After five entirely-too-short days at home catching up with friends, we hit the road again, heading west. The first thing we learned is that there’s a monopoly on gas when exiting the PA turnpike, and every station charges eleventy billion dollars per gallon. Once off the turnpike, we decided to take local roads for a bit to enjoy the PA change of seasons. We found ourselves at the September 11th memorial to Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA. Most people forget that there was a fourth plane on which the passengers tried to take back the flight that ultimately crashed into a field in rural PA. The memorial is still partially being built, but stumbling on it like we did reminded me that sometimes there is something to be gained by getting off the beaten path. This sort of hidden gem is exactly why we’re touring the country by car in the first place.
After 12 hours of driving, we arrived at our stop for the night just outside of South Bend, Indiana. Our long drive was rewarded with homemade chili and brownies from our hosts. This was also the night of the vice-presidential debate, which we watched and discussed with our hosts. It was really interesting to hear other people’s political views alongside stories of how this administration’s decisions have affected them, especially since we often find ourselves feeling like it makes little difference who we vote for (Don’t worry, we’ve mailed in our absentee ballots.)
As we got ready to leave, we realized that although we had planned for winter by leaving all our winter gear at Stephanie’s dad’s place (rather than in storage). We still managed to leave our winter coats, gloves and hats there when we hit the road. Oops! Unbelievably, our hosts had a spare ladies winter coat which they donated to Stephanie. That just meant we needed to find something for me. We tried some thrift stores to no avail… and so where else to shop but that bastion of American consumerism: Walmart (aka the distribution arm of the People’s Republic of China). Stephanie and I found ourselves reflecting on how much easier it is to travel in one’s own home country (as opposed to the three months we just spent in Europe), where we know how to deal with these little inconveniences.
Having never been to Indiana, we breezed through South Bend. Aside from the campus of Notre Dame, we checked out the East Race Waterway which is an artificial whitewater course through which you can kayak or raft. It was off-season when we were there, but it sure looks like fun. It’ll be on the list for next time.
Next was a brief but mandatory stop in Gary, Indiana to visit Michael Jackson’s boyhood home. (Mamase mamasa mamakusa!) It’s not far off the highway, and it’s amazing to think that such a large family lived in such a tiny house. I was boppin’ to Thriller all the way to Chicago, and then….
Traffic. Ridiculous traffic. Soul-withering traffic. Kick-a-fork-into-my-head-to-make-it-stop traffic. What should have been a 30-40 minute route around downtown ended up taking over 3 hours in Friday-afternoon rush hour traffic. Normally, this is just one of those roll-with-it situations, but we were heading to Chicago for a conference that started at 6:30, and there was no way we were going to make it. We estimated we’d miss the first session, and more than half of the second one. We were feeling super cranky, and debating whether we should even try anymore or give up on the conference and go to our host’s. Suddenly it hit us (ok, it hit Stephanie): when we crossed into Illinois, we gained an hour because Indiana does not observe daylight savings! Our faith in humanity restored, we made it to our conference only about 20 minutes late. But what was our conference about? That, dear reader, is coming in another post…