Posts tagged ‘Operation Wedding: 1200 Miles in 5 Days’

Wedding Road Trip, Part 5: Rolling Home

28 August, 2011 | | 5 Comments

For those of you just joining:  We’re driving to and from Chicago for my cousin’s wedding.  No, my other cousin.  Also, there will be no weather in this narrative.  The weather was fine, with only a few embarrassed clouds.  For the purposes of our driving descriptions, you should feel free to fill in whatever weather you prefer.  I’ll try to remind you where to fill them in, for those of you who require a little climate control in your narrative.  We resume our story on Monday morning, having married off my cousin and feted the 9th Birthday of the Reigning Queen of Pink over the weekend.  Wheels up.

Breakfast At Tiffany's?

Breakfast At Tiffany's?

I woke to the sound of gunfire, which I was getting used to at that point – it turns out Katy Perry was staying in our hotel, and she doesn’t limit the festivities to just Friday night.  Since we needed to get up anyway, this wasn’t an altogether bad thing.  We decided that the best part of the day was going to be over too soon, so we loaded the car, the kids, and Marvin the Martian and rolled out promptly – even skipping a chance to have breakfast at Tiffany’s, and when was the last time you got to do that, huh?

Road Trip Self Portrait

Road Trip Self Portrait

So we made the car go lightly down the road, spinning nature’s panoply of paintbrushes faster and faster under our tires, and made for the impending hurricane on the East Coast like a man tired of waiting on death row – not exactly thrilled with the destination, but ready to be done already.  Illinois quickly became Indiana, which gradually became Ohio.  Mind you, it would have become Ohio much faster had SOBUMD not taken a well-deserved nap while I drove us a good way toward Canada.  Luckily she’s a light sleeper and woke up before we crossed the border, steering me back toward the heartland. 

Not wanting to miss a chance to hear Katy Perry, we kept spinning the radio dial as one station would fade out and another fade in.  Local radio is a little more local in the heartland.  Lost dogs were described with their breed and the date and location where they were found; the report ended with “and Bob, ol’ Roscoe got out again, Mavis says come get him before she sells him to them girls from Sturgis who thought he was so cute.”

There being nothing like revisiting our misspent youth, we stopped for lunch at an Eat-n-Park in Nowhere, Ohio, which is just outside Youngstown.  The waitress obviously interned at an Olive Garden, because she stopped at every table with a baby, picked them up, and passed them around.  It was adorable, in a small, round, and talcum-powered kind of way.  Eat-n-Park has retired Sparkle, their evil Eat-n-Park star former mascot, and seems to have re-imagined their smiley-faced cookie as the Silver Surfer – a little freaky, really.  The food is just like I remember it, sad to say. 

See-Thru Barn!

See-Thru Barn!

We continued to roll through Ohio for the several hours one does that.  Eventually, following one of the many “What state are we in?” queries, Number One Son piped up.  “You know, this nation is e-mother-effing-normous.  And so’s Ohio.”  Can’t argue with him there. 

Phallic Symbols

Phallic Symbols

Another thing you’ll notice driving across America that’s less obvious when flying the the country’s fascination with phallic symbols.  Sure, the airport has an air traffic control tower that’s straight up with a knob on the top, but have you seen the grain silos we use?  Tell me you don’t think about the Washington Monument when you see those.  Is it just me?

And then there’s the Turnpike.  Taking the Pennsylvania Turnpike is a joy.  There are signed every few miles stating “Fines higher in work zones,” by which they mean the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  The whole damn thing.  The view is also an issue – it was so boring that I fell asleep and had to have SOBUMD drive it.  Luckily, she was able to stay awake by listening to the radio, which was playing Katy Perry’s Last Friday Night. 

Road Trip Sunset Over Sidling Hill

Road Trip Sunset Over Sidling Hill

But Pennsylvania does roll into Maryland, and the sun does set faster on trips going East, and in the fullness of time we reached the construction zone fun ride that is the US Capitol Beltway.  Just as we turned off I-270 and went to merge onto the Beltway, I spotted the sign:  “You must be at least this tall to ride this ride.”  The Reigning Queen of Pink was again disappointed with the height restrictions.  SOBUMD did the dodging and weaving needed to make the trip safe and fun, and we approached the final exit – our exit – at 75 mhp in heavy traffic.  We passed the penultimate off-ramp, only then seeing the newest sign for the ride:  “Your Road Westbound Exit Closed 9pm – 5am”

After driving 13 hours, we’d missed the chance at our exit by 5 minutes. 

As we navigated an alternate route, there was plenty of time for blamestorming.  SOBUMD decided those 5 minutes were spent with me trying to drive to Canada.  I maintained that those 5 minutes were actually consumed by our carrying the extra weight of Marvin the Martian slowing down the car.  By the time we got home, we had decided that it was probably Katy Perry’s fault. 

The car was unloaded, the cats were out of their mind with joy at seeing us, and the next day the earth shook.  Again, sorry about that. 

So congratulations to my Cousin Drew and my new Cousin Rachel, great partners in crime!  It was a great trip made all the better for meeting new family, seeing old family, and rolling through the heartland with both. 

Thank you all for helping us get there and, once again, back again.  Rock on.

Wedding Road Trip, Part 4: Birthday Madness

27 August, 2011 | | 1 Comment

For those of you just joining:  We’re driving to Chicago for my cousin’s wedding.  No, my other cousin.  Also, there will be no weather in this narrative.  The weather was fine, with only a few embarrassed clouds.  For the purposes of our driving descriptions, you should feel free to fill in whatever weather you prefer.  I’ll try to remind you where to fill them in, for those of you who require a little climate control in your narrative.  We resume our story after Saturday’s wedding, as Sunday morning dawns on the 9th Royal Birthday of the Reigning Queen of Pink.

Sunday dawned the way you’d expect, and we loaded up the van with the Very Clever Grandparents and headed north to meet my sister at Great America, also known as Six Flags.  Why the place needs two names is beyond the scope of this narrative.  If you’re filling in the weather at home, I’d recommend about 80 degrees and sunny, with a light breeze.

Number One Son started to slowly go crazy as we walked in – he hates being outdoors, and this was nothing but.  I took him by the hand, lead him a little ways away, and leveraged the time-honored parenting technique known as “threatening grievous bodily harm” if he didn’t at least suffer in silence while his sister enjoyed some of her birthday.  Crowds were light in deference to the Reigning Queen of Pink, who was thrilled to be there with all her loyal subjects.  To her, the only thing marring her perfect day were the height issues – contrary to popular belief, turning 9 does not make you taller.  At 42.5 inches, there are things you just can’t ride, no matter how much she’d like to strap herself into something called The Cardiac Problem, which requires signatures from your family doctor and next your next-of-kin.  If it requires legal waivers, the Reigning Queen of Pink wants to get on board.  Since these things are significantly more likely to kill me than they are her, I was just as glad she’s not old enough to go on most of them. 

The Hat Stays On

The Hat Stays On

The Human Tape Recorder and even Number One Son got on a few of these, requiring me come with them, sign the waivers of doom, and get turned upside down at speeds that Einstein wouldn’t have approved of approaching.   For the record, the Hat stays on, no matter how fast the ride. 

The Very Clever Grandfather showed us what “Very Clever” means by very cleverly not getting on any of the rides, with the exception of the largest carousel in the world, where his horse came in first by half a length. 

The RQoP, whose appetite for destruction was not satisfied by the rides she could go on – which were many and varied, I’ll have you know – wanted to make sure the trip was rounded out by her winning a significant stuffed prize.  I suspect I’m certain that she’d scripted out well in advance just how her birthday was to unfold, and “winning something” was absolutely on that list.  God help the one who stands in the way of the movie she’s shooting in her head, because if the script says, “Cute Birthday Heroine wins cute stuffed thing and then goes on flume ride and gets wet,” man, you make sure she wins something before you put her in the water.  There’s a reason she rules by divine right. 

Besides, truth be told, there’s a je ne se qua about “winning” something tangible, however small, that stays with you.  It’s a solid piece of evidence that you were there, that you accomplished something, albeit perhaps for some of the more mutable definitions of “accomplished.”  The Very Clever Grandfather shared a story with me later that I’d never heard before, about the time he won something at a fair.  This was 1957ish, and he was about the age Number One Son is today.  There was a local parish fair, and a raffle for a television – black and white, of course, and somewhat smaller than the monitor you’re using to read this.  The winning raffle ticket was chosen from a large bowl, and no one seemed to have it.  His father suggested he look around, since there were a damn lot of raffle tickets on the ground at that point, and my father (along with several others) scoured the ground for a few minutes, picked up a half dozen tickets, and realized one of them was IT.  All of about 12, he walked up to the parish elders and told them he had the winning ticket.  Obviously, he hadn’t purchased the ticket and didn’t claim to have, and there was some discussion about just what exactly to do.  In the end, the decision was “winning ticket in hand” was really the only requirement, and he went home with a television – which he kept I think until about the time he got married. 

Healthy Lunch

A Healthy Lunch

I didn’t know this until after the RQoP dragged me over to an arcade area, where you can – with luck or with skill – win something cute and stuffed.  Since this was after lunch, I thought I qualified as cute and stuffed, but there was no talking her off script at this point, and I resigned myself to my fate.  Nothing like having the adoring young girl look up at her hero and say, “Win me something!”  Shit.

I Have To Blow Up Your Planet

I Have To Blow Up Your Planet

Then I remembered that old age and bribery will overcome luck and skill any day, and steered her toward a boat race game where you roll your skee-balls into holes marked “slow,” “faster,” or “fastest.”  The winner of the game – and there are 12 boats – wins a small stuffed tiger.  Win two games in a row, you win a somewhat larger stuffed Marvin the Martian.  You need at least two people for a race, and it’s $3 bucks to enter.  With only the two of us, that was $12 bucks.  Do you know it’s actually as hard to deliberately lose a skee ball boat race as it is to win?  Anyway, the RQoP won twice in rapid succession, the nice lady running the game having grasped the script pretty quickly – she’s probably read that script before – and we left with Marvin muttering something about blowing up the planet, and the delighted RQoP talking about the flume ride. 

There are rides at these amusement parks, sure, and games, but if they really want to rope people in, I think they should consider some alternate rides and games for the grownups.  The number one game that comes to my mind should be the Claw Flume Game, where for a dollar you’re allowed to try three times to pick up whatever you want out of the flotsam and jetsam at the bottom of the pool by the ride.  These are pretty clearly all things that have spilled from various pockets, purses, and puckers of people too busy being thrown upside-down and splashed sideways to notice at the time that they were being robbed.  I saw countless coins, 4 pairs of Ray-Ban sunglasses, 2 Blackberries, 31 driver’s licenses from multiple states, 47 pairs of flip-flops, an unexpired DoD Common Access Card indicating a TS/SCI clearance, 7 cell phones, 3 wallets, the left shoe from a pair of size 8 Bruno Maglis, 12 watches, and a 1964 Smith-Corona typewriter.  Obviously, the next most important ride is “The Mugging,” where you’re encouraged to bring all your stuff with promises of “there are cubbyholes for you to store all your stuff” that turn out to be out of order when you get to the front of the line.  It will hold you upside-down for about 60 seconds while vibrating like a washing machine with a bad bearing in the spin cycle. 

I’d also like to see a ride for kids based on the movie “Up.”  (“Here, hold this.”  “Heyyyyyyyyyy!”  “OK, how much for two more?”)  There could be another ride called The Mother-in-Law, which drives at a safe speed and makes only sharp right turns when you least expect them, and The First Date, which floats through 16 slow tunnels and gets you back just before the park closes at 10pm.  (“Will you get lucky on The First Date?”  They’d make a fortune!) 

After all the rides, we all got tattoos.  The RQoP got an eponymous tattoo of “RQoP” of course; I got one on my back that says “He thinks there’s a picture of the Hindenburg back here.”  Shaving my back took longer than the tattoo did, I swear.  After that, my sister was kicked out of the park for trying to ride a “miniature pony exhibit” that turned out to be someone’s seeing eye dog, and we headed back to Chicago. 

Click for a Bonus Queens Of Pink Picture

The Queens Of Pink

We stopped in to celebrate the birthday with the Queen Mother of Pink, and there was cake and birthday presents and aunts and uncles and cousins and folks, and a great time was had by all.  The only marring to the event was my mother, who had some trouble lighting the crazy singing candle and called me over to help, handing me the smoldering end of the stick used to light the magnesium wick.  Have you ever tried singing Happy Birthday while holding three fingers in your mouth?  No more wire hangers, I freakin’ get it, OK Mom?  I left my hand in my beer the rest of the evening, and we had a good time. 

Then we went back to the hotel, changed clothes, and went to the Katy Perry show at the Allstate Arena down the street from the hotel, which she had postponed from July 8th to August 21 so she could be in town when the Reigning Queen of Pink would be there.  Well, we didn’t go to the show as much as drive past it, but we did listen to Last Friday Night on the radio on the way home.  The RQoP sent Katy a nice note about being sorry to miss the show, maybe next year, etc.

A quick dip in the pool got us all ready for bed, to say nothing of easing my throbbing fingers, and we tucked in the birthday girl with Marvin the Martian, still bent on blowing up the planet. 

Next Up:  Always Coming Home

Wedding Road Trip, Part 3: Of Bullets and Brides

26 August, 2011 | | No Comment

For those of you just joining:  We’re driving to Chicago for my cousin’s wedding.  No, my other cousin.  Also, there will be no weather in this narrative.  The weather was fine, with only a few embarrassed clouds.  For the purposes of our driving descriptions, you should feel free to fill in whatever weather you prefer.  I’ll try to remind you where to fill them in, for those of you who require a little climate control in your narrative.  We resume our story on Saturday morning, as we prepare for the wedding later that afternoon.

Saturday dawned ugly, which wouldn’t be an issue except for the part where the wedding was to be held outside at 4:30 in the afternoon.  We headed into the city and waited out the storm visiting with friends.  After eating more than any five people can or should before noon, we made our fond farewells and headed back to get ready.  Once ready, we drove to the wedding – which while not actually in Wyoming, it could have been, based on the distance.  Also, once we found it, it was next to a Wild West Rodeo and Kids Ranch, which lent some credence to the idea that we were, in fact, in Wyoming, just north of Cheyenne.  We weren’t, but it was far enough away from Chicago that we had to pipe in our own Katy Perry songs.

The wedding was set up to be outside on a covered porch on the back of the reception hall, which looked out onto a vast, beautiful, and likely still very wet lawn, open on three sides.  The guests took their chairs, the music started, and Number One Son started to slowly go crazy in his seat – he hates insects, and he’s not wild about being outdoors at all.  I handed him my hat, in the hopes that it would distract him and allow him to fan away the occasional fly – and there were a few, but not enough to make anyone other than him really notice.  He grabbed the hat and shut his mouth, which was all I was really after, and we proceeded to watch the bridal party come down the aisle, the men in their finest new sneakers, the ladies in heels high enough to be illegal in other states, and all of them looking great.

We got the groom down the aisle, the bride and her father down the aisle, and the bride’s hand given to said groom, and the pastor began to speak of the wonders of married life.  He talked about marrying your best friend, about keeping your relationship new, and about two lives becoming one.  He talked about uniting this couple in the light of Jesus.

That’s when the shooting started.

The gunshots came from over on the bride’s side, and we all jumped and looked as we listened to multiple shots fired from at least two guns, a .45 and .38 by the sound of them, and then a third that might have been a shotgun.  After a brief interlude of about 30 or 40 rounds in about 20 seconds, there was a moment of silence, into which the pastor looked off toward the Wild West Rodeo and Kids Ranch encampment, bowed his head solemnly, and intoned, “I think they got him.”

The bride and groom wrote their own vows, which were beautiful and luckily did not include any of my advice for same. (“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of wife of the BUMD’s cousin Drew, and will, to the best of my ability, love him and keep him fed and watered.”)  During the remainder of the service and ceremony, we heard continual, albeit random, gunplay from the other side.  SOBUMD’s reaction to hearing the shots and bangs was to assume that god had realized I was in something like a church – let’s just say the empirical evidence is on her side and leave it at that, shall we?

My cousin Susan was thrilled with the idea – she decided that when and if she gets married, she’s incorporating the guns right into her vows: “Do you promise to hold her, in good times and in bad, we talked about this, right, don’t make me take the safety off this thing, we talked about this, good times and in bad, you promise, that’s it (bang!), I’ve had it, I fuckin’ told you, love, honor, and OBEY, bitch (bang!), we TALKED about this…”  Not sure I’d have the courage to marry her myself, but I’d love to watch that ceremony.

Then there was an hour between the end of the ceremony and the start of the reception, presumably so they could consummate the wedding right away.  Given how long the bride waited for my cousin to figure out that she’s perfect, I can’t blame her a bit.  No backing out now, Drew!

Number One Son Takes Aim

Number One Son Takes Aim

After the ceremony, Number One Son wanted to go see the guns next door, so we moseyed on over there and got a short tour of some hombre’s six-shooter.  Since he wasn’t able to actually hold the gun, which we were assured held no bullets (the hombre showed us the empty chambers), Number One Son contented hisownself with showing a few milk canisters what it means to be on the business side of a bow and arrow.  He acquitted himself well from a distance of about 18 inches.

I Can Still Taste the Wedding Cake; Ain't It Sweet After All These Years

"Ain't It Sweet After All These Years"

Following the ceremony and consummation, there was a delightful dinner, drinks, cake, and dancing.  As if I weren’t impressed enough, the first dance was to Queen, and the Father-Daughter dance was to Led Zeppelin.  My cousin has married well.

Since at this point the three lunatic children were moving from the best behaved children at the place to the worst behaved children at the place, we decided that discretion was the better part of valor and that we’d better get them out for the three-and-a-half hour trip back to the hotel.  (It’s probably worth noting that they were the only children in the place.)

On the way back, as we drove through whatever the weather was like, Number One Son spent a few minutes telling us about how things would be at his wedding, which we assumed to be hypothetical until he told us, “Yeah, which will probably be to Emily Washername, in my class last year.  She’s the only person who could help me calm down.”  SOBUMD and I looked at each other, pole-axed: There’s an Emily?  News to us.  News to her, too, is our guess, but hey.  We made the hotel in record time, falling to sleep with dreams of bullets, brides, and booze.

Next up:  The Reigning Queen of Pink turns nine, and there’s nothing you can do to stop her!

Wedding Road Trip, Part Deux

25 August, 2011 | | 7 Comments

For those of you just joining: We’re driving to Chicago for my cousin’s wedding. No, my other cousin. Also, there will be no weather in this narrative. The weather was fine, with only a few embarrassed clouds. For the purposes of our driving descriptions, you should feel free to fill in whatever weather you prefer. I’ll try to remind you where to fill it in, for those of you who require a little climate control in your narrative. We resume our story just after breakfast as we leave Columbus, OH.

I mentioned that driving cross country introduces the kids to part of our American heritage, and that’s true, except for Zanesville, OH. There are no redeeming qualities to Zanesville, OH. It’s like Binghamton, NY, except in the Midwest and without the college. I just wanted to make sure that was recorded somewhere, for posterity.

All the exits in Indiana seem to be labeled “Exit Now, Turn Left.” This struck me as odd, since the state has been as red as the Hoosier’s jerseys for 40 some years – although Indiana did vote for Obama in 2008, so perhaps that explains it.

One of the best parts of a long drive is playing and singing along with music. One of the advantages of today’s cross country trips is the techie infrastructure behind the old-fashioned sing-along: SOBUMD can dial up YouTube on her iThingy and play Katy Perry’s Last Friday Night through the iThingy’s FM transmitter to the car radio, and out the car speakers. There may or may not have been a cloud in the sky – your choice, after all – but SOBUMD can DJ all day from “the cloud” as we roll up the road.

Down On The Wind Farm

Down On The Wind Farm

Indiana bills itself as the Crossroads of America. The Human Tape Recorder wished to re-dub it the Cornfields of America, until we noticed that corn isn’t the only crop down on the farm these days.


Quick, ready my lance!

The oddest part of seeing all the wind power fields and massive turbines was hearing Rocinante whinnying in the back of my mind, along with the rattle of the Golden Helmet of Mambrino as it clacked against my lance in the back seat.

We got to Chicago in time to run out of gas, which was neatly averted by SOBUMD pointing this out to me before we rolled to a complete stop on the side of the highway. Refilling and pressing on, we met the Very Clever Grandparents at our hotel and all jumped into the pool, washing away the road weariness and grime of a thousand miles. Well, 387 miles, but you get the idea.

In Chicago, we had a guided tour of the old stomping grounds of the Very Clever Grandparents, which I think was as cool for them as it was for us – the kids got to see the streets and houses where Grandma and Grandpa grew up, and my folks got to see which things have stood the test of time, and which haven’t. The trees are tremendous, for example. Afterward, we hit Al’s Beef for a hot dog and a dipped Italian beef sandwich that couldn’t be beat, after smacking Number One Son upside the head – in a nice way! – with a trip to the Rock and Roll McDonalds. He had talked about it for a while, and was thrilled to go there – none of the rest of us got food, we just gawked. It’s huge, it’s shiny, if you like MacDaddy’s it is the place to be! Plus, since it’s a total Rock and Roll place, they were playing Katy Perry’s Last Friday Night.

The next day dawned bright and clear, and after a quick hotel breakfast we put wheels up for The Destination. Yeah, sure, there’s a wedding and stuff, but the real reason we drove 800 miles to Chicago this weekend was to hit Hot Doug’s Hot Dogs on a Friday, when they drop the duck fat fries. Now, a hot dog is a thing of beauty, and a hot dog that’s been fried and then grilled is veritable epiphany – but when they’re served next to a basket of hot French fries cooked in rendered duck fat – this is living, my friends. This is what it’s all about. As a fellow Doug, I can state with complete authority that Hot Doug’s is upholding the honor and grand tradition that is Dougdom with his food. He spends the extra 45 seconds talking to you while taking your order that make you feel like you’re his favorite customer – and you are, for those 45 seconds, which makes standing in line down the block for nearly an hour worth it. This is living, my friends. SOBUMD awarded them extra bonus points for having Cel-Ray soda, and the kids were thrilled because they played Katy Perry’s Last Friday Night on the radio.

Obligatory Bean Picture

Obligatory Bean Picture

Spitting Faces

Spitting Faces

From there, with breakfast having been followed by hot dogs and fries, we headed into the city proper to see Millennium Park – the Bean, the faces that spit water at you, the flowers. A mere $25 dollars will park your car for enough time to soak 4 out of 5 people in front of said faces; there is a certain je ne se qua to the Chicago art scene that you don’t find in many cities. As a matter of public policy, there are giant face fountains that drip and then spit water at you when needed in the hot summer months. I respect that.

Wet Shoes Are Wet

Wet Shoes Are Wet

Once dried off and cleaned up, we headed to the evening’s prenuptial festivities, which entailed the coolest rehearsal dinner ever. Held at the house of the parents of the bride, there were people, pizza, packages, bridesmaids, beverages, and burnings – the bonfire in the backyard was tremendous. Watching the flames sparking skyward, I turned to the bride, my about-to-be-new-cousin, and told her the fire represented the symbolic burning of her virginity, going up in flames. Without missing a beat, she put her hand on her hip and said, “Well, FINALLY!”

Oh yeah, we’re totally keeping her. My cousin chose wisely.

The rest of the rehearsal dinner last Friday night was a blur – we had a great time, in fact, perhaps too great. We danced on tabletops, drank too many shots, went streaking in the park, maxed out our credit cards, got kicked out of bars, ripped my favorite party dress, went skinny dipping in the dark, and had a ménage à trois. Some laws we broke, others we merely fractured. I woke up to find glitter all over the room, the chandelier on the floor, pink flamingos in the pool, Barbies on the barbeque, and warrants out for my arrest. It’s a blacked out blur, but I’m pretty sure it ruled.

Coming up: Nuptial Magic!

Another Wedding in Chicago? Time for a Road Trip!

24 August, 2011 | | No Comment

First off, I’d like to apologize for that earthquake on Tuesday.  SOBUMD and I had been cooped up with the kids in a hotel room for several days, and there are things you just can’t do with all the kids around.  Once we got home, she looked at me and said those three words I long to hear:  “Lock the door.” 

So, yeah, after 7 days with no Hey Hey, hitting 5.8 on the Richter scale isn’t all that surprising.  (“Richter? I hardly knew her!”)  Any damages, send me a bill.  Better yet, send it to Chicago, since that’s where we were.  You see, I hate to repeat a trick, but once again… 

My cousin’s getting married in Chicago.  Game on. 

I have five cousins in Chicago, along with a host of family and friends and kinfolk and people to whom I am distantly related but can no longer quite remember how, nor even in some cases why, but regardless they’re family, and when family gets married, you show up if you can.  Mostly because they’ll feed you.  Also, weddings are like funerals, in that if you don’t go to other peoples’ weddings, they won’t come to yours. 

Since all the family came to ours, we try to go when these things come up – which, with my cousins, seems to be an annual event.  Last year, my cousin got married in Chicago.  This year, my cousin got married in Chicago.  Next year, to the surprise of no one at all, my cousin is getting married in Chicago.  After that, I’m out of unmarried cousins in Chicago.  I don’t know what we’ll do.

So, once again lured by the open road and the promise of watching young love and the start of matrimonial bliss, we succumbed to our yuppie nature, loaded up the minivan, and headed West. 

A brief interlude to discuss the weather in this narrative:  The weather was uniformly fine, barring a torrential storm that we weathered in the comfort and safety of our friends Myke and Marcy’s house in Chicago.  While there were a few clouds, they seemed embarrassed to be there, trying to hide behind one another when you looked at them.  For the purposes of our driving descriptions, you should feel free to fill in whatever weather you prefer – the skies were timid, turgid, brutal, beautiful, heavy, heavenly.  Have them as you will, I’m not writing about them further – though I’ll try to remind you where to fill them in, for those of you who require a little climate control in your narrative.

Heading out Wednesday morning, we packed bad movies, good medicine, great juju, and heavy mojo into the minichariot and wove our way westward, traveling through a webbed tent of tent caterpillars up Routes 70 and 68 en route to Columbus, Ohio.  The tent caterpillars are everywhere.  Someone needs to decide they’re the next trendy food group, so we can feed them to wealthy New Yorkers and kill them off before they eat all of western Maryland.  There’s a lot of protein out there on the road – you can tell because the McBugs keep hitting the windshield.  You can tell the McBugs from the other kinds because when you use the windshield washer fluid, they still leave a huge greasy smear all over – too much fried food in their diet.

We were headed to Columbus to see my sister Brenda and the lovely Dar as well as the newly married Courtney and Nic, since Columbus is mostly on the way to Chicago and it’s good to see people.  I spent some of the drive explaining to the three lunatic children that this was a trip to meet new family – and family is who we say they are.  Brenda is my older sister not through any chance of biology but because we decided it was so.  Courtney and Nic, just back from their honeymoon, decided to become family recently as well – weddings all over the place. 

There’s also a perspective you get while driving cross country that you miss in the air.  It introduces the kids to the American family – good, bad, and ugly, all part of our American heritage.  The family of the road, perhaps. 

Moving over the Appalachians and Alleghenies, the continental plates crumple the landscape like an accordioned auto in those car crash movies they show to scare you in driver’s ed.  The land gets gradually more folded until you realize that the long flat stretch of highway is actually a mountain road and you’re checking your brakes and eyeing the runaway truck ramps. 
In the middle of one of those thousands of accordion folds, in a town known as Wheeling, West Virginia, we found lunch at the Later Gator.  They seem to have three mottos: 

  • “Eat or we both starve.”
  • “Don’t make us feed you to the alligator.”
  • “Planet of the Crepes”

It was that last one that intrigued me – I don’t expect, and you can call me a fatheaded flatlander, but I just don’t expect to find a phenomenal crepe joint in Wheeling.  It was phenomenal.  They have a list of crepes as long as your arm, and they boast that many of the ingredients are purchased or harvested daily.  I believe them.  Now I’m the last one to admit I didn’t expect high-end crepes in the middle of Wheeling, or if not absolutely the last one, I admitted it as recently as just right there.  I was surprised; my flabbers were gasted.  This place is crepe-tastic, and you must go if you’re within hailing distance of Wheeling.   I had a savory pesto mushroom something with chicken crepe that would have made a less sober man weep.  (Alas, I was driving, or I might have wept.)  Plus they had decent music; they were playing Katy Perry’s Last Friday Night.  If you’re ever within shooting distance of Wheeling, stop in at the Later Gator.  Or you’ll both starve.  But all good things must end, including lunch, and we pressed on.   

We left the Later Gator in Wheeling, West Virginia, and crossed into Ohio.  Drive for long enough and it starts to seem that you’re holding perfectly still, and the world is simply rotating under your wheels as you remain in place. 

Nature's Panoply of Paintbrushes

Nature's Panoply of Paintbrushes

As I pressed down on the gas, the road moved underneath me to show off more and more and then more again of the colors of summer, greens and shades of greens and dusky brown earth tones and bright blue cornflowers and tiny fields of grasses in the medians of the highways that by themselves are simply grass, but together with a thousand others like themselves cause the strip to wave with a deep pink that looks airbrushed on the field.  There were birds, there were bees, there were flowers and trees, and there were more McBugs on my windshield than a hurricane could wash off.  We turned on the radio to Katy Parry singing about Last Friday Night and let the miles slip away, making for the outskirts of Columbus and a whirlwind tour of the suburbs. 

Having less than 16 hours to enjoy the company of two sets of dear friends, we introduced them all to each other by meeting for dinner at BJ’s Brewery, where I sat next to a nutty brunette who drank Nutty Brewnette.  I tried one and let the Human Tape Recorder try some; she liked it more than I did.  They have a Porter that has some good things going for it, and the food was good, but I didn’t notice most of this because the conversation was so lively and fun that 2 hours or more went by in only a few short minutes.  Time does fly when you’re having fun, and it flies even faster when you’re having dinner with good friends and new family. 

Thursday dawned too soon, and I mean that literally since Number One Son woke me up before 0600.  We said our fond farewells to Dar and headed out for a brief if cardiac-inducing breakfast with Brenda, and once again hit the open road.  The weather was just like you imagine it to have been.

Tomorrow:  Chicago or bust!