My cousin’s getting married in Chicago. Game on.
Thursday, Miles 0 – 41. Destination: Frederick, MD. Distance: 41 Miles
Thursday starts, like all Thursdays do, on the Wednesday before. In this case, at Gloria’s Hair Salon, because I’ll be damned if I’m going to drive from here to Chicago with the mop I’m sporting – that much hair could significantly affect the vehicle’s performance, handling, and mileage. I made up the cost of the haircut in the gas we saved in the first 100 miles.
Besides, who feels like driving when you’re not rockin’ your own head? I built this haircut on rock-n-roll, baby, and I’ve got the gray to prove it.
So Thursday dawns, as Thursday must, and we load the kids into the car. We have everything: medication, a teddy bear (the kids did not take teddy bears or dolls; I, however, brought mine), books, music, cell phone chargers, good clothes, bad clothes, and an appetite for road food. We eased away from our berth, down past the docks, and out of view of the house, our only companion the constant hammer of Nicole – the 16th named tropical storm this year, which graced the Eastern Seaboard with rain for the first time in 4 months. Not a drop of the wet stuff on the brown patches of dirt that used to pass for my lawn, and on this traveling morning Mother Nature decides to switch on the fire hose? Bitch.
When you pause to consider the rain, the traffic, and the incredible distance (yep, 42 miles) we needed to cover that morning, we did pretty well. We maintained an average speed of 28 miles per hour, which is pretty safe for a Model T Ford. That we were driving a 1999 Toyota Sienna with a 6-cylander engine and a top speed of 130 miles per hour – not that it’s ever seen that speed, but I hear tell – well, we’ll just let that slide, in much the same way that we slid into the Waffle House in Frederick, MD to meet my folks and sister, who were driving with us in the driving rain to Ohio and Points West.
Death before dishonor, but neither before breakfast. My parents, it should be noted, are considerably more healthy than I am; my mother can kill a deer with a cast iron skillet at 30 paces and my father runs marathons for fun and profit. I used to hope to be in as good shape as they are when I reach the same age; these days I’ve lowered my sights to just reaching the same age. Needless to say, the idea of actually *eating* in the Waffle House holds a sick, fascinating attraction for them; it’s like realizing that you can order dessert for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and no one will yell at you. That they were the thinnest adults in the place did not bother anyone – they’ll serve anyone at the Waffle House.
We greased up, gassed up, and also saw to the needs of the cars, if you know what I mean. Breakfast, while watching it rain in sheets, was going to be the last fun thing for a good hundred miles, and we enjoyed it as only road foodies can – which is to say quickly, cheaply, and messily. We looked like great white sharks trying to decide between the cute one swimming by herself or the fat one with the surfboard, and realizing that hey, I’m a shaaaark, I don’t have to choose. I can just eat them both!
And we did. I love me some Waffle House.
Thursday, Miles 42 – 292. Destination: Twinsburg, OH. Distance: 250 Miles
So there we were, exiting the Waffle House in Frederick, Md. Thus fortified, and for some of us thus horrified, we moved people and things into the rain and into the cars, and then moved things and people again, still in the rain, until we had a good sense that we’d reached an equilibrium. This involved me, my sister, my father, and Number One Son in my father’s car, and the rest of the girls in SOBUMD’s minivan – with my mother driving, embracing her inner yuppie and indulging her need for speed. We followed along in the Toyota Sienna-sized hole left where the rain wasn’t falling anymore as my mother created a tunnel of “not rain” while trying to see if it would really hit 130 miles per hour.
In the back seat of Dad’s car, my sister was exchanging ideas with Number One Son, who having been fed was promptly medicated. One of these ideas was “read a book,” whereupon he mentioned not having a book in this car. She, of course, had a book in this car, in fact she had two to choose from – Neil Stephenson’s Snow Crash, and Christopher Moore’s Fool.
If you’ve never read either, I can recommend both. Are they “appropriate” for a 10-yr-old? Probably not – this just became a “lesser of two evils” question. Right, Snow Crash – it’ll hold his interest. She handed it to him and we lost him for about 30 minutes until he started giggling. “What do you think of the book?”
“I like all the swear words!”
My sister wondered about my choice, which I maintain is still better than letting him read “Fool.” Snow Crash has conversational swearing. Fool uses it as an art form. Snow Crash is about computers and hacking; Fool is a game of Grand Theft Auto mashed up with Shakespeare at his pornographic best – medieval porn and gratuitous murder, yeah baby! At least he’s reading. Me, it’s email, email, email on the Blackberry – plus a great example of technology in action: Dad mentioned he’d like to hear Pat Boone singing “The Old Rugged Cross” and in 90 seconds it’s coming off some YouTube hard drive in the ether, over an IP network, to a wireless network, down the airwaves to my Crackberry, and into sound in the car, with my Dad singing along – all at 75 miles an hour, in the driving rain. I love technology!
We collectively decided that we liked Ohio better than Maryland and Pennsylvania, because it wasn’t raining in Ohio. They have sun there. Quite a relief. We drove past Youngstown, got to Twinsburg, and headed for the hot tub. After a dip, we retired to our rooms, I plugged in the McGuffin, er, Blackberry charger, and headed for the local restaurant. (There’s only one.) After some food at a table lit by the largest television screens known to man, we returned to the hotel. As we retired to our rooms, I determined that there was Scotch in the lobby. I bought one for SOBUMD, then let my dad know that there was Grandpa Juice available downstairs. He allowed as how he knew that, he and my sister having acquired same before we left for dinner. I mentioned the (low) price and was instructed in how the pros do it: “You gave them money? I just said “Room 425” and we pressed on.”
Clearly, I don’t stay at hotels often enough. Eager to test this new lesson, I went back downstairs and got another glass of Grandpa Juice, this time charging it to Room 425, just like he said. That I was in Room 423 was not really relevant.
In the morning, we found something very much like breakfast, loaded everyone into the cars again, and pressed on.
Friday, Miles 293 – 613. Destination: Chicago. Distance: 321 Miles
In what I can only hope, for your sake, is the very remote chance that you ever stop for lunch in Sturgis, Michigan, be sure to stop at Dan’s Family Restaurant. If you’re over 80, I’m sure you’ve heard of it already. Word gets around on The Facebooks, you know – Dan’s Family Restaurant has a discount for seniors that can’t be beat!
Obviously the waitress, on the other hand, can be beat. I say this not because the service was slow, or bad – it was fine. I think our waitress had been beaten far too often, though – every other sentence was “I’m sorry!” She apologized for everything, regardless of whether or not it was something she could control, up to and including the weather. I think it was a defense mechanism built in from getting beaten too often by cane-wielding Q-tips wondering about the discount. She held her own behind the counter, though: “Mike, this says Chicken Tenders, not Chicken Wings – do I need to buy you a pair of glasses? I’ll go buy you a pair of glasses if you need them!”
It’s easy to get to Dan’s Family Restaurant, though. All you need is a Betty.
It’s also easy to tell when your kids have been hanging out with their Grandfather – anything with an automated voice system, like a GPS, gets named Bitchin’ Betty. This stems from the early automated aviation advisory voices in Viet Nam-era aircraft (and continuing today) that would tell a pilot “Low on Fuel” or “Watch out for that Mountain.” These days the iPhone will do the same thing, so in our car we had Dad’s GPS, in SOBUMD’s van we had her iPhone set for MapQuest, calling out the same set of
“Turn left, 2 miles”
“Make a safe and legal U-Turn”
All of which cause the kids to want to tell Bitchin’ Betty to shut up. They figure poor Betty gets pretty tired of “Recalculating” every time we turn around. We all got out of the cars at Dan’s Family Restaurant and the HTR piped up with, “Daddy, Bitchin’ Betty sounds pretty depressed. I think she should try Cymbalta.” Number One Son doesn’t miss a beat: “Depression hurts, Daddy. Cymbalta can help.”
Dear god, I *really* need to monitor what the hell they’re watching on television. Also, I need my ears checked again; at first I thought they said she needed to take Cialis. Which would probably also take Betty’s mind off recalculating the route for the 478th time, but I’d rather not explain that to the kids.
The best part of Bitchin’ Betty is the pinpoint accuracy of the iPhone/MapQuest application. SOBUMD excused herself to the bathroom (“Excuse me, where’s the bathroom?” “I’m sorry, it’s just down that hallway.”) and took her purse – I never know why, and I don’t want to. In this case, though, she reports that as she was walking out of the stall, Betty piped up from her purse unexpectedly: “Recalculating!”
Now that’s an accurate system.
We said our sad goodbyes to Sturgis and our lovely and apologetic waitress and climbed back in the saddles, driving through the settling lunch and setting sun until we reached our destination – Uncle Dan (no relation to the Restaurant) and Aunt Mary Ann’s house, which has Ivy. Not ivy, Ivy. Ivy is a Wheaten Terrier, which makes complete sense since they live a in suburb called Wheaton – I assume she came with the house. Ivy and Number One Son, to the surprise of pretty much everyone including themselves, became close pals.
We had a wonderful time eating pizza and visiting with family that we never get to see often enough. Number One Son met a dog who wasn’t too scary, jumpy, or annoying, and a great time was had by all. I looked all around the house, but was unable to find the “Dorian Gray” painting of my Aunt, who looks like I’ve always remembered her – I don’t know how she does it, but she has not aged a day in at least 20 years. Maybe the dogs do her aging for her. Uncle Dan just looks more like himself; I’ve seen pictures of him when he was younger, and he looks like he’s waiting to grow into how he looks now. My cousins look good and married well too – maybe there’s something in the genes; it’s just a good looking family all around. Of course, they’re all related to me, so certainly that explains part of it.
The next morning dawned with coffee and breakfast yummies, including pancakes that even the Reigning Queen of Pink couldn’t be allergic to, which was very sweet. Mind you, she still didn’t eat them, but she *could* have, and that’s the point, really. We eventually got dressed, loaded the car, and headed to the Death Star.
Saturday: Operation Wedding
Now, there are some things you should know before we get to the church. Things like, the side bets my family makes about the insurance premiums and structural integrity of the building when I walk into a house of worship. Things like the questions they still ask about those explosions. Things like the chances that it’s still a church when I leave. The last time my folks talked me into coming to church with them was at a military chapel. Before the end of the mass, the Father introduced a 3-star general who announced that the building was going to be re-purposed for barracks, have a nice day. They’ve never asked me back.
So when I tell people I don’t usually go to churches, it’s not because I don’t like it. It’s just that I can’t countenance putting all those other people at risk. It’s a public service, really, just like the ego-reducing lining in my hats that helps keep my massive ego from accidental property damage. I’m a considerate guy, you know?
Speaking of hats, someone mentioned getting dressed up for the wedding. This depressed me a little, because I did not get dressed up for the wedding. Getting dressed up used to be fun – you break out your fancy clothes, put a tie on, grab your best hat – all the things that let you know you’re doing something special. I didn’t get “dressed up.” I dress like this all the time. I wore what I usually wear to work. I feel cheated, really, because for me to get dressed up, I’d need a frigging tuxedo, and of course there’s no call to wear a tuxedo because I’m not getting married. My job here is to make sure that none of my children make farting noises during the ceremony. (OK, my job is to make sure that none of my children make farting noises louder than Uncle Jerry during the ceremony.) SOBUMD’s job, it turns out, is educating the kids on the new surroundings, since they obviously don’t get to church much more often than I do.
We step into the pew and take a seat. There are large hymnals in the book holders in front of us. “What books are those?” asks the Reigning Queen of Pink.
My sister picked up a hymnal and said, “These are bibles.” She clearly comes here as often as I do.
“What’s a Bible?” asks the Reigning Queen of Pink.
Gobsmacked. I lost all powers of speech for a moment, right there, and my sister was so pole-axed that she couldn’t respond either.
SOBUMD jumped to our rescue: “It’s OK, they’re just like Korans.”
Luckily the services hadn’t started, because it took several more minutes to restore order in our section of the church. SOBUMD, who is so digital that she firmly believes God can be downloaded onto her iPhone (“There’s an App for that!”), noted that there were several WiFi networks near enough to connect to from there; one of them was called “Death Star”. I can only hope that it was a local neighbor geek and not a subtle indictment of papal authority, but these days you never know.
Once we all settled into our places, the celebrants started filtering into the church. The bride was lovely in white, as brides are, except more so, on account of she’s beautiful, and the groom wore – yeah right. No one looks at the groom. He looked fine, you know, for my cousin. At least he got to dress up. Toward the end of the ceremony there was a bit with candles; the mothers each lit a candle and used them together to light a single new candle.
Number One Son leaned over and whispered, “Daddy, what’s the point of the candles?”
“Well,” said I, “the two flames are the two people getting married, and they’re being married into a single new flame together, as a married unit – a single spiritual being in the eyes of god. Or, it may signify the bikini waxing the bride got yesterday for the wedding night.”
“Nothing, never mind.” No wonder they don’t know what bibles look like.
The wedding went off without a hitch, or rather with one, if you catch my drift, and if you’re still reading after a pun that bad I should probably apologize, but I won’t. The reception followed at a nice hotel, where friends and families gathered, caught up, ate up, and got down with their bad selves. There was plenty of great food, yummy things to drink, and music and dancing. I got to dance with all my cousins, which was great except for one of them, who left me alone on the dance floor 45 seconds into the song. Why he wouldn’t want to dance to Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy with the Big Ugly Man Doll, I’m sure I don’t understand. I mean, I left most of my clothes on! Just not comfortable enough with his masculinity, I guess… Ah well, we love him anyway. I have to say, not because no one else would, but because none of the rest of them (barring SOBUMD) are blogging: Our family rocks – and it’s nice to have a new family member!
Sunday, Miles 614 – 820. Destination: Bowling Green, OH. Distance: 207 miles
We left the hotel before most of the revelers were awake – Number One Son being inclined to rise at 0630, time zones notwithstanding. “Hey, Dad, come look at the sunrise!” Oh god. Right. Sunrise. OK. So, packed and out in short order. We saw some more cousins on the way out – also very early risers, which is another term for “parents of young children.”
Speaking of young children, the imperative in the morning is to get food into Number One Son, so that he can have his medicine, which has been proven to dramatically increase the lifespan of children with his conditions, especially when driving long distances with them in the car. So, we turned on SOBUMD’s magic iPhone, now with the God App divinely installed, fired up Bitchin’ Betty, and found us some grub. There being no handy Waffle House, we turned to a local version – Elly’s Pancake House, in Arlington Heights. Here’s a pic of part of the menu:
Oh my god. This place is everything Dan’s Family Restaurant wants to be when it grows up. They had coffee on the table within 30 seconds of seating us – and I was NOT wearing a visible sidearm, I might add. The food was incredible and enormous and reasonably priced. Elly’s Pancake House. There are three of them, and if the others are as good as this one, I’ll have to try them all. Yum!
Once fed and medicated, we pressed on toward Bowling Green, Ohio. Explaining why we were headed to Bowling Green requires some history.
Where to begin? In the early ‘70s, DARPA and ARPA became the internet, small “i”, and then in the ‘80s Tim Berners-Lee invented HTML, which spawned the World Wide Web on the Internet, big “I”, and then we got to the crazy Dot-Com days of 1999, where some crazy people thought that they could make money by creating a message/chat board for women who were all going to have babies in any given month talk to each other about how it was going. They couldn’t really make any money that way, but that wouldn’t become apparent for several years. The point is that there were a bunch of women who were, in fact, interested in such a board, and the upshot of this is that there are I think 80 or so women who are still talking about how it’s going. Just as PBS and Sesame Street were the great promise of television in the ‘60s, this kind of community building – crossing boundaries of race, income, location, education, orientation, everything – is the great promise of the Internet, and it’s been fascinating to me to watch this community of interest become self-sustaining.
When the original hosting company realized this was not a money-making venture after all, these women packed up en masse and bootlegged the board onto their own systems until they found something else to work with. It is now its own self-sustaining, self-policing community, and I’ve been delighted to be privileged to meet some of the members – pretty much the only things they all have in common are English and babies. The original babies are around 10 years old now – most were born in June or July of 2000; in our case, Number One Son. (Number One Son has 100 mommies, and I only get to sleep with one of them. Hardly seems fair.) He doesn’t really know that he has a hundred mommies, but I do – I’m convinced that The Board, as we call it, is responsible for saving his life at least once. Possibly mine also. Many of the ladies of The Board have also contributed questions to the Friday ManFAQ, for which they have my undying gratitude – and the thanks of a grateful nation.
So, short story long, one of the Board ladies lives in Bowling Green, and another lives within 90 minutes drive of there, and we were heading to Bowling Green to meet them for dinner. (It says something about the Board that one of them was willing to drive her whole family an hour and a half up and another hour and a half back, to meet us at Bob Evans. That’s love, baby.)
Driving there had its moments. Just before we crossed the state line, there was a great billboard: “Indiana Coffee and Chocolate Company – To Dull the Pain of Ohio.” Only in the Great Plains do the actual states gang up and insult each other. You won’t hear Virginia messing with North Carolina, believe me. On the other hand, the clouds through most of Ohio looked like tanks, all the same shape and lined up for battle. Maybe they take that kind of thing seriously.
The other great part of that drive was explaining to Number One Son (and his sisters) who we were going meet and exhorting him to behave. We had explained the bribe before we left home: behave very well this whole trip and you’ll get the Iron Man 2 DVD you want when we get home. Driving to Bowling Green, he asks “Maybe some other time we could come to Chicago under, you know, better circumstances?”
“Better circumst – What? What could be better than a wedding?”
“You know, when I don’t have a movie riding on it.”
Responsibility. Ain’t it a bitch.
We met two of the wonderful ladies of the Board, Shelli and Kirsty, and their families at the Bob Evans, taking pictures and finding out what we’re all like in real life, and what happens When Blogs Collide!
For the most part, the kids ate at their own tables, and Number One Son ordered himself a plate of corn for dinner. Following a good hearty meal, we sloped off down the street for what was billed as the oldest Dairy Queen in Ohio – where Number One Son made up for the light dinner fare by ordering a banana split. It’s all about managing expectations.
Speaking of managing expectations, the Dairy Queen in Bowling Green may indeed be the oldest Dairy Queen in Ohio – if you told me it was older than Ohio, I might believe you. It’s old. It’s damn old. My arteries hardened just a little as I walked in the door, just from the smell of the centuries of hot oil. They had a coin-operated cigarette machine in the front; I haven’t seen one of those outside of eBay in years.
We piled all the kids into a corner for a sugared-up photo op. It was always going to be a success, photos notwithstanding.
We said our fond farewells and retired to our homes, cars, and hotels. Tomorrow being Monday, I plugged in the Blackberry just in case I needed… OK, do you remember the McGuffin from Thursday night? I plugged in the Blackberry charger in Twinsburg, OH. To the surprise of no one at all, it’s still there.
Monday, Miles 821 – 1200. Destination: Home Distance: 380 miles
So there I was, Crackberry on and no way to charge it. I fired off one note to a well-placed, well-trusted peep and hoped for the best. No calls for you today, Grommit!
We found the best, about four doors down from the hotel, and we began the end of our road trip the way we started the beginning – that’s right, there’s a Waffle House. It was laid out in signature Waffle House style, which is to say that it looked exactly like the one in Frederick, MD. The similarities, however, stopped there. Our waitress was a dusky-eyed, tattooed beauty named Carol, and she clearly owned the place. Perhaps not literally, but she knew everyone on both sides of the counter, all the orders, all the drinks, and every word to every song I played on the jukebox. I’m not sure what a girl has to do to look “dusky-eyed” at 0730 in the morning, but she did it. In between taking our orders, keeping Number One Son’s undivided attention, and delivering enough coffee and calories to feed a small third-world village get us through the trip, she managed to shout hellos to every person that walked in the door that Monday morning.
Mind you, so did many other people. “Norm!” Dear god, may I never become so established in my ways that all my friends know me when I walk into the Waffle House. On the other hand, I’m sure the grease keeps them regular, and that’s healthy – right? Anyway, if you’re passing through Bowling Green for breakfast, go see Carol at the Waffle House. She rocks.
Do you remember the clouds that looked like tanks in western Ohio? As we approached Pennsylvania, the clouds looked like hemorrhoids piled up on the ass of the sky – I felt like we were driving into a scene from the Grapes of Wrath. So to speak. Once again, we were going to end the trip the way it started, raining sideways and pissing down the road.
My good friends Billy Joel and Billie Joe Armstrong got us through the worst of it, a musical Preparation H to ease our passage down the Highway of Darkness.
Once we were back on the road again, SOBUMD rang up the hotel in Twinsburg to see if they had my charger. They connected her with housekeeping, please leave a message and we’ll get back to you. And they did – about 100 miles past the exit, but still. They found it, and shipped it to the house, and it’s plugged in now, safe and grounded. (I know you were worried.) Thank you, Hilton Garden Inn!
Rain or no, the America you can see from a car window looks considerably different than the one you see from the window of an airplane. SOBUMD said this with her camera more eloquently than my humble words ever could.
As if by miracle, we got home in time for the 5pm call with the office that I didn’t expect to make. My aforementioned peep heard me join the call just as it started and said, mostly to remind our boss, “Hey, you’re supposed to be on vacation!” It’s good to have friends!
And this trip proved that simple fact, several times over – it’s not just good, it’s great to have friends. Without all of you, we’d never have gotten past the front door.
Congratulations to Sean and Katie, and thank you all for helping us get there and back again!