Monday, July 11, 2011

And 10,000 More To Go

Greetings, faithful readers! Yes, I’m talking to all 3 of you. I come to you tonight from the parking lot of the Flying J service station in Spiceland, Indiana. For those of you who, for some reason, may be unfamiliar with the greater Spiceland area, that’s about 40 miles east of Indianapolis. My plan for today was just to get over the Indiana border, but then I decided I’d keep driving until the end of the Rachel Maddow Show (thank God for the MSNBC simulcast on XM!). As it turned out, just as she was getting to the Best New Thing in the World Today, this Flying J popped up right in front of me.

Today’s adventure seemed to have a natural division right around the Pennsylvania / West Virginia / Ohio border (Yes, I did say West Virginia. Who knew that WV was between PA and OH? So that brings the estimated total for the trip up to 21 states.).

I started off east of that PA / OH dividing line, bidding farewell to Gordo and heading out around 10am. I spent the first hour or so of the trip adjusting the air conditioning so that it effectively combated the 90 degree heat outside, without freezing my fingers onto the steering wheel.

After stopping for lunch (yes, the cooler is actually cooling), I decided to take the detour I had been considering, out to Shanksville, PA, to see the Flight 93 memorial. What I quickly learned, and what doesn’t come across on news coverage of the area, is that the infamous field is perched 2,500 feet up in the Allegheny Mountains. Passing through rolling hills, bales of hay, several cows, and at least 2 signs marking mountain summits, I was already happy with my decision to make this side trip. Regardless of what I’d find in Shanksville, this unexpected scenic drive was worth the few extra miles.

Both the Flight 93 memorial and Ground Zero in New York share the same somber tone, with visitors to both conducting themselves as they would at a funeral. I can’t imagine having the job of the park ranger stationed there, having to recount the horrific events hat took place there many times every day. I didn’t take my camera out of the car with me, because I wasn’t sure it would be appropriate, since I initially didn’t see anyone else with one. It turns out I made the right call, since an older couple there was actually a 9/11 family driving in from Cincinnati.

Despite the similar tone to Ground Zero, for me, the similarities between the two sites ended there. For me, Shanksville lacked the overpowering sense of history and memory that Ground Zero powerfully evoked. Perhaps it was because I visited Ground Zero only months after September 11, but the Flight 93 crash site really did feel like it was just a big field. That’s it. The temporary memorial that exists today prevents visitors from getting within a few hundred yards of the actual crash site, which itself has been landscaped so as to remove all evidence that it was part of this world-changing event. It almost doesn’t feel like you’re really “there.” Still, with the permanent memorial under construction and scheduled to open this fall, I’m glad I was able to see it in this form, since, in a few months, the experience of visitors today will be impossible.

So that’s the first half of the day. From Shanksville, I got back on the highway and drove on westward. I was all excited to stop and take a picture of the “Welcome to West Virginia” sign, but nature had other plans. I was also excited to test out the 70mph speed limit in that state, but, again, nature had other plans. Both of these plans happened to be wet. For all of West Virginia and the first quarter of Ohio, I maneuvered through a driving thunderstorm. Despite slowing me down, it did drop the temperature from 93 to 66, thus eliminating my frozen finger dilemma. Things cleared up as I made it into Columbus, but that must have just been the eye of the storm.

I stopped for dinner at a KFC in Dayton (I know I know a song about Dayton but I can’t remember what it is). My timing was perfect, because about 2 minutes after I sat down, 3 busloads of large athletic-looking college-looking kids poured into the place. Over the din they created, I could hear the girl working the register yell, “Lee! Throw on more crispy strips! Now!”

On my way out, the sky was ominous. I stood next to the car and watched a dozen or so bolts of lightning crash around me before deciding it was time to brave the storm en auto. Bad idea. Did you know there’s a such thing as a grey-out? You didn’t? Let me explain: That’s when the sky gets so nasty that it turns the same color as the pavement. This condition (having happened once since I invented it this afternoon), is often followed by hail and an epidemic of downed tree branches on interstate highways, even though there are no trees around. When visibility got down to 10 feet, even with high beams and super-high wiper speed, I decided it was time to pull over.

My afternoon and evening
However, the cell that created that fun spawned a whole line of storms that, one by one, descended on me and I-70. I would watch the lightning kick up to my right, and then 5 minutes later the rain would follow. Fortunately, I was able to take a side route along some real Midwestern-looking farmland, set up the tripod on the passenger seat, and get a few decent lightning pictures.

Day 1 complete. It’s funny, the title of this post isn’t all that far from the truth. Well, I only have about 8,000 miles to go, but who’s counting?

Tomorrow it’s on to St. Louis where I’ll actually get out of the car for a while, and then hopefully into Kansas before the night is through.


  1. Now I'm jealous that you have respite from the heat ( read this while lying in my 79 degree bedroom) and an opportunity to get real St Louis ribs in your future.

  2. Is the song "20,000lbs of Bananas?