Sorry about that, long week. To resume the narrative:
So there we were in Chicago, once again in the city with the broad shoulders and the many superlative encased meats. We got there in time for lunch, which was a pilgrimage to Gene and Jude’s Hot Dogs. Voted “the best Hog Dog in the Nation” in more than one tally, we had to get there. Luckily, the Very Clever Grandfather knew exactly where it was, since he used to go there when he worked in his father’s machine shop – Georges’ Screw Machines was just down the way. Like the Dalai Lama, I always want them to make me one with everything, and they did. Oh, yes they did.
The fries go on your dog, in your bun, all over the place. The onions, the relish, the peppers – and just a damn good hot dog. There’s a reason these things beat out – barely – Hot Doug’s Hot Dogs. Plus the fries were outstanding. After satisfying our curiosities and our tastebuds, we took a detour on the trip back and drove past the machine shop. It was sold a number of years ago, but to our surprise and delight the new owners left the old sign out in front. Pretty cool.
The following day dawned slowly, with a trip to lunch at the aforementioned Hot Doug’s Hot Dogs. The line was as brisk as the wind – a little more than a half an hour wait, around the block in the cold. By the time we made it to the front door, a glance behind us revealed that those just joining the line would wait longer than we had – always a gratifying feeling, no matter how small and shallow a person I try not to be.
Couldn’t blame them – Friday and Saturday are Duck Fat Fries day. Speaking of duck, what did I have? I had a “hot dog” – except that this hot dog was a duck and cognac sausage topped with foie gras. I also had a more regular dog, but the things that guy can do with encased meats – I have to wonder if he’s actually stolen the elder wand. No – with the fries done in duck fat, I’m sure he’s stolen the elder wand, because those are magic.
Following our excursion of gustatory delights, we wended and wobbled our way to our friends’ Myke and Marcy’s house, where we were met with warmth, joy, love, and also tequila. The Human Tape Recorder is close with their older daughter, while the Reigning Queen of Pink is close with their younger. Number One Son decided to remain close to his iPad on the couch – until he came up to find me and Myke, and discovered that my friend has a keyboard and monitor setup that most hard-core geeks only dream of. The four monitors in a square on a pole impressed him – that he could mouse through them all at once impressed him. That one of them was an Apple and the others were WIntel impressed me – I’m still not sure how he managed that bit of magic. Then he showed Number One Son his printer, and printed him a small replica of a Dalek from Dr. Who.
On the 3-D printer.
It took about 25 minutes, sure, but for Number One Son, they were life-changing minutes. Myke pulled the Dalek from the printer when it was finished, snapped off the base, and handed it him. “That’s it. You are officially the coolest person I have ever met.” I didn’t tell him, but I’ve felt the same way about Myke for a long time. Number One Son has now decided that he has to learn Java and programming, as soon as he can.
Saturday dawned, wonderfully and well, and we prepared for the party with more hot dogs. I’m kidding – wait, I’m not. Lunch at another restaurant, but it was a chain, and the dogs were so-so at best. Not going back. Dinner, now, dinner was great – the entire and extended family was in wonderful attendance. The Very Clever Grandfather put together a presentation of the first 95 years of the Queen Mother of Pink’s life in photos and presented it with military precision, interweaving music, humor, narrative, and hundreds of pictures to get the QMoP (and the rest of us) laughing her 95-yr-old butt off. You may have already drawn some conclusions about my family, but I’ll add to the mystique by telling you this: the words “banana butt” were included in the narration. With the noted military precision, the presentation concluded just as the food was brought out. The festivities even included a surprise visit from Santa! It was a surprise to all of us, since he had been in the restaurant for another gig and happened to wander in. Welcome to parties with my family.
The list of the QMoP’s great-grandchildren has grown as well; my three lunatic children have been joined by the 1-yr-old Klayton and the newly-minted Stella by starlight, and we were excited to find that there’s a player to be named later due in June. It was also fantastic to see my cousins Dan and Amy and their families – Charlie, Owen, and Cameron.
We could have danced all night, but events conspired to have us up and on the road early the next morning, and so off we went, saying our sad goodbyes to beloved kith and kinfolk close and distant, near and far, and planning already for the centennial party 5 years hence. The next morning came too early, as they always do, and we were off.
Driving to Chicago is great. Drive 6 or 7 hours, find a hotel with a pool and a bar, lather, rinse, relax, repeat. Driving home in a day, for 12 hours? Not as much fun. Why, then, would we do this? I had jury duty the next day, of course.
The Human Tape Recorder, being more dedicated than any other 14-yr-old I know, set up her command center in the back of the car, fired up my laptop with its cellular Internet connection, and worked on her homework for most of the ride. The younger two alternated between Harry Potter and Indiana Jones movies, which kept them quiet and occupied for a good while. SOBUMD and I took turns driving and staring out the window at the mist.
There’s a Football Hall of Fame, somewhere, which makes sense to me, since I know there’s a Baseball Hall of Fame. Having now been to a genuine certified Hall of Fame, albeit for Rock and Roll, I find myself more attuned to signs pointing out this or that Hall of Fame. So it was no surprise that I saw the sign, outside Notre Dame – there’s a (or probably more correctly, THE) College Football Hall of Fame there. This makes, I suppose, some sense. The Fighting Irish I’ve heard of, even if I can’t personally see a need for a hall of fame for college football. If you have to have one, though, right next to Knute Rockne’s last long pass sounds about right. (“Let’s sell some Hall of Fame tickets for the Gipper!”)
Driving through Elkhart, though, I really had to wonder, when we passed the RV/MH Hall of Fame. WTF, over? I guess I need to get out more. I can’t imagine why, what, or how a Recreational Vehicle / Motorhome Hall of Fame could be necessary. “Look, babe, this is the actual motorhome couch where Ron Jeremy first came on the scene with his acting career!” I wonder if they charge for admission.
I also noticed that Ohio was really trying to fix the color problem I mentioned in my first post. They’re naming the rivers after colors now – I don’t remember this from the trip out. We crossed both the Vermilion River and the Black River on the way out of Ohio. I’m sure there’s an Ecru Creek and a Fuchsia Run around there somewhere.
If there is any greater joy in life than driving the Pennsylvania Turnpike, it has to be driving the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the dark, in the rain. No, wait. Let’s try it in the dark, but in that not-quite-rain that pisses down in an irritating mist, waiting not so much to land on your windshield as to land on the ground, in between the construction signs, and wait for the passing trucks and other motorists to spray it up onto your windshield as they go by. This would cause you to turn on your wipers. That’s assuming your wipers weren’t making that godawful SHRONK-HONK, SHRONK-HONK noise every goddamn time you flick them on, for 3 hours. You can’t leave them on, because you’ll lose whatever remaining shred of sanity you have left, and you can’t leave them off, because you can’t see the damn road.
What you can do, though, is stop at the Summit Diner. We pulled off the Turnpike at something that approached dinner time and ate at a place so old, they had a menu item that we had to explain to the kids. “Creamed chipped beef on toast? Why is that called S.O.S.?” Haven’t seen that on a menu in a while! Neat place, good food. If you’re ever near Somerset, PA, it’s worth the stop.
If you’re us, of course, the Walmart down the street was worth the stop as well, carrying as they do windshield wipers. Now, I’m as happy to boycott Wally-world as the next guy, but at 7 pm in kinda the middle of nowhere, in the rain, with the SHRONK-HONK of my wipers getting on my one remaining nerve, I was prepared to put my conscience in the glove box and set expediency on the dashboard, right next to my plastic Jesus and my shotgun. SOBUMD ran in and came out a few minutes later with new wipers, plus a butt-cushion for my aging rear, which was an added bonus and tremendously appreciated in all quarters, particularly those of my hind. I pulled under a handy, and closed, teller window drive-through with an awning at the nearest bank, and SOBUMD worked her windshield wiper magic, removing the old ones and installing the new, despite the cold, and the rain, and the dark.
In short minutes we were back on the Turnpike, the new wipers going full speed! They sounded like this: ___. Right. Isn’t that nice? Yes. The only issue now that they were silent was that they needed to be on full speed all the time, since they weren’t at all good at actually wiping the water from the windshield. They were more like windshield damp sponges than windshield wipers. There was some discussion of brand, and installation instructions, but neither the brand nor the instructions indicated that anything should be amiss.
In about 5 minutes of hellish, wet, low-visibility Pennsylvania Turnpike driving, we hit a tunnel. “Ah,” thought I, “a brief reprieve.” I left the damn wipers on for a bit, for good measure. It was dry, somewhat, in the tunnel. It ended quickly, as tunnels will at those speeds, and as we hurtled out into the wet night, the formerly soundless new wipers ceased their silence and said, “THUMP-WHACK. THUMP-WHACK. THUMP-WHAA. THUMP. THUMP.”
I’m regrettably familiar with what a wiper blade means when it says something like that – you could call me a wiper whisperer - and so I pulled over at the nearest “don’t pull over here unless you’re going to die” spot on the side of the Turnpike. SOBUMD and I both got out and looked, and I pulled the remaining cover/guard off the left-side wiper and handed it to her. The right-side cover/guard had worked itself off just past the tunnel. The instructions didn’t mention them – they figured you could see the damn things.
Don’t install windshield wipers in the dark.
Once free of the damn plastic covers, the windshield wipers worked great. Visibility went up and noise went down until I was able to turn them off, crossing into Maryland. (It only rains on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.) From there on we made good time, pulling into our house a scant 12 hours after we’d left Chicago. The road is long, the food is good, and the Queen Mother of Pink is 95 years old.
Much love to all the wonderful family and friends who made the trip possible, and worthwhile – we’re looking forward to the next one. Hey, we’ve even got new windshield wipers!