Friday, January 11, 2008

Day 3: Poughkeepsie, NY to Chicago, IL

***Fully Updated All the Way Through Chicago***



  • TOTAL BEERS: 3 (Yuengling Lager, Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold Lager, Three Floyds Alpha King Pale Ale)

  • TOTAL DISTANCE: 843 Miles

Another day, another early morning. Actually, it would prove to be the last of my early mornings, but nevertheless I set a 7:30 alarm (extended an hour after my sleep deprivation) in preparation for a long day solo on the road. It was cold and sunny, an omen for the trip. I filled the car and drove out to the Vassar College entrance sign to snap my New York picture, an empty bottle of Brooklyn Lager in one hand as I hunched over in front of the burgundy plaque.

The Last of My Greater New England Photos Taken, Fittingly, at a College, Vassar, Home of the Brewers

Back in the car I drove through Poughkeepsie City, crossed the Hudson River, wide as anything in the East and drove south along Route 9A toward 84 and, ultimately, Pennsylvania. Perhaps worse than my predicament in Massachusetts with the expired emissions sticker, I have a potentially outstanding warrant for my arrest in New York State owing to a grumpy cop, a mistake of millimetric proportions, a bureaucratic delay and a lost letter. Point being, I stuck to the speed limit, obeyed all posted signs, refrained from drinking any alcoholic beverages and was relieved to cross state lines before 9AM.

Sadly, my reward was Pennsylvania. The Keystone State is long and monotonously mountainous, and not very fun to drive alone with daylight fading with every new mile West and three more states to go before breaking Lake Michigan's shores.

I stopped for lunch at the first Arby’s I saw, at a truck stop just shy of the Susquehannah River in the East-Central part of the state. Truck stops these days are really something. Not only will you find a healthy collection of weary travelers, but showers, multiple scents of bathroom cologne, and a wide variety of straight-to-dvd horror films. You’d be surprised what they make horror movies about these days. Soccer teams, computer classes, adult films. At the truck stop, a killer lurks everywhere.

After ordering a small roast beef sandwich I came back into the convenience store to make a pot of coffee in my French press with the hot water from their coffee machine, buy some donuts for my coffee, pretzels for later in the afternoon, and a banana for good measure. When I stepped up to the counter the cashier was on the phone with a look of timid disappointment on her face.

So you’re not coming down today, after all? Pause. Well what about the pictures?” Pause.
I just thought you might want to see your child.

That last line was virtually in a scream, and accompanied by the phone slamming down into the receiver.

The woman, no older than me and probably younger, took great pains to try to compose herself as she spun around to help me. Her nametag said that she had worked there since 2006. I wonder if she took the job when her boyfriend left, or if this job had paid better or was closer to her home than her last job. I doubted it paid more than minimum wage, and that can’t be too easy when you got a kid and an absent father.

As if on cue, I gave her some money and hit the road, West as far as I could go.

The road went on uninterrupted for another hour or so before it was time to start to think about finding a beer to keep the dream alive. Out in Western PA the towns are few and far between for East Coast standards, and certainly do not strive to exist alongside the interstate. I finally settled on Dubois, drove south a couple miles to town, found a liquor store and then a gas station and filled my needs at both of them.

This reminds me of another obstacle in this journey. No two states have the same liquor laws pertaining to when, where and how they allow booze to be sold. Some forbid Sunday sales, others cut it off at 8 or 9 PM. Certain states allow it in gas stations, others are more strict. Going into Pennsylvania I wasn’t aware of their exact laws, but my vague set of anecdotal evidence led me to believe that six packs were only sold in bars. This put me off a bit, especially as Dubois rolled itself out with more and more small, dingy strip malls and fast food restaurants and little else.

Finally, I found a place billing itself as a liquor store, and it had opened up in the nick of time, not twenty minutes before I arrived. Fortuitously for me they also sold singles and I was able to get out of there having spend less than two bucks. I picked up a Yuengling Lager and got back on I-80.

It was a longer detour than usual to get the Pennsylvania picture. I pulled off in Brookville and played the fool yet again to the reality of congested roads near the interstate, no shoulders, and great spaces between distinctive signs. I was at least five miles down the Colonel Drake Highway before I finally came across a place to pull over near a sign reminding drivers to Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful. With a quick smile and a toast of my Yuengling bottle, I tried my best to do just that.

BTB: Singlehandedly Keeping Pennsylvania Beautiful, for a Few Hours, at Least

And still, just under a hundred miles, and a few snow flurries, to go in the Keystone State.
By the time I hit the Ohio I knew that I had lost at least an hour and a half from my original itinerary between my late wake-up and two adventures in state highway babysitting. My ass was already numb from Pennsylvania and I wanted to get to Chicago as quickly as possible. Not just to reduce time spent driving, but to maximize time spent on the town with Vince, and to catch as much as the Monday Night Football game (Bears at Vikings) as possible.

I felt that pulling over quickly for my Ohio beer stop would be conducive to that mission so I looked at the map and found what appeared to be a near-in town to the interstate and only thirty-some miles into the state. Newton Falls, OH also just happened to be the hometown of a good friend of mine from New Hampshire, the excellent and well-connected AP writer for the state, Phil Elliott. It was a no-brainer. I would stop there.

As a quick aside, there is a marked difference in driving conditions as soon as you get out of New England that does not right itself until you approach the Rockies. That special condition I refer to is the location of towns relative to the interstate. In New England and the West, towns sit next to the highway so that the driver may get easily on and off during a long drive, and not have to worry about driving three miles to a gas station or a non-fast food restaurant. But in the middle of the country it is one big crapshoot.

Newton Falls, a typical Midwestern former factory town on the Mahoning River, was no different and it took me a full five plus minutes of semi-confused driving to hit the town center. Once there I stopped at a Circle K for my beers, but it didn’t have a bathroom for customers so I got back in the car and tried the next gas station. Mission half accomplished, but their beer selection stopped at the usual domestic mass brews, so it was back to Circle K where, luckily, micro brews were afoot. The selection wasn’t great, but I found myself a six-pack of Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold (Cleveland, OH), ran across the street to snap a picture in front of the road sign, and made my way the five minutes back to the interstate.

Great Lakes and Ohio. Good Beer. Bad State.

All told it was a twenty minute detour, exactly what I had hoped to avoid, made acceptable only by the delicious tasting beer purchased from it. Great Lakes, it should be said, makes the best beer available in that same stretch I just described between New England and the Rockies. Hands down. I conspicuously sipped a couple of them while listening to Bob Golic wax reminiscent on sports radio about the Browns teams of the 1980s with Webster Slaughter and Bernie Kosar relative to this season’s improbably good Cleveland squad led by DA, the Moose from Scapoose, and Braylon “B-Easy” Edwards, who has his own website with a flash intro modeled after Tecmo Super Bowl highlight reels. Did I mention that I love it when professional athletes have personal wesbites? I do.

Unfortunately, I was outside of the Cleveland sports radio market before I knew it, coinciding with the setting of the sun. What a horrible night to have a curse. Not only was I out of a decent radio zone, but it was nothing but the plains of Western Ohio and all of Indiana in the bland darkness until I reached my destination. White knuckle driving, truck wolfpacks and the silhouette of an occasional grove of trees off to the left. I called my friend Andy when I passed Toledo to give a shout out to the town where he worked on the Kerry/Edwards ticket, hit the Hoosier State and started thinking about my next beer stop.

Contrary to my failed Ohio strategy I wanted to wait a while and get a decent chunk of Indiana through me before I put a stop to my wheels. Highway signs pointed to Elkhart just over an hour in, and so it was written. It was Friday night around 7:30, and the most common noise on my radio was high school basketball. At least three FM stations were calling the play-by-play for schools like Logansport, Kokomo, Marion, and Bluffton. One of the schools was called the Hilltoppers and none of the games were particularly close. I had heard the stories and seen the movies, but now I knew it by my own ears. In Indiana high school basketball is king.

When I pulled off in Elkhart I couldn’t find any local beers at the gas stations, but I noticed a bar whose neon sign advertised microbrews and martinis. It would have to do.

The Chubby Trout. No Sexual Innuendo Intended

Of course, they sold six packs at the bar which, having never lived in such a state, still boggles my mind. Yet as the barkeep was sorting out my bottles I happened to see a large photo on the wall of the 1954 Elkhart High School basketball team on my way to the bathroom. I immediately spun around and told the guy to kill the purchase. I would be having a bottle of Three Floyd’s Alpha King Pale Ale (Munster, IN) at the bar instead. I ran out to my car to grab my camera, told them about my beer trip, and they happily agreed to act as photographer for the Indiana picture in front of mural.

Indiana, Where High School Basketball is Alpha King

Picture in hand, I sat back down at the bar, chugged my beer in three sips (which was a shame, it was pretty tasty) and headed back for the car. Step two of this stop included food, so I made the always regrettable decision to pick up some chicken mcnuggets for ease of time and purchase, stomach, health and conscience be damned!

However I don’t totally regret it because, while in line for the drive thru, the car in front of me had specialty license plates. In most states specialty license plates, that tend to cost an extra 50 to 100 dollars per year, advocate for things like colleges and children and nature. In Washington you see a lot of Husky and Cougar plates, in Connecticut they urge you to protect the Long Island Sound, and in Mass the Cape and Islands. But in Indiana, somebody paid money to have their license plate say “In God We Trust”. Glad to hear it. I snapped a flash picture to document this fact, only to have the driver stick his head out the window and glare at me.

You Know You're in the Heartland When...(Plates Blurred to Protect the Innocent)

Then, after he got his food, he pulled over to the side parking lot. I smelled a confrontation. So, food in hand, I drove up next to him in order to politely explain my actions and offer to delete the photo in order to protect his privacy. But when I pulled up, he was simply talking on the phone, and it took an awkward Grey Poupon moment to get him to talk to me, and he ultimately didn’t care, just said he was a little surprised by the flash.

Fair enough. For me it was back to the highway for the final two hours to North Chicago, past the final prairies of Northern Indiana and into the creepy night time industrial wastelands of the Chicago Southeastern lakefront suburbs, where lights and smokestacks seem to go on forever into the dark, dead night. It is Steel Country through and through, dating back to the olden days of the Midwestern Boom, and presented with a wide viewpoint from the immense Chicago Skyway.

Ah, but then things change as you hit the city, go past the loop and into the near North End and in toward Lincoln Park. At last, I made it. Vince greeted me with some Wild Turkey at the door. It was half time and the game wasn’t going well for Da Bears. We stayed at his place until we finished, then walked down to a local bar to catch the end. The game was one-sided, the bar was empty and depressed on account of the game, but it was good to be somewhere, and know I wouldn’t be driving for a full 36 hours.

We headed back to the apartment after the game, told stories and watched tv until late, and I finally called it a night five states and one time zone later.

1 comment:

David said...

Back where I come from, beers drank while driving are called "road sodas."