Sunday, June 1, 2014

Road Trip 2014

The Friendly Confines
Today’s piece is about impressions. Last week I logged almost 1500 miles on a road trip that combined family matters and curiosity. We flew into Chicago, spent a few days then onto Ohio and the areas north of Columbus, then west to Indianapolis for a surprising dinner with friends, then further west to St. Louis and a town called Cuba and a wedding, then back to Chicago.

Unlike past trips to this hometown of mine (forty odd years ago) that have been during the winter, the weather this spring stay was delightful. I had a list of places to see (research for a forthcoming thriller that takes place in 1933 Chicago) and things to do. I grew up on the south side so naturally I was a White Sox fan and never attended a Cubs game. Wrigley Field is everything that nostalgic baseball fans love and for my first game they played the Yankees. The park has that ancient tangible feel and tangy taste of old timey baseball. The crowd was half Chicagoans and half zealots from around the world. I heard the twang of Indiana Hoosiers, clipped Wisconsonite and visiting Bronxese in the surrounding seats. The park is a magnate that draws true baseball fans.

I also saw more cardboards signs on the streets than past years, more people with their hands out. Maybe it was the weather, maybe it wasn’t, more than three days is needed to make a better observation. But the streets and restaurants were crowded, the neighborhoods (even after this horrendous winter) looked fresh and even though the potholes in the streets had potholes, the city looked prosperous. There was even construction going on.

Without a doubt Ohio is a beautiful state. The countryside north of Columbus that extends to Ashland is rolling farmland that has for almost two hundred years supplied corn and wheat to America. Most urbanites have never walked a newly planted cornfield where the sprouts are three inches tall in neat orderly rows that extend to the surrounding woods a half-mile away. It’s worth it. My wife’s cousin owns a farm. The corn is in the ground; the winter wheat is now a foot tall, four head of cattle he raised are being prepared for what normally happens to cattle when they reach a certain age. It is farming in all its richness and glory. It’s also wondering if the rains will let up enough so that the lower fields can be planted without losing the tractor to the axles.

The roads in Ohio were good after this past hard winter and the roads in Indiana weren’t so good. Maybe it’s the reconstruction of almost every bridge on I-70 that gave the impression or maybe it was the failing pavement. Needless to say Indiana, like Chicago, has a lot of roadwork ahead of it.

Race weekend in Indianapolis is fun. Our schedule was independent from the Indy 500, but we were lucky and found a room downtown. If there is one impression of Indianapolis I take from my almost drive-by visit is that the town gives up more of its downtown real estate to roads than any major city I have been in. Four and six lane streets grid the city’s core and with parking along the sides make crossing these boulevards difficult. There is a mix of old brick buildings and new steel and glass but more like set pieces on isolated islands surrounded by traffic. But it does stand tall on the Indiana prairie. BTW the Osteria Pronto is as fine an Italian eatery as anything in San Francisco.

St. Louis and Cuba
For some reason I thought the Mississippi River was wider. We were over it in less than a minute. Maybe it’s the bridges in the Bay Area I’ve been crossing for years where you had the time to consider the water under you. The Mississippi is most important river in America and with is contributing tributaries drains most of the United States from Pennsylvania to Colorado and north to Minnesota. We crossed it on one of its more docile days.

The Gateway Arch (designed by Eero Saarinen in 1963) will celebrate its fiftieth birthday next year. It is the tallest and most dramatic structure in the Midwest. Worth a visit when in town.

Cuba, Missouri sits on the historic U.S. Route 66, has a population of 3,356 souls and one great barbeque joint called Missouri Hick Bar-B-Q. Harry Truman once stopped in Cuba and four miles west is the world’s largest rocking chair, sadly we missed it.

But we didn’t miss my niece’s wedding that was held at a small winery near the town of Owensville. Her husband is an infantry sergeant with multiple tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, prior to the start of wedding dinner they was a touching ceremony that honored their fallen comrades on this Memorial Day weekend. Thank you Ray and your men for your service. And congratulations to Rebecca and Ray.

But I’m still not sold on Missouri wines.

Stay Tuned . . . . . . . . . . . .

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