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I woke up this morning in my own bed with nowhere to go. I’m glad to be home. I went to the gym today and sweat for the first time since South Carolina, and it felt good. I have a fantasy football draft today and I’ll have time to get back to Fifty Shades Darker. The road is incredibly exciting, but you can’t live on the road, or at least I couldn’t. I felt extra alive out there. Each day was an adventure and a mystery. The road is an easy place to get to. I don’t even own a car.
Enough people having been reading the blog that I won’t be shocked if I start getting phone calls to advertise fireworks and adult superstores. Seriously though, the blog kept me going at points out there because I knew people at home and elsewhere were curious. Without people checking in and reading, it wouldn’t have been so awesome, so thanks for thinking of me.
I am over my near death experience, and like I said at the time, I was quickly over it, I had to be. Roads and trucks are the backbone of America. A lot of things need to get to a lot of places and that’s how they get there. I have a new respect for truck drivers. It is a hard life. There were rest stops with Denny’s that offered showers. I could hear announcements like –Shower #3 is now available. I could never live like that, but somebody has to in order for life to be the way it is.
I was nervous starting off because I was going to far away places and I was alone, but I found my groove and enjoyed it so much that I was sad when it came to an end. I took the trip without expectations. I certainly didn’t go on the road to find myself, or to change myself in any fundamental way. I like myself too much. But maybe it did change me and it’s too soon to tell, who knows. I went out there just for the hell of it, to see new places and meet different people. I accomplished that.
I touched every state along and east of the Mississippi River. I went to highlands and lowlands. I crossed rivers, deltas, and valleys. I drove through the Green Mountains, passed the Great Lakes, rode along the bluffs of the Mississippi, sat in traffic in the biggest city in the East and the biggest city in the Midwest, saw enough cornfields in the Heartland to last me a lifetime, took backroads through the Deep South, made my way through the Appalachian Mountains along the Shenandoah River, and navigated busy roads in the Northeast. This country is big and beautiful, and it is also great. I had the freedom to go wherever I wanted, every place I went I felt safe, and everyone I met treated me kindly and with respect.
I won’t soon forget the kindness of Dale, who gave me a cup of coffee and a Motel 6 coupon or the visit to Long Island to see Lucey and Collins, and I hope I never forget the pride and dedication of the woman at The Dawg House. When I was waiting for my Chicago-style dog I was thinking that the service was slow, but the more I thought about it as time went by, the more I understood. Those hot dogs are her life. She loves creating the perfect meal for weary travelers. Every dog is meticulously prepared and she won’t compromise the preparation or her integrity to save a couple of minutes. She wants every one of her hot dogs to have it’s day, to be the best. She doesn’t care who’s watching or waiting, she takes the time to do it right. That thought comforts me and gives me hope. Right now, as I stare out the windows of an old mill building over the canal, I think back to Zac Brown in Georgia – life is good today.
Miles driven: 4062
States visited: 31
Money spent on gas: $450.44
Cheapest gas: $3.29 South Carolina
Most expensive gas: $4.30 Chicago, IL
Money spent on tolls: $80.75
Highest elevation: about 3000 ft in North Carolina
Lowest elevation: -2 ft Lincoln Tunnel
State I was in the shortest time: Florida
State that I can picture in my mind most easily: Iowa
Total number cups of coffee: 20
# of showers on the road: 3
# of miles driven without a seatbelt: 0
Near-death experiences: 1, Indiana
Best Motel 6: Atlanta Airport North
Number of emergencies requiring this last minute purchase: 1
Worst traffic: 1) New York City 2) Chicago
Worst overall state for traffic: Connecticut
Worst morning show: Baltimore
Best morning show: Rick and Bubba, Mississippi
Best state playlist: New Jersey
Worst state playlist: Delaware
Sleeper state playlist: Minnesota
City that I wish I had spent more time in: Memphis
At 10:30 AM it was 86 and mostly sunny when I left Collins house. I put Billy Joel’s Downeaster Alexa on repeat and it would guide me off of Long Island. When I left the house nobody was home, Sara was out and Collins was at work, so I crept into Collins’ bedroom and slipped the Citrus Skoal tobacco under his pillow, and tip-toed out. Their Tonkinese cats sensed I was up to something sinister, and I suspected they were ready to pounce.
I shouted out my favorite line and my second favorite line of Downeaster Alexa. My second favorite line is –There’s no island left for islanders like me. I knew what he meant today, more than I ever had. As I was leaving Long Island it started to sink in that I was headed home. I thought about leaving my buddy and thought about home. My eyes swelled with salty tears as I crossed bridges over Long Island Sound. Four walls, some windows, and a few doors is just a box, when you find a place in someone’s heart that is home because you can live there forever. I was definitely leaving a home.
I drove on through the Bronx on I-95 and I was sad. I was hungry for breakfast when the GPS incorrectly took me off the road, or at least what I thought was a mistake. I decided to just quickly get back on the highway because I wasn’t in the mood to eat in New York, it had taken too much out of me, I had to get to Connecticut. Trying to get back on the highway proved to be a challenge as I found myself driving parallel to I-95, and couldn’t quite get back on it. The GPS was not recognizing this and told me to –Continue on 95 for 5.9 miles. My aggravation with the device caused me to scream with furious anger –I’M NOT ON NINTEY FUCKING FIVE! The emotions I had been feeling were finally released. I calmly found a turn for entry onto 95 and made my way on. Maybe the GPS was right all along because the road I got off was not the road I got back on to.
I got off in Connecticut at the Welcome Center and by that time it was time for lunch. I got a Big Mac and a coffee. The Big Mac was disgusting so I ate three bites and pitched it. Chevy was running low on fuel, the lowest it had been the whole trip, so I filled up. Gas was more expensive than it had been for most of the trip and I nearly died at the sight of the total when I finished.
I was refusing to put on the Connecticut playlist because of the bad food, expensive gas, and traffic, so I downloaded Dire Straits – Local Hero/Wild Theme (live). The sweet melody of Mark Knopfler’s guitar picking could touch even the blackest of hearts. It has to be the right version though. Saxophones butcher this song in the versions I’ve heard with them. Here’s a good one. I would need this song later.
I let go of my hostility towards Connecticut and put on Weezer. I found songs from the Green Album hitting me in the right way, specifically Don’t Let Go, Smile, Photograph, and Simple Pages. I had also forgotten about the Weezer and Lil’ Wayne collaboration – Can’t Stop Partying, which is fun and improved my mood. I listened to it twice. Weezer is too catchy to not love them. Johnny G and I were scheduled to go see a Weezer show in 2010 but in December of 2009 the band’s tour bus was involved in a crash and our leg of the tour was cancelled.
The highway in Connecticut was broken and crowded, and after a while the land opened up and the highway widened and became smoother, so I knew I was in Rhode Island. Rhode Island was 31st state in my journey, so it felt good to be there. Talking Heads sang –Home is where I want to be. The buildup to that opening line makes it sound so good when David Byrne finally starts singing. And that’s where I was headed, home. I hadn’t shaved since before the trip began and my beard grows reddish so I was strutting like a Rhode Island Red Rooster through the Blackstone Valley National Corridor. Did you know Rhode Island Reds have been known to kill intruding foxes? They some badass chickens. I was in Rhode Island less time than Connecticut, but it had more to offer. It may be the smallest state but it didn’t seem like it today.
I would later change my opinion of Rhode Island. Driving through the back roads of Rhode Island I felt in a constant state of entrapment. The posted speed limits are unreasonably low and impossible to obey, and it seemed like there were troopers writing tickets around every turn. I couldn’t get anywhere in Rhode Island. This made me think about stress. I definitely noticed a higher stress level among people in the northeast. Outside the northeast the only thing that caused me stress was the weather. Now I was back among people that seemed ready to explode. My own anxiousness about returning home was evident in my irritability throughout Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Once I got to Massachusetts I did my best to chill out and enjoy the homestretch. When I saw a sign for 495 N and Lowell was on it – it really hit me that the road trip was almost over. As soon as I got onto 495 I took out my sunglasses. I had barely worn sunglasses the whole trip, I must have adjusted to the brightness being outside all day long, so I didn’t need them. I put them on on 495, the darker ones, because I was feeling emotional and if I had any tears of joy returning to Lowell I didn’t want anyone thinking that I had cracked.
I wished the last 40 miles was 400 because there were so many things that I still wanted to think about, so many songs I wanted to listen to, and so many Waffle Houses to visit. I had only been to two of the over 1600 locations. Coldplay sang –I want to shut the world outside, and that’s what I wanted to do for these last 40 miles. The song Titanium came on and that was the furthest thing in the world from what I was. I was a glass ball of emotions that could have shattered at any moment. I kept Titanium on for the strength it might offer me.
With 20 miles to go I hit traffic, and it was the greatest, most glorious traffic I ever got stuck in. I was never more excited to slow down in my whole life. Lowell would have to wait.
Lowell is a city that I have come to love and cherish. My mother’s genealogical research turned up a connection to Lowell. My great grandfather John Keohane came to Lowell in April of 1912 from Cobh, Ireland, two days after the Titanic made it’s final stop there. I have many homes in Lowell, so I know it is a place I can always go back to, no matter how long I’ve been away.
With seven miles to Lowell I realized I was wearing a Westford Academy Track tee shirt, so I felt like a dirty rotten scoundrel and wanted to tear the blasphemous threads from my body. Dire Straits calmed me with Local Hero/Wild Theme. I listened to it five times. Mark Knopfler’s guitar wailed with the sweet sounds of welcoming.
I pulled into downtown Lowell at 4:37 PM and the evening was rolling in. There was a disagreement as to what temperature it was between Washington Savings Bank and the Chevy’s thermometer. I had come such a long way with Chevy that my trust was absolute. It was 90 degrees. I knew I was back in Lowell when I saw an armored ice cream truck.
After Chevy was quickly unpacked it was time for us to part. What was said at our goodbye will remain between Chevy and me, I think we’ve earned that much. I took the keys to a man in a suit, I told him –You have a great car here, take care of her. He asked me where I had gone and I smiled to myself and replied –I just went out for a drive.
I was home. I was tired. The last words Chevy and I listened to together as we drove down the Lowell Connector are wise and I will never forget them:
You’ve gotta make your own kind of music
Sing your own special song
Make your own kind of music
Even if nobody else sings along
***Final thoughts and trip index for tomorrow***
There’s a surprise today.
Before I got out of bed this morning I texted –Wh 22601, to (LOCATE) and voila – I had my breakfast arranged because there was a Waffle House five minutes away. I left the Waffle House at 9:54 AM, it was 72 and not a cloud in the sky. I had finished the coffee and the bacon first and purposefully left one last bite of waffle smothered in syrup because I wanted to savor the taste as long as possible.
I made my way out of Virginia quickly because I had a lot to do today. I listened to Brad Paisley as I drove through a back road in West Virginia that reminded me of Vermont. And then all of a sudden in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, it happened. I had driven 3,500 miles and avoided any run-ins with the law, but in West Virginia that all changed. I was just cruising along when on the opposite side of the road I spotted a local police. I quickly glanced at the GPS because it has my speed and the speed limit conveniently displayed side-by-side. I was in a 55 doing about 58. I held my breath as I drove passed the sitting police officer and desperately hoped he stayed put, even though I was going at a reasonable pace with the flow of traffic, but technically speeding.
As I passed I looked into the rearview mirror and he pulled out. And then he put his lights on. I knew it. I was nailed. A search of the car would turn up that toxic bag of Bold Chex Mix and I would be accused of planning a terrorist attack and held as an enemy combatant under the Patriot Act, or Military Commissions Act of 2006, and probably sent to Guantanamo Bay. But, today, the law wasn’t after this Yankee. The car directly behind me pulled over and the police followed close behind it. I was spared by the grace of John Brown’s ghost. I breathed a sigh of relief. Brad Paisley sang –A man ain’t got to die to go to hell. I thought to myself, he ain’t got to die to go to heaven either.
I listened to John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads, and when you hear a song while in the region that’s being sung about the song takes on a whole new meaning. The elevation was about 500 ft in West Virginia and Maryland. Crossing into Maryland and seeing the Chesapeake Bay was magnificent. When I hit the I-70 heading toward Baltimore life seemed to be bustling again. The beginning of Tupac’s How Do You Want it is nice when you have it turned up loud enough to feel it. I rapped along to -Sho nuff/I keep my hand on my gun/cause they got me on the run.
I tuned into AM 1570 for some local sports when I hit some traffic in the north Baltimore Metro area. Of course, Bulldog and somebody else were talking about the Red Sox, specifically a collision involving Saltalamacchia. They also talked about a secret meeting behind Bobby Valentine’s back. I had had enough. Fortunately the traffic cleared up quickly. I scanned the dial and heard about West Nile Virus cases in Maryland and decided that the world other than the small space I occupied was too scary and returned to music.
I stopped at a rest area in Maryland and there were people everywhere. I hated it. I paid a $6 toll after going over a bridge and the view of the Chesapeake was so nice I thought I could see to the Flemish Cap. It was almost worth $6. Then I saw a very plain blue sign welcoming me to Delaware, then they charged me a $4 toll.
After I crossed the Mason-Dixon Line I listened to the Spinto Band, who was the only band on the Delaware playlist, and they were not getting it done, so I put on one of my favorite inspirational songs, Opus – Life is Life. I pictured the awesome video of it playing while Diego Maradona demonstrates his will over a soccer ball. I listened to it twice.
The New Jersey playlist was one of the ones I was really looking forward to, so after a short stay in Delaware, in which I didn’t even stop, well, except to pay a toll, I let it rip. Frank Sinatra sang that he’d been in love more times than he cared to remember, and that love has kept him cool in July and warm in December. The Gaslight Anthem sang a line that sticks out to me whenever I hear it, yet I don’t think I completely understand it –My first sin was the fear that made me old. I love the Gaslight Anthem because their songs are catchy and nostalgic. I sang all the words to Thunder Road with Bruce Springsteen. Jon Bon Jovi and I sang Born to be My Baby together like this:
Jon -My heart beats like a drum
Me –ALLLL NIIIGHT
Jon -Flesh to flesh, one to one
Me –AND ITS ALL RIGHT
So that was fun. Even the songs that seem over-played or that you’ve gotten used to, and are maybe even sick of, sound good on the road away from home and you remember why you love them.
I popped the lid off my empty coffee cup and Chevy looked at me like –WTF? But I was only reaching for my sunflower seeds, not the tobacco, so things were all good. Later, I stopped at the J Fenimore Cooper Rest Area to have a lunchtime snack. It was 88 and sunny, not too humid. I got a coffee, a coconut water that I paid too much for, and a Cinnabon just to make sure I was getting enough fat and sugar on the road trip. I only had three bites of the Cinnabon because it was disgusting. A total waste.
Also in Jersey a guy hunched over on a motorcycle passed me wearing sweatpants and tall white socks. I wondered if there was anything less cool to wear on a motorcycle. I noticed that the beginning of of Jon Bon Jovi’s Blaze of Glory sounds eerily similar to Hannibal Lecter telling Clarice Starling the fava beans and Chianti line. That sucking, slurping noise he makes.
Then, like days ago at the Mississippi River, I laid eyes on the mightiest of the mighty, I got my first glimpse of New York, New York, where the Statue of Liberty lifts her lamp beside the golden door. It appeared before me, sprawled out over what seemed like 1000 miles. I have been to the city many times, but today, approaching from the south, it felt like the first time. New York is more and bigger. Everything about New York is larger. The buildings are taller, the lights are brighter, things are more expensive, and the traffic is worse. There are more people – they’re fitter and more good-looking, their boobs are faker, and they are moving in a hurry because where they’re going is more important. New Yorkers love New York. Everyone loves his or her city in proportion to the size of the city. New Yorkers refuse to call New York anything but –The City.
The tolls are more expensive too. I paid $12.55 at the Lincoln Tunnel, then another one at the Queens Midtown Tunnel was $6.50. The GPS temporarily lost it senses and took me through the busiest street in New York city, 42nd street during rush hour traffic. I wanted to check to see if the settings had changed to find the most possible traffic and tolls. People were everywhere and traffic was a standstill. I wanted to close my eyes and be transported to a cornfield in Iowa. I wouldn’t have minded but I had to go to the bathroom, and, more importantly I was headed to Long Island to meet up with two college friends who I had not seen in a while.
The night I was in Jackson, Mississippi I planned out the stops for the rest of my trip and I had a little extra time if I kept on schedule, so I messaged the wife of my college roommate, Ryan Collins, to see if showing up there Thursday night was doable. She got back to me and said it was so for the next few days I plotted the surprise. I was also going to pick up another good pal, Jay Lucey, at the train station. The traffic delayed me and the sun began to set so I found myself in another race. This time against an insurance salesman from Long Island on his way home from work. I wanted to get there, park Chevy a few houses down, and be sitting in his favorite chair stroking his cat when he walked in the door.
On the Long Island Expressway Lady Gaga distracted me and helped prevent me from wetting myself, and for that I’ll always be grateful. Collins was due home at 6 PM and it was 5:52 when I pulled up to the Dunkin Donuts where Lucey was waiting. I parked Chevy, and by parked I mean I ditched it in front of a fire hydrant with the engine running. I ran right passed Jay Lucey to the bathroom. When I got back we had a few minutes to spare before RyGuy arrived, so I put on College – A Real Hero and booked it.
When we got to the house we parked a few blocks away and Sara, his wife, let us in. We discussed the cinematography of the entrance and peeked out the windows. There are videos below of the actual event, so I’ll skip to the dinner portion of the evening. We went to George Martin restaurant in Rockville Center. I had the crab cake to start and a blue cheese encrusted filet mignon with asparagus for an entrée. Both were excellent. The four of us had a wonderful time like old friends always do, and then I had the best key lime pie that I’ve ever had. They told me that I was a man of extremes and that I always said that. I just said –Fuck you guys. It was the best, and I really believed that.
When the bill came things went bananas. Money wasn’t the problem and I’m not sure what exactly happened but four educated people could not figure out how to pay the bill, a credit card fell in chocolate sauce, and finally after much commotion the waitress saved us from ourselves.
We left Lucey at the train station and it was sad to see him go. The three of us drove back and Collins and I sang our favorite song together, Billy Joel’s Downeaster Alexa. My favorite part to shout is –I worked my fingers to the bone so I could own my Downeaster Alexa.
When we got back to the house I became obsessed with learning about the Gilgo Beach serial killer. Bodies had been found at Gilgo Beach and authorities believed a serial killer was responsible for them. Ten to fourteen victims are believed to be associated with the case. One of the victim’s younger sister’s had even received taunting phone calls from the killer from her missing/dead sister’s phone, which the police triangulated to Times Square and Madison Square Garden. The whole thing is crazy and scary, and I was sure I’d have nightmares.
Right now, I’m in the Collins’ guestroom, with comfortable accommodations and I couldn’t have been any happier to see my pals today. I’m going home tomorrow.
***The videos I shot were too long to upload so it links to youtube.com. The bastard took so long to get out of the car that I had to film it twice. If it gives you an error message just hit refresh, and repeat if necessary. Oh, and mature language is used. You’ve been warned.
P.S. Collins would admit later that one of the first thoughts that ran through his head when he walked through the door was – these don’t look like Sara’s sisters.
I was hungry when I woke up in Atlanta, and the only thing that kept me going was the thought that I hadn’t seen anyone as handsome as me in days. At 9:35 AM ET I left Motel 6, the nicest one I had stayed at by far, and went to the McDonalds directly across the street. It was 77 and overcast. I put on 790 the Zone and listened to Mayhem in the AM. They said a three-week stretch in October against Philadelphia, Dallas, and New Orleans would say a lot about the Falcons. They also talked about the mutiny happening in Boston, and I felt disgraced and didn’t want to hear any more about the Red Sox, so I turned on the Georgia playlist. The new Zac Brown Band album Uncaged is quite terrific.
I was in or around the Appalachian Mountains so Atlanta’s elevation is around 800-900 ft. I had left the lowlands for good. Driving through northern Georgia is not so different from driving on a road like 495 in Massachusetts. I found my mind drifting and was driving unfocused so I turned off the AC and cracked open the windows and soaked up the southern air. It was sticky and thick, and I loved it. We hit some traffic before the South Carolina border and I could tell Chevy was eager to cross over because it’s Chevy’s home state.
When we crossed a bridge into South Carolina I could tell Chevy was excited for Hootie and the Blowfish and the South Carolina playlist because Hold My Hand sounded extra booming and crisp. I also realized that, in a way, we were holding hands and we drove through South Carolina proudly, together.
The humidity tested my resolve to keep the windows down. It was 85 degrees in Spartanburg, SC when I stopped, and with the humidity that was the hottest I had felt all trip. I was sweating. At McDonalds when I was ordering a small coffee I caught two of the female employees whispering about me. I couldn’t blame them, I looked good in the Vaya con Dios tank top and flip flops and I was having such a good time that you had to notice my shine. Chevy may have blended in in South Carolina, but I didn’t, not at all.
We were nearly out of South Carolina so I listened to Hold my Hand one more time. The last thing I noticed in South Carolina was a giant peach in Gaffney, SC.
North Carolina is the biggest producer of tobacco in the country, despite this I wouldn’t recognize what a tobacco field looked like even if I was riding down Tobacco Road on a horse with the Marlboro Man, but I was struck with an irresistible urge to get some tobacco. I listened to Ben Folds and Funkadelic on the Nrth Carolina playlist. After seeing a Grand Marquis with a license plate SHOTCLLER, I saw a sign for Dairy Queen on the next exit so I turned off the highway to get a blizzard and some tobacco at exit 33 in Moorseville, North Carolina.
I searched for the DQ for about ten minutes without any luck. It seemed like a mirage in the desert that would never materialize, but then I realized that I had turned off in the wrong direction. I got another M&M brownie blizzard with chocolate ice cream and raced to eat it outside in the southern air before I had to drink it. North Carolina is a very nice looking state, and it seemed very clean and well taken care of. Then I went inside to get my tobacco. I don’t smoke so I bought a tin of Skoal for $1.99! At that price they were giving it away like condoms in the Olympic Village. I got back on the road and drove in silence for a few miles to prepare myself.
I got such a wicked buzz from that fresh cut 100% American grown tobacco, and with a live version of Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain playing on full blast, testing the Chevy’s sound system and probably damaging it, I was transported to whatever planet George Clinton was from. I was in such a bad way that I wondered if there was a Motel 6 close by with hourly rates so I could pull over and lie down. George Clinton was saying –Relax, slow down, take your time – and I wasn’t sure if I wanted time to stop or fast forward. I couldn’t decide if I was having a bad trip or if I was happy enough to die right there in the Appalachian Valley.
I crossed into Virginia with a dry mouth and tired eyes, my body temperature fluctuated wildly between 90 and 110 degrees, and I was completely out of sorts. The highway rose from the Appalachian Valley into the Appalachian Mountains and I had to refocus so I didn’t tumble down the mountainside, and never be heard from again. The elevation was 2400 and climbing, and would reach nearly 3000 ft when it began to rain, so I had to steady the Chevy. Timbaland came on the Virginia playlist and Nelly Furtado sang that she liked me the way I was, and I did too so I proceeded with the utmost caution. Climbing up the Appalachians in the rain, yellow and orange lights flashed on the dash, which I don’t think is ever good, and I could feel Chevy failing to grip her boots securely on the slick road. Shortly thereafter the rain stopped and the sky cleared, and I was alright with that.
I saw signs throughout the Shenandoah Valley that read –Speed enforced by aircraft. I felt like I was in Virginia, but whenever I saw those signs I thought that I could be Pakistan, due to the drone surveillance. My neck was stiff and my right foot started to hurt so I thought that my first stop back in Lowell might entail collapsing at Lowell General.
I stopped at the Quick Stop in Buchanan, Virginia for a Snickers and a V8 to straighten me out. The people that came in seemed to be making their daily trip to the store to buy more lottery tickets and cigarettes. As I ate my Snickers I booked my Motel 6 in Winchester, Virginia, which was 150 miles from Buchanan. Back on the road Dave Matthews shared his philosophy with me – eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we’ll die. True that.
I saw some great mountain views in the Shenandoah Valley that I wanted to take pictures of but I felt that if I took my eyes off the road or got tangled in cords and something terrible were to happen that help was very far away.
Later, but still in the Shenandoah Valley about 100 miles from Winchester I grew tired and had a hankering for more tobacco. One pinch of tobacco in North Carolina had made me addicted to nicotine. I was tired for the first time on the whole trip, and I knew it was because I had introduced tobacco to my body, but I wanted it. I fought to release myself from the clutches of nicotine and decided that I would eat instead. I turned up the music loud enough to shake the mirrors and rattle the doors, and drove until I found something suitable. The first few exits there was nothing that I wanted but things that I could have had. My patience was rewarded when I saw a sign for Waffle House. I had seen so many of these joints that by now my brain was saturated with the black and yellow signs for them, so I was curious what the big deal was.
I walked into Waffle House #589 in Harrisonburg, VA and I was the only person wearing a tank top. I ordered a waffle and a small chocolate milk. The waitress gave me a look so I asked what the look was for and she gave me the universal sign for small by pinching two fingers together and said it’s only this big. I insisted that I would only need the small milk. While I waited I learned that you can text WH and a zip code to 562283 (LOCATE) to find the nearest Waffle House. That’s cool, if it works, I didn’t care to find out though. I sat next to Eddie, who I was sure had lung cancer, but I also suspected he had never been to a doctor in his life. Who knows, maybe he was better off. He was retired and didn’t miss it, but missed the people. The waitress asked him what he did all day -Yard work? She asked. Eddie was not very forthcoming with an answer, but eventually said that he had had a –Stupid day. I just assumed he was tugging his rope all day. The waffle was pretty damn good, soft, fluffy and a chewiness that was just right, and the maple syrup was sweet and poured faster than typical breakfast joint syrup. I was tired and had 65 miles to Winchester, so I paid my bill and left, with the thought that this was not my last Waffle House visit.
Today was the longest driving day of the trip and here at the spacious Motel 6 in Winchester, Virginia I’m dead tired and ready for bed. I’ve seen a lot and I’ve seen many things that remind me of people from home. I need to rest up for the last leg of the trip because I have a feeling the best is yet to come.
Miles driven: 609
Miles total: 3490
States today: 4
States total: 25
Cups of coffee today: 2
Cups total: 16
# of V8s today: 1
# of V8s total: 2
# of servings of vegetables claimed to be in a bottle of V8: 3
# of bags of junk food half-open and barely eaten riding shotgun: 3, Sour Patch, expired Bold Chex Mix, and Munchos, which were a huge mistake.
Flavor of Skoal that rocked me hard: Citrus
Crossing into SC
I left Jackson, Mississippi at 9 AM CT and it was 85, overcast, and humid. I skipped a formal breakfast and hit the road because today would be the longest day once again. I tuned into 930 the Sports Zone to the Rick and Bubba Show. Rick enlightened us about a recent survey in which Colorado was voted the least obese state and good ole Mississippi was the most obese. They said that being from Mississippi they were last in a lot of things but that it was good to finally win a poll! They also played a hilarious song that is worth a listen.
The elevation dipped below 200 ft in Southern Miss for the first time. I bounced into Louisiana feeling funkafied because I put on the Meters a little early. Just over the Louisiana border I saw a sign that said –Prison Area: Do not pick up hitchhikers. In Bogalusa, LA I saw a man riding a bike and carrying a cane, and I began a short spell of speaking in a southern accent, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and for a brief moment thought I forgot how to speak normally. The elevation dropped to below 100 ft, and it stunk in different places.
I reentered Mississippi after a short visit to Louisiana and drove through DeSoto National Forest. The hottest temperature I’ve encounter so far is 95 in Southern Miss. Mississippi treated me well, but it was a state of extremes. It had the cheapest gas, hottest heat, and the fattest people. None of which are bad, at least as far as I’m concerned.
In Alabama, I stopped at the Hickory Pit Too, figuring it had to be good since the name implied that there was another one operating successfully. The service there was prompt as it has been throughout the South. While I was lunching people were coming in and out, and when each person left they said bye in that way only Southerners do, like sheep, baaaaah. I had a pulled pork sandwich for $2.99, and it was ok.
After lunch I completely ignored the GPS, inexplicably, but when I came to my senses I rerouted and headed north, and the southern most portion of my trip was completed.
In Saraland, Alabama I hopped onto I-65, and I welcomed it because it had been a tough morning of driving, 243 miles through back roads of the Deep South, so I was ready to do a little cruising. I put on the Florida playlist early for two reasons – I would only spend five minutes in Florida, if that, and because the Alabama playlist wasn’t getting the job done. So, a confident and secure Tom Petty recommended that I save my money and my cocaine because she was going to listen to her heart, but I kept thinkin’ that her mind was going to change.
I got off I-65 and took the road to Perdido. On my way to a brief visit to Florida, two Perdido youths sitting on the roof of a van near the Perdido Church of God waved at me and pointed me in the direction I was going, so I kept going that direction. In Perdido I also saw a man checking his mailbox in a golf cart.
I was only in Florida long enough to reroute the GPS. It was 89 degrees and I set a course for Atlanta, but I wasn’t totally confident I would make it there. Leaving the town of Atmore, Alabama I found myself heading towards dark skies and lightning.
Almost as soon as I hooked up with I-65 again it began to rain heavily. I had checked the weather map, so I braced myself for 150 miles of heavy rain. I turned the radio down and just listened to the rain. After I listed to the rain for a bit, I felt reassured and didn’t think it would be that bad. I heard the voice of George Costanza guiding me –Eaaaasy big fella. Then an SUV passed me and I spotted a cat perched on the dashboard.
The rain continued as the temperature dropped 15 degrees quickly and all hell broke loose. When I turned the music back on, Tom Petty’s Wake Up Time played at just the right time because I was just a poor boy a long way from home.
Later, as Tom Petty sang You Wreck Me, I noticed that my back was getting a little stiff, but I twisted in just the right way that there was a pop, and relief. Sitting comfortably now, I caught a glimpse of blue sky again, and I knew I was going to make it to Atlanta. Shortly after that, there was a pick up truck with a smashed front, the grill and fender detached and missing, turned sideways on a slope in the median. The storm had taken at least one victim on the roads of Alabama today, but it wasn’t me, so on I went to do the Dirty Bird in Atlanta.
I stopped to fill up in Hope Hull, Alabama and talked to a pleasant gentleman at the register about beaches and the firmness of sand at the Gulf Coast and North Carolina. Getting back on the road I was in the mood for a snack so I opened a bag of Bold Chex Mix that I had purchased this morning in Bogalusa, Louisiana. After two bites I noticed an unpleasant taste and I said to myself –This doesn’t taste right, and checked the expiration date. This was happening just as Social Distortion was singing Story of My Life, and this was the story of my life. I am always the first person in the kitchen to know when something has spoiled or expired. I specialize in milk freshness and I am not afraid to pour it down the sink anytime of day.
I didn’t see much of Montgomery, Alabama except for a sign that said –Jesus was a street person. Dave Matthews Say Goodbye came on right around this time, and that has always been my favorite song by him. Today when I heard it I thought about it in a different way. I used to think that it was about desire and lust, but hearing it today it was different, it sounded as if it’s not a lament about not getting what you want, but celebrating what you have, and giving not taking.
Mark Knopfler sang about a Chevy in the dark as I entered Macon County Georgia. Then I saw a sign that said –Don’t litter, keep Alabama clean, and I realized that Alabama had a Macon County also and that I was not in Georgia. And just now I looked up the lyrics and the lyrics are –Shiver in the dark. Wrong again.
I gave a –WOO, as I crossed the Georgia state line for real, and immediately exited to the Georgia Welcome Center and ran to the bathroom, which had been recently mopped so I slid through the bathroom like Michael J. Fox in Teen Wolf. After, I booked my room at the Atlanta Airport North Motel 6, and I was ready to make my decent to the city.
R.E.M. played and it’s no secret that Michael Stipe has advanced the cause, by leaps and bounds, of mumblers everywhere. Then Outkast’s So Fresh, So Clean came on and I did not want to hear it because that was the farthest thing from what I was. I saw a sign for Chick-fil-a –next exit, and I was tempted to get off the highway and march in through the front door and kiss a man, but, somehow I resisted.
Zac Brown Band’s Overnight, Where the Boats Leave From, and Toes led me into the metro area. I listen to Toes on repeat for the last 26 miles. I didn’t have my toes in the water or ass in the sand. Right now, I have my toes on a hard, thin carpet and my ass is in a wobbly chair, but we can both agree that today life is good. I shouted –Adios and Vaya con Dios, with Zac, and I decided to skip dinner so I could maybe fit into the shirt he inspired me to wear tomorrow as I make my way out of Georgia.
Tonight when I left the car in the lot outside Motel 6, it was the first night that I didn’t forget anything. I packed tight and all the right things. Life is good.
Miles driven today: 564
Miles driven total: 2881
States today: 5
States total: 22
Cups of coffee today: 3
Song that made me feel like Ryan Gosling in Drive: College – A Real Hero
% of the drive I’ve been barefoot: 100
# of times listening to Say Goodbye: 2.5
Floor I’m staying on at Motel 6: 5th
Flavor of sunflower seeds I ate today: BBQ
DeSoto National Forest
St. Louis gave me the creeps. The Motel 6 was decent but the downtown area by the ballpark was totally sketchy. St. Louis, at least on nights when the Cardinals are away, seems lawless and forgotten. At 9:45 AM CT I left St. Louis gladly, and it was a beautiful day, sunny and 75. I listened to St. Louis sports radio and people did not seem hopeful for the Rams. One caller said they were five years away from competing and another said he thought they would win negative games.
I crossed the coolest bridge I’ve ever seen going from Missouri back into Illinois, and was greeted on the other side by an adult superstore. There wasn’t much to see in Missouri, which I didn’t mind, but there was a lot of roadwork, which I did mind. Southern Illinois redeemed the ugliness of northern Illinois, although Cairo is a real shithole.
I crossed another bridge over the Mississippi into Kentucky, which I didn’t mind because I love crossing bridges, and I was zigzagging the Mississippi so often now that I started to feel like the Mississippi King. Putting on the Kentucky playlist got me jamming to the Kentucky Headhunters, who are so Dixie fried that you can hear the bourbon dripping off the microphone and the cowboy boots clicking to the beat. I had been looking forward to them and they were cool. They also have a fun cover of the Beatles’ You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away. Wickliffe was all I saw of Kentucky because when I filled up there I put my next destination into the GPS just to see what it would throw back at me. I intended to drive deeper into Kentucky but Samantha (GPS voice, and hereinafter will be only referred to as Samantha) told me the best route was to go back over the narrow bridge I had just crossed and go south through Missouri. I did as I was told. When I planned to do 48 states Kentucky was the most geographically awkward state to catch.
Samantha’s new route gave me the treat of being in three states within ten minutes – Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri. The elevation dipped to 320ish in Missouri, and that was the lowest I had been in a while. I bought some ranch flavor sunflowers seeds but I ended up tossing them because they made my mouth feel slimy. Seeds keep my hands and mouth occupied and make me more focused on the music and the road.
The weather heated up to 90 degrees for the first time on the trip when I arrived in Arkansas as Johnny Cash told me he shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. I was looking forward to the NFL radio’s 3-6 PM program Movin’ the Chains. The hosts Tim Ryan and Pat Kirwan are my favorite duo on that channel. Not only are they knowledgeable about football, but they have voices that permeate masculinity, and during the breaks they probably rip apart red meat and eat it raw, and drink Budweiser.
After an 18-wheeler coming the opposite way took a turn and swerved out into my lane I determined that the philosophy of many truck drivers is –I’m going where I need to and if you don’t like it let’s rumble. Strong like bull.
One of the only things I saw in Memphis, Tennessee was a billboard advertising lap band surgery for $9,999.
I stopped in Mississippi and felt the southern heat for the first time. It oppressed me and nearly melted me, but it felt good, really good. A fellow named Dale manned the Mississippi Welcome Center and offered me a cup of coffee. I already loved southern hospitality. We chatted for a bit as I sipped black coffee. Dale’s a history buff, and he showed me the Natchez Trace Parkway in a brochure and on the map. It looks like a terrific drive and I might try and work it into tomorrow’s drive. I thanked Dale and left. Dale was one of the nicest people I’ve met so far – he gave me a cup of coffee and came upon a Motel 6 coupon that was going to save me $4. When I got outside I wanted to soak up the heat, so I sat on a bench and let the Chevy rest for a little longer as I browsed for a restaurant in Jackson.
Wouldn’t you know that it was National Filet Mignon day and a nice-looking place called Char restaurant in Jackson was offering Filet Mignon specials and a free pecan pie dessert to anyone that mentioned –Mignon, to their server. I also found out that it’s National Catfish Month, so I have to find one of them too. I licked my lips and bolted to the Chevy.
A remix of Elvis’ A Little Less Conversation jolted me from a daze and I started paying closer attention because I loved this song. Elvis sang about the old days of sending letters in Return to Sender and about heartbreak in Are You Lonesome Tonight? I listened to Are You Lonesome Tonight? three times in a row. The lyrics are wonderful, but terribly sad. Suspicious Minds is a classic. I had to see his Cadillac in the RnR HoF, drive past Graceland, and go to Mississippi, his home state, to finally get Elvis. I finally realized why he’s such a big deal. His voice is a powerful weapon that can unleash a force much greater than any bomb an underground lab of secret scientists could ever create.
It rained violently near Batesville, Mississippi, but it was very brief. It was probably water that had risen up from the Mississippi and poured down upon me to remind me that I was a visitor, a trespasser, king of nothing, and that Elvis was the true King of the Mississippi. Due to my new outlook on Elvis, I submitted quickly, and felt that I needed to beg for forgiveness, for my wild imagination. A sign said ninety two miles to Jackson, but with Elvis singing to me, I didn’t care if it took all night.
I completely gave up on MyFitness Pal today for two reasons. 1) too time consuming 2) the horror, the way it looked back at me each time I went to enter food from McDonalds.
I arrived in Jackson hungry, so I quickly checked in and threw on my goin’ out clothes, which looked only slightly more respectable than my driving outfit, which is maximized for comfort. At Char, I took a seat at the bar and the pianoman played Jewel’s Foolish Games, so I knew I had chosen the right spot. The bartender, Kevin, asked me what I was going having to drink and the only thing I wanted in the whole world was a Budweiser, in the bottle. The bar was all men, and each one of us was dining alone. A guy from North Carolina sat next to a barbarian, who muttered –It already comes in a cold glass, when Kevin offered me one. Later, the barbarian complained to the female bartender that he hates when people order specific types of vodka because nobody can tell the difference between Grey Goose and well vodka. He also drank his wine with a fist on the stem, and by now I was also sure that his lips moved when he read. But, the restaurant was nice and the meal was excellent, so I wasn’t bother by his dopey presence. I had a filet mignon with crabmeat and shrimp and a loaded baked potato, and it was perfect. Kevin asked me if I was ready for pecan pie and I wasn’t but said that I was anyway because I had thoughts I needed to sort out back at the motel. The pecan pie was warm and it was topped with a scoop of ice cream. The meal couldn’t have been better. That is how I will remember Jackson, Mississippi.
The men at the bar seemed like they needed to talk, and I don’t mean just make polite conversation. The guy from North Carolina and the barbarian had one of those conversations where each person was just waiting for their turn to talk. They were not at all listening to each other. It was like they were lonely from traveling and had to find someone to listen. I didn’t say much except for being polite to the bartenders. With the blog and messages/social media even though I’m by myself out here, I don’t feel alone, and certainly not lonely. So, thanks for reading and thinking of me.
Miles driven: 547
Miles total: 2317
States today: 5
States total: 18
Tolls today: 0
Cups of coffee today: 2
Total cups of coffee: 11
Hand I prefer on the steering wheel: left
Most frequently spotted chain other than McDonalds: Cracker Barrel
# of times I’ve been to Cracker Barrel: 0
# of times bird shit landed on the windshield today: 1
Total bird shits: 2
I dragged myself out of Madison 8:06 AM, Central Time, and it was overcast. I shouldn’t have gone to IHOP just before midnight, the pancakes were weighing me down and I felt sluggish so I didn’t feel like eating. I just drove and worried about eating later. I had NFL talk on so I heard about Chad Ochocinco’s arrest for head-butting his wife, who had apparently found a receipt for condoms. I switched over to a local radio station that was broadcasting the Men’s gold medal basketball game between the USA and Spain. I only half-listened as I was passing through some cool places in western Wisconsin. Sparta claims to be the -Bicycling Capital of America and Bangor is a beautiful and scenic town. Western Wisconsin literally has the smoothest roads.
I got excited and the anticipation was building as I approached the mighty Mississippi River at the border of Wisconsin and Minnesota. I crossed the river and into Minnesota. It felt good, I felt like I had accomplished something significant. I pulled over in Minnesota to figured out the best route to St. Louis. It turned out that back into Wisconsin and south along the Mississippi was the best way, so I only spent about ten minutes in Minnesota.
Since I was excited for the Minnesota playlist I put it on even though I was on my way back into Wisconsin. Bob Dylan enlightened me by noting that –When something’s not right, it’s wrong – as I acquainted myself with the great river while driving along the bluffs on the Wisconsin side. If you have a decent sound system it’s like you can hear his fingers on every guitar pick in Buckets of Rain.
After a while I noticed that the bluffs on the Minnesota side looked at me longingly. I looked back, over the Mississippi, apologetically and said –I’m sorry, I only had eleven minutes, for you, I’m listening to your music – Prince, Bob Dylan, and The Replacements. With that, things between us were settled and squared, the resentment subsided, and everything was right again.
You have to trust your instincts on the road. I though it would be cool to lunch along the Mississippi, and hopefully have a view of it while I did. After I whipped past The Great River View Restaurant I had the feeling I should turn around. It was like my mind was telling my body to –stop and go back, but my body resisted and drove on. That place was probably nice but when I saw The Dawghouse I knew that that is where I had to stop. I got a Chicago-style hot dog. I ate out back looking at the Mississippi, and made a complete mess of myself, and the table. I went to snap a few pics, and as I walked to get a good angle I noticed the woman come out to clean up after me. I did the best I could with the napkins I had, but there’s so much stuff on a Chicago dog that it was impossible. I got in my car and she waved and said thank you. I waved back, and things were right again, so I rolled on.
I crossed the Mississippi again into Iowa. I would cross again later in Missouri. Iowa was a lovely drive. I filled up at a gas station where you pump then pay. I drove through the second biggest city, Cedar Rapids, and it wasn’t very big. It’s mostly cornfields. I drove Iowa from top to bottom and I’d say it was the best-looking state overall. There was a stretch in the Coulee Valley of Wisconsin that was really spectacular. That is probably the nicest short stretch. I saw lots of hawks in Iowa watching over the cornfields. I liked that because I like big birds. I drove most of the Avenue of the Saints. I finally saw the sun when it peeked through the passenger side windows at 5:30 in Missouri.
As the evening set in I became restless in America’s Heartland. I was on my way to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and I needed to see it before sunset. I was near Hannibal, Missouri. It was then that I realized – this would be a race against the sun. With 114 miles to St. Louis, no riverboat gambler, dead or alive, would be crazy enough to bet on me. Suddenly, a surge of energy electrified my body, so I slammed the gas. I zipped and I zoomed while I kept an eye on the sun in the mirror. I was soaring like a hawk over the cornfields, but no matter how fast I went the sun inched closer to the horizon. It was going to be close.
I was going too fast, but I didn’t care, and nobody else seemed to mind. I hadn’t seen a cop for three states, and even if I did I would have wrote the ticket myself. It was Sunday, so people in the Heartland were with Jesus, and those who weren’t yielded to me in a wave of fear. As the cornfields wept and children in backseats peeked then quickly hid their faces, I charged mercilessly towards St. Louis.
I grunted and I growled as the sun continued to fall from the sky. I crossed the Missouri River with such a fury that the flow was reversed, and the highway on the other side opened to ten lanes when it heard the thunder of my Chevy, but there was nothing I could do to slow the sun.
I stormed St. Louis with little time left. I thought -Have I flown down the Avenue of the Saints only to barely miss the last light of the sun. Then I saw it, the Gateway Arch that sits on the bank of the Mississippi River. The race started in the hometown of Missouri’s most famous citizen, Mark Twain, and now it was over. I had won, a ray of sunlight lit part the southern leg. I was driving but I wanted to stand under it and bask in the glory, so I veered off the highway.
I pulled up, jumped out, and ran for the steps. At the top I stood under the arch and the sun still hadn’t set, but was hiding it’s cowardly face behind the St. Louis skyline. I was breathless from running up the steps, but, in that moment, I felt like the dusty bones of Mark Twain were kneeling before me. I sat down to rest and looked out onto the Mississippi River. I learned to live a little harder today. It was the greatest drive of my life. I cut through the Heartland and tore out its guts.
Miles driven today: 614
Miles total: 1,769
States today: 4
States total: 14
Tolls paid today: 0
Cups of coffee today: 2
Cups of coffee total: 9
More billboards for fireworks superstores or adult superstores in the Heartland: tie
Anti-abortion signs sitting proudly among the cornfields in Iowa: 9
Miles driven before buying Sour Patch Kids: 1363
Miles driven after that before I ate some: 386
Money spent on lottery tickets to even out gas purchase: $2
# of times I got the creeps in St. Louis: More than I can count
# of White Castle Burgers in a #1: 4
The Mississippi from Minnesota
At 8:26 AM I took off from Middleburg Heights, OH and there was a light rain, but it dried up pretty quickly. Somewhere near Sandusky County, Ohio the land flattened out. The speed limit in Ohio and Indiana on I-90 is 70, which is nice because it’s always been a struggle for me to obey the posted limits. The rest of Ohio was a pretty smooth ride, it passed while I listened to the NFL Network. I like talk radio in the morning. I was eager to get to Indiana because Guns n Roses and Michael Jackson are on the Indiana playlist. Guns n Roses must really hate each other because I would pay to go see them play their classics every time they came around. The Rock n Roll Hall of Fame needs Axl Rose’s white short short lycra shorts. When I was 10 I watched a lot of videos on MTV and Guns n Roses’ Paradise City was one of my favorites, that song and video defined them for me. The song 14 Years prompted me to think about what I was doing 14 years ago. It was the summer after I graduated high school and I was working as a park instructor. Early in the summer I went to orientation at BC. The guy I roomed with asked me every morning –how do I look, man? I always said –you look great, man. We were only roommates for that weekend and we never became friends but every time I saw him around BC for the next four years I always said – you look great, man.
Today in Indiana, I was nearly killed, or severely damaged. During a four-lane (two lanes on each side) stretch through rolling hills I was cruising along and minding my business when all of a sudden an 18-wheeler butted into the fast lane, which I was occupying, cut me off. There was a car right behind me and it was about to hit me so I swerved off the road and fortunately there was a narrow strip of road between the lane and a ditch. I maintain a firm and precise control over my Malibu, while still driving 65 mph off the highway. As this 18-wheeling madman passed the truck in front of him I remained remarkably composed, or else I would have crashed. Then he pulled back into his lane and I pulled back onto the highway. The ship was righted, and I noticed Michael Jackson’s Keep the Faith was playing. I was alive. It all happened in less than ten seconds but it was very dangerous. What could I do but put the incident out of my mind and carry on. I didn’t need to explain or understand what happened, it just did. A Zen moment of calm.
My drive through Michigan was brief but quite lovely. I found a husband and wife stand on the side of the road. For $5 I got a pulled pork sandwich and an ear of sweet corn. The husband told me it was 12-hours smoked pork butt. It was incredibly tender and delicious. And the corn was the best I’ve ever had. The last song I listened to in Michigan was an underappreciated Madonna song, The Power of Good-Bye. Learn to say good-bye, and I did, to Michigan.
As I reentered Indiana a young lady swerved into my lane but pulled back quickly enough. I stopped shortly after because I saw a rest stop with a Dairy Queen and had a mini M&M brownie blizzard, and it was ahhh-maz-ing. Then right before I exited Indiana another large truck swerved at me and I was like what the fuck is wrong with people in Indiana!
Illinois started with exit 0. It took me about an hour to drive through Chicago because it was stop-and-go through the city. I tuned into 670 The Score, a Chicago sports radio station, to get a feel for the city. Chicagoans are excited that the Bears are back, but the offensive line is in big trouble. I closed the windows completely and turned the ac on for the first time all day, which left me alone with Miles Davis, and that was alright. I like hearing and feeling the wind, it makes me feel less isolated and more connected to my surroundings. Driving through the Chicago metro area made me yearn for the countryside where the driving is easy and breezy. I was kinda feeling like I should go into Chicago, but I’m on the road, and I gotta go. Madonna taught me the power of good-bye.
The guy that checked me in to the Madison North Motel 6 had two tear drop tattoos.
Today was the best day of driving so far, I didn’t see much on the road and I almost got killed, but my mind was right.
Miles driven today: 492
Total Miles: 1155
States today: 5
States total: 11
Miles driven before seeing first Walmart: 1118
Tolls paid today: $25.20
Tolls total: $41.20
Price of gas in Chicago: $4.30
State with the ugliest stretch of road: Illinois
Cups of coffee today: 3
Cups of coffee total: 7
Songs that shuffled nicely onto my home stretch into Madison, WI:
O.A.R. – Love and Memories
Airborne Toxic Event – Wishing Well
ZZ Top – Gimme All Your Lovin’
Toby Keith & Willie Nelson – Beer for My Horses
Song that makes me drive too fast: Ellie Goulding – Lights
Near-death experiences: 1
Lunch stop at the Flying Pig
P.S. Took me like 20 tries to get a shot of the bumper sticker and the city just right. Lol
I left Syracuse at 8:05 AM and it was 68 degrees and rainy, so rainy that I ran to the car with my bags. I had a sausage McGriddle at McDonalds for breakfast. The rain stopped shortly after getting on the road but it was overcast so the ride through western NY and western PA was just kinda boring. I planned to be on I-90 all day until I hit Cleveland. There’s pros and cons to interstates for extended driving times. The rest stops are easily accessible and well-stocked, relatively speaking. They can be pretty boring though. I passed the morning listening to Sirius radio; Howard Stern and the NFL station, so it was a pleasant morning. Driving on smaller roads like I did through VT is nice because driving through towns usually provides interesting sites and I noticed that VT has a great smell, but the smaller roads require that I pay full attention to the road because there’s bikers, sharp turns, and the occasional stop.
Whizzing by Niagara Falls was on my mind when I left Syracuse so I was monitoring the weather. My mind was made up when I stopped at a rest stop close to the turn-off of I-90 for Niagara. It was way busier than the others I had stopped at so I said forget these tourists and pressed on towards Cleveland. I paid toll on I-90, $6.65. Then I paid another $3.15 as I exited NY and Hall and Oates welcomed me to PA.
After a stop at McDonalds in Erie for a pie it got dark. Then it rained relentlessly for 25 miles. A downpour – cats and dogs. So bad that I considered pulling over or off. At the Ohio border Siri put on the Illinois playlist, and I was about to give her a geography lesson but I found Smashing Pumpkins surprisingly reassuring during the monsoon, so Siri was redeemed.
As I approached Cleveland I made a quick exit in downtown rather than check-in at tonight’s Motel 6 because Motel 6 is about 15 miles southwest of Cleveland so instead of backtracking I decided to exit and check out the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. $22 later I was ready to explore lots of guitars and stage outfits. I was still wet because I got caught in a downpour on the walk from the parking lot. I checked my Red Sox sweatshirt and Patriots hat at the coat check, and the attendant said she liked my Abide Lebowski tee shirt.
The R&R HOF is cool enough. The highlights were seeing the couch that Jimi Hendrix grew up playing on, Elvis’ purple Cadillac, John Lennon’s piano, and the coolest was Michael Jackson’s red jacket from the Thriller video.
From the HOF I trekked through downtown Cleveland to Progressive Field. I walked away from one scalper who thought I was interested enough that he sent a biker scalper after me. I knew the game wasn’t sold out so I didn’t bite. On the way to the box office I saw an artist who drew caricatures. In the Fenway mindset I expected like $20 which I would have refused, maybe, but it was free, because he was employed by the Indians. Rollie said he had done caricatures for 30 years outside all the sports teams’ games, loved it, and was paid well for it. Awesome. There was a Billy Joel quote at the HoF “If you’re not doing what you love, what are you doing?” I walked to the box office after snapping a photo of Rollie with his work and bought a ticket for $58, and it was satisfying because I wasn’t extorted for service, convenience, and venue fees.
I bought a scorecard outside the park for a buck because I thought it would give me something to do during the game. My voice has been hoarse the past two days, so I didn’t just want to sit there and not talk to anyone. I hadn’t eaten since the s’mores pie in Erie – I may have had an oatmeal raisin Clif bar driving – but I was hungry. I wandered in the direction of my seat with the thought of a hot dog in the back of my mind. I saw an open area with picnic tables so I approached the concessions adjacent to it. I saw Mega Hot Dog on the menu for $9.25, but that is just too much dog, so I asked the woman if she had an non-mega hot dogs and she pointed me to a stand across the concourse. I got a bratwurst instead because that sounded better, and a Mountain Dew. After I paid I was handed a pre-stepped-on brat wrapped tightly and a medium lid-less Dew. I asked where I could acquire a lid, and she informed me that the “green” policy of Progressive Field has eliminated lids and straws in the whole ballpark. All righty then.
I’ve been to a hundred baseball games, so I mostly observed the people. The upper decks were empty and there were tons of Red Sox fans, maybe as much as a quarter. Keeping my scorecard kept me into the game, but two things stuck out to me about the crowd. Compared to Fenway, people seemed to take the national anthem more seriously, and later when a guy proposed to his girlfriend on the jumbotron the crowd was more genuinely happy for them – they got two cheers. When that happens at Fenway they’re on the screen for like five seconds and after people are like -did she say yes?
I left after the 6th inning because I had over a mile walk to the car and a bit of a drive. Cody Ross homered in the top of the 6th and right before I walked out Cleveland scored to make it 3-2. downtown Cleveland was a ghost town, it seemed like everyone was waiting for the Indians to finish before Friday night started. When I got back to the car I noticed that I left the driver side window down for like 6-7 hours. Oops. It was all good.
I booked a room with a $3 extra mini-fridge, so I could chill my gatorade, and when I entered my non-smoking room I thought I was walking into a wildfire. I planned my trip around Motel 6s, kinda. the reason is because it’s cheap, easy, fast, they have a phone app that let’s me quickly book a room, and they always leave a light on. They’ve both been similar, err, quality, but I was able to get comfortable last night, so that was fine, and I’m exhausted now so I think tonight will be just fine too. I have a big day tomorrow – I’m looking to get to Madison, Wi, or thereabouts.
Miles traveled today: 353
Total miles: 663
Highest elevation: 1156 ft in NY (that I noticed – it’s on the GPS)
Yesterday’s highest elevation: 2300ish in VT’s Green Mountains
McDonalds stops: 2
Cups of coffee: 2
Miles walked round-trip from HoF to ball game: 2.2
# of times hearing Call Me Maybe: 3
Cost of 2 sharpened Indians pencil at gate: $1
16 ounce bottled waters consumed: 5
States today: 3
States total: 7
Eye of the storm
People in Cleveland love their onions!
At 3:35 PM it was 89 degrees in downtown Lowell, Massachusetts when I got on the road. I picked up the car around 1 PM at Hertz in Chelmsford. I was a little nervous that they might ask where I intended to go out of fear that they would say you’re not putting 4,500 miles on any of our cars buddy, even though I knew the Hertz policy was unlimited miles and no geographical restrictions. I was like -I’m going to to some driving here and there. They didn’t care at all, saying go anywhere in the continental United States or Canada, so I felt like a dope for being coy. My biggest concern with the car was the sound system. They accommodated my request for a line in so I could play my jams, and after testing the system in the Chevy Malibu the bass rattles the mirrors so it’s all good. The Hertz guys were very helpful – I always feel like I’m getting screwed when dealing with cars, so that was a pleasant surprise.
I went home and packed the car, took a shower, and Leslie and I had lunch at Ward 8. We had to sit inside because I was profusely sweating cocoa butter, which lately I’ve been applying generously after showering. The Ward 8 burger was good, but the buffalo chicken grilled cheese was not. Then I left as The Cars played Drive, which I picked, then Passion Pit played On My Way after I hit shuffle, I swear.
The first thing I remember passing was the sign on route 2 welcoming me to Leominister MA, pioneer plastics city and the birthplace of Johnny Appleseed. There are some nice towns in western Mass; Erving and Deerfield I remembered. As I drove through the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont I drank Green Mountain coffee, and that was the most pleasurable part of the drive so far. In one of the towns there, I’m guessing Woodford but I can be sure because I wasn’t getting a signal, I got stuck behind a biker gang that was going slow and they were repainting the yellow lines coming the opposite way so I had to wait to pass. When the traffic cleared on the other side I zipped out and made my move. After passing a few of them I saw that the public works crew had put a cone in the middle of the road to indicate the freshly painted lines, so I was like -shit. I had three choices 1) speed up and cut back in before the cone, which I didn’t think I was going to make and I had over 4,000 miles left and a rental car 2) ram the cone, and this isn’t my mother’s VW van I drove around in in high school because if it was I would have taken that cone out without blinking, or 3) go completely on the other side of the road to avoid the cone and bikers. So I chose number 3, which made me cross the freshly painted double yellow lines twice. I left yellow tire tracks for the next fifty yards to give Woodford something to remember me by.
Everyone in Vermont has a canoe, ATV, riding mower, or something attached to their house. In Bennington, VT I had to decide where I was going to end up for the night, either Albany or Syracuse. Since I was only an hour and a half away from Albany and it was fairly early I decided to push onward to Syracuse. What the hell was I going to do at Motel 6 in Albany for five hours besides daintly tip-toe around dodging bedbugs. The drive through upstate NY was filled with rolling hills, but then it got dark and started to rain for a bit, and it once the rain passed it was overcast so I couldn’t see any starts. It was an unpleasant three hours so my goal is to wake early and avoid nighttime driving as much as possible.
I passed through Troy, NY, which is the home of Uncle Sam. Apparently, Uncle Sam was based on a meat packer, Sam Wilson, who supplied troops during the War of 1812. Later on, I drove by the Finger Lakes region, which made me think of Groundhog Day when Phil is in the pits of depression sitting in the bed and breakfast tv room watching Jeopardy, eating popcorn, drinking a bottle of Jack Daniels, and the old people are watching in awe as he says all the answers, or questions I guess, before Alex even asks the question. Great movie.
As I exited interstate 90 I was gouged for $6.20. Then I was checked into the Easy East Syracuse Motel 6 by Vanessa, who was very pleasant. My room is about what you’d expect, but it only $48, which also included a wi-fi card, so I’m not complaining. I’m going to go to bed to hit the road early. I’m going to check the weather when I wake up because I want to go to Cleveland and catch the Red Sox, but with the possibility of rain and thundershowers for tomorrow night I may just drive as far as I can, I’ll figure it out tomorrow.
-Miles driven: Right around 300. I need to get in the habit of checking the odometer when I dock at night.
-States today: 3
-States total: 5
-Cups of coffee: 2
-I drove 153 miles before passing a McDonalds
Everything in VT is so rustic, even the rest stops
The biker gang
P.S. The first teacher who mentions anything about my grammar can drive out here and check it themselves every night. I’m tired and blind from driving, so gimme a break.
I got an email today from Surf Restaurant letting me know that Surf Sushi Bar is now open in Portsmouth, NH. Surf in Portsmouth, Surf and MT’s Local in Nashua, and Buckley’s Steaks are restaurants owned by Michael Buckley, who I consider to be the best chef in New Hampshire, and now, the new Surf Sushi Bar is a few doors down from Surf Portsmouth. I wanted to get out of the house today and I had never been to Portsmouth, so when I got the email at 12:42 this afternoon I said – fuck it, I wanna go. Leslie loves these restaurants also, and I have to give her the credit for turning me on to them, so we headed up in the evening. Portsmouth is right next to Kittery, Maine, so I figured why not just take a short detour and boom! we’ve been to three states today. Leslie said they didn’t count because I was starting tomorrow. I thought that was a narrow way of looking at it – the wheels are in motion.
After dropping the car off with the valet, who I think was an Aussie, we popped into Surf Sushi Bar. The decor is hip and the staff is gentle. As the hostess led us to a table we caught a view out the window and we were stunned. The view is breathtaking from inside and even better from outside where we sat. We had the sushi sampler, Alaskan king crab roll, and a roll that was topped with tempura oysters, and all of it was excellent.
After dinner Leslie wanted to walk around the downtown area, so after I semi-resisted the idea due to being full and lazy I acquiesced because it was a good idea. There’s a lot of bars, restaurants, and shops. We stopped at I Like That, a novelty store. They made custom tee shirts to-go, so I had to buy two. I fancied one that said “Cool Story Babe.”, but decided against it. I’ve completed the eastern most leg of the eastern route, so tomorrow I go west.
View from Surf Sushi Bar Balcony
My new road gear
P.S. If I spend this much money every night on the road – I’ll see you this weekend, after I bang a uey in Cleveland.
I’ll be spending around eleven hours in the car everyday, so I had to think about what I would be listening to. Since I have about 12,000 songs in my iTunes I was a bit skeptical that just browsing through and picking songs would be both a hassle and boring, so I decided that I shall listen to music from the state I’m currently passing through. This gives the listening a purpose, and hopefully it will keep the music from becoming dull.
As a result of my searches, it turns out that I’m going to have to branch out quite a bit from my usual listening because I didn’t find as much as I was hoping from each state, but I think I will also enjoy stepping away because you have to every now and then just so you don’t get dull and boring yourself. The criteria for picking bands/artists was:
1) they were born in the state (Dave Grohl, Ohio)
2) they grew up in the state or spent significant time of their formative years there(Tupac Baltimore, Maryland)
3) the band formed in the state (Talking Heads, who formed at Rhode Island School of Design)
Here’s what I’ll be listening to in each state in the order of the route:
1. Massachusetts – Passion Pit, The Cars, Boston
2. Vermont – Phish
3. New York – Jay Z, The Strokes, Lady Gaga, Steely Dan, 50 Cent
4. Pennsylvania – Hall and Oates, Breaking Benjamin
5. Ohio – The Black Keys, Foo Fighters, A Perfect Circle
6. Indiana – Guns N’ Roses, John Mellencamp, Michael Jackson
7. Michigan – Eminem, Stevie Wonder, Madonna
8. Illinois – Miles Davis, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, Wilco
9. Wisconsin – Violent Femmes, BoDeans
10. Minnesota – Bob Dylan, The Replacements, Prince
11. Iowa – Radio Moscow
12. Missouri – Charlie Parker
13. Kentucky – Kentucky Headhunters (kind of excited for these hillbillies not gonna lie)
14. Tennessee – Aretha Franklin
15. Arkansas – Johnny Cash, Joe Nichols, Al Green
16. Mississippi – Elvis, Sam Cooke
17. Louisiana – The Meters
18. Alabama – Martha and the Vandellas, The Temptations, Jimmy Buffett, Wold Sweet Orange
19. Florida – Tom Petty, Lynyrd Skynyrd
20. Georgia – REM, Outkast, Zac Brown Band, Allman Brothers
21. South Carolina – Hootie and the Blowfish, Band of Horses James Brown
22. North Carolina – Funkadelic, Ben Folds Five
23. Virginia – Dave Matthews Band, Timbaland, Patsy Cline
24. West Virginia – Brad Paisley
25. Maryland – OAR, Tupac, Mama Cass Elliot
26. Deleware – The Spinto Band
27. New Jersey – Bruce Springsteen, Gaslight Anthem, Whitney Houston, Bon Jovi, Frank Sinatra (Jersey is a real musical powerhouse)
28. Connecticut – Weezer
29. Rhode Island – Talking Heads
30. New Hampshire – Aerosmith
31. Maine – Ray Lamontagne
There wasn’t much to choose from in some states and then there was a lot in others, like Jersey and Indiana. Some interesting things I realized from researching this:
-I had never heard of Radio Moscow, The Spinto Band, and the Kentucky Headhunters
-I’ve been to live performances by Aerosmith, Weezer, Springsteen, OAR, Dave Matthews, Ben Folds, Hootie, Tom Petty, Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Breaking Benjamin, Jay Z, Phish, and I saw Daryl Hall perform in the Lowell High Auditorium!
-I don’t listen to it, so I have way too much Phish music in my iTunes
-People from Michigan like to change their names for the stage:
Stevie Wonder – Stevland Hardaway Judkins
Madonna – Madonna Louise Ciccone
Eminem – Marshall Bruce Mathers III (Axl Rose, though not from Michigan, also has the middle name Bruce)
-Tupac performed Shakespearean plays and once played the role of the Mouse King in the Nutcracker. He’ll always be a motherfuckin’ gangsta to me, though.
I originally intended to drive through all 48 contiguous states but had to divide it into east and west for various reasons. Next spring or summer I intend to complete the western half. Here is a link to Google maps with the route - click here.
I want to know if this country is worth a damn. On the evening of Thursday August 9, 2012 I will begin a road trip. It is my intention to drive through 31 states on a journey that I estimate will be 4,500 miles.