I had planned on making it back from Illinois to Maryland in one day, as I had on my outbound trip. But, general fatigue and the god of road construction had other plans for me. In the end, I set out from Moline early afternoon on Sunday, with a goal to be midway through Ohio that evening.
I had no idea that a hunk of highway connecting Illinois to Indiana had been reduced to one miserable lane each way, adjacent to a damn toll booth. Fortunately, I was well-fortified with a large mug of caffeine from Sapp Brothers in lovely Peru. Sapp Brothers is a truck stop. That's pretty much it. A truck stop in the middle of Nowhere, Illinois. I think it's a chain, actually, but I've only ever seen the one in Peru. But I love their sign. When I'm driving down from Chicago after a flight from DC and I see their sign lit up at night, I know that it's only 90 minutes or so to home. It's my big night light. This time, though, I passed it in the bright summer afternoon.
Trapped in heavy traffic, waiting to enter Indiana, I had a lot of time to ponder. Why did these people have what appeared to be a pile of hula hoops on top of their mini-van?
Was Krazy Kaplan really that crazy?
Did Krazy Kaplan really sell enough fireworks to pay for the endless billboards strewn through the fireworks-deprived Chicagoland area in firecracker-unfriendly Illinois? Knowing Americans and our great love for things that explode, make pretty colors and loud sounds, I'm betting the answer is yes.
Of course, when traffic finally moved again, I could not resist the siren call. I stopped to check out Krazy Kaplan's fireworks emporium.
Well, just the parking lot really. That was all I needed. There's nothing like Godzilla to say, "Man, these are the best fireworks in town!"
Or, if you don't trust Godzilla, perhaps the Incredible Hulk or a gorilla is more your speed.
Or... the Tyrannosaurus rex... or the cowboy... (I couldn't get a good angle on the inflatable wizard. Yeah. An inflatable wizard. Go figure.)
I ended up stopping for the night at a little motor lodge somewhere near an amusement park in Ohio. It was midnight, I was ravenous, and the only place open was Taco Bell. Lucky me. Nothing like a Taco Bell crap meal when you're craving nourishment. I ate half my burrito in my room and watched part of some odd movie with Gary Oldman as a wish-granting half-leprechaun/half-Native American creature. No, I'm not kidding.
Side note about the motor lodge: the night clerk was a young woman wearing an enormous cross, watching a very hellfire-and-brimstone Christian revival show on basic cable. It was pretty intense - and loud. But the clerk was friendly, and she got me a good room in "the quiet building." (Away from the amusement park families, I'm guessing.) When I lugged my bag out of my car at midnight, a little SUV slammed into the handicapped spot next to me. The doors opened, with a cloud of pot smoke so thick, it amazed me that the driver could see where he was going.
I swear to god, the occupants of the SUV spilled out like an MTV freak show, complete with a Snoop Dogg wannabe, a couple of Kid Rock wannabes, and their massively high entourage, all wearing enough bling and baggy clothes to cover a video shoot. It was the clown car from hell. They would have been simply hilarious, except that, as I hauled my tired ass out of the car, one of the guys decided to ask another if he'd "hit it", poking and prodding and nodding and pointing at me with the subtlety reserved for the drunk and stoned. "Ohhhh, duuuude, no fucking way I'd hit that fat shit!" The other guy yelled, one made pig snorts, and the whole crew got a good laugh out of it.
I responded with relative calm - I was too tired to be really feisty. "Guys, tomorrow you'll likely not remember what you said about me just now, but you'll probably wonder where the hell your car is." With that, I went in and told the pious night clerk about the harassment I'd just received from the crew in the handicapped spot, with no handicapped plates or tags. She had them towed.
The next morning, I was awakened by the sound of one surprised stoner yelling in the hallway: "Duuuude, where the hell is my car?!?" Payback's a biyatch, Snoop, my man.
I hit the road for home, listening to my own music the whole way, with plans to be in my office by noon. But I should have listened to some news and weather. I had no clue that Mutha Nature the East Coast pummeling with heavy storms, bringing flash flooding, death, and road closures to the DC area.
The skies were threatening all through Ohio, and by the time I reach Pittsburgh, the skies had turned dark. I ended up pulling off the road at a small town on the edge of the Alleghenies to wait out the rain that was coming down in sheets. I noticed that, by chance, I was about 17 miles from Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece, Fallingwater. I'm a Wright freak. Love his work. I think he wasn't a very pleasant soul, and I wouldn't have wanted to spend any quality time with his arrogant self. But, he was a genius. I figured, since I was there, why not stop in and check it out. The clouds rolled back for a few minutes, and I set out down a winding country road.
I stopped here to grab a drink en route to Fallingwater. Despite the sign, which might lead you to believe they have EVERYTHING in the world, it was actually a horribly depressing and mostly empty store. There was a very thin child inside, rocking in a dusty chair. "Ma," he cried over and over again, "I'm so hungry!" Finally, Ma responded that he could have an ear of corn if he really needed food. I bought some faux Amish preserves and left, thoroughly depressed.
Just a short distance from Fallingwater, be sure to visit Jellystone Park and Wilderness Paintball. I believe Frank Lloyd Wright was a great paintball enthusiast, and he was the model for Mr. Ranger...
I passed this church sign:
Wait. What was that?
Someone call Jay Leno! It's the Cole-Miner wedding. Cole... Miner... in Pennsylvania yet. Love it.
At last, I reached the road to Fallingwater. By then, the skies had opened up again, and there was no visibility. Driving the 17 miles had taken me over an hour, so I was glad to have reached architectural nirvana.
Except for one small thing.
It was Monday.
Fallingwater is closed on Monday.
The rain on my camera lens is the closest I got to actual falling water. Crap, crap, crappity crap.
I returned to the highway and the misty Alleghenies.
Where the rain pounded down for the rest of my drive home...
By the time I hit the commuter road into Bethesda, I'd finally listened to the news. Flooding, rain, frogs from the sky... The last ten miles or so were terrifying - high water on the road (part of which had buckled), no lights, chaotic driving... Getting to my apartment from the car required a walk through a foot of fast running water, into a building with no power.
Ah yes, welcome home!
Tragically, there's still a teenager missing from the flooding that weekend.
Tree branches still litter my neighborhood.
My belongings in the basement storage room are still wet.
And I still have things in my car that I haven't unloaded from the trip. It seems like I'd just gotten back when the mess started with my eye. And now, I have the respiratory creeping crud.
I'm glad I made the trip. I'm extremely glad I made the trip before my vision was reduced. A couple of nights ago, I watched "Eureka", a new show on the Sci-Fi Channel. Without thinking about it, I reached for the phone and dialed my brother's phone number. I slammed it down before the first ring.
I hyperventilated for a minute, and then I just sat in silence.
It's going to take time. The journey was a start, but it's still going to take time.
I'm fortunate to have extended family and good friends and understanding coworkers. But I will tell you, very honestly - the past few weeks have been very challenging. It's been one of those times when I wish I had a partner to share the experience and lighten the grief. Someone who wants you to know that, no matter what, something brighter is on the horizon, and you're not alone. For, even with friends and siblings and good thoughts at work, there is still a feeling of isolation. When good words are said, everyone still goes home to their own spaces. And I'm here in the altered light of my own eyes, trying not to dial my brother's number.
And man, oh man. Do I ever miss my mom these days.
Things will get better.