Heading West — Day One

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The Very Rough Last Night in A2
Written @ 13:30 EST | Tuesday, 11-Jul-06 | Ann Arbor, MI

The beagle gave me a rough night. After the farewell party, I went and gassed up the Jeep and then back to Ann’s to spend the night. I was informed he had howled at the kitty several times and generally been a bit of a pain. We went up to bed at midnight, David taking the spare room and the beagle heading to Rachel’s. The drama began.

He paced and panted and whined at the door. I put him up on the bed twice to settle him down and twice he jumped down. Finally, I gave up, took a couple of pillows down the couch and prepared to settle in.

Bayley took a long drink of water and flopped on the kitchen tile. He then ate his breakfast from the previous morning at 01:30 and flopped back down again. My head was throbbing and I waited for the Alavert to kick in. Suddenly at 02:12, Bayley jumped up off the kitchen floor and ran to the front door, howling his head off. Scared the crap out of me. I jumped up and almost killed myself on the loveseat and hissed at him. I thought everyone would wake up, but only David heard him, fortunately.

I chased him, but he ran up the stairs and in the dim light from the bathroom window behind him, I could see him staring down at me. I was too tired and sore to run upstairs, so I went back to the couch to wrestle with the insomnia.

The next morning, we said goodbye to the girls and went to Burger King for breakfast and to Dunham’s to buy a Thule rooftop canvas bag to haul crap to California so the beagle wouldn’t have to ride up near roof in the backseat. Then it was off to the townhouse to do the final cleaning and turn in the keys. It took three hours to get things ready to go. It was hell.

We turned in the keys to the sourpuss apartment manager, left the forwarding address, got a coke one last time at Circle K, then headed out onto I-94.

When I saw the sign on south State pointing west for I-94 to Jackson, I admit I got a little choked up.

Goodbye, Ann Arbor.

Written @ 15:00 EST | Tuesday 11-Jul-06 | Battle Creek, MI

Random thoughts while sitting shotgun for the first couple of hundred miles:

Near Battle Creek is a sign for the “Moonraker Restaurant.” What’s that all about? Is it part of Drax Industries?

The beagle has been noshin’ on pretzels and Chex Mix from time-to-time since we left Ann Arbor. Yesterday, he had French fries and Auntie Ann and Cousin Rachel gave him some Cheez-Its. After 106 miles, he’s finally settling down into his VERY cushy back seat and having a nap. He has the whole back seat to himself and it’s piled with his beagle bed and blankies. His treats are handy, he has his own a/c vents, there’s a water bowl close by and everyone is pampering him shamefully, which he is accepting shamelessly. Now THAT’s the way to travel to California. I SO wish I were a beagle!

As we head into Kalamazoo County, I see a sign for “Fort Custer National Cemetery Industrial Park.” Huh? What’s that all about?

I turn XM Satellite Radio to ABC Talk Radio and get a full-blown earful of Sean Hannity spewing nonsense in full-bore screaming, vein-popping, red-faced mode. I quickly find Air America. If I’m gonna sit on an American Interstate Highway and listen to screaming, vein-popping, red-faced radio, it’s gonna be screaming, vein-popping, red-faced radio that affirms and confirms my own political and worldview prejudices and conceptions.

Paw Paw, MI? Any Relation to Quapaw, OK
Written @ 15:30 EST | Tuesday 11-Jul-06 | Paw Paw, MI

Approaching Paw Paw, MI. Paw Paw Days will be 15-Jul. Sorry I’m gonna miss that. America, what a country.

Still listening to Air America, I hear a sort of weird, deja-vu ad that gets my attention. It’s for a website for “middle school teachers, featuring inquiry-based learning curriculum for science education from the National Institutes for Health.” Which gives me a bad acid flashback to my science methods course from last January, which, I might add, was the only blemish on my grad school grade record, an 89% B+. The ad sort of gives me chills.

But the weirdest thing is when the announcer repeats “middle school teachers.” It hits me at mile marker 60 on Interstate 94 West near Paw Paw, MI, that the announcer is speaking to me. I. Am. A. Middle School. Teacher.

Good lord and holy freakin’ cow.

Don’t you hate those sudden, jarring, unexpected epiphanies at odd moments in odd places? It’s almost like when you open your mouth and you hear your mom or dad speaking phrases that you used to hate, which I mentioned before I refer to as the “Whippersnapper Routine:” “When I was your age …” etc. But this was even more jarring, I think. Over the last couple of weeks, things have been happening so quickly that I’ve lost track of time and feel like I’ve just been floating through the summer like an old leaf on a fast-moving stream. It will all gel, but it’s quite weird.

We’re approaching Benton Harbor and Lake Michigan and the Indiana state line. In a few minutes, we say goodbye to Michigan and the eastern time zone and start feeling like we’re really on a road trip. We’ll be making a quick stop in La Porte, IN, to visit Wells Fargo and take care of the final piece of the moving puzzle, the financial details of the house rental. The lease is signed, the goods are headed west, the car is loaded and we’re on the road. Ann Arbor is 158 miles behind us.

Have I said holy freakin’ cow already?

Farewell, Michigan, the “Pleasant Peninsula”
Written @ 16:00 EST | Tuesday 11-Jul-06 | Approaching Lake Michigan

The rain looks like settling in for a very long stay. It started raining around 14:30. A minivan with Alaska plates just suddenly hit the brakes and pulled into the right lane in the heavy rain, right in front of a semi. The trucker was not pleased. Haven’t heard an airhorn blast like that since I last went to an Oklahoma Sooners game. The goober in the minivan was fairly oblivious that he had a very large and very angry trucker breathing up his rear. Wonder if he’ll make it all the way home to Fairbanks or Anchorage or wherever.

The rain is so hard that it’s unlikely I’ll get a very good pic of the “Leaving Michigan” and “Welcome to Indiana” signs. How gooberish is that?

How do I feel about leaving Michigan? Well, it was tough last night saying goodbye to everyone. Very sad. I will miss everyone terribly. I got a big lump in my throat taking one last, long look at the empty townhouse as we left. It was the first place that Frank and I shared together, our first home as a couple. We got married nearby, in Windsor, Canada. We had three amazing years. Met wonderful people, friends for life. Had great experiences at the university and in school. And some not-so-great ones, but that’s life. Michigan was good for us in some ways, bad in others. I mentioned before that I find “Michigan Lefts,” where you turn right-left-left in order to turn left, as well as aggressive Michigan drivers, and 42-wheel semi-trucks, aggravating and baffling. I found some teachers I dealt with baffling and aggravating as well.

Speaking of baffling, the state motto is, “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.” That is just … kinda awkward and weird. Why would I be seeking a pleasant peninsula? Whatever.

It’s 16:22 EST, or 15:22 EST, and we just crossed the Indiana line.

Well, shut my mouth.

Goodbye, Michigan.

Written @ 15:45 CST | Tuesday 11-Jul-06 | La Porte, IN

Our first stop of the trip is in the rain. Indiana looks much like Michigan. Horses in the field, green trees. Beagle is asleep in the back, snoring softly. When we get to the bank, I’ll give him a walk in the rain. He’ll be hacked.

We pass under the Indiana Turnpike, which is actually I-80, our first glimpse of the road we’ll become intimately acquainted with between now and Sunday.

I’m writing all this stuff while David drives. I’m a total technogeek and have been known to do many odd things while driving, including studying for exams, reading Shakespeare, eating a Sonic hickory cheeseburger (Mmmmmmmm, Sonic!), etc. But I’ve never actually used a laptop and typed while driving. I don’t think I’ll start now. So, there will be gaps in the journal when I’m driving or sleeping. Which is like saying the sun rises in the east, I know. I have no idea why I’m even writing this stuff, but it passes the time.

Pine Lake is pretty in the rain. It’s 72 degrees. Downtown is busy and bigger than expected. It’s small town America at its best, and there are some real goobers in pickup trucks on the streets.

Time for a break.

The Beagle Poops on Indiana, his 15th State
Written @ 16:05 CST | Tuesday 11-Jul-06 | La Porte, IN

The beagle had a nice walk in the rain, around the block. La Porte was a surprise; being this close to the nastiness that I have seen from Amtrak around Gary, I was expecting something less … than stellar. La Porte is actually a quaint, middle American town. Quintessential as the saying goes. There does tend to be quite a few American flags all higgledy-piggledy, but there are also “End the War Now” and “Bring the Troops Home” bumper stickers, interestingly enough. It’s only 20 miles from South Bend, yet I see no Fightin’ Irish stickers, although there is a lone Catholic church with children out front having a blast playing in the rain while adults watch from the open, lighted doorway. There are big brick planters on every street corner downtown with great flowers in them and signs reading “Adopt a Planter.” One is adopted by a school bus driver, another by a married couple, another by the United Homosexuals of Indiana. Just kidding, just wanted to see if you were paying attention.

We just passed the Thunderbird Lanes bowling alley, pub, and fishing tackle store, which seems to be interesting because I’ve never seen a combination bowling alley and fishing tackle shop. Wonder if you can buy bait while waiting your turn in the fifth frame? Also, I haven’t seen many things named “Thunderbird” this side of New Mexico. It makes me homesick. Lots of things between my hometown, Roswell, and up in the mountains of Ruidoso are named Thunderbird. When I was a wee lad, I once took an old white sheet and created my own Thunderbird flag and went out in the woods near Clovis and played War. Not sure what army I was supposed to be in, but it was a hell of a lot of fun. Good times, good times.

Jammed Up With Boston Boy
Written @ 15:24 CST | Tuesday 11-Jul-06 | Chicago, IL

We’re in the thick of it now. Traffic backed up like a clogged drain at Cher’s house. We’re stop-and-go trying to get to the toll gates on the I-80 tollway. Plus, it’s 17:30, rush hour. We have XM tuned to Chicago weather and traffic, which is getting old and not giving us any good news.

I’ve spotted a fellow traveller with Massachusetts plates, towing a small U-Haul trailer behind a small SUV of some sort. And I mean fellow traveller in the “gay old time” sense. He’s quite lovely to look at while sitting here on the concrete at Western and 171st on the south side.

At least the rain has stopped for now.

The toll is 60 cents. The way ahead is clear and we’re chasing Boston boy. Unfortunately, someone else is in the passenger seat, slumped down asleep. Still, he made things pretty for a little while, since he was sitting there all Jake Gyllenhaal-ish.

Have I been away from my husband too long? Yup.

Keep the Internet Connection On for Us
Written @ 15:46 CST | Tuesday 11-Jul-06 | Chicago, IL

I call the hotel in Davenport to confirm our reservations. “We’ll see you when you get here.”

Well, at least she didn’t say, “We’ll keep the light on for you.” Ain’t ever stayin’ at THAT place.

Nope, LaQuinta has the two requirements we have when we travel: they like beagles and their rooms are wired with highspeed ethernet connections. It ain’t the Ritz Carlton, but it beats a tent on the side of the road.

And it’s still 130 miles away. Roughly about the distance between Duncan and Dallas, so about two-and-a-half hours before the beagle gets his dinner.

David is still driving after 273 miles and seems content to do it. As far as I’m concerned, he can do the whole 2,300. But that’s asking a bit much. I’m grateful for as much as possible. I’ve done the cross-country to California thing way too many times. I’d rather sit and play voyeur, peering at weird stuff by the side of the road and cuties in hot SUVs.

Corn, Prisons, and Stan
Written @ 18:40 CST | Tuesday 11-Jul-06 | La Salle, IL

Shortly after crossing the Des Plaines river at Joliet, the land stretches and flattens out. We saw our first corn fields west of Joliet. We didn’t see the prison, however, which is mostly what Joliet is known for, Al Capone and all that.

Talked to my friend Stan in DC for a few miles as he drove home from work. We noted that it’s been almost 30 years that we’ve known each other.

For the last three years, almost at least once a week or more, he’s called me as he leaves work in Bethesda, MD, and commutes home on the Beltway and I-66 to home in Chantilly, VA. I’ve kept him company, but the move to California will affect that, since we’re three hours behind. When he’s going home in the evening now, I’ll still be in my last period with the seventh graders. And that’s gonna suck.

Not sure how those are all connected, but my brain is pretty much on autopilot today.

By the way, more and more corn is appearing. There’s a helluva lotta corn out there.

Mississippi River
Written @ 19:49 CST | Tuesday 11-Jul-06 | Moline, IL

Illinois is almost finished. We just entered Rock Island County, last one before the Mississippi River and Iowa. The hotel is about 30 minutes away. The dog is completely zonked, but he’ll be ready for his dinner when we get in place. The road is flat and mostly straight and there are very few people on it; the crowd has thinned out considerably. There is still intermittent rain from time to time, but it has been a mostly pleasant trip on Day One.

I’ve finally run out of things to say. Next up: Mississippi River pictures and a much-needed stop. More later.

Worn Out Dogs
Written @ 01:29 CST | Wednesday 12-Jul-06 | Davenport, IA

We’re pooped. We got into the hotel after a beagle walk, then went back out and picked up dinner. I then swam for thirty minutes, talked to the hubby for awhile while doing laundry and walking on the treadmill, then it was back to the room to sort all the stuff I brought because there wasn’t time to do it in Ann Arbor.

I’m going to post some pics from day one on Flickr, then it’s off to bed. Tomorrow’s agenda: Up at 8, breakfast in the hotel, then it’s back to I-80 westbound, headed the 304 miles to Omaha, By God Nebraska.

I miss my fellow ELMAC’ers. It feels like I’m heading off into the unknown by myself and have suddenly lost the support of my homies. This sucks.

I’m not quite ready to say I miss the actual University of Michigan yet. Maybe next week. But I do miss the gang I spent the last year with.

Off to bed. Catch ya on down the road.

Night, y’all.