Travel

This is the second half of my summer trip report. Part 1 took us through our stay at the Opryland hotel.

The next day we checked out and made our way to Memphis. Every time we’ve been to that city, we’ve made it a point to stop in at the Peabody Hotel downtown for drinks or a meal or just to see the famous ducks in the lobby. This time, however, we were checking in for a few days.

Morning Duck March at the Peabody Hotel, Memphis

The Peabody opened in its original location in 1869 and a lot of famous people have visited it over the years, from Johnny Cash to Michael Jordan to the Dalai Lama. Elvis had his high school prom there, and he came back a few years later to sign the paperwork for his RCA deal, some of it scrawled on Peabody stationary. Tom Cruise shot parts of The Firm on the rooftop.

The Peabody’s French restaurant, Chez Philippe, is arguably one of the best restaurants in Memphis, so naturally my wife and went across the street for burgers at Huey’s. We didn’t shoot any toothpicks into the ceiling, but apparently it’s the thing to do.

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Between Huey’s and Corky’s, we stayed away from the hotel restaurants and still had a lot of good food. The only meal we had in the hotel was a magnificent Sunday brunch at the Capriccio Grill.

Writer David Cohn has written,

The Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg. The Peabody is the Paris Ritz, the Cairo Shepheard’s, the London Savoy of this section. If you stand near its fountain in the middle of the lobby, where ducks waddle and turtles drowse, ultimately you will see everybody who is anybody in the Delta and many who are on the make.

That a great paragraph, and it was probably true when Cohn wrote it. The Peabody has a long history of ups and downs — it moved to a new building in 1925, and it went completely out of business in the 1970s (along with most of downtown Memphis), before being take over by new owners — so the Peabody today isn’t as connected to its history as they like to pretend, but it’s still a beautiful old hotel, full of rich architectural detail wherever you look.

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If you find yourself visiting Memphis, you should at least stop in and have a drink in the lobby.

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Whenever we’re away from home, my wife begins to miss the cats, so on long trips I like to try to find local rescue shelters where we can visit some kitties. In Memphis we stopped in at Mewtopia Cat Rescue, a small shelter in a converted former veterinary clinic in eastern Memphis. The volunteer staff told us stories about how they had acquired the place, a former veterinarian’s office, and the work they did to refit it as a cat shelter. It seems like a good place for lost cats.

As we walked around, I noticed one cat kept coming back to rub against my legs. I had the urge to pick him up, but I didn’t want to spook him, so instead I sat down to see if he’d sit in my lap. Sure enough, within a few seconds he climbed up and then put his paws on my shoulder and purred as he nuzzled my neck. A few minutes later in the kitten room I noticed a cat watching me intently, so I turned away slightly and hunched down, and he jumped right up onto my shoulders. Apparently I now have an unsettlingly good grasp of cat body language.

On our way home to Chicago we spent the night in St. Louis. We both (totally unfairly) think of St. Louis as an armpit because our last time there we stayed in a crappy roach-infested Days Inn. Determined to give the city another chance, we stayed in a somewhat more expensive room at the Renaissance St. Louis Grand Hotel…which didn’t quite work out.

There weren’t any roaches, but the hotel had just been through some major renovations, and everything had that not-quite-ready feel. For example, even though we had some kind of “executive” room, the desks hadn’t been installed yet, so the hotel sent someone to setup a chair and a card table (fortunately we bring our own outlet strip). And when we hit the hotel restaurant for late dinner the staff seemed flustered, like they weren’t really used to dealing with guests.

I know, I know, I’m whining. But given the high quality of the last three hotels, it was a bit of a letdown, and not nearly enough cheaper to make it a good deal.

That was one of the things I learned on this trip: Stay at convenient but relatively inexpensive hotels while traveling and save the nicer hotels for the destinations.

Speaking of hotels, here’s the scorecard:

Fastest wi-fi: Opryland Hotel.

Most over-priced wi-fi: Renaissance St. Louis Grand Hotel.

Best customer service: Opryland Hotel.

Best feeling like a big shot: The Peabody, especially when swiping my key card in the elevator to get it to stop on our “special” floor.

Most overpriced soda pop: Opryland Hotel.

Fastest elevators: Marriott Courtyard Louisville Downtown.

Slowest elevators: The Peabody.

Most comfortable bed: The Peabody.

Ever since I took up the hobby of photography, I’ve had to deal with the issue of people getting annoyed or suspicious when I start taking pictures. On private property they often ask me to stop, and even on public property they ask questions, especially at night.

One good exception is weddings, like the one that started our trip. My photography hobby has transformed weddings from tedious social occasions to exciting opportunities for picture taking. People actually want me to take pictures, and they appreciate when I post them.

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I learned about another nice exception on this trip: You can wander the halls of great hotels like the the Opryland and Peabody taking pictures, and even at 2 am nobody will question you. This seems like something I’ll be able to put to good use in the future.

One last thing I learned is that once I relaxed and surrendered to the higher-than-normal cost of everything on this vacation, I got used to spending money. $120 dinners for two began to seem normal, and why not get a few 20-ounce bottles of Diet Pepsi for the room at $3.00 each? I was going price-blind.

Anyway, when we woke up the next morning, we skipped breakfast, GTFO of St. Louis, and drove almost straight through to Chicago. We stopped at home long enough to bring up a load of luggage and turn on the air conditioning, and then we drove to dinner at Ledo’s Pizza while the place cooled off.

Life was back to normal.

Our trip this year started off with a wedding — the son of an old friend was marrying a wonderful woman who we all liked — and we caught up with the show at the rehearsal dinner on Friday night. It was at Luigi’s House, which seems like a decent enough restaurant. The hotel, on the other hand, had a really hard bed, slow elevators, and questionable bathroom plumbing.

On Saturday, we went downstairs to a special room the wedding party had rented for the bridal party to prepare. They had a couple of hairdressers in, and then my wife spent a couple of hours helping the bridesmaids get made up — she’s got some makeup skills — and I took pictures.

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Then it was on to the ceremony — which was nice and short — and then off to the reception, which turned out to be great fun. It was also a chance for me to try out the low-light shooting capabilities of my new camera gear. Between some fast lenses and the high ISO you can get from cameras these days, I was very happy with the results.

The next day, we got out relatively early and drove east into Indiana and then south down I-65. (I think every driving trip I’ve taken in this century has required a drive on I-65 in Indiana.) The sun was still up when we veered off I-65 to take highway 31 onto the Clark bridge for the river crossing into Louisville.

We checked into the Marriott Courtyard Louisville Downtown, which was very empty — I got a parking space right next to the elevator. This hotel turned out to be a lot nicer than the one we had stayed in for the wedding, with fast elevators, working plumbing, and a comfy pillow-top mattress on the bed.

For dinner, based on the recommendation of a coworker of mine, we drove back across the river for snacks at Cluckers, which turns out to be a surprisingly good place to relax on Sunday night after a long drive. It’s simple food in a laid-back environment, with a nice view of the river.

On Tuesday morning we got back onto I-65 the next morning and headed south toward Nashville. We were making good time, and so we were puzzled when Google navigation pinged to ask us if we wanted to take a route that was 4 minutes faster. That seemed odd, because hadn’t it already chosen the fastest route? Assuming it was a GPS glitch, I decided to ignore it.

A few minutes later we ran into a traffic jam and came to a complete halt. We weren’t even inching forward. We were stopped. Google Maps traffic showed the road solid red for the next half mile. It seemed likely that something bad had happened just ahead of us, but it was too far away to see what.

We had stopped just a couple of hundred yards past the off-ramp to Bethel road, and I could see a stream of cars getting off and turning left. I guess this was probably what Google would have advised us to do. As we waited, I saw a firetruck arrive on Bethel and take the on-ramp to the expressway ahead of us.

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While I waited, I got out and took a few pictures, and I surveyed the landscape between the expressway and the ramp for the exit we had just missed, trying to decide if our Acura RDX could cross it. On the one hand, the RDX is sold as a crossover vehicle and has all-wheel drive. On the other hand, it’s not really much of an SUV. On the third hand, gently sloping land isn’t exactly challenging terrain. On the fourth hand, I’ve heard that grass can be unpredictably slippery or muddy. Ultimately, I decided to just wait.

After about half an hour traffic suddenly started crawling forward. As usual, people weren’t ready for it. If you’ve never been in a large expressway standstill before, it’s surprising how fast cars get moving once the blockage is cleared. They don’t reach a very high speed, but the impulse for the transition from stopped to moving propagates backward surprisingly fast. If you’re outside your car and you notice movement ahead, you need to rush quickly if you don’t want people driving around you.

When we reached the location of the blockage, our two southbound lanes were still blocked by about five or six emergency vehicles, and we all had to squeeze by on the right shoulder. Off to the left we could see an appalling mess. It looked like a guy in a white pickup had been towing a mobile home which had somehow gone off the left edge of the highway and flipped over the guard rail into the ditch. It had broken open, spilling blankets, clothing, shoes, coolers, and a hundred other personal effects all over. There was no way to tell if anyone had been inside. I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to let anyone ride in a trailer being towed that way, but I know some people do it anyway.

We eventually reached our first real vacation destination, the Opryland hotel. I had visited the place many years ago for a tech convention, although I stayed across the street in cheaper accommodations. Then a few years later, my wife and I passed through and had a nice dinner in the Cascades restaurant. This time, we were going to stay in the hotel for a few days.

The Opryland hotel is frackin’ huge. It’s got a couple of thousand rooms divided into sections separated by enclosed, climate-controlled garden areas filled with pathways, fountains, and restaurants. It’s a beautiful place, and I highly recommend you stop in just to see it if you’re ever in the area.

On the other hand, all of the meandering gets a bit tiring after a while, and it seemed that no matter where we wanted to go, it was always a long walk to get there (top speed: mozy). Wear comfortable shoes, and ask for a map or be prepared to ask directions a lot. The paths are confusing, and the bellman told me it takes about a month to really learn your way around.

Also bring a lot of money. A giant resort hotel like Opryland has everything you need for a few days, and it’s a pain in the ass to leave the property, so they get to jack up all the prices. And although the Cascades restaurant had some really tasty dishes that might be worth the money, there’s something just wrong about the overpriced burgers at Stax. And someome should tell them that selling bottles of Diet Pepsi for $3.50 makes Baby Jesus cry.

On Tuesday night we attended a show at the Grand Ole Opry. I’m not a huge fan of country music so I didn’t know any of the acts except Rascal Flatts, but my wife knew about half of them and she had a really good time. I had a good time too. Country music is a lot more fun when it’s performed live right in front of you.

A friend recommended that we try the Old Hickory Steakhouse in the Delta area of the hotel, so that’s where we ate on our last night. It was a meal to remember. First of all, because this was our anniversary vacation, the hotel comped the entire meal, which would not have been cheap.The Caesar salad was startlingly fresh, the steak was very good, and the side dishes were all great. The oddest thing I’ll remember about our meal, however, was our waiter, Paul.

All of the staff at the Opryland Hotel have clearly had impressive amounts of customer service training, but Paul took it to the next level: He was efficient without being brusque, friendly without being intrusive, attentive without being smothering, and he seemed to be a good spirited fellow in a way that didn’t feel forced. It’s weird to say this, but I think he might be the best waiter I’ve ever had.

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That’s enough for now. I’ll wrap this up in the second half.

For the fifth year in a row, we’re planning a summer road trip. Unlike the previous four trips, we won’t be traveling to the east coast this time. Instead, we’re planning to stay a few days in each of Memphis and Nashville, and we’ll also be stopping in Louisville and St. Louis.

2015 Road Trip

Since I referred to the previous trips as the “Windypundit Coastal Dash”, I was trying to come up with a snappy name for this one. In keeping with the tone of this blog, I had pretty much settled on the “New Madrid Seismic Zone Excursion,” but since this trip is also sort of an early celebration our 25th wedding anniversary, I decided to go with something less darkly portentous.

As usual, it would be great to meet up with some friends of the blog along the way. So far I’ve managed to visit with Jennifer Abel, Jeff Gamso, Mirriam Seddiq, Norm Pattis, and Gideon, and it would be nice to meet a few more of you. So if you’re in one of the cities or on the route, let me know soon so we can plan.

(I’ve been writing a rambling travelogue for last year’s trip to the Jersey shore. Part 1 got me from Chicago to Toledo, Part 2 got me to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and Part 3 got me to New Haven, Connecticut. I’m running out of interest in writing these, but I think I have at least one more.)

I woke up the next morning and started my drive to Avalon. I decided to take the Merrit Parkway into New York City because it sounded more scenic, and I wanted to try out the GoPro camera now that I had a good memory card. This time I tried mounting it by sticking it out through the moon roof and clamping it in place with the motorized sliding panel. Unfortunately it got tilted to one side almost immediately. I can correct that in post, but there isn’t nearly enough resolution to play with in video as there is in a still image.

Here’s a sample of what I got:

I reached New York at a reasonable time of day, but that didn’t stop me from getting stuck in bad traffic. It took me a good hour to get through the bulk of the city. Maybe longer. Eventually I made it onto the Garden State Parkway. I had wanted to get some video of that, but it was raining and I was running a bit late.

My wife had flown out earlier, and she had rented a car at the airport to get around, so the plan was for her to drop it back office at the Atlantic City airport rental car return, where I would pick her up on the way to Avalon. There was some construction at the airport, and we both got confused and parked in the wrong place — she was in airport parking of some kind, and I had driven my car into the rental car return area. She eventually brought her car in, and I got a ticket from the rental agent to get our car out of the lot.

Then we drove down into south Jersey to Avalon, where our friends had rented a house for a couple of weeks.

Time for Part 3 of my rambling road trip report from last summer. Part 1 ended in Toledo, Ohio and Part 2 ended in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

I got up the next morning and took advantage of the complimentary breakfast before heading out on the road. There was some decent weather, so I pulled off the road to setup the GoPro again. This time I wedged it in place in the moonroof, and drove from one exit to the next. I discovered that it only got about 10 seconds before it stopped. I tried it a few more times, and that’s all it did: Record for about 10 seconds and stop. A little internet research at the next rest stop told me that the memory card I was using was too slow. It was only class 4 and I needed class 10.

(Why did it work the first time? I think I may have had it set to a lower resolution than full 1080. Why did Target sell it to me with a GoPro HERO3 if it won’t work? I’m not sure, but perhaps it’s good enough for the White Edition they were selling.)

I spent the rest of the afternoon driving to the Hyatt House in Shelton, Connecticut, just outside of New Haven. It’s a nice place.

I let Gideon know that I was there, and he got in touch with Norm Pattis, and they figured we should eat around 6:15 at Sally’s Apizza, although Gideon said he thought Frank Pepe’s just down the block was better.

I still needed to get a class 10 MicroSD card for my GoPro camera. I looked around for electronics and office supply stores, and there were a few in the area, but although I was sure they would have MicroSD cards, I couldn’t be sure they’d have the high-quality class 10 variant. (Calling them would probably be an exercise in frustration and perhaps being lied to.) I decided to look for professional photography stores, because pro photographers worry about things like memory card quality and transfer rate.

It turned out that I could stop at Milford Photo without adding more than a few minutes to my drive downtown. The gentleman who helped me there instantly knew exactly what I wanted, and why, and he had them in stock in several sizes. I bought a 32GB card, and while he was ringing it up we got into a discussion of whether anybody really needed all those pixels you get in modern high-end cameras. We both agreed they seemed unnecessary, except for some special cases. Having bonded over this issue, I left satisfied at maybe finally solving the GoPro problem.

By the time I got to the pizza place, Gideon had called and said something about Sally’s looking like it was closed so we should just go to Pepe’s. I parked in Pepe’s lot, all the way in back, and went to the end of the line of people waiting to get in. I started looking around to see if I could spot them.

Gideon had only given me a very brief description of himself, but I had seen pictures of Norm (although I’m bad enough with faces that that doesn’t really help). I saw a man in a suit across the street who looked like he might have the requisite pony tail. And there was a guy ahead in line who might have matched Gid’s description, but when he looked at me, he showed no signs of recognition. (My photo is on my blog, so Gid should recognize me.) Then I saw the Norm-looking guy cross the street to meet another guy coming toward us who kind of matched Gid’s self-description. I walked over and introduced myself.

I had originally planned to take some photos — with Gid’s face appropriately obscured by random objects to protect his anonymity — but never got around to it. For the record, Norm looks a lot like his photos, except in real life he’s a lot more vibrant. (His photographer does great work, so I don’t know what the problem is.) As for Gideon, he needs to remain anonymous, so I don’t want to give too much away…let’s just say that in appearance he’s somewhere between DJ Qualls and Henry Cavill.

We got back in line and went inside to get some pizza. I can’t remember the details of the conversation, but Norm and Gid spent a lot of time talking about local cases and issues, which was kind of fascinating to a legal spectator like me. The pizza was decent too. Norm had just won some sort of big case, so he picked up the tab, thus forever earning my gratitude.

(Hmm… Norm and Gid wanted to eat at different restaurants, and after some discussion we ended up eating where Gid wanted, but Norm paid. I’m not sure, but I think that means Gideon is the better lawyer.)

When I got back to my hotel, I saw some kind of fire truck and about a dozen firefighters gathered in front. I spent a minute watching from a distance — if something was happening, I wanted to stay out of the way — but they weren’t wearing turnout gear and it looked like a senior firefighter was lecturing the rest of them. I guess it was a familiarization exercise of some kind, perhaps to discuss how to fight hotel fires, or perhaps to learn their way around that building when it wasn’t on fire.

Anyway, I got back to my room a little before 9pm, and I tried to figure out what to do for the rest of the evening. At least that’s the last thing I remember before I fell asleep.

For the fourth year in a row, I’ll be making a road trip to the east coast. This time, however, I’ll be going in the opposite direction from my usual pattern: I’ll be heading down into Kentucky on the way out before going up to Avalon, New Jersey for a few days at the shore.

As usual, it would be great to meet up with some of you along the way. So far I’ve managed to visit with Jennifer Abel, Jeff Gamso, Mirriam Seddiq, Norm Pattis, and Gideon. (Yeah, that’s right, I know Gideon’s secret blogger identity!) It would be nice to meet a few more of you — or see some of you again. So if you’re interested, and you can accommodate our somewhat unpredictable driving schedule, let me know soon.

Don’t worry if you’re not on the route on the map. Our plans are still pretty loose and the map is just a rough guess — we could easily veer off hundreds of miles in any direction. On the other hand, we’ll be making it up as we go along, so it’s a little hard to say exactly what days we’ll be where. (Except for my cousin Mallory’s wedding, which we do plan to get to on time, even though we still haven’t received our invitations, but the mother of the bride promises me we’re invited. It’s a bit of a scandal, if you ask me.) We’ll have a better idea of the schedule once we’re underway.

Email me for details if you’re interested: [email protected]

Time for Part 2 of my rambling road trip report from last summer. Part 1 ended with me going to sleep outside Toledo. The next morning I woke up and hit the road: Interstate 80 eastbound. This was to be my longest drive of the trip, just over 450 miles to Scranton, Pennsylvania. With a reasonable number of stops for a break along the way, it’s not exactly grueling.

At the first stop, I decided to try out my new GoPro video camera. My wife had given it to me for Christmas, and I haven’t been able to find time to play with it. I wanted to use it to capture some of the drive, since still photos don’t really capture the experience.

So I tried setting it up and…problem: The camera reports an SD error whenever I try to start recording. That means it can’t save the video to the MicroSD memory card. I could presumably buy another MicroSD card anywhere, but was that really the problem? Or was the it the camera that was malfunctioning by being unable to access memory cards. Since I have limited time on this trip, I decided to try it both ways.

When I stopped for lunch at one of the tollway rest stops, I got on the WiFi and found out from the GoPro website that Target carries their cameras. I found a Target at the next exit and went the the camera section, where I bought both a 16GB MicroSD memory card (with adapter) and a new GoPro HERO3 White Edition camera. My plan was to try out the memory card in my current camera and if that didn’t work, open the box on the new camera and use that.

I decided to make a little headway before fooling around with it any more, but at a later rest stop I decided I’d driven far enough to take a break and try the GoPro again. The camera didn’t seem to hate the new MicroSD card, so I mounted it on the inside of the window with a suction cup, turned it on, and drove to the next rest stop, where I removed it. I was planning to take a few more test shots and look at them in the hotel.

All this time I had been driving across Ohio, and let me tell you this: Interstate 80 through Ohio is really boring. Eastern Ohio is flat and uninteresting driving, and it’s a limited-access toll road, where all the rest stops are the same.

And then there’s the road construction. It didn’t create traffic jams, but in every construction zone the official speed limit on I-80 dropped from 70 miles per hour to 55. And it seemed like everything was under construction. Just as I’d be getting into the rhythm of 70 mph traffic, we’d hit another construction zone and have to slow down, crawling along on roads designed for much higher speeds. Then I’d see those magic words “End Work Zone” and finally get to speed up again…until I hit the next construction zone. At one point, as I was passing the “End Work Zone” sign, I could already read the “Reduce Speed” sign where the next construction crew had set up.

Just past Youngstown, as it began to get darker, I caught up to the storm again — or at least I caught up to a storm of some kind — which put an end to my video experiments. (The GoPro housing is weatherproof, but that doesn’t keep raindrops from obscuring the view.) I then crossed over into Pennsylvania and spent the next next 6 hours driving on unfamiliar winding mountain roads, in the rain, surrounded by trucks. About half of it at night.

And I loved it. I’ve always enjoyed driving. I find it…not relaxing, exactly. But I like the feeling of focus that comes from a long drive. I’ll be cruising along in the right-hand lane and I’ll start to creep up on a truck, so I flip on the left turn signal, change lanes, pass it, signal again, and move back to the right. Problem solved.

A few minutes later, I’m creeping up on another truck, but a third truck is overtaking me at the same time. It looks like it will want to pass me about the same time I’m trying to pass the truck in front of me, and that won’t work on a two-lane road. I could just slow down, let the overtaking truck pass me, and then follow him around the truck in front of of us. Or I could speed up and pass the truck in front, and then let the overtaking truck pass us both. Whatever I decide, I just do it and move on.

About an hour after it gets dark, I’m rolling through the night on cruise control, on a straight piece of road, with trucks about a quarter mile ahead and behind me. I’m just enjoying the ride. Then the truck ahead of me gets my full attention as its hazard flashers come on. That would makes sense if it was coming to a stop. At night, in the rain, it’s hard to judge distance, and a following vehicle might not be able to tell if a vehicle far ahead has stopped, so truckers often do this. I now watch carefully, and I after a few seconds I can tell I’m gaining, so I begin slowing down.

Now I have to make sure the trucker behind me knows I’m stopping, so I flip on my hazard flashers, and a few seconds later I see his hazard flashers start up. And just like that, we all come to an orderly stop and then begin crawling forward slowly. After a few minutes, vehicles in front of me start merging left, and I can see lights flickering from an emergency vehicle ahead. A minute later, I pass a police car that is blocking the right lane because the storm has blown down a tree across most of it. A few seconds after that, we’re all accelerating to 65 mph again.

Winding roads, trucks, poor visibility, police cars, and fallen trees. There’s nothing complicated about any of it, nothing requiring long-term thinking. I just have to stay focused and pay attention. It’s a continual series of small problems that I can solve one after another, never looking back, never planning more than a minute or two ahead.

Eventually I arrive at my hotel in Wilkes-Barre, the Best Western Plus East Mountain Inn & Suites, which was hidden back from the road a bit. It had bell carts, so I had an easier time getting everything up to my 4th floor room. I farted around on the internet a bit — again after having to ask the front desk for the password (why don’t they just put it on a note in the room?) —  before falling asleep.

Finally, here’s a sample of the video I got while I was driving through. This was just an experiment, so there’s no real point to it, and mounting the camera inside the car leaves too much of the dashboard visible. But I need to get more experience editing, so here goes. Best viewed full-screen to see the super-wide angle from the GoPro:

It looks like I never got around to posting about last year’s summer road trip. Since it’s getting close to time for my next one, I figure I better post something. Excuse me if I ramble a bit…

I started the trip the way I always do, working through checklists of things to pack — clothes, meds, toiletries, still camera, video camera, computer — and checklists of everything I have to do before leaving — fill cat food and water bowls, vacuum, turn off all computer speakers, unplug office phone, put TV remote where cats can’t step on it, thermostat set, alarm clock off, all lights off, webcams on so we can see the cats from wherever we are.

I had hoped to get going relatively early in the day so I could make it through Chicago as quick as possible, but I didn’t get going until the afternoon traffic started to get heavy and slow, and it took about an hour and a half to reach the Skyway Bridge into Indiana.

As is my tradition, as soon as I crossed the border into Indiana, I stopped at the Gas-a-Roo to fill up on cheap gas.

My next stop was also part of my road-trip tradition: Wagner’s Ribs, about 25 miles down the road in Porter, Indiana. I met with my friends George and Rich who I used to work with back in the ’90’s.

Rich lives in Chicago’s western suburbs, and shortly after we sat down he got a call from home telling him that heavy storm had hit his area, and his house had lost power. A half hour later, he got a call saying the storm had passed. He checked the weather radar, and it showed a narrow but intense squall line passing over Chicago. Since wind speeds were about 30 miles per hour, we knew the storm would be on us in half an hour or so. Sure enough, shortly after we got the check, a sudden heavy rain started to fall and the winds picked way up. The trees outside were rocking back-and-forth in the heavy winds and Wagner’s lost power twice.

The storm blew over in half an hour, but we decided to stick around a little longer. The weather pattern was headed east at 30 miles per hour, and I would soon be headed east at 70 miles per hour, which meant I’d catch up to it before reaching the hotel if I left too soon. Since the rain had kept the dinner crowd away, nobody minded that we kept the table.

Finally, with the storm an hour or so ahead of me, I left and headed east toward my first night’s stop. Actually, I first drove to a truck stop and got some snacks for the road — more delaying — before hopping on I-80 eastbound. By continuing to make gratuitous use of rest stops, I managed to keep the storm out in front of me, only occasionally getting sprinkles on the windows before reaching my hotel, the Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham in Holland, Ohio, on the outskirts of Toledo.

It took two trips to carry all my bags into the room, which turned out to be a full extended stay suite. My room had a full kitchen, complete with full-size refrigerator, kitchen sink, microwave, electric range, and cabinets full of glassware, china, and silverware. I didn’t need any of it, but the rate had been really good.

I had brought some left over Ledo’s pizza in the cooler, and I ate some of it out of a plastic bag for a late night snack. I could have actually poured my Diet Coke into a glass and eaten left-over Ledo’s pizza on a plate, but that just seemed excessive.

I got on the hotel WiFi — only after a call to the front desk to get the password — to check my mail and surf for a bit, but I was tired from the long day, so after about an hour I just plopped down on the bed right on top of the covers and fell asleep in the nice cool room. I woke up freezing in the middle of the night and had to crawl under the covers.

Update: Part 2 is up.

My upcoming trip to the east coast is now going to include a swing through Connecticut.

My plan is to drive from Chicago to somewhere in Connecticut, work my way down the Jersey shore to Avalon, and then swing back south through Virginia and Kentucky on my way to Chicago. As usual, it would be great to meet up with some of you along the way. So far I’ve managed to visit with Jennifer Abel, Jeff Gamso, and Mirriam Seddiq on these trips, and I would love to meet a few more of you — or see some of you again.

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Our plans are only just beginning to firm up, so if you’re interested in meeting and you’ll be in the zone, just let me know and I’ll try to swing by. Don’t worry if you’re not on the route on the map — that’s just a rough guess, and I could easily veer off hundreds of miles in any direction.

Email me for details if you’re interested.

*** REPEAT: Special note to Blonde Justice: It’s not too late. If you’re in this territory, you can help me end my near decade-long obsession with your secret identity by meeting with me. I won’t share your secrets with anyone.

Once again, it’s time for my summer road trip. In just a few weeks, I’ll be driving from Chicago to the Jersey shore, and then on the return trip I’ll probably swing south through Virginia and Kentucky on my way back to Chicago.

As usual, it would be great to meet up with some of you along the way. So far I’ve managed to visit with Jennifer Abel, Jeff Gamso, and Mirriam Seddiq on these trips, and I would love to meet a few more of you — or see some of you again.

2013-Exemplar-Map

Our plans are still pretty loose, but if any of you are in the zone where I’ll be traveling, let me know and we’ll try to swing by. Don’t worry if you’re not on the route on the map — that’s just a rough guess, and I could easily veer off hundreds of miles in any direction

Email me for details if you’re interested.

*** Special note to Blonde Justice: If you’re in my travel zone, I would like to meet with you and bring to an end my near decade-long obsession with your secret identity. If you choose to reveal yourself to me — even if you don’t give me your full identity — I promise I will take your secrets to my grave.

This is the fourth and final installment of photos from last summer’s trip to the coast. (You can also see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)

When I visited with my family in eastern Kentucky, we drove up to Breaks Park, which is located in the mountains along the Kentucky/Virginia border. I got a few pictures on that trip.

To start with, we’re in the mountains, so constructing anything larger than an outhouse means hauling away some part of a hillside to make a flat spot. It wasn’t unusual to see equipment like this articulated dump truck, designed for hauling heavy loads over uneven terrain.

I don’t know what these are, but I just liked the picture.

Once we got into Breaks Park, I began trying to take pictures of the woods. It loses something in the translation to 2-D, though.

We ate at the Lodge, where I got some nice shots of my Uncle Hagan.

Then it was back to wandering the park. The most interesting shots were at an overlook into a deep valley.

I was able to find the location of this next shot on Google Maps. If you rotate the view around, you can see the platform I stood on to get some of these pictures.

And here’s a rail bridge we passed on the way back.

I’m finally getting around to posting pictures of my roadtrip from last summer. (Here are Part 1 and Part 2)

On the way from New Jersey to Kentucky I stopped in the D.C. area to meet some friends I used to work with, and then the next day my wife and I met up with Feral Genius Jennifer Abel, who’d just recently moved there.

Then we headed south to Front Royal, Virginia, which anchors the northern end of the most famous scenic route through Shenandoah National Park: Skyline Drive.

I took 129 photos, so there should be plenty of good stuff. Let’s see…hazy view of rolling hills, hazy view of rolling hills, hazy view of rolling hills, winding road, hazy view of rolling hills, hazy view of rolling hills, interesting tree, hazy view of valley, hazy view of rolling hills…

Actually, some of that haze wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill haze. When we entered the park, the ranger informed us that there was a small wildfire in one section. Protip: You get better landscape photos if you take them when the landscape isn’t on fire.

Update: Part 4 is up.

I’m finally getting around to posting pictures of my roadtrip from last summer. (Part 1 is here.)

When I went to Avalon in 2011, I was pretty disappointed in the pictures I took. I saw a lot of interesting spots filled with local color that seems a bit exotic to a Midwestern city boy like me. But I was in vacation mode and couldn’t quite bring myself go out of my way to take pictures of any of it, so I just took snapshots of whatever places I happened to be. I kept telling myself that I’d take more pictures next time.

Well, this time was next time, and I did pretty much the same thing. Still, here are a few pictures, starting with this shot of the shore at Avalon:

Just a few miles down the shore in Stone Harbor is Villa Maria By-the-Sea, a retreat for the teaching nuns of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart order.

The town of Avalon is the northernmost incorporated area of a series of barrier islands. I got a few pictures while I was driving across the lagoon between the islands and the shore.

Finally, down at the southern end is Cape May Harbor, where I had lunch at Schooner bar at the Lobster House on one of the small islands. Here’s a picture of the dock area.

That’s it. So maybe I’ll try to get better pictures next time.

Update: Part 3 is up.

I’m getting ready to start planning my next summer road trip, but I realized I never got around to posting anything about last summer’s road trip.

The trip started the same as any trip from Chicago must start: Stuck in traffic. I left home around 6pm on Friday, so I caught the tail end of the rush hour as I drove through downtown Chicago to get to Indiana. It was pretty rough going into town, but it got better on the way out.

After crossing the border into Indiana, as is my tradition, I filled up on that cheap non-Illinois, non-Cook-County, non-Chicago gas at the Gas-a-roo.

My first real stop for the evening was meeting my friends George and Rich for dinner at Wagner’s ribs in Porter, Indiana. Wagner’s does really good Chicago-style ribs. I prefer to ask for them “Tim’s Style,” which isn’t on the menu any more but they’ll still make up a batch that way if you ask. I no longer remember what it means, but they’re damned good going down.

After dinner, I drove east to the Indiana-Ohio border. My plan was to stay the night just over the border in Montpelier, Ohio, a town I had picked off the map because it seemed like the right distance.

My wife travels a lot on business, so she has certain standards for a hotel, but when I’m traveling by myself I really don’t care about the amenities, especially when I’m driving, because the only time I’m in my hotel room is when I’m asleep. So I picked the cheapest hotel that had internet, which turned out to be a mom-and-pop motel called the Plaza Motel, which was actually a little down the road in Bryan.

I had told them I’d be a little late, and they promised they’d stay up for me, but I screwed up. I left the restaurant later than I planned to, then I got lost and went a few miles out of my way, so I was running a little late. Or so I thought. I had foolishly forgotten that in driving from Chicago to Ohio I would cross into a new timezone, so I arrived almost an hour and a half later than I’d told them.

The office was dark and shut down, so I was mentally preparing to decide whether to sleep in my car or look for another hotel. That latter was looking like it might be difficult since my iPhone had locked up and gone dark about 5 minutes before I got there. However, when I approached the office I discovered that someone was still waiting up for me, and she checked me in without yelling at me, which I thought was very nice of her.

My room was in what looked like a brand-new second building (or at least it was built more recently than the main building). When I got settled in, I tried to hop on the internet, but the wi-fi asked for a password, and I wasn’t about to bother the poor woman in the office again after making her stay up for me. I eventually figured out how to get my iPhone working again and tried to get on the internet, but it only had Edge service, which might have worked but I lacked the patience to try. I went to sleep.

The next day I woke up, got some breakfast, and took a long and uneventful drive across Ohio and most of Pennsylvania, following I-80 all the way. As evening approached, I estimated that I would be stopping near Scranton, and I asked my wife to find a hotel for me. She picked out a place called the Pocono Inne Town, which had a decent rate and sounded like a nice place to rest up after a long drive.

As it turns out, Stroudsburg is a bit of a college town, and the Pocono Inne Town was the party hotel located right in the middle of downtown Stroudsburg. I could hear a ruckus from the hotel bar while I was checking in, but my room on the fourth floor was quiet enough, although not really up to the standards of the Plaza Motel I had stayed in the night before.

It was a very old building with some odd features. For example, I travel with a lot of gear which I didn’t want to leave in the car, so after getting my key I loaded up a luggage cart in the lobby and took the elevator up to my floor and followed the directions to my room, only to discover that I couldn’t take the cart all the way because there were some stairs in the middle of the hallway.

The next morning I hit the road on the final leg of my outbound trip. The drive through the mountains of eastern Pennsylvania is very beautiful, but it’s hard to find places to pull over to take a picture. But knowing I’d be posting a travelogue, I decided I’d better stop at at least one “scenic overlook” to get a few pictures. This one was pretty decent:

And here’s a panoramic view:

(My gallery plugin doesn’t present that very well, so you might just want to look directly at the image in your browser here.)

I made it through the hills and tunnels into north Jersey in time for a late lunch at someplace called the Six Brothers Diner, which had some pretty decent food.

After that, it was one long trip down the Garden State Parkway to Avalon on the Jersey Shore, where I met up with my wife (she had come out earlier with friends). We had dinner that evening at the Princeton on Ocean drive. Here’s a shot I took looking out at the street.

More to come…

Update: I almost forgot. On my trip out east I stopped in to meet Jeff Gamso and his wife. Here’s a picture of Jeff with his puppydog, looking not too much like a badass capital defense lawyer.

Update: Part 2 is up.

I’ve been exchanging email with a few people about my upcoming dash to the coast at the end of the month. I have tentative plans with a couple of people, and for a little while it looked like Jamison Koehler was going to put together a blogmeet with some other DC bloggers, but that fell through because he’s going to be out of town.

It does look like I might make it a little further north than originally planned. I had been planning to reach New Jersey by crossing the Delaware river at Philadelphia, but now it looks like I’ll be driving to Newark and taking the Garden State Parkway down past Atlantic City to Avalon, if that makes any difference to anyone.

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I used to do consulting that required the occasional trip to Picatinny Arsenal just outside of Rockaway, so I have some vague memories of the area.