I haven't had so much as one lowly bar of Powertel all day. This is not prime GSM territory.

And if I'd have called for directions, I'd (1) have violated the Sacred Man Oath (section XI, paragraph 3, subparagraph C) and (2) have wound up having a lot less to write about.

>Comment from Chaz:
I arrive in Joisey Friday afternoon, and move on to Connecticut on Sunday morning, for those keeping score.

Wednesday, 10 July 2002, 5:00 pm

Fairmont, West Virginia — 1496.5 miles

West Virginia is a small state, located between the 19th and 22nd centuries. It is just smack-dab full of government projects, some of which are not named after Robert C. Byrd. The license plates say "Wild" and "Wonderful", and there is little reason to doubt them. Besides, it's better than having a URL on one's plate, as in some state I could name.

How West Virginia looks is wildly variable. The first few dozen miles of I-79 north of Charleston are spectacular. Up in the populated areas, north of Clarksburg, it's, um, less so, though it's not to the point where you can look off the edge of the pavement and intone solemnly, "Jed, move away from there!"

There is a Chicago extended suite called Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon, off their second album, from which two singles were plucked ("Make Me Smile" and "Colour My World"). An instrumental section therein is titled "West Virginia Fantasies". There was a town called Buckhannon on the way, sort of, but I decided I was probably better off not knowing what induces fantasies in a band like Chicago.

Neither goodmont nor poormont, Fairmont is best known for being the hometown of Mary Lou Retton, and for having an airport that almost fits into the hotel parking lot across the street.

>Comment from DavidMSC:
(((shudder))) Sorry, Charles, but even your description isn't enough to shake the stereotypical mental picture of "West Virginia" in my mind... Keep on truckin!

>Comment from Dave Burch:
Charles, While in high school in the early 70s, I was arranger and trombonist for a garage band that played mostly Chicago tunes. However, I didn't notice until reading your journal that 'Buckhannon' was misspelled when the band titled their piece. I always had been faintly disturbed by the recognition that 'Buchannon' couldn't be right. Thanks. Now I can get on with my life.

>Comment from Chaz:
Since Chicago has never been noted for its spontaneity, I'd always figured that the misspelling was deliberate, but what do I know? (This is either Question 67 or 68.)

Thursday, 11 July 2002, 5:00 pm

Aberdeen, Maryland — 1793.3 miles

After yesterday, I was prepared to write off that whole "Almost Heaven" business. But this morning in West Virginia, 60 degrees and only the slightest bit of haze over the mountains, was a reasonable approximation to the divine. I think. And things didn't change much as I slid into Maryland, except for the fact that the speed limit drops from 70 to 65 mph — not to mention the large number of state employees with light bars on their Crown Victorias who are there to remind you of this fact.

Some of the denizens of my chat haunt find the very existence of Cockeysville, Maryland to be risible, so I set off to see if it was a laughing matter. In sober fact, it looks pretty much like all the other suburbs in the north end of Baltimore County, and distinguishing one from another requires someone with a firm grounding in the terrain thereof.

Most of your Chamber of Commerce-y tourist handouts are pretty interchangeable. I found one that was different: it's called From Lockhouse to L