Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Driving Across America 2010: Part 6

The final installment is here...finally. Gather round so you can hear about the ridiculous experience we had in Canton.

To start, our drive from Chicago to Canton included the first bad weather of our entire trip. And when I say bad weather, I mean we had to suffer through rain for literally the entire leg. Not only that, but taking I-30 was the biggest mistake of all time. I have done a lot of driving in my day. As has Melissa. We made a unanimous decision that this is the absolute worst highway in America. However, we didn't really know how right we were until the second leg, from Canton home. More on that later.

For now, the journey took us through Indiana, where nothing interesting happened.
And then we crossed into Ohio. We had no idea what we were getting into, planning this impromptu stop at the birthplace of professional football.
I think I already mentioned that I made reservations for a package deal at the McKinley Grand Hotel that included a "welcome gift" (total hoax, it's a deck of HOF playing cards), free breakfast (oh man...just wait), two tickets to the Hall, and access to a 24-hour gym and a most of the day pool and spa. Guess who didn't use either of those? If you guessed me and Melissa, you'd be right.

The rain persisted throughout our stay in Canton. This is a shot of the McKinley in all its superficial majesty. It's taken through the glass window of the parking garage - also complimentary and included in the package - across the street.

So our plan was to hit the town, enjoy Canton, see what it's all about, find out why in the world the Pro Football Hall of Fame exists in such an out of the way location. We did all that and more. But unfortunately, Canton is an absolute ghost town on a Monday night before the busy season starts after Memorial Day.We walked about 10 blocks looking for a restaurant to grab a nice dinner. We wanted to celebrate Melissa's stellar grades (after making plans to retake her entire semester for fear of failing every class but one, she ended up with a 4.11 GPA for the term) with a decent steak dinner. It was cold, windy, and rainy, but we were determined. What we found was disheartening. Each restaurant we came across, if it wasn't boarded up and abandoned, was closed on Mondays. The only available spot to eat was closing at 9pm (it was 8:35 when we found it), and it was a steak house with $40 entrees. Just a bit outside of our budget.

So we reluctantly headed back to Thorpe's Grill at the hotel (named after Jim Thorpe, once thought to be the greatest athlete in the world). The restaurant was closed, but the bar was serving food until 11pm. The place looks luxurious - matches the grand rustic appeal of the hotel - if not a little old and worn. Accompanying us in the bar was a group of large, older gentlemen who looked like former athletes, a small group of AirTran flight staff members, and the bartender, who was nice enough, if not a little unintelligent. The large men were huddled around a TV watching "Two and a Half Men" after refusing to allow the bartender to turn on the Lakers game.

We ordered drinks first. I got a local brew called Great Lakes that was really good. Melissa ordered what I remember to be a Chianti, though she thinks it was either a Zin or a Cab, that she had to send back (item #1) because it had turned feral. We ordered calamari to start. Every question we asked about the menu resulted in the bartender running back into the kitchen to find an answer. Calamari was good, it was served with cocktail sauce and a Cajun remoulade.

For our entrees, we both ordered 10 oz. top sirloin on a bed of grilled portabella mushrooms, served with one starch - I got mashed potatoes, Melissa got baked - and the vegetable of the day - apparently, cold broccoli. Of course, we got ordered the steaks mid-rare. Here is the picture. Note the 'portabella mushrooms' serving as a bed for the steak. I'm no fungus farmer, but I think somethings wrong here.
In any event, the steaks came out well done. Not just kind of overcooked. I'm talking bone dry, cooked all the way through, darker brown on the inside than the pre-fabricated grill lines on the outside of the steaks. So, we sent them back (items #2 and #2). They returned shortly after, the broccoli was colder, the potatoes had cooled off, and the steaks were cooked appropriately. They were still bland and disappointing, but at least they didn't hurt our jaws to chew. Dinner, overall, was a disaster. Melissa had him open a fresh bottle of wine for her second glass. The third glass appeared to be from the original bottle, and she considered sending it back again, but choked it down instead.

After forcing the food down, we moved over to the bar to chat with the AirTran staff. There, we heard the absolute worst story ever told. Craig, if you're reading this, it was like one of your long, drawn out, pointless stories, but we didn't even bother giving courtesy laughs throughout. It lasted about 15 minutes, and it had no punch line. It was a pilot recanting a blind date gone terribly wrong. I'm sure as it happened, it was hilarious. But hearing the story was probably as awkwardly unsatisfying as the blind date itself was.

We also ordered dessert - a molten chocolate lava cake with ice cream. Somehow, they even managed to make this average.

At some point, another gentleman had sat down next to us who happened to be a lawyer in town from Cincinnati, working on some commercial litigation deal. He and I chatted about the state of the legal profession, law school, his alma mater - U. of Cincinnati, and more. He seemed to enjoy our company, as he forewent his declared bed time for another round of Maker's Mark on ice to stay and talk.

We eventually went to bed, eager to get to the acclaimed Hall of Fame and then home to Maryland.

Breakfast at the McKinley, which is apparently really a Marriott according to our now hurting debit account statement, was not to be taken lightly. After the dinner experience, we were afraid to cash in on our free breakfast. But we figured, how badly can you screw up breakfast? Good question. Here's how.

I went against every ounce of culinary intuition I have ever boasted and ordered a seafood omelet with shrimp and snow crab, egg, green peppers, and a hollandaise sauce. It came with toast - I went 'healthy' and chose wheat over white, but it was basically white bread dyed wheat color - and hash browns - the delicious shoe string kind that was not that delicious here. I think the crab had also gone feral, and I was still smelling it in my nostrils for an hour or so after we left the restaurant. Melissa ordered a breakfast skillet with who knows what and got biscuits and sausage gravy on the side - one of my favorite southern dishes that I have gotten her to adopt as her own. The gravy was literally as cold as the other side of the pillow. We sent it back (item #4, in two meals) to be reheated. It came out lukewarm, and the breakfast skillet was piping hot now.

So, we muscled through another painful meal and got packed up to prepare for our excursion to greatness.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame
This has to have the cheesiest welcome sign I've ever seen at any museum. Particularly one as well respected and prestigious as the Hall of Fame. This is where the greatest legends in America's greatest sport (yes, I said it, and yes, it is immediately following an experience at Wrigley Field) go to be immortalized.
It took us an extra 20 minutes to navigate all the street closures of which Google was entirely unaware when we got directions.

Here's a better look at the outside.

Below, the introduction photos in the entrance lobby announcing this year's class. These are my two favorites from the 2010 inductees. Russ Grimm, of Hog fame, currently a coach with the Cardinals, and whose son became a legend at Virginia Tech last season.And Jerry Rice, who needs no further explanation.
There is also a statue honoring Jim Thorpe in the center of the lobby. Not too impressive, and the plaque was written in such poor English, it must have been a direct translation from his native Sac and Fox tongue.

Every team has a tribute with its history, its all-time stat leaders, and lots of fun facts about the franchise.
And then of course, there is the Hall of Fame itself. This is where each player's bronze bust is displayed in a sort of somber but awe-inspiring shrine.Joe Gibbs.
Bruce Smith, the Hall's one and only Hokie.

I won. After an embarrassing number of tries.

And then I found...this. I went against my impulsive judgment and did not buy it.All in all, I'm very glad I finally got to go to the HOF. But it is a bit of a bust. There's tons to learn there, and I definitely learned a great deal about the history of professional football. But it's just not an impressive venue. It's cheesy, there are myriad grammar and punctuation mistakes throughout the Hall, and the surrounding area is boring. I would not recommend making this trip unless it is part of some greater good.

Back on the road, we passed quickly through West Virginia before entering Pennsylvania for a long time. Route 30, at this point, had become even worse.It is a one lane each way rural byway for most of this stretch through Ohio and PA. We got stuck behind trucks going 15 mph under the already slow speed limit. It wound through hills and farms, suddenly dropping from 50 mph to 35 without warning. There was construction and no passing signs everywhere. It's a wonder we made it home on Tuesday at all.
But we got to PA.
And then we got to Maryland. We took the longest route through our home state possible. Through the entire pan handle, past Deep Creek, through Frostburg and Cumberland, past Frederick, a quarter of the way around the Baltimore Beltway, and then finally home to Melissa's house in Severna Park.

Along the way, we made some stops at Subway and Panera for lunch and dinner. There is no Panera in Arizona, and we were pleasantly surprised to find so many new items on the menu. That's nerdiness for you.

I'm sure there are things that I am forgetting. But I wanted to make sure you all got the final experience. I'll recap with Melissa and post one final entry at some point to clear up any missed details.

Right now, I am back in Tempe, about to go to sleep. The Sports Lawyers Association annual conference is tomorrow, and I came out here to get some quality networking done.

Thank you all again for reading. I'll see you next time we do something memorable.


ray said...

It's the "worst highway" because it's not "I-30", it's "US 30". In other words, it's not an interstate. I live in Northwest Indiana and avoid that road at all costs and use an Interstate whenever possible. But it's definitely the more "scenic" route. Nice road trip though!

ray said...

Go Cubs Go!