[The very special miniseries concludes! See Part One for the official intro and context to this MCC remastered edition.
Fun trivia: the original 2006 version of this entry was posted entirely without visuals because neither of us took a single photo on Day 7. As a special bonus to break up the monotony for today’s readers, especially for anyone who craves photos but couldn’t care less about my writing, this evening my wife and I delved into the deep end of our closet and disinterred the rest of her 35mm hard-copy photos from 2006. Previous entries used a combination of excerpts from her scrapbooks and saved files from my first year as a digital camera owner. The five unrelated photos seen here, each of which reference activities from previous chapters, have never been scanned or shared online until now. Nothing fancy or disappointing about them; we basically forgot they existed.]
Day 7: Friday, July 28th
When we planned the vacation months in advance, choosing a hotel with a breakfast buffet seemed like a sensible cost-cutting measure. Four days in a row of the same food, the same choices, and even the same “America’s Funniest Waffle-Maker Bloopers” floorshow wore thin on us. We picked at our plates, then packed our bags and checked out. Next year I’ll need to take a harder look at whether or not a hotel breakfast really is the more affordable option, or if we couldn’t settle for a much cheaper breakfastless hotel and just start each day at the local fast-food joints for less.
By this morning the leaky rear driver’s-side tire was down to the rim, so I limped us over to the first gas station in sight, on the opposite corner from the same interstate exit as our hotel. Thanks to rush-hour traffic, pokey customers, and the station’s inadequate parking lot, it took a good 15-20 minutes before I could angle the SUV up alongside the air pump and git-r-done.
After a morning of such frustration, I relaxed through the otherwise smooth rush-hour traffic and enjoyed as much as I could of Drive 105, my other favorite thing about Minneapolis. Their homegrown Adult Album Alternative station is so money that it occupies three different FM frequencies for the greater geographical coverage. Their current playlists differed far and away from our own anemic corporate stations back home and even our supposed “independent” stations, which might as well sell out to The MAN for all the good their equally staid choices are doing me and my listening pleasure nowadays. Thanks to Minneapolis, I got to hear new songs I’ve still never heard on Indianapolis radio even two months after the fact, from the likes of Hoosier-shunned bands like OK-Go, Muse, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Gomez, and She Wants Revenge (granted, “These Things” is a dreadful Joy Division knockoff, but I still appreciated being given the chance to hear it), not to mention the new Soul Asylum track, “Stand Up and Be Strong” that I’ve heard exactly once in Indy (not their finest hour, but still). I wonder if Soul Asylum receives the same hometown-boys treatment in Minneapolis as John Mellencamp does here in Indy, in terms of getting 300% more airplay at home than nationwide.
(Amendment inserted October 24, 2006: In the interest of fairness: last week, our own WTTS finally played OK-Go’s “Here it Goes Again”. Once. *swoon*)
Even their old leftovers were more invigorating than ours. It’s been years since anyone in Indy played the likes of Boxcar Racer, “My Own Private Idaho”, R.E.M.’s non-single “Texarkana”, or “Alex Chilton”. (Again with hometown boys! I wish I could’ve gotten a closer look at some of those clubs that the likes of the Replacements and Hüsker Dü once played. Alas.) It was nice that their playlist shared at least a few tunes in common with Indy, especially Guster’s “One Man Wrecking Machine”, but after hearing Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” two or three times a day for seven days straight, Anne and my son now wince and have flashbacks whenever they hear those funky opening beats: “I remember when! I remember when I lost my MIIIIIIIIIND!” Despite their protests, I miss Drive 105 even now.
We stayed on the interstate until well within Wisconsin, when we stopped for lunch at a Perkins in the town of Tomah. Theirs is doubtlessly a Native American name rather than a misspelled reference to the ’70s TV show, though think of the tourism opportunities if they claimed otherwise. We three, beat-down and starving, sat without talking and proceeded unknowingly on the exact same wavelength as we all ordered from the breakfast menu for lunch. I got an enormous stuffed omelet (I really missed my breakfast meats), Anne had some freshly fried eggs (none of those hard-boiled buffet eggs), and my son demanded French toast and extra sausage (now sick of pastries after a week of stale cake donuts and marginally less unhealthy stale muffins). We have Perkins back home in Indy, but to us now it was a canteen in an oasis.
Before leaving Tomah, we rectified an earlier omission by stopping next door at a bona fide Wisconsin cheese shop called Humbird Cheese. I refused to leave until I had a decent sample of assorted cheeses firmly in hand to snack on as I drove.
We remained in raised spirits until we reached Janesville shortly after 3:00, not far from the Illinois border, at which point the previously uninterrupted traffic decelerated from 70-75 mph to around 20 mph because, as far as we could see, the entire state of Illinois was now under construction. My best guess was that the Army Corp of Engineers got lost on their way to Baghdad, refused to ask for directions, stopped and settled right there, and proceeded to terraform the entire state in a single overreaching project.
As a direct result of our subsequent creeping and inching and frequent stopping, we didn’t arrive in Chicago until the exact time frame I’d been dying to avoid: just in time for evening rush hour. In addition to the heavy rush traffic and heavier road construction, Chicago also has the most toll roads per capita we’ve ever encountered. We have a few in northern Indiana — we navigated some of that on our way to Niagara — but nothing like what Chicago threw at us in its defense. We spent nearly $6.00 in tolls getting through the first time, possibly even more coming back. I spent time alternating between gritting my teeth and flipping radio channels. One staticky station near the left end of the dial regaled us with a Spanish-language version of “Do the Bartman”, while another larger station welcomed a live in-studio performance from the previously forgotten Veruca Salt, who predictably performed their one hit “Seether” along with a new tune called “So Weird”, in promotion of their new album that I’ve seen mentioned nowhere else on Earth. As of this writing Amazon lists it at #2,008 on their sales charts.
By my reckoning we spent over three hours getting from Janesville through Chicago while watching the fancy dashboard count backwards the miles’ worth of gas remaining, the estimate creeping ever downward as the SUV inched forward at the pace of an elderly slug. In an uncommon and commendable display of patience, my son was quiet throughout the entire claustrophobic experience thanks to heavy immersion in his reading material, some comics borrowed from me. He wasn’t even aware of the traffic jam until after the fact. I wish I could read in a moving vehicle without risking motion sickness — that might’ve calmed my nerves. It’s not as though I was driving an endangering speed. Had I a laptop, I could’ve finished much of this writeup while we waited.
Once we passed the Indiana border, traffic dissipated in an instant, as if half the cars on the road had jumped the rails like lemmings off the side into one of the construction pits. Exasperated and willing to kill for gas and a bathroom, I floored it and didn’t slow below the speed limit — not even for the exit ramp — until we reached Merrillville, where I vowed to stop at the first available restaurant.
The winner was Denny’s. Lucky us. On this busy Friday night, their on-duty staff consisted of a distracted manager, a single waiter, and a competent kitchen staff that seemed unable to assist in any duties beyond their assigned boundaries. The waiter was friendly, but admitted up front that this was his first night on the job. In our present state of highway shell-shock, we were willing to overlook his inexperience, his extensive set of arm tattoos, the long wait for our food, and even the manager’s reticence to be seen by his clientele. We downed our grub, bailed, stopped for one last fill-up of gas and tire air, and bore down on Indianapolis, not reaching home until 10:30 p.m.
It’s a good thing we went on vacation to ease down and get away from our troubles.
Day 8: Saturday, July 29th
I dropped off the Jeep Commander with Avis with few regrets. My recounting of our chronic tire troubles got fifty bucks knocked off our tab.
We spent the rest of the day running a week’s worth of errands, and the subsequent months convincing ourselves that we’re home and we have lives to lead.
1. I was tempted to assault the paragraphs about Minneapolis radio with a virtual meat cleaver, but decided to leave them largely unedited because, of all the dated references and time-specific passages that I packed into this travelog when I wrote it in 2006, those paragraphs are the absolute 2006iest.
2. 2006 Chicago tolls are amusingly low compared to the damage they can do today. Each annual trip to C2E2 or Wizard World Chicago routinely costs us nearly twice what they used to. And they’re floorboard change compared to the dozens of dollars leeched off us by the Pennsylvania Turnpike on our 2010 road trip. The passage of time brings such curious perspectives.]
Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading!]