Thursday, March 10, 2011

Chicago or Bust

Here I am, comfortably installed in a luxurious hotel (Chicago has curiously low hotel rates) with an hour to spare because I haven't adjusted to central time zone.  Brigid and I are visiting the School of the Art Institute of Chicago because she has declared that she won't attend a school that she has never seen.  And frankly, I am always glad of an excuse to travel.

We had to drive because plane tickets are ridiculous right now.  It is a long drive from Charlottesville, Virginia to Chicago, Illinois.  As soon as we exited onto I64, in Lexington, VA--not even an hour from my house--we were in unknown territory.  That section of 64 is virtually deserted, but very beautiful and mountainous.  Things got more bustling around Covington.  We could see the destination of the coal trains that rumble through Charlottesville and an exit sign announced the WESTVACO TRAILER LOT.  It wasn't so pretty anymore and it began to rain, a sad drizzle at first that turned into a steady shower, with each car and truck trailing a stream of water that hampered my ability to see.  It was cold and at one point, I noticed with horror that the shoulder of the road was coated with fresh ice. 

The mountains got ever more muscular until just outside Charleston, WV, sheer mountain walls surrounded us on all sides.  It seemed like the sort of place that is always dark.  Even on a sunny day, I didn't see how any light could penetrate to the deep defile between the mountains that we followed.  I once read a novel that describes Charleston, WV as a mildly interesting place--you wouldn't want to live there, but it's not without its charms, so I was keen to see it.   Maybe it was the rain, or the coal refineries, the blocks of shacks and then the view of the capitol building with its ridiculous gold dome--like something you'd see on a used car showroom--or the bill boards that proclaim DON'T LET EPA BEAUROCRATS TAKE OUR COAL JOBS, but I didn't see much in Charleston to recommend itself.  Indeed, it is so grindingly poor and sad and dirty it was like we'd made a wrong turn and ended up in some blasted industrial city in Bosnia or Uzbekistan.

The mountains calmed down, not too far outside of Charleston and soon we were in Ohio, which was pretty, bucolic and non-threatening.  It was also empty and we drove for nearly two hours without seeing a gas station or much of anything.  Finally, approaching Dayton, OH, we found a gas station and a McDonald's.  I was feeling a little flustered and had difficulty ordering a sandwich.

Me:  I would like the grilled chicken sandwich meal.

Cashier:  Do you want eight, nine, or ten?

Me:  No, I want a SANDWICH.

Cashier:  I know, but do you want eight, nine, or ten?

Me:  (flabbergasted and slightly alarmed)  Eight, nine or ten what?

Cashier: (gesturing to the menu)  Do you want the  NUMBER EIGHT sandwich or the NINE or the TEN?
I got the nine, or maybe the eight.  It doesn't matter, it was shite.

Civilization did not fully return until Indianapolis, when I saw the first Starbucks.  Too bad I was in the left lane and couldn't exit.  Brigid and I mourned the missed Starbucks like it was a death in the family.  And alas, there were no more Starbucks to be seen until we got to downtown Chicago.

But first we had to get through Gary, Indiana, which, if you can believe it, appears prosperous, if not exactly cheerful, compared to Charleston, WV.  Then came a string of toll booths.  I HATE the ones that don't have an attendent because my arms are not long enough.  Correction.  There is nothing wrong with my arms, but there is something wrong with whoever designed these booths.  At any rate, I managed to insert a dollar into the slot, but dropped my forty cents change all over the interstate.  The next toll booth was manned by a tiny old lady with a wig that all but filled the interior of her booth.  "What was that?" gasped Brigid.  "That," I said, "was a Polish-American woman." 

The rest of the trip was uneventful except for the GPS telling us to get off an an exit that was closed.  But that was OK because it calculated another route and we were fine.  Speaking of GPS, this was my first experience with it.  It is certainly convenient and probably prevents accidents but it makes me wonder if this is another stop on the steep slope of the dumbing down of America.  I had printed a set of directions from Google maps, plus had a traditional road map.  At one point, the google maps directions conflicted with what the GPS was telling me.  OH MY GOD!  WHAT DO WE DO?  Talk about first world problems!  I decided I would do what I have always done up to this point:  use my EYES and my BRAIN and figure it out.

And so we are here.  Other than a 1:00pm appointment at SCAIC, our day is free.  I am planning--dying actually--to visit American Girl Place.  Scoff if you want.


  1. That's a road trip for the stouthearted. Enjoy the windy city! Trust me, that American Girl store does not disappoint.

  2. You are never lacking in adventure. (For adventure?) Enjoy the trip. Have a safe drive home.

  3. I've been to American Girl Place. Be glad you're not going with actual little girls because you will want to drink heavily -- probably straight from a bottle of vodka -- after about 20 minutes.

  4. Sounds like quite the trip! Glad you guys made it there fine - lying GPS, poorly designed toll booths and missed Starbucks be damned! My family is from that area of the 64 between C-ville and Covington - and some still live there. Westvaco and The Greenbrier were where they all worked/work.

    Anyway, Chicago is absolutely wonderful. You and Brigid will have the best time! Don't forget to get some carmel corn and the pizza is wonderful too!! :)
    Catch up with you soon -

  5. I had a teeny anxiety attack reading this. You must have been so happy to reach civilization!

  6. There's a Starbucks at the rest area in Beckley on I-64. There are Starbucks hidden in Charleston, but the GPS will dump you in a hospital parking lot, at which point you'll give up.

    Did you take US 35? The new road is nice, but it bypasses all the towns and cities. You always have to find the old routes to find civilization, of course.

    Charleston Town Center has a Starbucks, but I've never been through when it's open. There's also a Schlotzky's in Charleston--we always stop for the manbeast. The manbeast also recommends any of the biscuit joints. They must be awesome because they reduce him to a gibbering fool for a couple hours until his blood sugar stabilizes.

    Dayton has many, many bucks of star.

    Chillicothe, OH, has a Kroger with a Starbucks, you won't rack up rewards, though.

    Did you pick up I-70 at Dayton and cut over to Indy? Or did you cut northwest cross-country?

    If you have time, plug in something like "Starbucks Ohio" in google maps and then zoom in and follow your route. Pay attention to reviews--some of the stores are in Target or Kroger. Save those addies for your GPS. A text file works well--you can assign data entry to the teenager.

    If you went around Indy, there's a plaza in Castleton (Allisonville & 82nd, NE side near where I-69 hits I-465) with a Penzey's, Five Guys, and Trader Joe's. Yes, there's better food to be had in Indy, but Penzey's!

    If you want a legstretcher of history tidbits in the middle of nowhere, Wilbur Wright's birthplace/museum is about ten miles north of I-70 in east central Indiana. I grew up 2.5mi north of the site. It will not exactly fill your day with wonder and joy, though it did fill my mornings with happiness when I was a wee tot riding past, looking for the plane through the trees.

    How's the flooding out that way? I drove from Urbana to Indy last week and it was getting rather ridiculous.

    If you're passing the Leo Petroglyph signs in eastern Ohio on route 35 during the day, it's worth a stop. Big flat rock covered with carved glyphs. Good stop to stretch legs and it's just a few miles from the highway. Low key, deserted, some signs. There's a bit of hiking in the gorge there, too, but we haven't wandered more than a mile or so.

    Any chance you keep an active full Discovery Museum membership? You can get into the Chicago museums (Field Museum, Science & Industry) with the reciprocity.

    Have fun in Chicago!

  7. Jocelyn, how awesome! If Brigid ends up at school in Chicago, I will be prepared to have all the Starbucks I want for the road. :) Yes, we took route 35 to 70 but coming home, the GPS had us take 75 into Lexington, KY, which took longer. The route 35 way is better.

    Nena, I knew your family was from near Covington but I didn't know they worked at the Greenbriar! Have you ever stayed there. I'm turning it over in my mind as a place for a little getaway. If we can afford it.

  8. Bring me caramel corn from Chicago. Bring me caramel corn from Chicago. Bring me caramel corn from Chicago. Bring me caramel corn from Chicago. Bring me caramel corn from Chicago.
    Bring me caramel corn from Chicago.

    I have an addiction problem with caramel corn from Chicago. I NEED it.

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  10. Yes indeed. The family homeplace is in WV, 25 miles off the 64 Lewisburg exit. The Greenbrier was the salvation for several of my family members after leaving the mountain and the farm. The one aunt is still there, still in the basement, still head of phone services. That's where she contracted Histoplasmosis. Good times!! The resort itself is absolutely beautiful and was recently purchased by some moneybags, who apparently shaped things up; however, he did bring in gambling. It is, by all reports, still a wonderful place to visit!
    Hope all is well with you both. Have fun and we'll talk soon!

  11. Lexington has two very wonderful things:
    Big Ass Fan Co.
    Transylvania University

    They both sell tshirts, rather BAF used to.

  12. I don't often trust my eyes and brain to figure things out. You like to live on the edge, though.