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August 24th, 2011

Originally published at Big Ugly Man Doll. Please leave any comments there.

First off, I’d like to apologize for that earthquake on Tuesday.  SOBUMD and I had been cooped up with the kids in a hotel room for several days, and there are things you just can’t do with all the kids around.  Once we got home, she looked at me and said those three words I long to hear:  “Lock the door.” 

So, yeah, after 7 days with no Hey Hey, hitting 5.8 on the Richter scale isn’t all that surprising.  (“Richter? I hardly knew her!”)  Any damages, send me a bill.  Better yet, send it to Chicago, since that’s where we were.  You see, I hate to repeat a trick, but once again… 

My cousin’s getting married in Chicago.  Game on. 

I have five cousins in Chicago, along with a host of family and friends and kinfolk and people to whom I am distantly related but can no longer quite remember how, nor even in some cases why, but regardless they’re family, and when family gets married, you show up if you can.  Mostly because they’ll feed you.  Also, weddings are like funerals, in that if you don’t go to other peoples’ weddings, they won’t come to yours. 

Since all the family came to ours, we try to go when these things come up – which, with my cousins, seems to be an annual event.  Last year, my cousin got married in Chicago.  This year, my cousin got married in Chicago.  Next year, to the surprise of no one at all, my cousin is getting married in Chicago.  After that, I’m out of unmarried cousins in Chicago.  I don’t know what we’ll do.

So, once again lured by the open road and the promise of watching young love and the start of matrimonial bliss, we succumbed to our yuppie nature, loaded up the minivan, and headed West. 

A brief interlude to discuss the weather in this narrative:  The weather was uniformly fine, barring a torrential storm that we weathered in the comfort and safety of our friends Myke and Marcy’s house in Chicago.  While there were a few clouds, they seemed embarrassed to be there, trying to hide behind one another when you looked at them.  For the purposes of our driving descriptions, you should feel free to fill in whatever weather you prefer – the skies were timid, turgid, brutal, beautiful, heavy, heavenly.  Have them as you will, I’m not writing about them further – though I’ll try to remind you where to fill them in, for those of you who require a little climate control in your narrative.

Heading out Wednesday morning, we packed bad movies, good medicine, great juju, and heavy mojo into the minichariot and wove our way westward, traveling through a webbed tent of tent caterpillars up Routes 70 and 68 en route to Columbus, Ohio.  The tent caterpillars are everywhere.  Someone needs to decide they’re the next trendy food group, so we can feed them to wealthy New Yorkers and kill them off before they eat all of western Maryland.  There’s a lot of protein out there on the road – you can tell because the McBugs keep hitting the windshield.  You can tell the McBugs from the other kinds because when you use the windshield washer fluid, they still leave a huge greasy smear all over – too much fried food in their diet.

We were headed to Columbus to see my sister Brenda and the lovely Dar as well as the newly married Courtney and Nic, since Columbus is mostly on the way to Chicago and it’s good to see people.  I spent some of the drive explaining to the three lunatic children that this was a trip to meet new family – and family is who we say they are.  Brenda is my older sister not through any chance of biology but because we decided it was so.  Courtney and Nic, just back from their honeymoon, decided to become family recently as well – weddings all over the place. 

There’s also a perspective you get while driving cross country that you miss in the air.  It introduces the kids to the American family – good, bad, and ugly, all part of our American heritage.  The family of the road, perhaps. 

Moving over the Appalachians and Alleghenies, the continental plates crumple the landscape like an accordioned auto in those car crash movies they show to scare you in driver’s ed.  The land gets gradually more folded until you realize that the long flat stretch of highway is actually a mountain road and you’re checking your brakes and eyeing the runaway truck ramps. 
 
In the middle of one of those thousands of accordion folds, in a town known as Wheeling, West Virginia, we found lunch at the Later Gator.  They seem to have three mottos: 

  • “Eat or we both starve.”
  • “Don’t make us feed you to the alligator.”
  • “Planet of the Crepes”

It was that last one that intrigued me – I don’t expect, and you can call me a fatheaded flatlander, but I just don’t expect to find a phenomenal crepe joint in Wheeling.  It was phenomenal.  They have a list of crepes as long as your arm, and they boast that many of the ingredients are purchased or harvested daily.  I believe them.  Now I’m the last one to admit I didn’t expect high-end crepes in the middle of Wheeling, or if not absolutely the last one, I admitted it as recently as just right there.  I was surprised; my flabbers were gasted.  This place is crepe-tastic, and you must go if you’re within hailing distance of Wheeling.   I had a savory pesto mushroom something with chicken crepe that would have made a less sober man weep.  (Alas, I was driving, or I might have wept.)  Plus they had decent music; they were playing Katy Perry’s Last Friday Night.  If you’re ever within shooting distance of Wheeling, stop in at the Later Gator.  Or you’ll both starve.  But all good things must end, including lunch, and we pressed on.   

We left the Later Gator in Wheeling, West Virginia, and crossed into Ohio.  Drive for long enough and it starts to seem that you’re holding perfectly still, and the world is simply rotating under your wheels as you remain in place. 

Nature's Panoply of Paintbrushes

Nature's Panoply of Paintbrushes

As I pressed down on the gas, the road moved underneath me to show off more and more and then more again of the colors of summer, greens and shades of greens and dusky brown earth tones and bright blue cornflowers and tiny fields of grasses in the medians of the highways that by themselves are simply grass, but together with a thousand others like themselves cause the strip to wave with a deep pink that looks airbrushed on the field.  There were birds, there were bees, there were flowers and trees, and there were more McBugs on my windshield than a hurricane could wash off.  We turned on the radio to Katy Parry singing about Last Friday Night and let the miles slip away, making for the outskirts of Columbus and a whirlwind tour of the suburbs. 

Having less than 16 hours to enjoy the company of two sets of dear friends, we introduced them all to each other by meeting for dinner at BJ’s Brewery, where I sat next to a nutty brunette who drank Nutty Brewnette.  I tried one and let the Human Tape Recorder try some; she liked it more than I did.  They have a Porter that has some good things going for it, and the food was good, but I didn’t notice most of this because the conversation was so lively and fun that 2 hours or more went by in only a few short minutes.  Time does fly when you’re having fun, and it flies even faster when you’re having dinner with good friends and new family. 

Thursday dawned too soon, and I mean that literally since Number One Son woke me up before 0600.  We said our fond farewells to Dar and headed out for a brief if cardiac-inducing breakfast with Brenda, and once again hit the open road.  The weather was just like you imagine it to have been.

Tomorrow:  Chicago or bust!



Yep, looks like another post from the Big, Ugly Man Doll!