Driving to Maine: Day 21

Leaving my friends and Chicago after a torrential downpour, which had left them with over three inches of rain in their balcony rain gauge in just a few hours, I programmed my phone for Cleveland, Ohio. It seemed the logical next stopping place, as it's halfway between Chicago and Elmira, in upstate New York, where my dad lives. I'd booked an Airbnb there with a nice Chinese electrical engineering doctoral student named Harlin.

It poured and poured and poured for the next two hours. I even had to turn up the Mini's wipers for the first time to the third level, which I'm glad was there. Between the trucks swerving all the hell over the place and the huge amount of water they throw in every direction, it was tough to see the road. Or stay on it, sometimes. But we managed and the rain stopped somewhere near the Indiana border.

I remember when I wrote earlier in this series that each state seemed to have its own personality and environment as I passed through it. Well, that's true out West. But out here, in "America's Heartland," they all seem the same--at least as viewed from the Interstates. Beautiful, lush farmland opening out as far as the eye can see, suddenly contracted to narrow corridors of woods-lined highway. Tons of monster power lines going up. Like monster. Check this out:

This one's in Philadelphia, but it's the same kind. They're hideous, and they're cutting down many acres of roadside forest to put them in.

This one's in Philadelphia, but it's the same kind. They're hideous, and they're cutting down many acres of roadside forest to put them in.

All the interstates are under construction. I know our infrastructure is old, insufficient, and crumbling, but boy, are they working on that around here. I'd guess that about 20 percent of my travels so far, which is close to 3,000 miles, has been on roads that are under construction in the Mid-West. Miles and miles and miles of cones, water-filled barrels, and reduced speed limit signs are currently marching across the middle of this country. Funny, I've rarely seen any guys working on the roads--just tons of evidence that they're going to be worked on.

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Oh, and tolls! Jesus, the tolls. What the hell is that all about? One thing I'm really missing about California so far is the FREEways. Because they're FREE. Well, not really. But, I mean, out here they expect you to pull off the road every 15 minutes and wait in long lines of cars and trucks to go through a little gate, where a person tells you to pay them money. I had two tolls today of $8.50, along with some smaller mordidas. I finally ran out of cash, and the lady said with a smile, "No problem, we take credit cards!" Geez, what the shit? I wasn't prepared for this. Oh, and every time you get off the highway (excuse, me: "tollway") to pee or get gas, you have to pay again to get back on! I also missed a couple toll gates in Illinois and Indiana because I had no idea what was going on. I'm sure I'll be notified of my delinquency, as there are video cameras mounted on the toll gates everywhere.

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Another thing I miss is those seals that keep gas vapors from escaping when you're putting gas in your car. That stopped back in Arizona, I think. When I filled up the Mini today in Ohio, there was just a bare nozzle. On the other hand, they have 93 octane fuel! I didn't even know that existed. The Mini requires 91, but I'm trying out the 93 to see what happens. There's seems to be quite a debate about it among Mini Cooper fans.

As the hours and the endless farm fields passed, I came to think of my run through Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio today as a trip through a magical, agricultural kingdom known as Illy-Indy-Hio. In this kingdom, every town has a water tower with the town's name on it. I kind of like that, because you can tell where you're going. It reminds me, too, of the little New Jersey towns where I grew up, like Califon and Peapack-Gladstone. Also, I'm back in the land of "W" radio stations now, like Cleveland's 90.3 WCPN, which is National Public Radio. In the West, all the radio stations start with "K," like KPIG, one of my favorites, broadcasting out of Freedom, California.

ohio farmhouse.jpg

Anyway, right when I should've been arriving at my Airbnb for the night in Cleveland, I realized that something had gone terribly awry. I don't know how in the world it could have happened, but somehow Google, that devious, spying whore, decided that my true destination for the evening was 3286 County Road 29 in Burgoon, Ohio. Yeah, Burgoon, pop. 172. I didn't know this, however, until I'd arrived at that address. I'd become suspicious, of course, when the phone started routing me to smaller and smaller roads off I-80, until I found myself parked on a one-lane, dusty road under an elm next to an old farmhouse. No one seemed to be home, nor was there any sign of life for miles around. Crickets chirped, and the spring peepers were coming out for their sunset chorus. I paused to consider the situation. How had that address gotten into my phone?

Well, wherever the stupid thing was taking me, I was only a mile away and--eternal optimist that I am--I thought it might still know something I didn't. So I followed the remaining instructions and found myself driving between fields of knee-high corn down a road that was even narrower than the one I'd been on a moment ago.

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The sign at the corner had said Smith Family Cemetery. “Hmmm,” I thought, “hunh.” Smith is my mom’s maiden name, but also one of the most common last names in the US. A few hundred yards down the road, I came to the little place and drove in. With a mix of anger and frustration--I’d been on the road 7.5 hours and was obviously not at my desired destination—I parked the Mini and got out to stretch. Aside from a few bird calls, there was no sound at all. I thought I might try to relax and listen, so I took a few deep breaths and calmed down.

My mom had had an odd experience when she went out to California one time and visited the cemetery where her grandmother was buried. She didn’t count on the size of the place, though, and was adrift until she heard an inner, “I’m over here, sweetie,” and made her way right to her aunt’s grave all the way across the property. I thought of that today as I began to walk toward some of the older-looking grave sites, but received no messages or indications to do or find anything. I finally settled on taking this photograph:

Most of these folks died in 1866-1867.

Most of these folks died in 1866-1867.

I still don't know what that was all about. I did have a brief impulse to lie down on the grass where I was squatting to take this photo, but I didn't. I'm not sure why, but I regret not doing it now. I hate when that happens.

Back at the Mini, I reprogrammed the phone to take me to my original destination in Cleveland, discovering that I'd gone almost two hours off course. I wouldn't get to my Airbnb stop until after 10. It started sprinkling.