My trip to see my Fathers side of the family began on the 2nd of July. Usually, when I drive to see this part of my family my travel plans have me going in a straight shot from Kalamazoo Michigan, up to Port Huron, Michigan. I cross over to Canada at Sarnia, Ontario and proceed across much of Ontario and then re-enter New York State at Lewiston, which is adjacent to Buffalo. Then I take the New York State Thruway to Syracuse, New York. The entire trip takes about 8 to 9 hours.
This time I didn’t follow that plan. While talking it over with friends I asked another set of friends who live in Cleveland, Ohio if I could stop at their place overnight to split the trip up in half over two days. They agreed and I decided this was going to be an adventure. I’ve passed through the United States on this trip before and the entire endeavor takes about an hour and a half more as you have to go around Lake Erie instead of crossing over the north part of it in Ontario.
I got up and ready on the 2nd, collected all my things that I would need for travel except for certain bits of apparel. Apparently in my morning rush I remembered my gadgets and wiring but utterly forgot some of the most basic parts of my wardrobe. Oops. I only realized my omission when I left I-94 and switched over to I-69, too far away to turn back and get what I forgot. The first leg of my trip was perfectly fine and very straightforward, I-94 to I-69 to I-90. East, South, East. The GPS was yammering away in my ear the whole time and there really isn’t any possibility of getting lost. The entire route was facilitated by my I-Pass transponder which pretty much pays all my tolls for the entire trip. Getting to Cleveland was rather uneventful, except for the first barrier from Indiana to Ohio. The I-Pass transponder system usually has it’s receiver adjacent to the gate assembly at the barrier, so I usually just haul out the transponder and hold it up to my windshield when I’m pulling up to the toll barrier gate. This one singular barrier, between Indiana and Ohio doesn’t have their system set up that way. The transponder is set to do all exchanges upon approach. That’s different than everyone else, Indiana, Illinois, and New York. So I was pretty much stuck with a bunch of other non-Ohio travelers in that barrier lane until someone came out to help us. For each of us they gave us an exasperated leer and chided us for not using the transponders properly. Considering this is the only barrier that uses them in this fashion and they don’t have any signs instructing travelers that they do it differently, my only response to the chiding was a thankfully inaudible eye-roll.
The rest of the trip through Ohio reminded me why I’m not a huge fan of Ohio. The people, the way they drive, their mannerisms – there is nothing patently wrong with anything, but when you add it all up you get this pervasive sensation of beige. Everything is beige. It’s bland, it’s plain, it’s wholly unremarkable. The people aren’t stupid, but they seem almost willfully dense and it only shows up when you observe a lot of them acting in concert. Individually they are just like everyone else, but when you are stuck in traffic in Ohio you start wondering if they are all as bright as a bag of hammers. Once I got to Cleveland the GPS just rocketed me right to where I needed to go, no fuss, no muss. No closed roads, no really big issues.
Once I got to my midpoint destination, half-way along I stopped at my friends house in the city, Chris and Keith. They have a wonderful turn-of-the-century house that reminds me a LOT of 808 North Cayuga Street (only close family will get the reference, sorry) and they just got done ripping out a lot of the old carpeting revealing some really amazing and wonderful hardwood flooring. Both Chris and Keith have four furbabies. Tuile, Coulis, Napoleon, and Minnie. They are all shorthairs or wirehairs and range through dachshund, through jack-russel/Chihuahua mix, Italian Greyhound and purebred Doberman Pinscher. They all have delightful personalities and were very friendly to me. I think Chris was a little shocked that his Doberman, Minnie responded so favorably to me. It’s all in the approach and you really have to understand some dog psychology to make that good first impression. I got settled and Chris and I got lunch, and then later on that night we all collected at their favorite tavern, the Winking Lizard. Several good appetizers were shared and I drank quite a lot of very good beers. I have to admit to being rather dull when it comes to beer, I haven’t explored beer quite as passionately as I have wine, but they were both very gracious and suggested and let me try a sip of their drinks to inspire me. Shortly after we began Chris and Keith’s good friend Junior arrived. Junior was very surprising, and in a good way. Very social, very friendly, and by the time the night was really chugging along we ended up getting intoxicated, enjoyed the local masculine fauna and all their obnoxious attractiveness and ended up chatting with a group of lesbians who enjoyed the antics of the thoroughly intoxicated gay men next to them. It was a wonderful time and I really think Scott would enjoy himself, except that he’d have to really dose up on antihistamines. The furbabies are a delight, but they will most likely make Scott a hot sneezy mess. Chris and Keith are excellent hosts and I can’t imagine ever needing to pass through Canada again with such wonderful friends and a place to rest. I don’t know if my body can take another last-night-in-Cleveland. At least I didn’t have a hangover.
The next morning I got up, pretty much when I usually get up, and got all my things together and lamented my earlier forgetfulness in regards to selecting the right amount of apparel for my trip and got all my things in order despite my shortsightedness. We did breakfast at one of their favorite locations, and it was very good. After some chatting and some more laughing I had to hit the road and finish my trip over here.
While driving I figured I would try to get my iPhone to do as much work as possible to make my trip easy. There are a suite of apps that really work well for long-distance travel, StreetPilot, which turns my iPhone into a Garmin Nuvi, Trapster which is a social network for sharing road conditions and locations of speed traps, and Glympse which is another social application that shares my location on a map along with my traveling speed. I had already loaded my iPhone up with Podcasts and I was listening to “A Way With Words” while all the other apps were chiming in when I needed navigation instructions or an alert that there was a police officer in the area. My loved ones who often times worry when I drive really enjoyed the Glympse application, switching to the Google Satellite view as I travel along made them very happy. There is little risk of anything unpleasant happening on these super highway systems, but knowing that they aren’t worrying actually helps me feel better. One little thing I did notice about Glympse is that knowing that people are observing my speed keeps me conscious of it and I don’t accidentally find myself going 80 in a 70 or 70 in a 55. Then again, my GPS also makes binging noises when I go 5 MPH over the limit and that helps too. Trapster in a way helps also keep me aware of the sharks on the open road, the cops sitting in speed traps. It’s a little victory when I spy a cop laying out a trap and I report him using Trapster to everyone else who is using the app on the road. As they approach my report they get a little noise on their devices indicating that a cop is sitting in a trap and they are about to enter the region. This is cheating the cops out of their traps and in some way it does defeat the purpose of the traps, but with my driving record and history, revenge sure feels good. Leaving Cleveland, the next big city is Erie, Pennsylvania. After that is Buffalo. I made a stop at the Walden Galleria Mall to correct my apparel failure and get something light for the road. I fixed my apparel problem and stopped at an Orange Julius. For those that didn’t grow up in New York (as this place is very regional and I think is just a New York thing) Orange Julius is pretty much just a hot-dog place that happens to sell their namesake drink, which is Orange Juice, crushed ice, and powdered milk, I think. I’m sure many people would think that it’s not very good but I grew up loving Orange Julius and was just a little bit geeked that I found them operating in the Mall and could get a taste of my past for three bucks. Alas, what is in your memory erodes over time and the reality is that they don’t really make them as good as they used to. It was still okay, and a drink, so I carried on. Getting back on the road, after Rochester, New York there was a rather flat and dull strip of the NYS Thruway (I-90) and I watched a fellow in an SUV in the right lane and I spied a New York State Trooper behind him in the classic New York State Trooper cruiser. Once you see a New York State Troopers cruiser, you never EVER forget that shape. Blue and Yellow, Lights and Stiff Starched Hat. So I was moving along in a 65 zone at 70, which honestly on the Thruway the troopers aren’t even interested in, but this fellow who was in the right lane, with a Trooper essentially tailgating him, was going at least 75. This idiot carried on this way for about 2 miles, the Trooper RIGHT THERE. That kind of cruiser is IMPOSSIBLE TO MISS. Yet this guy did. Either he was very brazen or an utter idiot. The Trooper didn’t need his radar gun, he was pacing the idiot for two miles, and then, way down the road, I spied the tell-tale blue and red lights pop on, then start to play back and forth – the kind of lights that make every New York State resident feel sick and caught, and over the both of them went. This idiot in the SUV really deserved it, it’s one thing to be in a wolfpack going 72 and getting picked off as the sacrificial lamb and quite another to essentially right-lane-block a Trooper and then let him pace you for two miles going a whole 10mph over the limit! Ah well, not me, not my insurance, not my problem.
Of course the problem with the Great New York State Thruway (capitals make it ironic) is that it is some of the dullest road in the Universe. It’s very dull, very straight, very buggy and if you aren’t lulled into a stupor by the sheer monotony of it, you can end up losing your marbles as you cross some of the thickest bands of leyline energy on the planet. This latter bit really gets me freaked out. There are two giant bands, one just east of Fredonia, New York and another one just east of Batavia, New York. I don’t know what the hell it is, but when I cross it, it feels like I’m being pulled in a kind of etheric taffy machine. If I were a passenger and I had my eyes closed, I’m sure I could mark the exact spot, it hits me every time I cross that part of I-90. I just want to pull the car to the side of the road, get out, and have a good healthy grand mal siezure. Thankfully I move at a pretty heady clip trying my best to exchange “mild traffic law infractions” for “losing my fucking marbles” So far I haven’t gotten caught. If the police did pull me over right in the middle of this awful vortex of *whatever-it-is* I’d probably cover the cop from head to toe in sick and then start trembling and shaking. We hope for small favors. I hate those two sections of road.
After the spirit-screwing fun-house that is Fredonia and Batavia, the road gets, as I have said, utterly and quite lethally banal. It’s a mind-numbing batch of nothing that you travel through, and there is nothing but waiting until it’s over and you pass thru it. I started feeling a little laggy around Victor, New York and I know that feeling well. The slow and agonizing slide towards trance-driving, microsleeps, and the subsequent rumble-strip-oh-shit-god-damnit. It’s usually promptly followed by face slapping, thigh pounding, foot slamming, whatever I can do to keep my mind from taking a vacation while I’m operating three tons of high-velocity metal. I am very aware of this particular problem I have and usually stop to get some soda or take advantage of a soda I have stashed in the car. The trouble with the Great New York State Thruway is that there really is no place to stop a vehicle. In New York, there aren’t really many exits and so, for people who are used to getting off on an exit and hitting McDonalds for a soda pop or some food, you have to wait (what seems like a long time) until you get to a Rest Stop on I-90. They are all named for the little communities that they were glommed onto as I-90 cut a swath of banality through their farmland. So I stopped at one before I progressed along the path I know all too well, which would be trance/microsleeps, got out, and got some 5-hour-energy shots. These little bastards are awesome and I resolved right then and there, in the parking lot of that rest area that from this point forward there will be a 4-pack of these little shot bottles hidden somewhere in my car. I think they’d fit nicely in the cargo area in the back. So from now on, if I feel the laggy feeling coming on I can stop, pop the back door, get a little bottle of daddies little helper and then get back on the road.
The rest of the trip, by that point, was just waiting for Exit 39 to hit. Once there, it’s 90, 690, 5, and done. So far everything is going well and I feel better about what the next few days will hold. If things get unpleasant I have my car, I can always hop into it and find something in town to occupy myself with if I have to. I don’t think I’d ever actually do that, but knowing that it’s an option that I could use makes the next few days manageable. In a lot of ways it’s a lot like political claustrophobia, the kind of claustrophobia related to not having a clear exit available to you. With my car, I’ll always have an exit in mind and the feeling of being trapped won’t afflict me. Although I think things will be better this year as I have a new bag of tricks to help me cope, mostly some keywords and clever “changing of the subject” chicanery that should work just fine. Tomorrow will be my fathers 72nd birthday so there will be mallwalking, cake, family visits, and a lot of plotzing. One thing my paternal family does very well is dwell. Lots of dwelling. Dwelling masters, in fact.