Sunday, July 27, 2014

July 2014: Road Trips

On June 26, our first grandchild, Aris Gabriel, was born.  We were absolutely delighted.  We absolutely had to get to DC.
      Upon getting the news that his birth was imminent we began looking for flights to Washington DC.  Yikes!  Sticker shock! The prices were outrageous.  They were at least double what we were spending the last time we flew to DC.  Of course, we were buying the tickets the day before we were leaving and planning to head to DC during the most busy tourist times of the year:  the 4th of July.  Still, it was shocking.  This was not an isolated sticker shock.  We have noticed over the past year in any of the air travel we were planning.
     In the post Great Recession world, there have been many changes.  One of them has been the increase in airfares due to a number of factors.  First and foremost, the airlines have consolidated.  The three main carriers in the US are American, United, and Delta.  All airlines have trimmed their fleets and routes, taxes have increased, and jet fuel is at an all-time high.  It used to be useful to check several different airlines and travel sites to find the best deals.  The market has become more efficient in terms of pricing and all the various travel websites reporting the same prices per airline per route.  Even with these higher fares, the planes are all full.  The pricing clearly reflects the supply and demand.
      As a result of not being able to find reasonable airfares, we decided to drive to Washington DC to welcome Aris Gabriel to this world.  It was 728 miles each way and it took about twelve hours with two stops for gas, food, and to wash our hands.  Except maybe taking our children from Connecticut to South Bend and Ann Arbor for school, we have not regularly made car trips of these kinds of distances.  We flew.  But, times have changed and such road trips may become more the norm than the exception.
     We drove south through Chicago and into Indiana where we caught I-80.  We took I-80 east across Indiana and Ohio.  We then took a right turn onto I-76 just before entering Pennsylvania.  We proceeded into Maryland and into DC.  We left on June 26th and returned on July 6th.  The weather was good and scenery was very nice especially in Pennsylvania.  Surprisingly, there was minimal road construction and the traffic was moderate.
     When I was a kid, there was never a question of fly or drive.  The answer was always to drive.  With a family of six, it was simply more economical.  We used to travel every year from Detroit to Watertown, MA to visit my paternal grandmother.  We never went to Boston, we always went to Watertown.  We would go through Canada taking the 401 to the QEW.  We would connect to the New York Thruway and then the Massachusetts Turnpike into Boston.  On those trips, I used to read the signs and see all the various places we could stop and see interesting things none of which come to mind as I write this except Niagara Falls.  I never thought to ask because my Dad was not one for stopping, he wanted to push and get there.  Mom packed food for the trip so we never bought anything at the rest stops.  I always took note of all the touristic tchotchkes that we never bought.  We travelled according to our budget and our means.
     When I first became a business road warrior, I always bought these tchotchkes back.  I bought them because they were fun.  I bought them because I could easily afford what we couldn’t back in the day.  I bought bottle openers, refrigerator magnets, miniature hour glasses, key chains, and other useless things for our kids or the kitchen.  After a while, as travel became a routine, and I stopped doing that due to a combination of getting buying that silly stuff out of my system and realizing that we did not really need any more bottle opener, egg timers which we never used, and refrigerator magnets which we used all the time.  My travel purchases moved upscale to more memorable, meaningful, and less frequent gifts.  
     In business travel, I liked to visit attractions when time allowed.  I could not do everything I wanted usually due to wanted to get back to the family.  I do recall some memorable weekends in Brussels, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Costa Rica, Lima, and Guatemala to name a few.  My friends and colleagues took me around and showed me some wonderful sights in these countries.  
     This car trip to DC was kind of a throwback.  It was also a study in what was the same and what has changed.  We stopped in four different places:  Indiana, Ohio, and twice in Pennsylvania.  The stops in Indiana and Ohio were rest stops on the toll roads.  In Pennsylvania, we exited the Interstate to stop at those chain gas station mini-department store complexes that are all over the place these days.  In the old days, any gas station we exited the expressway to refuel sold only gasoline, oil, and a few other automotive products.  Maybe they had a gumball machine.  Now, at these department stores, you can purchase groceries, ready to go food offerings that boggle the mind, a full ultra-casual wardrobe, tchotchkes galore, and a full array of automotive parts and accessories.   One place we stopped at have a massive array of jackknives, LED flashlights, hot dogs, pizza, a Subway store within the store, seventeen different varieties of coffee, cell phones, cell phone holders, cell phone chargers, cell phone cases, and clothing from hats to boots and everything in between.  Not surprisingly, every single offering in the place excluding food and automotive parts could be bought in camouflage.  
      The rest stops had the look and feel of the older rest stops and plazas.  One big difference is that the toll road, turnpike, and thruway authorities smartened up in the 1970s and leased out the food service to name brand fast food restaurants.  That was a wise move both for the states and the consumers.  More recently than that the more frequently visited toll road and turnpike rest stops have gone to the food court concept. 

Should have gotten a brochure for the RV/MH
Hall of Fame
The rest stops still had the racks for brochures for all the local touristic places.  These racks are in hotels and rest stops everywhere.  I have seen people browse, but I am not sure if I have ever seen anyone take a brochure with them.
     Back in the day, gas was much less.  We drove cars that took leaded regular gas.  Regular gas was in the 20 - 30 cent range.  Wherever we stopped, they would pump the gas, check the oil, and was the windows for us.  Now, the car we took on this trip, required premium gas.  Every gallon of gas we bought was over $4 per gallon.  In DC proper, I saw one station that was charging $4.99 a gallon.  Needless to say, we did not buy gas there.  We have been hearing about $5 per gallon gasoline for the past few years.  It may really happen this year.  Even at these prices our out of pocket travel costs were a fourth of what two round trip tickets would have cost.  This did not include the extra miles on our car would cost us.
      There are certainly all kinds of movie and sitcom skits and jokes about the various odd roadside attractions in these United States.  There is Carhenge in Nebraska, the largest ball of twine in Kansas, a giant turtle made of car rims in North Dakota, and many others.  There were a few in Detroit that I had actually seen including the Giant Uniroyal Tire and the Giant Stove at the State Fairgrounds.  There are three sites in Illinois, one in a town just a few miles away from my home, which I have not seen.  There is a Giant Bottle of Catsup in Collinsville.  The town of Griggsville has a natural and pesky mosquito problem due to its marshy surroundings.  The town built the largest Purple Martin house to attract these birds that can eat two thousand mosquitoes a day.  In Niles, the town close to me, they have a half scale Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Why most of these attractions start with “The World’s Largest” or “Giant” is, I suppose, to attract people to the venue.
      We have never really stopped at these places.  I joke about it with my wife and the kids when they were with us, but truth be told, we didn’t ever really have time to make a long car ride longer by stopping to the Largest Frying Pan in the world.  We used to drive by all kinds or serious tourist attractions too.  I would have loved to visit Presidential Libraries on our travels.  The only one I ever visited however was the Truman Museum and Library in Independence, MO.  I found it quite interesting and thought to visit as many as I could.  That was in the 1980s, and I yet to visit another.  We did visit the Lincoln home in Springfield, IL.  When we lived in CT, I meant to visit the Franklin Roosevelt Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY.  It was on 63 miles away… never made it.  I did visit Yale University a few times.  I loved it there.  Because of my fascination with all things nuclear, I wanted to visit the USS Nautilus and Museum in Groton, CT.  When we finally went, the Nautilus was under upkeep and not available for tours.  
      Since our children married, we have taken a few side trips on our way to Detroit.  We always wanted to stop at the famous century old Win Schuler’s Restaurant in Marshall, MI.  As most of our trips were for weekend visits, football games, or particular family events, we seemed to be on a tight schedule.  We finally dined there a few summers ago.  In that same summer, we also visited the Amish town of Shipshewana, IN.  Maybe stopping to smell the roses or to see the Giant Catsup Bottle is something older folks due when their schedules are freer than they once were.  
      On this recent trip to Washington, we passed something that I had not seen before on the Indiana Toll Road:  the RV/MH Hall of Fame.  Really, there is a hall of fame and museum just for recreational vehicles and mobile homes?  Yes there is.  The reason I never noticed it before is because it was founded in 2013.  It is brand spanking new and I have to admit that I had no interest at all in exiting the Toll Road for a quick tour.  Not surprisingly, a Google search revealed their website.  It seems to be a serious place and they have an impressive collection of vintage RVs and mobile homes.  Clicking through the virtual tour was interesting, but really it was all the RV/MH history I would ever need.  This is one roadside attraction I will easily be able to drive right on by.

Shoe Shine Machine... really?
I saw something in one of the rest stops that I have not seen in a long time.  It was a shoe shine machine.  It looked vintage and well worn.  The cost was $1.  I wondered how many people used it these days.  People dress so casual, especially all the folks I saw in the rest stop, that very few people wore the kind of footwear that required polishing.  We also saw one of those machines that flatten out pennies into copper ovals embossed with words and logos of whatever tourist site you were at.  Normally these machines, called Penny Press Machines, cost 51 cents.  The machine keeps the quarters and you get the smashed and embossed penny back.  I got one of these from the NY Thruway years ago, drilled a hole in it, and had it on my keychain for at least ten years.

Penny Press with Pay Phone
A week after this “go see the new grandson” trip,” I had the occasion to go on another kind of classic road trip.  Our band drove from Chicago to Belleville, IL (think St. Louis) to provide listening and dancing music for the annual church dinner of the Holy Virgin Mary and Shoghagat Armenian Church.  As there are five of us and we have a lot of equipment, we load up a minivan and an SUV and make the five hour drive.  We listen to music.  We call other musician friends.  We stop for coffee, food, and bio-breaks.  We reminisce, exaggerate, and laugh a lot.  Oh, that is on the way down.  Being kind of tired after the gig, late hours, and perhaps a libation or two, we are more subdued on the longer trip home the next day.  Needless to say, there is no touristic stops on these kinds of band road trips.  It is all about getting there one day and all about getting home the next.
      Wanting to see the World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina, we got up early on Sunday morning and hit the road.  Coffee and some kind of bready, doughy, breakfast was an absolute necessity for all.  For some reason, I am going to call it fate, GPS took us on side roads longer than we thought it should have before getting on the Interstate.  We saw a Krispy Kreme Donut store and knew that is where we getting coffee and “breakfast.”  GPS guided us another few miles north on whatever road we were on before having us turn right on the road that would take us to the Interstate.  I used the word fate because shortly after making that right, we saw the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle.  Cool.  Check that off of the list.

1 comment:

  1. Seems that the Giant Catsup Bottle is for sale.
    Look who is interested in buying it.