Remembering the road, day 24: The end

Day 24

Today we go home, but not before I try  and fail  to gain redemption in tennis against my brother. One day…

To add insult to injury, I mistook my mom’s salt container for a sugar container; I realized the mistake when I shoved a spoonful of “salted” cheerios into my mouth. The only thing worse would have been if the milk was sour. She’ll be getting a labelmaker for Christmas

Throughout the trip we managed to avoid traffic jams, sitting on the highway, construction, accidents, and nearly every other kind of delay. Today we made up for that luck. What should have been a 6-hour drive ended up taking more than 8 hours. Not bad, really, but it’s doubly hard when it delays the final stop: home.

The long lines came at the toll plazas; at construction areas; where traffic was simply heavy; and at one point where there was an accident on the other side of the median. That’s the worst  when traffic slows to a snarl because of rubbernecking. And the accident wasn’t even that dramatic. Just a fender bender.

Aside from that, few things were remarkable today. At lunch, a woman who must have been suffering from emphysema was coughing up her left lung as I tried to eat my turkey sandwich. On the one hand, I felt really bad for her; on the other, it was pretty gross.

Speaking of lunch, Cynthia once again proved that the waitress always asks if everything is OK just when you’ve taken a bite of food. It’s true! Another note: about half of the dining booths had phones. I don’t know why. And in the parking lot was a woman who looked exactly like a Far Side character. I am not kidding.

Since traffic was so slow, I spent a little more time looking at other vehicles. Several semis had satellite dishes mounted to them, which I thought was pretty enterprising. One semi had a bunch of windows in the living space behind the driver, and we could see a couple of kids and a woman knitting. The family that long-hauls together, stays together…

Speaking of which, another semi I saw declared itself to be a Church on Wheels, not for hire. I really wanted to know what that meant. Did he pull into towns and hold revivals? Does he do anything to earn money, or is this just his thing? But, he was headed in the opposite direction and I never found out any more.

Another family was riding in a giant Dodge Ram duelly  you know, the trucks with the double-wide tires in the back that makes it look like it has big hips. Anyway, the entire family looked to be shaped like the truck, which stood about 4 feet off the ground, and the dad driving it sped around the turnpike like Mario Andretti. I thought for sure he was going to cause an accident. Actually, come to think of it, today was the biggest day for rude drivers. I guess we’re back on the East coast.

Finally, around 8, we pulled up to the house, found our cats alive and well, and started bringing in our stuff. It’s been a long, fun, memorable trip. We’re glad to be home, but I don’t think either of us would mind going for a hike in Yellowstone today.

Josh and Cyn – Total trip miles: 7,124.

(P.S. Interesting moment Monday morning… we’re fast asleep when we’re awoken at about 6 a.m. by the sound of our front door opening. “What is it?” “Is someone breaking in??” We hurry downstairs only to find the house empty of other people. Glancing outside, we see one of our catsitters (all of whom we greatly appreciate!) shyly heading back down the path, hoping she didn’t wake us up. I guess I should have told her we were home!)

The End

Remembering the road, day 23

Day 23

Mark and I were to continue our tennis marathon this morning, but he overslept and it didn’t happen. Instead, we lounged around until the whole family went horseback riding at a local place that offers trail rides. Unfortunately, the trail rides were severly limited and the hour it was supposed to last really only stretched about 20 minutes. I’m still not sure how they counted the minutes.

One thing I missed out on was the sight of me on the smallest, shortest horse in the barn. For some reason, I was given what by all appearances was a pony, while my nephews, two feet shorter than I, were riding high on tall horses. Soursa, my “horse,” looked like it had six legs  four of its own plus the two of mine. So it goes…

Six-legged horse

My mom trailered her horse and another for my dad to the location and on the way back, suffered a flat tire. That meant unloading the horses by the side of the road, jacking up the trailer, changing the flat, reloading the horses, and finally, getting back to the barn. In all, it delayed them by at least 2 hours.

In the afternoon, I found time to catch up on sleep and then proceeded to hand Mark a 6-1, 6-1 tennis victory. Even though it looks like it wasn’t even close, nearly every game was won by a single point, and in many cases, I lost game points. I am, no doubt, a choker. I get one more chance for redemption in the morning.

After a celebratory dinner for mom’s birthday tonight, we tried to get a pay-per-view movie (Ocean’s 11) only to fail to get the 9 p.m., 9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. films. Why? We have no idea. Evidentially, Heather H., who was the kind soul helping us at the cable company, couldn’t figure it out, so we ended up watching the last half of Octopussy, one of Great Britain‘s finest moments.

Oh, and at dinner, my nephew Sam informed us that his third leg is named, “Mr. Happy.”

Remembering the road, day 22

Day 22

Today it is much cooler and much less humid. In fact, it’s quite comfortable. I got my film photos back today and there are a few I liked. I’m thinking that beofre long, I’ll have to get a good SLR digital camera. But, the one I want is about $4,000 and that’s about 10 times more than I want to spend. Maybe in about 5 years…

After a quite day lounging around, helping with some household stuff, my brother Mark and I staged a tennis rematch. My mom and our wives joined us for some doubles before we went mono-a-mono and I exacted a tiny bit of revenge.

Then we stopped to play wiffleball with the boys. That came to an end once I lined the ball off the pitcher‘s leg… that is to say, my nephew.

That reminds me, Truman was cracking us up in Las Vegas. Whenever he spotted a surveillance camera (and he spotted plenty), he’d hold up his hand and flash the “loser” sign. I’m sure security personnel throughout Vegas were looking for that 10-year-old.

Another amusing story I forgot to mention is the use of the walkie-talkies along the trip. Nobody could understand me, claiming I was mumbling. Cynthia was having trouble too, as she held the walkie-talkie to her ear when talking and mouth when listening. I think we were both just dead from all of the miles.

Ok, one more amusing story from Vegas that I forgot to tell. One day I was walking down the hallway and someone put out their room service cart to be taken away. On the top of the cart were three delicious-looking dinner rolls. Then there were two, and it was delicious. Cynthia just found out about it today and says she’s disappointed, but the kids thought it was cool.

Anyway, we’re definitely winding this trip down. Tomorrow is my mom’s 60th birthday and we’ll go horseback riding, probably will play more tennis, and just relax.

Remembering the road, day 21

Day 21

This morning we slept in without having to worry about making a tour time, making miles, checking out, or anything else. After some oatmeal and cartoons, my brother and I played some tennis. Even though the temp is some 30 degrees less than it was in Vegas, this air is saturated with water… lots of water. It didn’t take long for me to tire and Mark complained of a heavy feeling in his legs. In the end, he squeaked by 6-2.

As we headed to the car, he handed me the keys and asked me to get him a paper on the way back, as he was going to jog home. I love my brother, but there are times when I want to kneecap him, and that was one of them… but I was too tired. So, I drove back and picked up his paper, and he bought me some Gatorade. By the time I pulled up to his house and glanced at the paper, I heard him call out to me. Argh! I got back at him, though, by blowing my nose on the t-shirt I borrowed from him, then I borrowed a nice Eddie Bauer shirt of his that I might “forget” to give back…

After reading the paper, he and I drove over to some friends of his who weren’t home and used their pool.

Jane made us lunch and then she, Cyn, and I drove up to my parent’s place in Kent. It’s been so long since I’ve driven in this area that I forgot how to get there. I zoomed right past the exit I should have taken and instead found myself near Cleveland‘s airport, a good 40 minutes away. After absorbing some abuse from my passengers, I turned around and quickly made up for lost time and ground.

Along the way, we saw several vans that carry the hot air balloons we saw the previous night driving down the highway. I don’t know… could they just fly to where they need to go? Maybe they’re going against the wind… Which reminds me, I saw that Steve Fossett finally completed his nonstop around-the-world balloon flight. Thank God! Not that I cared so much about his flight, but I was just sick of hearing about it.

One of my other brothers, Steve, was staying with my parents for the holiday and it was good to see him, as it’s been years since we last saw each other. My mom made a number of delicious dishes and had some friends over… it was good to eat a home-cooked meal for a change… the first in nearly three weeks. Even though I wasn’t really hungry, I couldn’t resist the food and found myself eating on a full stomach.

Then I took advantage of some high-speed Internet and got caught up on the news. As I headed off to bed, I heard fireworks going off and remembered that it is the Fourth of July, which explains why it’s so frickin’ hot. I feel like a dumpling sitting here with several fans pushing around hot, humid, heavy air. I don’t know if I’ll fall asleep or just black out from the oppressive air, but either way I should be getting some rest.

As for our dog, he was happy to see us after all this time, but he’s a bit confused. Besides being a tad freaked out by the fireworks, he’s not sure where to go. He keeps coming into our room and looking around, then he follows my mom to her room where he’s been sleeping for the last three weeks, then trotting downstairs to where Cynthia is watching TV, then back to my room to restart the cycle. Hopefully when Cynthia finally decides it’s bedtime, he’ll settle.

Finally I fell asleep only to be awoken moments later when a gnat flew in my mouth. As I coughed it out, another flew in my eye.

Remembering the road, day 20

Day 20

This morning we awoke knowing it would be our last big road day. We’re to drive from Rolla, Oklahoma through St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Columbus, OH.

With the morning sun we noticed that the EconoLodge wasn’t quite as fine as we had previously thought. The first sign was the mouse droppings on the sheets. Sign two was the overly flexible bathtub… I thought I might drop right through the floor. Sign three was the dried doughnuts and thick coffee. So it goes.

We headed out and made it to St. Louis in good time. We hoped to visit another Roadfood spot, but we weren’t able to find the street it’s one very easily, so we just pulled over at a Bob Evans.

The arch in St. Louis is pretty and it’s neat to see another icon of America. I didn’t get to go up it, but according to my brother, it’s something to miss. I’ll take his word for it.

Having crossed the Mississippi, the speed limit is back down to 65 at the most, and having gotten used to 80+ mph, dropping to the 60s feels very slow indeed.

The midwest is definitely the land of symbols. Everywhere you look are flags, “United We Stand” slogans and “Let’s Roll” banners. I don’t see nearly this much stuff back in D.C., where one of the attacks actually happened, and where people are still feeling threatened.

Illinois is also giving Texas a run for its money in terms of the world’s largest cross. It stands about 300 feet tall or so. How many of these things are there? And who makes them? There must be some company out there in the giant cross business. I would think it would be a small market, but apparently not.

We spotted a car from Hawaii today (had Hawaii plates). That accounts for all 50 states. It does bring up the question of how they drove across the Pacific, though. And should there be an Interstate in Hawaii?

While at a rest stop in Indiana, we came across the most bizarre thing yet. It was an all-in-one hand washing station. Often I favor the advance of technology, but it has to be an improvement. This definitely was not. It was a hole in the wall with a soap dispenser, faucet, and hand dryer lined up at the top of the wall with the hand dryer closest to the front. Using infrared sensors, the system detects when hands have been inserted into the hole, dispenses soap, runs water, and then dries your hands.

One of the two systems in the men’s room was broken. The other was so slow… and requires the whole sequence to run before restarting, that a line in the men’s room developed. Guys who had just finished emptying their bladders were standing there waiting for this ridiculous contraption to complete each cycle. Just what was wrong with a normal sink?

I slept past Indianapolis. I don’t think I’m the only one to do that. In fact, I think plenty of people living there are doing the same thing.

As we motored into Columbus, I realized that we failed to do a standard travel activity: making semi-trucks blow their air horns. So Cynthia, my niece Jane, and I got right to work. We managed to get 16 out of 20 truckers to blow their horns, and one out of one Buick, driven by my brother.

I found out today that my beloved Cleveland Indians traded their best pitcher, and possibly one of the best pictures in the American League, Bartolo Colon the other day. For roughly 50 years.. from 1949 to 1994, the Indians were the laughingstock of baseball. Then they got great and nearly won the World Series. But now it looks like a return to past and that sucks. Oh well, baseball is going down the tubes anyway thanks to spoiled millionaires… that is, the owners and the players alike. Bah.

Upon arriving in Columbus, we watched a number of hot air balloons float above the city in preparation for the July 3rd fireworks there. Roughly halg a million people gather along the Olenatangy River to watch the show a day early so that neighborhoods can have their own local shows on the Fourth. Once we got to my brother’s house, we picked up some Thai take out, watched the first half of the Harry Potter movie, caught a few fireworks being shot off in the city, and then hit the sack.

Remembering the road, day 19

Day 19

Today we fled New Mexico and sped through the Texas panhandle and Oklahoma, stopping for the night in Missouri, a couple hours short of St. Louis.

We’ve mostly driving along I-40 which allows us to bypass the wildfires near I-70, but it also means we have to cut back north if for no other reason than I-40 is stopped at the Mississippi thanks to the barge that knocked out a bridge there. Besides, our destination is north of here, so that’s a good reason too.

Driving along I-40 means that we were frequently coming into contact with the history Route 66, the first highway to the West. Running from Chicago to Los Angeles (I think), Route 66 boasts many diners and motels, and various tourist traps to lure drivers into pulling over for a rest and a laugh.

In north Texas we streaked past the Cadillac Ranch where a series of Cadillacs are partly buried on end so that they appear to be growing from the ground. Shortly past that is the World’s Largest Cross (in the West). And indeed it is a big cross, surrounded by many other smaller crosses. It crossed my mind that the proprieters of the cross might become cross if someone were to write their name on the cross with a Cross pen. Perhaps that’s an issue that could be debated on Crossfire or become a plot point on Crossing Jordan.

Hours later we stopped in Elk City, OK, at another Roadfood eatery: Billie’s. Billy is the owner and cook. His specialty: onion burgers. Although I detest onions with every fiber of my being, I ordered a King Size burger along with fries and shake. After scraping off most of the onions, I quite enjoyed the burger, along with the enormous shake and the fries. Billy, meanwhile, let the phone ring while he made our order and the orders of people who came in after us and pulled up to Billy’s drive-through.

DSCN1511

Once things cooled off a bit, we had Billy sign our book and asked him about his business. He said that for 42 years he ran a dry cleaner across the parking lot, but then OSHA cracked down on him, so he started up the burger joint instead. I don’t know what he did to get OSHA on his case, but with double-size shakes and meaty fries, he gets my support.

While we ate, I looked through the Elk City Eagle, the local paper in town. For 50 cents you get 8 pages filled with one or two locally reported stories, plenty of AP news, Family Circus, Marmaduke, the Bible Quote of the day, a page of around-the-town photos, and classified notices, such as “Guinea Pigs, $30 each.”

Once we finished our meals, we bade farewell to Billy and continued east through Oklahoma. The scenery in Oklahoma isn’t anything to sneeze at, but, in all honesty, it just isn’t as interesting as high snow-capped mountains, rippling rocky canyons, or lengthy vistas of natural beauty. No, it’s mostly rolling hills of small trees and bushes dotted with billboards, fast food restaurants, plain houses, and warehouse-style shopping depots.

So, to pass the time we’re playing games, listening to audio books and music, and trying to find amusement in the billboards. For example, at an Oklahoma toll station, the sign warned of a $103 fine. Who comes up with numbers like these? Was this debated in the state legislature? “I propose a fine of $100!” “One hundred dollars, that’s not nearly enough. I demand $103!” “Here here!”

Another good sign announced free 72-ounce steaks. What’s that? A free 72-ounce steak? Absolutely! You just have to eat the whole thing within some time limit and if you don’t finish it, you have to pay for it. By the way, how big is a 72-ounce steak? That’s four and half pounds, baby!

My nephew Truman is again with us today and he’s spent much of the drive planning our evening accommodations. By plotting out our course and our hourly progress, he has figured out where we will be likely to be when we’re ready to stop driving. Then we crosschecks that with a AAA book listing hotels and motels. By reading up on the options and looking at alternative locations he picks out a clean, inexpensive place to bed down for the night and have a free continental breakfast when we awake. He definitely has a future as a travel agent, or a NASA engineer.

I’m particularly enjoying the drive back as we reenter the land of humidity and low altitude, meaning I can breathe again. I had thought the dry air of the West would help me to breathe easy, but that proved to be wrong. How good it is to be able to breathe. Ahhh…

Tonight, as we drove through Missouri, we noticed that the gas gauge was getting a little low. Our goal was to get to Rolla, MO, and when we were about 120 miles away, we had less than 1/4 of a tank. Near midnight, when we got about 80 miles away, the light came on. When we approached the 60-mile barrier, Cyn encouraged me to get gas. Twenty miles later, we pulled into a gas station that was closed. When we were just 25 miles away, I assured Cyn that I was pretty sure we could make it to Rolla. We turned the A/C off. We hoped and prayed. Then a glowing neon sign beckoned us to pull over and gas up. Reluctantly, I did so, and Cynthia sighed a huge sigh of relief. Our tank holds 15 or so gallons and the pump pushed in 14.2 gallons. We had about 20 miles left to Rolla. It would have been close, but now we’ll never know.

Remembering the road, day 18

Day 18

I awoke this morning to find out we had 20 minutes to clear out of our rooms and drive across the park. It wasn’t because we were evacuated, but because our tickets for the only open cliff dwelling were earlier than expected.

Sam rode with us in the back seat and we hightailed it across the park winding our way through mountainous hills and curves. Sam, who suffers some motion sickness, assured us he was feeling okay just as we approached the parking lot. Then he threw up. It’s quite amazing how much hot chocolate an 8-year-old boy can hurl. We immediately pulled over, stripped him and wiped out the vomit. He felt bad, but he shouldn’t have — he can’t help it — we just felt badly for him. After all, nobody likes to throw up on themselves.

After we cleaned Sam up, we hitched a ride on a tram into a deeper part of the park from where we could explore some of the ancient cave dwellings. Ranger Don was great. He thanked us all for understanding that much of the park had to be closed: “It’s not a matter of if we get fire, but when,” he noted.

The part of the park we were in wasn’t so much in danger. A quick look around explained why; just two years ago fire swept through it and all that remained where the black skeletons of a forest  nothing remaining to burn.

Ranger Don took us into Long House, one of the larger cliff dwellings in the park and explained to us how it is thought that the rooms were used. As always, a loud person was in our group, in this case a large red headed woman whose husband wore a Florida Gator’s tank top, allowing us unprecedented access to his armpit hairs.

DSCN1496

“How did they get through those holes?” she shouted at Ranger Don, pointing to the unusually small rectangular doorways allowing the cliff dwellers access to their rooms. He answered that they were big enough for people to get through, but not so big as today’s doors because the people of that time (600 AD to 1200 AD) didn’t need to push big refrigerators and such through them. The red-headed woman was unconvinced. “My husband can’t get through them! His shoulders are too big! Were they small people?”

Ranger Don explained that the people weren’t small… averaging about 5-feet tall, larger than the Europeans of the time. I wondered if her husband had actually tried to push his way through the ancient ruins and what would happen if he got stuck halfway through. I could see him ruining the ancient brick walls and getting red dust all over his Florida Gators tank top and the woman shouting “See!”

The tour of the ruins was very interesting and Ranger Don had a lot to say. He pointed out the narrow and precarious paths the dwellers would use; showed how the people got water seeping out of the sandstone, explained why timbers that were nearly 1,000 years old were still standing strong, and much more. But, as my nephew Truman reminded him, we were running late and had to catch the shuttle bus. So we scampered back to the top of the mesa and continued touring the area.

While riding the shuttle, my brother and sister-in-law started talking to a couple sitting near them. It turned out they were friends of my brother’s in-laws in Ohio. It’s yet another example of how small the world is, and how wherever you go, there’s someone from Ohio. Even the moon! Remember Buzz Aldrin? I bet if there were aliens on the moon, one of them would have asked Buzz where he was from. Buzz would have said, “Ohio,” and the alien would have said, “Really? Me too! Do you know…”

We left Mesa Verde after lunch and headed south into New Mexico. We would have gone directly east, but massive wildfires in Arizona and Colorado were causing delays and detours, so we decided to just skirt the issue by taking a more southerly route. Along the way, we spotted a giant column of smoke rising from a distant hill. It was a small fire and it was belching out a tremendous amount of smoke. Still, the cloud from the fire simply blended into the gray sky, itself already a gloomy hue thanks to the fires. We never came very close to a blaze, but the evidence from them was omnipresent. I couldn’t help but wonder if there wasn’t a connection between the fires and our route: 666. Coincidence?

Jane rode with us again, although today she used a towel to keep a slim but vital bit of separation between her and the remains of Sam’s regurgitated hot chocolate. Once again, we nearly forgot she was there as she whiled away the hours sitting and sleeping without saying but a few words.

Streaking into New Mexico, we stopped in Albuquerque for dinner and gasoline. I had let the car run on empty far longer than ever before, coming to within 30 miles or so of running out of gas. After refueling, we briefly explored “Old Town” Albuquerque and looked for a bite to eat. Turning to Roadfood, we settled on the Tortilla Factory, an establishment confirmed by a local merchant to be a great place and a good value. Just a shame, really, that it went out of business several years ago. D’oh!

After looking around briefly for another place to eat, and finding only closed or very expensive restaurants, we turned again to Roadfood. It listed to places on Central street, also known as Route 66. Hoping to get our kicks, we headed down Route 66 and saw that the first place listed, a drugstore with a old fashioned counter, was closed. But, luck was with us at last as we came into the University of New Mexico area and the 24-hour “Frontier.” What a great place! Dinner was fast and delicious. It’s just the sort of place I wish I had near me when I was in college.

Then it was back to the road. Already Cyn and I have listened to a Michael Palin (Monty Python, A Fish Called Wanda, etc.) book on CD about his adventures on the Pacific Rim, the first Harry Potter book, and tonight we wrapped up book two of the series. Then it was time for New Mexican radio. We flipped around the dial a bit, not finding much in range. We settled on some bluesy rock music before finally finding an all-the-time Mariachi station. And into the dark night we drove with Mariachi music serenading us down the highway. It’s surprising how many different Mariachi songs there are and how at some point, they all start sounding the same. Kind of like these updates…

Josh and Cyn (mileage: 5,120)

(Note, I’ve changed the mileage from total odometer reading to the trip accumulation. Do I really think anyone cares? Of course not, but I spent at least an hour today thinking about it as mile marker after mile marker after mile marker passed by, so there you have it.)