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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 Lighthouse, and it's billed as "A Daytripper's Guide to Havre de Grace". The reason why it's different, I think, is that it's mostly the work of one person: editor/publisher/ad seller Ellie Mencer. None of the usual let's-filter-it-through-the-committee stuff; Ms Mencer is crazy about her town, and it shows. I hope the inevitable Web site doesn't lose anything in translation; if she farms the job out to someone, there's the risk it will be someone who got a good reason for taking the easy way out.

Two words anent I-95: "Why me?"

Friday, 12 July 2002, 6:00 pm

Jamesburg, New Jersey — 1976.0 miles

The discerning reader will note that the same trip last year took one less day and 300 fewer miles, and will not be surprised at so noting.

My sister Brenda was born in 1955 in Port Deposit, Maryland. Except that she wasn't. In fact, she was born at the U.S. Naval Hospital at the now-defunct Bainbridge Naval Training Center, just outside of town. And "now-defunct" is something of an understatement; for the past quarter-century the facility has been left to deteriorate and decay. The first order of business this morning, therefore, was to visit Port Deposit, see if I can remember anything at all from this period (which seems unlikely, since we left before I turned three), and see if I have any emotional connection to the place.

Maybe I do. The approach from Maryland 222 heading northward involves another steep grade, on the level (so to speak) of eight percent, and for some reason it seemed familiar. Obviously I've never driven this road before, yet something about it I've seen. A film shot on location here? The main thoroughfare through Port Deposit, were it not for things like pavement, is almost purely 18th-century and could have been pressed into use. I am not about to believe that I remembered all this from 1955, or that I was here in some anomalous "previous life", but surely something is pushing the right buttons.

And there's one other appealing aspect to the place besides the historical references: the Cecil County newspaper is called the Whig.

I did manage to avoid the New Jersey Turnpike altogether, though I still had to shell out $4.25 in tolls today; a quarter to cross the Delaware River on US 202, and a staggering $4.00 to cross the Susquehanna north of Havre de Grace, Maryland. Total for the trip is now $6.25, but it's bound to go up as I attempt to avoid New York City.

Saturday, 13 July 2002, 3:15 pm

Still in New Jersey

No actual driving today, so there isn't a great deal to report. It is worth mentioning, however, that (1) my singing voice still sucks and (2) the hotel is on some environmental program which suggests not laundering sheets and towels every single day, which given the dearth of rainfall up here is probably understandable but which some customers are likely to find offputting. Me, I shrug. About the laundry, I mean.

Tomorrow, I brave the wilderness of Connecticut, but to do that, I must first survive the hazards of New York.

Sunday, 14 July 2002, 7:30 pm

Waterbury, Connecticut — 2184.4 miles

Things began to happen right after yesterday's update. Go figure.

It began about an hour before sundown, when about seventeen of us loaded into various vehicles and set out for a locally-famous (I am assured) restaurant with Karaoke Night on Saturdays, a reservation made for us by one of our legendary party planners. Not that any of us can sing, with one notable exception (no, not I), but the spirit of What The Hell was running high and would not be dampened.

Until, of course, our little convoy actually arrived and found the place shuttered for what apparently was some sort of code violation. Which, of course, leads to the question: Where can a party of seventeen go for dinner on a Saturday night? We (excluding me, since I know from nothing about restaurants in New Jersey) put our collective heads together, and a Great Truth was revealed: Knowing someone on a restaurant staff gets faster results than the Concierge service built into the Comand system in an E-class Mercedes-Benz. At least, it did last night. There was no vocalizing, but we did put away about $650 worth of food.

Speaking of food, I had lunch today with blogger Susanna Cornett at a diner in East Newark. Now if "East Newark" strikes your brain cells with exactly the same impact as, say, "Calcutta Heights", well, there's more to a community than whether it gets a feature section in Architectural Digest. As for the lady herself, she is an intriguing mixture of Southern charm (see earlier references to Kentucky women) and the don't-mess-with-me attitude that presumably comes from living around New York City, which virtually guaranteed a splendid time for all — I managed to suppress Klutz Mode with incredible precision for once — and after last night, it was nice to have a huge lunch for not much over ten bucks.

And that New York groove was compelling enough for me to make yet another side trip. "Let me understand this," said a voice from somewhere in the future. "You went out of your way to visit the most isolated part of Kentucky, yet you missed the biggest city of them all?" So after I'd crossed the Tappan Zee bridge, I turned back southward towards the Big Apple. I can truthfully report having spent time in two of the five boroughs: Queens (changing planes at JFK, 1975), and now the Bronx. I'm sure there's a reason why it's the Bronx, although I admit to spending more time looking at the exit for the Throgs Neck Bridge and wondering just who the hell was Throg. Actually, I got to spend a lot of time looking at signs, what with the usual traffic congestion exacerbated by construction here and there. And I executed a fair number of what I would normally consider to be startling moves in traffic, operating under the assumption that New Yorkers wouldn't care what kind of crap I pulled so long as I didn't inconvenience them in so doing. From the absence of horns sounded in anger rather than sorrow (and with WQXR on the radio, I'd have heard them had they been sounded), I must conclude I was right.

Which brings me to Waterbury, Connecticut, where this hotel is right in the middle of downtown and right in the middle of Serious Reconstruction. A perfect time to put down the keyboard and relax, since so far the only thing I can report about Connecticut is that I paid more for gas here than anywhere else so far.

Toll report: New Jersey Turnpike, $2.45; Garden State Parkway, $1.05; Tappan Zee bridge, $3.00; New York State Thruway, $2.00; total for today $8.50; total so far $14.75.

Monday, 15 July 2002, 5:30 pm

Still in Connecticut

It was 1973. After not quite a year of Army green, I had already been recommended for the rank of Specialist Four (translation: a Corporal without the clout), and I was stationed at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. This was my first, and until this week only, exposure to New England. Not having wheels of my own and being legally unable to drive anyway — it's a long story, don't ask — I took the bus up to Fitchburg and rode back to the barracks on a shiny new Schwinn. In retrospect, this seems like madness: Fitchburg and the surrounding area were, and are, about as flat as Gina Lollobrigida, and weirdly enough, there seemed to be about six times more uphill than downhill. But for a kid like me who had once ridden up Austin's Mount Bonnell at the stroke of midnight and then laughed maniacally during the two-mile descent, this was very much in character.

I got to experience some of that up-and-down stuff today on four wheels, and it's still disconcerting. On the other hand, after twenty-five or so years on the Lone Prairie, "disconcerting" is practically a virtue. I could really get to like this place if I had the chance. Of course, I won't.

Tuesday, 16 July 2002, 2:10 pm

Concord, New Hampshire — 2431.1 miles

She Who Is Not To Be Named is occasionally to be quoted, and she contends that I-84 sucks. One of these days she might actually be wrong about something, but I'm not holding my breath.

There's a Burger King up in Methuen, Massachusetts with a fountain worthy of an upscale hotel and an array of traditional game machines. I passed by Pac-Man and his friends and, in remembrance of times past, took on a pinball table called "World Cup '94". (Ever since I was a young boy...but you know the drill.) I am pleased to report that, despite not having exercised the crazy flipping fingers for nearly a decade, I was able to beat the machine out of a freebie.

This is the eastern terminus for World Tour 2002; tomorrow I start heading back westward. In the meantime, I plan to enjoy some of this cool New England weather (it's 75 degrees as I type) and visit the legendary Mike B. up by the lake.

Toll report: Massachusetts Turnpike, 50 cents; total so far $15.25.

Wednesday, 17 July 2002, 7:15 pm

Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania — 2862.7 miles

Last night on the way back from Mike's, I was coasting down New Hampshire 106 — and I don't know about the rest of you, but I think it's spiffy that the Granite State's route signs incorporate The Great Stone Face — and I realized that one of the things missing from my life, besides true love, peace of mind and huge sacks of cash, was trees. After all this time in Oklahoma, I'd practically forgotten what a forest looked like, and I never quite realized how much I missed them.

Which led me to a decision, sort of. Official retirement age will probably keep increasing while I keep working, and it's entirely possible (maybe even likely) that I won't live long enough to be able to turn my back on office space forever. But dammit, if I survive into those putatively golden years, I'm pulling up my stakes and heading for a place where a tree is more than just something you move out of the way before the landscapers arrive, and that means, like as not, a place where the ZIP code starts with 0. Maybe 1. (I'd consider a very low 2, but that's it.) Yes, I know, I hate winter, and winters up here are fierce. But if I don't have to drive to work in it, I don't care.

Meanwhile, here I am in Wilkes-Barre (18702), named for Ashley Wilkes, Scarlett O'Hara's feckless first love (have you ever heard anyone described as "feckful"?), and Barry Gibb, a minor Australian deity worshipped by a small cult near the Delaware River.

Today in Hagar the Horrible, the kids get all the lines:

Hernia: "Hamlet, will you marry me!"
 
Hamlet: "We're only ten years old, Hernia! Why can't we wait until we're eighteen?"
 
Hernia: "I'm going to be so beautiful by then that this might be your last chance!"

She Who Must Not Be Named, though she passed the age of eighteen, um, some years ago, can undoubtedly relate, and I suspect the characteristic may be heritable.

Thursday, 18 July 2002, 7:30 pm

Brunswick, Ohio — 3224.9 miles

The idea was to avoid retracing last year's steps, but when the quickest route winds up being a duplicate, ideological purism goes out the door. I stayed at this very hotel during the Cleveland segment of last year's World Tour, and for some reason, I don't remember it not having an elevator, but that's not something which will cost me sleep. (And it's a pretty decent inn, all things considered, though you have to look close to discern that it's a Hare Krishna operation. Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

I was warned beforehand that I-80 was boring, and with the exception of the time when someone took a curve too fast and wound up with a C-Haul trailer (imagine 90 degrees rotation if this makes no sense otherwise), it lived up to its billing. On the other hand, dullness is good for fuel economy; I scored 31.5 mpg on this tank, the highest of the tour so far.

Toll report: Ohio Turnpike, $2.20; total so far $17.45.

>Comment from Timekeeper:
In what way is a Hare Krishna establishment different from any other? I was not aware that the Krishnas ran hotels.

>Comment from Chaz:
The only way you'd know was to see the name of the owner (Radha Krsna Enterprises, or something such) on the back wall behind the front desk. It's just like any other hotel otherwise; apparently they run this inn as an investment. Certainly there was no hint that any of the staff were believers.

Friday, 19 July 2002, 4:30 pm (Central)

Lake Bluff, Illinois — 3617.0 miles

Half the day was spent on toll roads, in the general belief that they would speed the process of getting from Point A to Point Z on a day when I really wasn't in any mood to see Points B through Y inclusive. And it wasn't entirely drab; I noted, for instance, that the Indiana toll road is called, with disarming simplicity, the Indiana Toll Road. None of this Harold T. Representative Statesborough Turnpike stuff. And there are a couple of Travel Plazas on the Indiana where McDonald's and Dairy Queen share space; interestingly, they have rejiggered their menus so as to avoid any overlap of products other than soft drinks. So Mickey D will sell you no ice cream or shakes; DQ has no burgers or fries. (For those keeping score, I had a DQ pork-BBQ sandwich, a bag of Fritos and a 21-ounce Coca-Cola, which translates into a $4.40 combo meal.)

The really hellish part of the trip, though, came on the free roads, which covered the other half of the day. It is said that it only takes one car to screw up traffic for five miles; if that be true, there were a minimum of fourteen screw-ups between Gary, Indiana and Lake County (north of Chicago), Illinois, a distance of seventy miles which took three hours despite the fact that I missed not one exit or lane change. The radio guys, presumably used to this sort of thing, dubbed it "brutal", which is scary.

And speaking of the radio guys, a salute to WDRV ("The Drive") in Chicago, the only station I've ever heard with the gumption to play both Don Henley's "Dirty Laundry" and the McCoys' "Hang On Sloopy" — and the latter in its 3:45 stereo mix, at that.

Toll report: Ohio Turnpike $6.10; Indiana Toll Road $4.15; total today $10.25; total so far $27.70.

Saturday, 20 July 2002, 5:25 pm

Coralville, Iowa — 3895.8 miles

A lot has happened since yesterday. I noticed that there was a vague smell in the hotel room, which was disguised only partially by one of those Renuzit plug-in contraptions. It became increasingly less vague. By about 11 pm, the floor was soaked. Evidently the drain for the air-conditioning unit was blocked, and the water went the only place it could. The staff had apparently never heard of such a thing before, but were happy to move me to the next room, which was dry and devoid of odd odors. It would also be nice if they could figure out what is and what isn't a local call; their idiot computer wanted to bill me for $145 in long distance because I dialed all ten digits including the area code, despite the fact that dialing only seven digits gets one of those three-tone earbreakers and no actual connection. A pox on these cheap PBX systems.

Of course, the reason I was around this area in the first place was to see what was literally my first place. My birth certificate reports that I popped up in 1953 in "Rural Shields Township", Illinois, which is true but imprecise. Shields Township, which isn't on your map, or on mine anyway, includes various areas of Lake County, one of which is the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, at whose facilities I was actually born. I didn't want to go prowling through the base, what with a war on and all that, but I did steer myself towards Waukegan in search of 549 May Street, where the parental units were living in 1953.

It was easier to find than I'd expected. The neighborhood, on Waukegan's south side, appears to be largely African-American these days — a street named for Martin Luther King Jr. intersects May just east of this block — but probably hasn't changed a whole lot otherwise in fifty years. The house itself is two stories, and I suspect the newlyweds (well, comparatively so) were occupying the upper floor back then. The exterior bristles with window-mounted air-conditioning units. An arrow hangs on the chain-link fence surrounding the front yard: May is one-way east. I stopped long enough to squeeze off a couple of outside shots and headed back northward, eventually ending up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, mainly so I could add one more state to my "Been there, seen some of it" list.

Getting back into Illinois proved to be tricky; I-43 ends in Beloit, Wisconsin, and there's no direct, or even semi-direct, route to picking up I-39/90, which magically appears on the Illinois side. I opted to ignore as much of it as I could and took Illinois 2 southwest from Rockford, which runs alongside the Rock River and is as nifty a road I've seen in the Midwest; it's not as hilly as that Kentucky stuff, but it has enough curves to keep a driver busy. Route 2 runs through some nifty towns, too, including Dixon, the boyhood home of Ronald Reagan, which is busy improving some main arteries. Dixon, in fact, struck me as a lot like Reagan himself: what you see is pretty much what you get. A few miles farther down the road in Sterling, a high-school track team was looking for cars to wash to raise money for their trip to Omaha; quite apart from the sixteen-year-old-girls-in-swimsuits angle, I figured disposing of four thousand miles' worth of accumulated grunge was easily worth twenty bucks — especially since the automated wash at the Marathon station in Ohio didn't do much more than move it around.

Which brings me, finally, to Iowa, for basically the same reason I went to Wisconsin. The Iowa City/Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau contends that it's "like Athens except with a really big mall". I wonder how the Parthenon looks with a drive-thru.

Toll report: Some Illinois tollway, 55 cents; total so far $28.25.

Sunday, 21 July 2002, 8:15 pm

Independence, Missouri — 4198.3 miles

I'm not sure where Dylan's Desolation Row is, but I-35 between Des Moines and the outer suburbs of Kansas City is pretty desolate in its own right; it's like all the farmers were given Federal subsidies to get as far away from it as possible. I hadn't been having much trouble staying awake on the road up to this point, but 35 brought on some major yawnage today, and it's probably a good thing that I don't have to look for lodging tonight.

So I'm crashing, so to speak, at my daughter's place, and the five of us (by which is meant my daughter and her child, my son and his wife, and yours truly) mounted an expedition to one of those cute semi-Mexican chain restaurants where it is assumed that because something is hotter, it must necessarily taste better. I don't buy into this notion as a rule, but this place did a decent job.

Monday, 22 July 2002, 3:15 pm

Still in Missouri

And on the last day, pancakes were consumed, errands were run, and maybe fences were mended.

I'll have the final report tomorrow after I get home.

Tuesday, 23 July 2002, 5:10 pm

Dustbury, Oklahoma — 4575.0 miles

It is apparent that my children have far more sense than I do. Not that this takes a whole hell of a lot, but they seem to have their heads in the right place and their, um, stuff together. Rebecca is getting ready to move into a larger apartment and planning her vacation; Russell and Alicia are buying a neat older home on a lease-purchase deal. When I was this general age, my major concern was whether I would still be able to afford to buy beer after leaving the Armed Forces. As Pete Townshend once said, "The kids are alright."

So I'm about eighty miles from home, about the outer fringe of FM radio reception, trying not to notice the incredible variety of derelict vehicles dead in the breakdown lane, and the too-hip announcer at what used to be a soft-rock outlet is declaiming, "Finally, a radio station with the balls to play what you want to hear." Not in this market, Bucky. And especially not from Clear Channel, which has owned this 94.7 frequency for about five years and changes formats every two because they can't get more than a 4 share for anything they put on, and this "new rock" stuff, which is defined loosely as "no hair bands", isn't likely to be any different. The one upside here is that a couple of the workgroups behind mine are going to have to look for some other outlet for those same old Rumours-period Fleetwood Mac songs they seem to love so much.

Raw data from the World Tour 2002:

Total amount of fuel used, in gallons: 154.4
Fuel consumption, in miles per gallon: 29.6
Worst tank, in mpg: 27.7
Best tank, in mpg: 31.5
Fastest speed attained, in miles per hour: 86
Number of emails waiting: 268
Number of which I actually have some reason to read: 49

Final toll report: Kansas Turnpike $4.75; grand total $33.00.

And shout-outs to a favored few:

Randye and Janis, who put together a formidable party package
Nadine, who helped to keep it from unraveling
Susanna, who does lunch like no other
Holly, who looked after the place in my absence
V., for whom no words will suffice (though I can think of three)

We now return you to your regularly-scheduled bloggage.

>Comment from Timekeeper:
We now return you to your regularly-scheduled bloggage.

And there was much rejoicing, :)

Glad to have you back. I'll have something to read while *I* slack off for a while.

>Comment from Chaz:
As Bob knows, slack is a boon unto mankind. Enjoy your keyboard-free existence. :)

>Comment from DavidMSC:
Welcome home, Charles! Glad your trip was successful. My mileage per gallon was not as boast-worthy of yours, but I'm just happy that my journey is complete now!

>Comment from Chaz:
The road is long, with many a winding turn; sometimes the best part of the trip is knowing you don't have to get in the car again the next day.

I said "sometimes". :)

 


 | Copyright © 2002 by Charles G. Hill

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