Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. We were each raised in a household that couldn’t afford annual out-of-state family vacations. We’re geeks more accustomed to vicarious life through the windows of pop culture than through in-person adventures. Eventually we tired of some of our self-imposed limitations and figured out how to leave the comforts of home for the chance to see creative, exciting, breathtaking, outlandish, and/or bewildering new sights in states beyond our own, from the horizons of nature to the limits of imagination, from history’s greatest hits to humanity’s deepest regrets and the sometimes quotidian, sometimes quirky stopovers in between.
We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.
Technically not even 2020 stopped us. A normal road trip wasn’t happening — normal anything wasn’t happening — but we played by the new rules of the interim normal and wandered Indiana in multiple directions as safely as we could. We masked up at every indoor venue and distanced ourselves from other living, breathing, potential deathtraps. We settled. We survived. We took photos. We found fun. We tried not to whine.
This year the long-awaited vaccines arrived. We lined up for our two shots apiece as quickly as they’d let us. Once everyone’s 14-day waiting period after the second shot had ended, we made plans to overcompensate for 2020’s miniaturized, localized vacation. We had no shortage of possibilities — Anne maintains a lengthy list of possible future journeys from which we pluck a lucky winner each year. For 2021 we agreed we had to go big. Our new primary objective was Yellowstone National Park, 1500 miles from Indy as the crow flies. Per our usual research and planning process, we charted routes a bit outside the crow’s more efficient, less entertaining route, because we’re more curious than the average crow.
This year we also brought along a spare companion, my son. He accompanied us on our trips from 2003 to 2013 and bowed out throughout his college years except for 2016, when a second shot at New York City was too tempting for him to pass up. After a year pent up away from the COVID and its carriers, he judged Yellowstone an equally compelling reason to join in and endure our foibles. Dad and Stepmom tried not to embarrass him, and mostly succeeded apart from one incident with the car alarm.
DAY ONE: Friday, June 25th.
The rains were poor set dressing for our little launch ceremony, but they could only follow us for so long. We tried not to let the ugly gray morning diminish our enthusiasm as we piled our bags, drinks, printed maps, gadgets, and other accessories into the cramped rental car. We also brought our entire collection of COVID masks just in case. We wondered what restrictions, side effects, and medical statistics might face us in the days ahead. Would there be fights? Would there be quarantined zones? Most importantly, when we got to Yellowstone, would there be bears? Like, so many bears crawling around everywhere that I can’t keep count but would totally try anyway? We prayed for the best and decided it was okay to be excited to hit the road, bears or no bears.
After a few bewildering billboards with unexplained messages such as “Zoning creates problems. It does not solve them.” and “Have you called Jenny [some last name I forget]?” we left Indiana behind, crossed a state border for the first time since November 2019, and changed time zones for the first time since April 2019. A fireworks display would’ve been cool, but, well, it was only Illinois.
If nothing else — which is untrue, there would be more — the Prairie State gave us our first opportunity for sightseeing practice. We wanted to make good time on our first 400-mile leg, but we had to balance the need for speed with our perennial desire to check out our surroundings along the way. Also, the older we get, the more pit stops we need. That’s the grim, irksome reality of road-tripping in these frail mortal shells. If said pit stops should happen to amuse, enlighten, bedazzle, or puzzle us, so much the better.
Hence our first stopover in the town of Danville. We also have a Danville in Indiana, but upon initial inspection they don’t appear interchangeable. The crummy morning showers abated only slightly as we pulled into their downtown and Anne volunteered to survey the area while my son and I stayed dry. We appreciated her willingness to brave mild dampness. It would not be her last chance to blaze a trail on this trip, nor would it be her greatest physical challenge by far.
Everywhere she looked, she found art and hometown pride in ample measures, particularly in the subject of our lead photo — a mural honoring six renowned entertainers whose respective biographies trace back to the heart of Danville. From left to right that’s cabaret singer Bobby Short; Jerry Van Dyke, costar of TV’s Coach; his brother Dick, who had his own sitcom and a plum role in the first Mary Poppins; Two-Time Academy Award Winner Gene Hackman; actor/dancer Donald O’Connor (Singin’ in the Rain, the Frances the Talking Mule series); and actress Helen Morgan, whom I just watched the other night in the 1936 version of Show Boat.
The Danville arts continued:
We pulled into a McDonald’s for snacks and respite before resuming our journey. To our surprise, their decor had its own salutes to Danville’s hometown heroes. Apropos of 2021 it was our first stop on this vacation that required all guests to be masked. We complied with their wishes, took a few pics, grabbed our grub, and continued west on I-74.
(Much as we would’ve loved to see something a bit more in-depth, no tourist attractions were open that early. Perhaps some used to be open that early, but the more we dived into our research, the more we found limited business hours for numerous places along our route — yet another lingering side effect of 2020, Worst Year Ever.)
To be continued!
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