Thursday, August 03, 2006

The road taken

I may never take the interstate highway system again.

I arrived in the Berkshires last night after a two-day drive from Minnesota, learning a lot about what's off the beaten path along the way. OK, so U.S. 20 isn't exactly off the beaten path. In fact, before Mr. Eisenhower built the interstate highway system, it was the beaten path. But it's still full of riches that are robbed from you when you travel, say, I-94 or I-90.

This was actually a tale of two days. On the first day, I took U.S. 61 down along the Mississippi, stopping for breakfast at the Eagle Cafe in Wabasha, where several men were sitting at the counter, talking about "guy" things, I guess: how bad the guy who just left the cafe looks, how little business there is this summer for some guy who's in business, how much foxweed is in the yard this year.

Where Highway 61 crosses into Wisconsin, there is a detour for about 8 miles onto back roads and I couldn't wipe the smile off my face if I wanted to. Around every turn there was another reward, usually a perfect looking barn set against perfect wild flowers. Though the trip was already taking longer than my fellow travelers on I-94, I was seeing something interesting; they weren't.

I made it to Dubuque, fulfilling a long-standing desire to set foot -- or at least four tires -- in Iowa. I stayed only long enough to get on U.S. 20 for the trip East, and about 10 miles into Illinois, discovered what I'm betting is the most adorable town I think I've ever been too.

Galenia, Illinois was once the kind of lead mining and I guess everybody made a buck or three who lived there, because they all built gorgeous Victorian homes in a setting that is straight out of Meet Me in St. Louis. Ulysses S. Grant lived here long enough to work for his father's general store, then went off to war, became a hero, and came home to one of these fine homes, which his neighbors purchased for him.

You know, you can't get neighbors like that anymore.

I stayed on 20 through Chicago, and the South Side of Chicago and found myself passing several spots on the way and thinking, "I should stop." And I should have except that we don't realize how "getthereitis" infects us. I'd made a reservation at a motel in Elkhart, Indiana and I probably shouldn't have. This was supposed to be a trip where I could stop if I wanted to, when I wanted. And I stopped a lot, but nowhere near as I often as I could or should have.

It was well after dark that I made it to Elkhart and I was back on the road the next morning at 8 a.m. (7 if you consider the lost hour of Eastern Time). U.S. 20 was lovely, passing through a delightful Amish community or two, and by a small airport with a lonely Cessna 172 out front.

Again, I thought, "I should stop and go flying with someone for an hour" over the fields of Indiana. But didn't. I thought maybe I could get to the Berkshires, where my wife was, by nightfall. Next time I plan an extra day.

I stopped in Cleveland to visit mecca, a.k.a Jacob's Field, bought some Cleveland Indians junk, and in the process passed the headquarters of the United Church of Christ, where an old friend of mine (from the Berkshires oddly enough) works. No parking spot presented itself, so I kept on driving. Could've and, yeah, should've.

In looking for U.S. 20, I picked up I-90 and decided I was now sufficiently behind schedule so I would stay on it through the incredibly boring ride through Pennsylvania and New York, another 9 hours.

You can't see anything when you drive the interstate because your focus is on the traffic in front of you and behind you. Constantly. It's exhausting.

But the Berkshires today are beautiful as the Berkshires usually are.

On the way back, I'm taking 20 until I find an even more interesting road.


fasolamatt said...

Get off the Thruway just west of Ripley, PA, and follow US 20 through Erie, Conneaut, Ashtabula, Painesville, Mentor, Euclid and into Cleveland. You'll pass settlements by Finnish-Americans in Ashtabula, Mormons in Painesville, a couple of monuments to President Garfield, Case Western Reserve University, and Severance Hall, home of the Cleveland Orchestra, before going through the Cleveland Clinic campus on your way back to Mecca. Oh, and when you cross SOM Center Road, and wonder what it means? Solon-Orange-Mayfield. cheers! fasolamatt

Bob Collins said...

You know, it's funny because my father was from Ashtabula and I have a lot of family history there. My uncle was a conductor on the old Nickel Plate Railroad and there's even a Collins Avenue somewhere in Ashtabula as my grandfather was the city planner there for something like 50 years. So it's an area I would like to explore, especially since 20 goes up close to the lake. I will make it a point to take the road back.