Our Road Trip Checklist
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. My son tagged along from 2003 until 2013 when he ventured off to college.
In our first four years as travel buddies, our trips took us to geek gatherings, three large and one personal. Since 2003 we’ve been heading in all directions on all the interstates we could reach, never on planes and only once beyond national borders. If we ever start yearning to push into new frontiers, we’ll see where our whims take us. So far America’s proven a multitudinous landscape that hasn’t yet run out of ways to wow, amuse, entertain, educate, impress, or humble us.
The following is a complete list of every annual road trip we’ve taken together from 1999 to the present. Travelogs were posted on my old message board home through 2011. I launched Midlife Crisis Crossover as a grandstand of my own on April 28, 2012, and have posted them here ever since. My long-term plan is to rework those old write-ups and represent them here for a new audience when time and inclination allow. This process will involve rescanning old 35mm photos with better technology than what I used to have and hate, scanning photos that were never included the first time around, and revisiting whatever digital files we can recover in the wake of the heartbreak that was the Great 2015 Hard Drive Crash. Road trips that have been posted or reposted on MCC are broken down below by their individual chapters. Space has been reserved for future special-edition encores of the other road trips still waiting their turn.
All of this is being provided to You, the Viewers at Home, as a courtesy for latecomers to the party, for longtime readers who missed episodes or love reruns, for old friends who remember our trips from back in the day, and for myself as online scrapbooks. Someday after my memory collapses, I’ll have no choice but to reread these pages and experience the joy and stress of every road trip all over again.
Sure, a lot of couples prefer to spend their downtime at the nearest beach, book passage on a cruise, or max out their credit cards on a Paris dream trip. We have our own agenda. Finding creative ways to spend quality time together. Searching for tourism options that wouldn’t occur to our peers. Digging for gems in unusual places — sometimes geek-related, sometimes peculiar, sometimes normal yet above average.
We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.
Enjoy! Scroll down for the complete checklist, or click a link to skip directly to a trip of your choosing:
* * * * *
We started small, with a simple overnight trip to our very first Wizard World Chicago. Today it’s become an annual ritual for us. At the time it was an astronomical challenge to our budgets and navigational skills. The complete epic was recounted online for the first time in January 2017, including many photos never before shared online.
We met cast members from Mystery Science Theater 3000, attended a Q&A with author Terry Pratchett, and, in the first of many live meet-ups with internet folks, had dinner with a couple dozen loveable MSTies I knew from Usenet. We lived to tell and appreciate the tale, relived here in January 2017 in vintage 35mm-o-Rama.
We made the 300-mile drive to Superman’s hometown four times between 2001 and 2012. We’d love to go again someday, more than once if the stars keep aligning, but every year the second weekend in June invariably has issues for us. I don’t remember ever sharing more than one or two of the photos from 2001 with online friends at the time, but everything we have was uploaded to MCC in June 2015 with all-new narration.
We visited internet friends in honor of the release of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. We saw it twice on opening day, celebrated my 30th birthday, and found a few other things to do around town. Our memories are fading and our photos are incomplete, but we pieced together just enough for a revisit in February 2017.
Our original destination was a Trek convention in Baltimore called Shore Leave. When we realized how close it was to our nation’s capital, we figured a side trip to an endless supply of monuments might be in order. Then we realized my son, who’d recently moved in with me, might appreciate such world-famous sights. Then we realized he would hate the convention and decided the proper parental response would be to skip that part. And that’s the story of how we planned our first official “normal” family vacation, in our own way. Dropping by D.C. two years after 9/11 made for interesting times. The first full-length write-up of the milestone is now in progress as of February 2017:
We married on July 17th of that year, took a honeymoon weekend up by Lake Michigan, and the following weekend drove out to the Falls with my son in tow. We saw both Lakes Erie and Ontario, saw a smidgen of Buffalo, and took a one-day detour into Canada, in those halcyon days before passports were required. On the way home we spent several unplanned hours in Ohio due to a comedy of terrors. On a related note, this was the last time I used my own car for these feature-length journeys. To this day we hold a mighty grudge against the big fat Buckeye State and refuse to let it go.
Even in our first comfy rental car, driving from Indianapolis to the deep heart of Texas was grueling and dehydrating and frequently miserable and I can’t believe we ever thought seven days would be enough. While in the areas we stepped into Arkansas and Oklahoma for our first and only times to date, and — in an extremely rare feat for us — visited relatives on the way.
2006 was the year I upgraded from my old Kodak EasyShare to a Canon, while my wife held tightly onto her modest 35mm camera for a bit longer. In mid-2014, the year we staged a sequel, I revised large portions of this series with a George Lucas Special Edition Editing Hammer and represented it here for MCC followers, along with many photos that we’d never shared publicly before. Back in 2006 I hated our scanner and never cared for the available photo-editing software. With the help of slightly newer technology, I’ve now compensated for my past lazy reluctance.
Photos #1: Our Milkman’s Chariot Awaits
Photos #2: This is Our Hill and These Are Our Beans
Photos #3: Milwaukee for Art’s Sake
Photos #4: Appointment in Alligator Alley
Photos #5: Scaling Down Mount Olympus
Photos #6: The Worst Pirate-Themed Anything of All Time
Photos #7: Last Hurrah in Wisconsin Dells
Photos #8: The Rock in the House
Photos #9: A Pit Stop for Half-Pint
Photos #10: We’re Gonna Make It After All
Photos #11: Mandatory Zoo Visit
Photos #12: Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam!
Photos #13: Like the Minnesota Zoo, But Stiffer
Photos #14: The Road to Superior
Photos #15: Superior!
Photos #16: Another Hick in the Mall
Photos #17: The Season Finale and the Lost Outtakes
Our primary target was Universal Studios, but we found plenty of stops along the way in Tennessee, Georgia, and other parts of Florida’s upper half. This year wasn’t just six dozen shots of my son enjoying some supercharged carnival rides.
I give you my personal guarantee: this trip is dead last on the list to be overhauled for MCC. It remains the worst vacation we’ve ever taken for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons were medical. We thought our biggest regret would be the one-night stay in West Virginia, but no, that was the least of the drawbacks.
This, on the other hand, was one of the all-time best. So. Many. LANDSCAPES. Also featuring stopovers in Chicago, Omaha, and Iowa.
My wife the history buff demands a do-over on this one someday. We faintly scratched the surface of that big ol’ colony when she’d been hoping for a miles-deep dive into so much fascinating American history. We still did a lot, mind you, but the unchecked items on our to-do list were quite a shame. On the other hand, the very special detour to Liberty Island was an awe-inspiring experience that demanded an immediate sequel.
Midlife Crisis Crossover calls Manhattan “Best Vacation Ever!” I want to redo New York City over and over again until I die. I’d drop by annually if my wife would let me, but a lot of other states are still waiting for their turns with us. We also found a couple of places in New Jersey that don’t deserve to share the brunt of two hundred years’ worth of New Jersey punchlines. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we arranged a sequel vacation in July 2016. For the occasion I reprinted and overhauled this series for MCC followers from its original online publication, adding thousands of new words and many, many photos never shared publicly till now.
Part 1: The Road to New York
Photos #17: The Empire State Building on $0.00 a Day
Photos #18: A Day at the Met
Photos #19: The Long Road to the United Nations
Photos #20: Welcome to Our World of Toys
Photos #21: Grand Central to Fifth Avenue and Back Again
Our first full engagement with the magnificent Rocky Mountains was our first road trip to be written up exclusively for MCC after it launched on April 28, 2012. The diversions in Kansas weren’t 100% boring, either. I submitted one live text-only update every evening to my precious few followers from our hotel while we were on the go, then shared the photos in installments over the subsequent months.
Notes on the Go, Day 1: Trumans and Burgers
Photos #1: Vandalia the Ex-Capitol Presents Lincoln and Madonna
Photos #2: Truman’s Grave, Bobo’s Drive-In, and Our Intro to Smashburger
Notes on the Go, Day 2: the Plains, the Plane, the Hills, and the Bill
Photos #3: Abilene Presents the Eisenhower Museum and a Perplexed Bear Drowning in Chocolate
Photos #4: Between Topeka and Denver — Buffalo Bill, Black Copters, and MegaVanGogh
Notes on the Go, Day 3: Misty Mountain Marathon
Photos #5: Red Rocks Amphitheatre Under a Dull Gray Sky
Photos #6: Fossils and Folly at Dinosaur Ridge
Photos #7: the View from Buffalo Bill’s Memorial on Lookout Mountain
Photos #8: Rocky Mountain National Park, Part 1 of 2: Panoramas on Parade
Photos #9: Rocky Mountain National Park, Part 2 of 2: Small Stuff at the Feet of Giants
Notes on the Go, Day 4: Dallying in Downtown Denver
Photos #10: Denver Presents the Molly Brown House and What a Mile Feels Like
Photos #11: An Hour Inside the Denver Art Museum, Part 1 of 2
Photos #12: An Hour Inside the Denver Art Museum, Part 2 of 2
Photos #13: Denver’s 16th Street Mall, with Good Money After Bad
Notes on the Go, Day 5: Beauty and Breakdowns
Photos #14: Morning in the Garden of the Gods
Photos #15: Romping Through the Manitou Cliff Dwellings
Photos #16: On the Way to Pikes Peak
Photos #17: Powerful Panoramas from the Pinnacle of Pikes Peak
Photos #18: Coming Down from Pikes Peak, Physically and Emotionally
Notes on the Go, Day 6: Waters Running Deep
Photos #19: Seven Falls, Part 1 of 2 — Falls Upon Falls
Photos #20: Seven Falls, Part 2 of 2 — That Critically Acclaimed Canyon
Photos #21: Royal Gorge Bridge, Part 1 of 3: the Bridge Over the River Arkansas
Photos #22: Royal Gorge Bridge, Part 2 of 3: Animals and Apparatus
Photos #23: Royal Gorge Bridge, Part 3 of 3: Voyage to the Bottom of the Gorge
Photos #24: War Memorial on the Edge of the Rockies
Photos #25: Pueblo’s Arkansas Riverwalk, Part 1 of 2: Return of the Arkansas
Photos #26: Pueblo’s Arkansas Riverwalk, Part 2 of 2: Art of the Riverside
Notes on the Go, Day 7: Toto, I Think We’re in Kansas Forevermore
Photos #27: Lamar, Colorado — Last Stop, This State
Photos #28: Kansas Flatland Interlude
Photos #29: Boot Hill Museum, Part 1 of 2: Paupers’ Graves of the Old West
Photos #30: Boot Hill Museum, Part 2 of 2: Dedicated Hobbyists of the Old West
Notes on the Go, Day 8: Salt, Space, and Route 66
Photos #31: Underground Salt Museum, Part 1 of 3: Into the Mines of Morton
Photos #32: Underground Salt Museum, Part 2 of 3: To Preserve Man
Photos #33: Underground Salt Museum, Part 3 of 3: Hollywood Under Glass
Photos #34: the Kansas Cosmosphere, Part 1 of 2: Starship Graveyard
Photos #35: the Kansas Cosmosphere, Part 2 of 2: Starship Parts Catalog
Photos #36: Little Museum on the Prairie
Photos #37: Tow Mater Welcomes You to Route 66
Photos #38: the Landscape of Joplin-That-Will-Be
Two cities older than our hometown. One filled with history, the other with pop culture. Sounds like a travel agent booked it specially for her and me, really. Featuring special guest stars Pennsylvania and upstate New York, plus a cameo by Connecticut’s bad side. MCC followers were treated to one preview photo per day while we were on location.
Notes, Day 0: the Master of Last-Minute Cramming
Photos #1: the First of Two Springfields
Photos #2: Punxsutawney, Part 1 of 2: All Hail Phil
Notes, Day 1: Surprise Groundhog Festival
Photos #3: Punxsutawney, Part 2 of 2: All the Groundhogs of the Rainbow
Photos #4: Travel Bits from Day One
Photos #6: Freedom Trail, Part 1 of 3: the Departed
Photos #7: Freedom Trail, Part 2 of 3: Statues
Photos #8: Freedom Trail, Part 3 of 3: the Town
Notes, Day 3: Garden of the Ducks
Photos #9: In the Green of the Boston Public Garden
Photo #10: Counting the Blessings While the World Races Past
Photos #11: Inside the Adams Family Crypt
Photos #12: the Adams Family Church
Photos #13: Adams Family Real Estate
Notes, Day 4: Refuge in a Gated Community
Photos #14: It’s Chinatown!
Photos #15: Cape Cod, Gateway to Whales
Photos #16: Parts of a Whale
Notes, Day 5: Cape Cod Cloudburst a-Comin’
Photos #17: Open Sea, Infinite Horizon
Photos #18: A Monument for Thanksgiving
Photos #19: Land of the Pilgrims’ Pride
Photos #20: Salem, Part 1 of 2: Besides the Witches
Photos #21: Salem, Part 2 of 2: All the Quote-Unquote “Witches”
Notes, Day 6: Though the Hakken-Kraks Howl
Photos #22: Springfield is Grinch Town
Photos #23: An Attraction Not Only of Sight and Sound But of Mind
Notes, Day 7: Signs of Life Before the Internet
Photos #24: Rod Serling and His Hometown All-Stars
Photos #25: Paying Respects to Lucille Ball
Photos #26: the House That Vitameatavegamin Built
Notes, Day 8: Pink Nightmare Family
Photos #27: Christmas at Ralphie’s House
Photos #28: More to Rock-’n’-Roll Than Elvis and the Beatles
Photos #29: Rock ‘n’ Roll, Never Forgotten
Photos #30: Man of Steel, Sons of Cleveland
Photos #31: James Garfield and Friends
Photos #32: the Great American Splendor
Notes, Day 9: Back to Our Cells
Photos #33: The Three Investigators and the Case of the Abandoned Prison
For our tenth wedding anniversary, our first vacation alone together since 2002, Anne allowed me the privilege of choosing a direction. I settled for a sequel to our 2006 trip because I loved the upscale-Midwest ambiance and I thought we gave the Twin Cities short shrift. For a little variety we tacked on a digression into southeastern North Dakota.
Photos #1: Welcome to the Kingdom of Cheese
Photos #2: Fonzie and the Ducks
Photos #3: Art of the Milwaukee Riverwalk
Photos #4: Scenes from the Milwaukee Riverwalk
Photos #5: You Can’t Spell “Psychedelic” Without “Deli”
Photos #9: Another Hick in the Mall, Part 2
Photos #10: The Enterprise Incident
Photos #11: The Flour That Blooms in Adversity
Photos #12: Urban Serenity Along the Mississippi
Photos #13: Parks & Ruination
Photos #14: Sitting Here on Capitol Hill
Photos #15: Under the Dome
Photos #16: Nice Park, Charlie Brown
Photos #17: Around the Science Museum on $0.00 an Hour
Photos #18: Twin City I: St. Paul
Photos #19: Twin City II: Minneapolis
Photos #20: Monkey Donuts and the Rest Stop Lake
Photos #21: Fame and Fargo
Photos #22: Platter 9 from Outer Space
Photos #23: North Dakota Flatland Interlude
Photos #24: American Doomsday Machines
Photos #25: An Evening Stroll Through Downtown Fargo
This one began as a simple idea: visit ostensibly scenic New Orleans — home to jazz, voodoo, Cajun and Creole cuisine, fresh seafood, beignets, Mardi Gras, alcoholic revelry, Emeril, Harry Connick Jr., HBO’s Treme, NCIS New Orleans, Swamp Thing, The Princess and the Frog, great moments in American history, and horrifying moments in severe storm damage. We’d never been to Louisiana itself, let alone the world-famous Crescent City, but there was something about the idea of seeing New Orleans ten years after Hurricane Katrina that stuck with me and wouldn’t let go. We researched numerous possible routes, cities, and towns to visit along the way in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. This would prove to be our deepest journey into the heart of the South.
#5: Signs of the Revolution
#6: Faces of the Revolution
#7: Spirits of the Revolution
#8: The Other Birmingham Park
#9: Murals and Falls
#10: Birmingham’s Art Museum on $0.00 a Day
#11: Lights of Birmingham
#12: Southern Seafood Showdown, Round 1
#13: Up the Mountain to the God of Fire
#14: The Road to New Orleans
#15: Jazz After Sunrise
#16: War Relics
#17: War Ordnance
#18: War Wheels
#19: War Wings
#20: “Beyond All Boundaries” (NOTE: not a full photo gallery.)
#21: Mardi Gras in July
#22: Everything Floats Down Here
#23: Southern Cooking Showdown, Round 2
#24: New Orleans State of Mind
#25: The Other End of the Mississippi
#26: Ornate for the Divine
#27: Jackson Square in Another Light
#28: The Spirit in St. Louis
#29: The Market and the Mint
#30: The Jazz Shopper
#31: NOLA History Trilogy
#32: Southern Seafood Showdown, Round 3
#33: Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?
From November 1-6, 2015, we racked up a number of personal firsts. My wife Anne was invited on her first business trip to Colorado Springs, all expenses paid from flight to food to lodging to rental car, to assist with cross-training at a distant affiliate. Her supervisor gave me permission to attend as her personal travel companion as long as I bought my own plane ticket and food. Neither of us had ever flown before, largely because we each grew up in families too poor for such extravagance. We’ve also never taken two week-long vacations in a single year. Thanks to our unforeseen circumstances, we were shocked to find such things no longer inconceivable.
Strictly speaking, this wasn’t a road trip per se (except for the wide detour we took on Day One), but by our standards it’s a sufficiently major event for us to merit inclusion alongside our other vacations.
Live on location, Day 1: Airport ’15: The First One
Photos #1: Intro to Aerodynamics
Photos #2: Sunday in Estes Park
Photos #3: Rocky Mountain Higher and Higher
Photos #4: Quest for Snow
Photos #5: From the Mountains to the Prairies
Photos #6: America the Beautiful Park
Live on location, Day 2: One of Several Rockies
Photos #7: Views from the Cave of the Winds
Photos #8: Munchies in the Mountains
Photos #9: Rollin’ ‘Round Red Rock
Photos #10: Nature Near NORAD
Photos #11: Meerkat Man
Photos #12: A Merry Mountainside Menagerie
Photos #13: The Will Rogers Fan Site
Photos #14: Colorado Cookery
Photos #15: A Most Vibrant House of Worship
Photos #16: The Air Force Academy Is…
Photos #17: Bowling for Fish
Live on location, Day 3: Top 10 Captions for Your Inflatable Armed Snowman
Photos #18: Colorado Comics Cavalcade
Live on location, Day 4: A Second Get-Together for Second Breakfast
Photos #19: The Denver Museum of Nature & Science on $0.00 a Day
Photos #20: Three Cities, Much Rock
Photos #21: Lithic Landscape Lollygagging
Live on location, Day 5: Missing the War
Photos #22: War Wings II
Photos #23: War Relics II
Photos #24: Circles of Sugar and Joy
Photos #25: Colorado Cookery II, or “Snacks and a Plane”
Emboldened by our first successful foray into air travel with the previous November’s partly funded trip to Colorado Springs, we decided to give my son his own first chance to fly the friendly skies by planning our long-awaited sequel vacation to Manhattan. This time we avoided all other states, dipped our toes into at least one other borough besides Manhattan, and tried a few NYC-specific experiences that eluded us the first time.
Notes on the Go #1: Old Man Yells at Bulbasaur: My First Day of Pokemon Go
Photos #1: Welcome to New York (reprise)
Photos #2: The Kitchen and the Kitchen
Notes on the Go #2: Our View for Six Nights in Hell’s Kitchen
Photos #3: One World, Many Views
Notes on the Go #4: New Jersey from a Minimum Safe Distance
Photos #4: Refuge with St. Paul
Photos #5: Central Park Walkathon
Photos #6: Central Park Statue Stalking
Photos #7: Manhattan Mealtimes
Photos #8: Washington Clocked In Here
Photos #9: It’s Chinatown! Again! Yes, AGAIN.
Photos #10: Waiting for Colbert
Photos #11: Time Yet Again for Times Square
Notes on the Go #3: Ten Lessons Learned at Our “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” Taping
Photos #12: Manhattan Mealtimes II
Photos #13: The Intrepid Walk at Dawn
Photos #14: War Wings III
Photos #15: Shuttles in Starshine
Photos #16: The Museum of Intelligent Designs
Photos #17: Art Museum as Art Itself
Photos #18: 20th Century Art Faire
Photos #19: Ultimate Manhattan Mealtime