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.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Driving Across America 2010: Part 5

I'm sitting in our 7th floor hotel room in Canton while Melissa showers, getting ready to tour the Pro Football Hall of Fame - after we eat our complimentary breakfast as part of the McKinley Grand's "Hall of Fame Legendary Getaway" Package. But that's a story for the next edition. You all want to hear about the last leg of Chicago.

Sunday morning, I slept in the latest (10am or so). I woke up to one of the greatest surprises of my lifetime. Melissa was already dressed and almost completely ready to go. I was pick a surprise word and I was probably that. So I got up and showered, and by 11 everyone had eaten a little bit and we were on our way to Cubby Bear, a bar outside of Wrigley Field. We had tickets for one of the Rooftops at Wrigley and we were meeting a couple of Jay's coworkers and colleagues there. These Rooftops are brilliant, and I'll get to describing them in a little bit.

The cab ride to Cubby Bear was a smooth sail, and we immediately ordered bloody Mary's so that Jay could try his first ever. They have a unique recipe there, something neither Melissa nor I, both former bartenders, had ever seen. They use the basic bloody mix with vodka, some tabasco and pepper, and then they float a little Guinness at the end. Very interesting. It was not particularly good, but it wasn't bad either. One of Jay's coworkers at Big Ten, Kerry, met us at Cubby Bear and we all chatted while we waited for Ben, who works for the ACC, and his girlfriend to get there. Ben asked us to grab his friend if we saw him as well, who he described as "black, about 5'9, shaved head, and a goofy smile...his name is Brion." In a bar full of people, we were supposed to approach every person who fit that description in the hopes that it was Ben's friend? That's not a recipe for a racial profiling disaster... Jay shouted "Brian" every time someone who came close to the description walked by, but we never found him. Eventually, Ben arrived and located the guy. Anyhow, we headed over to our rooftop seats around 1:15, probably later than we should have, for the 1:20 game against the Pirates.

Rooftops at Wrigley are not actually in the stadium. I'm not even sure they are owned or operated by the Cubs management. Oldest scoreboard in America.

They are on the tops of the buildings overlooking the field, they have bleacher seats, and they offer all you can eat - hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwiches, Italian beef sandwiches, and brats - and all you can drink - one beer per person per order. They also had a soft serve machine with all sorts of toppings at our fingertips. We immediately got food, as we had saved our appetites for the free spread. The Italian beef gets a 10 out of 10 - this is a true Chicago tradition. The hot dog was better than your average dog as well, but how good can a hot dog really be? We got them with sauteed onions and I loaded my hot dog with ketchup, mustard, and relish. The soft serve ice cream machine apparently gets shut down at last call for alcohol, so I was robbed of my dessert.

The game itself was a bit boring until the end. The Pirates led most of the way, and it looked like the Cubs were doomed to continue a less than stellar run in the season. But in the 8th or 9th inning they rallied for the win. I got to hear the whole stadium sing the "Cubs Win" song, which was pretty impressive for an almost packed house. The entire crowd headed back to Cubby Bear after the game, where a really good DJ was spinning dance music. We made friends with three girls whose names I can't remember, thanks to Jay coming through with one of his classic icebreakers. Thanks to Twitter, Jay had learned earlier in the day that the inventor of the Chipwich had died Sunday morning. One of the girls standing in our area had made a chipwich using the ingredients at the buffet and was thoroughly enjoying it when Jay broke the bad news. Sparks were flying from then on, and they accompanied us to the bar-turned-club after the game for a bit.

I don't remember what time it was when we left there, but we hopped in a cab and headed back to Wicker Park to rest. This set the stage for the road trip's biggest disaster. Getting out of the cab was a tragic comedy. I made it safely to the curb. Melissa did not. She tripped on her way out, skinning her knee on the curb. Jay was rushing to get out and almost fell on top of her trying to stop himself. As the cab pulled off, I proceeded to do my usual pocket pat-down check - wallet in the back, camera in the right, and cell phone in the...gone. No cell phone. It had slipped out of my shorts pocket in the cab. I am not the type to ever lose anything - I'm neurotic almost to the point of OCD about making sure I always have keys, wallet, cell phone, camera, etc. every time I go anywhere. Of course, none of us had noticed the cab number, the cab company, or even what color the cab was. I was annoyed, but not nearly as furious as Melissa was, who thought this was going to lead to the meltdown that ruined the entire road trip. We start walking home, dejected at the loss, when someone - I think Jay - decides we should try calling the phone. I borrow Melissa's phone and dial, expecting nothing at all.

Then magic happened. The cabbie answered! He asked where we were in an unidentifiable accent. I got flustered and started looking for street signs, having no idea where we were. Jay came to the rescue and told me how to describe the intersection - North and Milwaukee, in front of a Starbucks - and the cabbie knew the spot. Thirty minutes later, after we flagged down every cab who drove by to their great annoyance, the man showed up with my phone. I gave him $10 for his trouble, and we went on our way, elated at the turn of events.
This is the now-famous intersection.

Back at Jay's, we weren't too hungry yet, but we knew we would need a little dinner. After some down time, we headed to Silver Cloud for some late night dinner. It was, hands down, the best sloppy Joe I have ever had in my life. Literally. Melissa got a chicken pot pie, which I was not as impressed with though she loved it, and mac n cheese, which was very good. This about did it for the final night in Chicago. We walked back to Jay's and all passed out on the couch watching TV.

Sleep was restless for all three of us Sunday night, unfortunately, and by about 5am all of us had given up. We decided to head to the Hollywood Grill for a final breakfast with Jay before he headed to work and we headed for Canton. This is typical greasy spoon diner, so it would be inappropriate to expect an amazing meal. We had lots of coffee, Jay and I ordered 2222s (2 eggs, 2 sausage links, 2 bacon strips, and 2 pancakes or hashbrowns). Melissa ordered a veggie omelette with cheese. It was actually pretty delicious, even for cheap diners. After that, Jay stopped for his dry cleaning on the way home around 7. We got back, started showering and cleaning up, Jay left for work, and we were on the road by 10am.

You already know we arrived safely in Canton. We finally hit our first bad weather of the trip. It was only a matter of time after dodging the apocalypse. It rained from Chicago to Canton, and it continues to be cold and wet here in the birthplace of the NFL.

It's time for breakfast now, so I have to go. I'll finish up the Canton write-up tonight when we get back to Maryland. I'll upload all the pictures as well, so be sure to check back to the older blog posts for those. Thanks again to all our many readers (I'm getting about 20-25 people a day reading our adventures - pretty impressive!).

Monday, May 17, 2010

Driving Across America 2010: Part 4

Saturday started like any other day. But by the time it was over, we had totally immersed ourselves in the big city culture that Chicago boasts.

We (meaning Melissa) slept in the first morning until about 11:30 or so (Jay and I were up, bright eyed and bushy tailed by 8ish). We had a 2 o'clock reservation for Chicago's Historic Architecture Boat Tour (by that other group, not the Chicago Architecture Foundation or whoever is the official guide company of the city). First things first, we had to eat breakfast/lunch. Jay drove us in the G35 to a place called Jerry's on Madison. We ordered beer cheese as an appetizer, which comes with big soft pretzel pieces, little pretzel sticks, and some kind of fried pita to dip in the cheese. It was pretty good. For lunch, they have an endless list of sandwiches to choose from. The menu was so overwhelming, we ended up choosing blindly. Melissa got the largest burger I've ever seen, and it was topped with avocado, cheddar, and bacon (she designed it personally) with fries and mac n cheese as her sides. Jay ordered one of the specials - chicken shwarma sandwich with peanut pasta salad and potato salad. I ordered the John W I think, which was a turkey, brie, and something else with honey mustard, side order of fries and mac n cheese. All three were phenomenal. I highly recommend Jerry's to anyone who finds him or herself in Chicago.

We were running late, thanks in no small part to Melissa's aptitude for sleeping late. We drove back to Jay's to grab jackets and waved down a cab to take us as quickly as possible to the North Pier to ship off. The company recommends that you arrive 30 minutes before departure time. We showed up at departure time. The boat was nearly full, so we decided to reschedule for the 3 o'clock tour so that we could get choice seating. With 45 minutes to kill, we just wandered around the nearby streets. We met Gus, an 11-month-old French bulldog who went crazy if you scratched his back. His legs just gave out and he'd lay in an ecstatic crumpled heap on the grass until you stopped. Then, we meandered into Flamingo's, a hole in the wall restaurant, the ethnicity of which we could not determine. We got a round of drinks while a group of four next to us watched the Milan football game and accosted the bartender when he changed the channel out of the blue.

Once 2:30 rolled around, we headed back to the pier to disembark. The tour guide was a bit too educated, or so it seemed, on all things architecture and Chicago. She talked a mile a minute, taking breaks every time we passed under one of the many bridges of the Chicago River to gasp for air and sip her Starbucks iced tea. Between rambling on about the origins of the city's nickname - "The Windy City" - and telling cheeky anecdotes about previous passengers, we we realized we did not receive what must have been obligatory pre-tour literature on Architecture 101. The terms she used, the architects she mentioned, and the styles and theories she discussed were so far beyond what your average layman would ever understand, I'm not sure why they thought she was a good choice for the emcee. We were lost for the majority of her ramblings on conceptualism and postmodern flying buttresses. Fortunately, the real joy of the tour is the open views you get by taking the water route through the city. One thing Chicago has to offer that most other big cities don't is this open vantage point. Cities like NY and Atlanta and LA don't offer good views of their prominent skyscrapers because you can only reach them street-side, and you are too close to see much of anything. Pictures of the tour are on my flickr page.

After the tour ended, we walked up to the famous Navy Pier and got a fantastic view of the Chicago skyline across Lake Michigan. After wandering through the tourist trap on the Navy Pier and buying some world famous Garrett popcorn, we hopped in another cab to the building formerly known as Sears Tower (now, Willis Tower) to go up to the skydeck. The building allows people to purchase tickets to go up nearly to the top of the tower and walk out onto fully enclosed glass balconies - glass ceiling, walls, and floor - to get a bird's eye view of the city. It was about 6pm when we got there, and the wait was about 2 and a half hours, so we abandoned that plan and headed for the L (name comes either from the fact that it is elevated or electric, we're not sure which, and it might be both). The Blue Line took us back to Wicker Park (Damen stop), where we promptly collapsed on the couch and relaxed a bit before a late dinner.

There is a pizza place near Jay that comes highly recommended. It's called "Piece," and it is apparently always crowded. They brew their own beers - we tried several of the brews, including the Goldenarm, the Worryin' Ale, the Wack Job, and the Full Frontal Pale Ale, all very good. After an hour wait, during which we made friends with a big group of girls who ended up being seated next to us, we sat down and ordered a customized pizza. This place doesn't offer the traditional Chicago deep dish with a 98% risk of immediate heart attack, but that doesn't mean the pizza wasn't top notch. We got a medium, feeds 2-3, red-style pizza with garlic, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, and spinach. It turned out Saturday night is live band karaoke, so we were treated to some quality amateur performances on stage. Live band karaoke means instead of a monitor and a DJ playing songs, you choose your song, and the band behind you plays the music while you read lyrics off a piece of paper. The people who went up were, for the most part, actually pretty good.

We headed home after that and called it a night around 11:30-12ish, don't really remember exactly when. Sunday on a Wrigley Rooftop was just around the corner, and we wanted to make sure we were well-rested. Stay tuned for Sunday's adventures, hopefully to come tonight.

It is currently Monday morning. I'm writing this while Melissa showers. Next up, we decided to finish our trip with one grand finale in Canton, OH at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We reserved a Hall of Fame package at the McKinley Grand Hotel. The package includes two tickets to the hall, a welcome gift, a free breakfast, a 10% discount at the Hall's museum store, all tax and gratuities, and access to one of Canton's nicest hotels - 24 hour fitness room, indoor pool and spa, and more. See some of you Maryland folks in a day or so, then back in Phoenix on Wednesday for the SLA Conference from Thur-Saturday.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Driving Across America 2010: Part 3

We left the KC Best Western first thing in the morning after enjoying our second 711 meal in a 12 hour stretch.

The drive to Chicago was....wait for it...mostly uneventful!

Once again...picture uploading is failing me big time. Maybe it's a problem with Blogger's software. I'm going to do the write up anyhow, and I apologize for robbing you all of the full experience.

The drive from Kansas City to Chicago is about 8 and a half hours, according to Google Maps. This turned out to be pretty spot on. Despite our frequent stops and some seriously poor traffic outside of Chicago, we left at 10:30am and arrived at 7pm, exactly 8 and a half hours later. Pretty impressive.

I did some cowboy snoozing.

Outside of Kansas City, there was some serious flooding. It didn't affect us, but there were buildings partially under water, and cars that I can only guess were on blocks sitting in 2 feet or so.I wasn't quick enough with the camera to catch the submerged buildings, but this gives you the basic gist.

One of our favorite stops of the trip, thus far, was Springfield, Illinois. We decided to take the Business Route 55 through the city, as opposed to I-55 outside of the city, so that we might find a good lunch spot on our way to Chicago. We found an amazing little cafe called Andiamo. They have their own web site that does not appear to be functional, so that link is the next best thing. I took a picture of the amazing Tuscan Chicken Focaccia sandwich that we both got, and it looks as good as it tasted...We ate on the go, not wanting to delay our arrival in Chicago any longer than necessary.

As we got closer to Chicago, we ran into some bad traffic. So bad, in fact, that the woman in the car in front of us couldn't handle it. She was so mad that she took three separate opportunities to violently projectile vomit out her driver's side window as traffic slowed. Traffic and vomiting couldn't slow her down, though. She didn't even tap the breaks.

Finally, we arrived in Chicago, took a questionable route in to the city, and found Jay's apartment without any problems...except for the nearly impossible left turn from Division St. to N. Ashland (you local Chicago-ans/Chicago-ites? know what I'm talking about). So, just like that, our stay in Wicker Park had begun.

We had dinner reservations at Club Lucky in Bucktown, so we got cleaned up and headed out to enjoy some true-blood Chicago Italian cuisine. Lucky is always busy, and Jay had never managed to get a table before, so this was a treat for him as much as it was for us. We sat promptly and ordered some fried calamari and a Caprese salad to start. For dinner, I got a penne arrabiata, Melissa got chicken parmesan over penne, and Jay got a chicken tortellini dish. All were delicious. After that, we headed out for a mini-bar crawl. First stop was The Southern on North Avenue to enjoy their outdoor patio seating. In a subtle tribute to Kalamazoo, Melissa and I both ordered the Two Hearted Ale from Bell's Brewery. While there, we got in touch with a friend from ASU law who had transferred to another law school in Chicago this year. She met up with us along with two friends she had made doing a study abroad program at some point in her past. The five of us began to do a walking tour of the Bucktown/Wicker Park bar scene.

Next up was a German beerhouse, the name of which I cannot remember or spell. There, Melissa and I struck up conversation with a girl sitting next to us who was not friendly at all. She immediately began talking down to me, telling me that I deserved some humbling once in awhile. I don't know where that came from, but she was convinced. When I told her I was from Annapolis, she seemed pleased. Then we talked about other parts of the country. Then she said she summered on the Bay. I asked which Bay she meant, and she snapped: "Anyone from Annapolis would realize I meant the Chesapeake Bay, obviously...I summered on the Choptank River." From then, there was a serious downward spiral of belittling conversation. She didn't believe I was from Annapolis because I was not familiar with the seasonal blooming patterns of azaleas. She proceeded to comment that anyone from Annapolis should be familiar enough with the local fauna to know when azaleas bloom. I tried to tell her that fauna referred to animals, and that flora was the word she was looking for. But she said her degree from Harvard indicated otherwise. The nearest iPhone proved me right, but she persisted. In any event, that friendship ended as quickly as it began.

Next up was Salud, a tequila bar. Our stay there was brief, and our next stop was Nick's Beer Garden in Bucktown. Reminded me a lot of the Tavern in Tempe on Mill Ave. Nothing special about it. All in all, the night was a blast. On the walk home, Jay bamboozled some pizza from a truck on the side of the road. Melissa fought him for it and they ended up sharing the slice. I got the crust.

At home, we watched the Betty White episode of Saturday Night Live - an instant classic for anyone who has not yet watched it. It was an extremely long day, and we were all exhausted by now. Saturday had a ton of plans waiting for us, so we called it a night. I will write all about Saturday's excursions tomorrow.

For now, it's bed time again. We have a lunch date around noon before a 1:20 Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Driving Across America 2010: Part 2

Note: I'm experimenting with picture formatting. Sorry that this post looks horrendous. It probably won't happen again.

We gave ourselves a 7am wake up call so that we could get going early for our 14 hour leg through the deadly prairie lands of a tornado ravaged middle-America. Several looks at the doppler radar and whatever other radar uses showed us that a dark and treacherous journey awaited us. But we were committed. There was no turning back. Trip must go on.

But first, we have to have our cups of cereal with milk for which Melissa was brilliant enough to pack. I made the mistake of buying a 2 gallon milk on Sunday, not realizing we would not be in Tempe long enough to drink it. So, we packed it, some solo cups, some of Melissa's favorite cereals (Peanut Butter Puffins are literally more addictive than crack to her - she has actually abused me on account of them in the past), and had ourselves a free breakfast in the 'Burque.

One quick pass through Old Town Albuquerque for a couple photos later, and we were at the Walgreens getting mousse and allergy meds. Then she saw it. What drive is complete without an official driving hat? Obviously, not this one. (Author's note: I blame this hat entirely for a mishap later in the trip. Stay tuned.).

Old Town 'Burque Statue.

The same winery we stopped at in Las Cruces last year...but this time it was in 'Burque.

Needless to say, once we left Walgreen's, we gathered Silas, Josephine, Henrietta, and Abraham, yoked the oxen and hit the Oregon Trail for a long journey full of alkali poisoning, snake bites, low food rations, and raging rivers. The time was about 10:30am.

Marigolds? Dandelions? I don't know what we're looking at here, but it was a ton of yellow, and it was nice on the eyes.

We stopped here at "Clive's Corner" for a bathroom break, one hour in.

Melissa thought Doug would want to see this. Goes back to an old family trip to the Wagon Wheel restaurant? This is not the restaurant, though. Instead, it is a "town" built around a towing and repair shop called Wagon Wheel. The town consists of said shop...and... a junkyard. That is all.

Driving hats: they work. Driving is now 94% more chic.


Not a good state to drive through. We crossed in for the tiniest little corner of northern Texas. We thought nothing could go wrong. We couldn't have been less right. For anyone who has not driven on the wide open roads of Tex-hom-ansas, this is how it works: speed limit is 70 until you get close to a town. It swiftly drops in increments of 5s or 10s until you are down to 35-40 in the heart of the town. As you leave, it increases in the same increments.

One small town we passed through had other ideas. Melissa was driving, and we were conditioned for these town speed laws. But what happened next was not okay. As we got to Stratford Texas, we noticed first that the high school has a huge banner on the edge of town boasting the many state sporting championships it had won in the last 20 years. Then, we saw the population of the city: 1991. Fishy, but okay. It must be competing in the 12E District for high schools with enrollments under 50 students (I made that up). The next thing we saw were a bunch of 18-wheelers parked in random spots in the middle of the road. The road itself was decrepit. The signage was terrible. We're trying to find a place to stop for another bathroom break. All the while, we were trying to keep a close eye on the speed limit. Then a cop pops out and pulls us over. We are confident Melissa was going within 5 miles of the speed limit, so we were expecting a warning or something along the lines of "you guys are driving strangely, are you lost? Can I help?" You know, the basic southern hospitality.

Instead, the police officer demands license and proof of insurance (Texas doesn't care about registration). Melissa doesn't have proof of insurance. He tells us he clocked us at 35. We both look at each other and then back at him.

Us: "Officer, isn't the speed limit 35?"

Officer: "It is..."

Us: blank stares.

Officer: "Well, you must not have seen the lights flashing back there. This here's a school zone, speed limit drops down to 20. Proof of insurance, please?"

Melissa and I start looking for her proof of insurance while he goes back and runs her license. No luck. We have a slip from her 2007 Geico insurance from her Saturn. Then a 2008 State Farm insurance card from the Honda. Then a pricing quote from All State, her current insurance, that doesn't have an effective date of coverage, so that's not good enough.

Officer: Returns to car. "Did you find that insurance?"

Melissa: "No, I'm really sorry, the car is packed full and..."

Officer: "Alright then. Sign here."

Melissa: "I'm sorry, let me just look..."

Officer: "You have had ample time. I have to go. I actually have to be...right over" Broadly sweeps his hand in the general direction of absolutely nothing.

Melissa: "Please, sir, I have insurance."

Officer: "You'll have to take it up with the judge. Call her within 2 weeks and you can work that out. I've already checked the box."

Melissa: "How much is the fine?"

Officer: Hands us a crumpled and folded blue sheet of paper listing all the fines, directions for payment, etc. Walks away.

We read the paper. Turns out going the speed limit when the speed limit mysteriously drops to a school zone with very little warning (neither of us saw a school zone sign, flashing lights, or a school, for that matter) is a $160 fine. Furthermore, it turns out that "failure to show proof of financial responsibility" is a $300 fine! Yes, $300, for not having proof of insurance. Court date is in two weeks. In Stratford, TX. As my brother has appropriately pointed out, we received this ticket not for speeding, but for being out-of-town drivers. And, I'm convinced we would have just gotten a warning if Melissa had not been wearing the goofy not quite cowboy hat. She didn't want to take it off for fear of panicking the police officer with 'sudden movements.'

Once again, internet is shoddy and picture uploading is no longer working. I will supplement with more pictures later tonight or tomorrow.

On our way out of town, we passed Tex. He was pointing his gun at us and laughing. "Suckers," he said, with his cold, hard cowboy stare.

We also passed a farm that stretched further than we could see in every direction, made up entirely of livestock mashed into tiny enclosures full of their own feces and waste. It was so pungent, we were coughing and gagging by the time we cleared the area.

All the while, we had been defrosting lunch on the dash board, as our cooler was a bit too cold. Lunch was two sandwiches - one salmon, one garden burger, that Melissa had made in Tempe.

Once she had settled down enough to eat them, we decided that they were awful. Dry, flavorless, and chewy. So we pitched them.

Instead, we decided to take a quick break in Hooker, Oklahoma to grab Subway at Love's. Love's, in Hooker, Oklahoma. Yep. This was tasty.

Shortly after that, on the road again, Melissa is back being a menace behind the wheel. Passing through the farmlands at dusk is dangerous. Birds are starting to go crazy, swooping across the highway looking for food. Generally, they do quick fly-by's and avoid the car well enough. This poor fellow was a little too fat and happy from the day's feasting, unfortunately. With a huge thud, he literally exploded all over our grill. Feathers went everywhere. He just missed rolling up our windshield. We checked the front of the car later, and it is splattered with a little bird and feather, which is probably now stuck permanently on the Honda's grill.

Fortunately, not much more happened after that. We crossed into Kansas. Lots of bright green, sweeping farmlands. Lots of one lane highway driving. Crossing through Wichita was uneventful. Kansas City was also uneventful. We ended up in North Kansas City at another Best Western around 1:30am. We grabbed a snack at 711 and quickly passed out.

It is now about 8:30am on Friday. We're doing the final preparations for the final stretch to Chicago, where Jay is awaiting our arrival. Stay tuned for more tonight or tomorrow!