WestOn20 continues

(This is part two of a two-parter. Here is part one. I should probably mention before I go on that Jim is fine, got a good diagnosis and is back in shape)

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Day Six – Gary IN to Chicago

We were headed to a meetup in Chicago that wasn’t until 4 pm so Kate and I headed to Miller Beach which was walking distance from our place while Jim slept some more. It was so nice, and just a few minutes from our door. Lots of people and dogs, it reminded me of being in Massachusetts only it was a giant lake and not the ocean. We grabbed Jim and headed out just as the neighborhood was starting to FILL UP with people. Apparently there was an air show happening that afternoon and we scooted out just in time. On our way out we hit the Farmer’s Market which was small and great and we got some exceptional tacos and street corn and other knicknacks including the saltiest string cheese in the world (sorry beardo cheesemonger, you were nice but your cheese was awful)

We had a short drive but then an unreasonable amount of time finding parking in downtown Chicago (surprise!) and we eventually took a cab to the park where we met up with a bunch of MetaFilter people and then had a long lazy meetup for the rest of the day from about 4 pm til about 1 am. Along the way we went to

– The dancing thing in the park which was featuring Romanian music
– Seeing the Chicago Fountain do its thing
– Getting food at a riverside winery and having a great time swapping stories. At this point we said goodbye to Jim who headed off to the airport to fly home. You can see his photos here.
– Going to the bar in the Hancock Tower which has an unbelievable view including from the women’s restroom
– Retiring to our host’s house (Eamon and Kay Daly, you are the greatest) and having cocktails. I slept in a room called the Murder Room for reasons I can’t remember. It was just fine.

Day Seven – Chicago to Zwingle IA

We made these reservations partway into the trip and I can’t quite remember when. We wanted to stay in Iowa and once you get West of Dubuque your AirBnB options for renting a whole house drop to zero. We found Ginny who has a house with two bedrooms to rent and made a deal with her. Zwingle is a town of 91 people and we figured it would basically be our turnaround point. The drive there included a detour into Wisconsin (literally 50 feet into Wisconsin) and then an evening in Dubuque.

This was when we found out about this Pok√©mon thing. We went out to see the Shot Tower, like any good nerds, and were surprised that it was so busy. People all over the place taking photos and braving the zillion degree heat. Turns out it was the new craze, just a few days old. We got to Ginny’s and sat around and chatted about what it was like to live in a town that small when you’re related to most of the people there. She lived in a house she and her ex-husband had built across the street from the one room schoolhouse where her older siblings had gone. She was born in the 60s and had gone to the consolidated school. The one room schoolhouse had been across the street and shuttered basically since then.

She also had a few horses, two cats, and a dog and we went out with her while she fed them and said hello to everyone. One of the things I often get while visiting friends that I miss while traveling is getting to interact with pets. Our rooms were nice and comfortable even though Jesus was watching me sleep.

Day Eight – Zwingle IA to Michigan City IN

We decided to make it just a bit farther to go to the Field of Dreams after a quick stop at the Zwingle post office where people asked us where we were from. I had never seen the movie but managed to understand a lot of it through osmosis. It was pretty close to where we were so we checked it out. I think the main approach was from the other direction because we drove over a lot of dirt roads to get there. Totally worth the drive. Baseball field, corn, house, coke machine, souvenir stand and a lot of kids playing baseball. At this point we said goodbye to Route 20 and looked for the quickest route back. Which was a challenge since Kate and I each had GPSes with slightly different settings. We told mine to head for Stow MA and it was still planning a route 15 minutes later. We decided to point vaguely East and got going.

The rest of the day’s travel was mostly just putting miles on the road. We had no destination planned so we stopped for dinner at a themey gas station place that promised (and delivered) poutine and then took some back roads to wind up back in Michigan City! We figured we’d just figure out where the general motels were and pick one but the first one we stopped at was cute on the outside and super sketchy on the inside. I am usually not someone who would consider a place” too sketchy” but this one was. Poorly functioning AC units, a lot of weird smells, a lot of people already making a lot of noise at 10 pm or whenever we were there. We held out til we got to another motel, The Travel Inn, which was actually two motels right next to each other. We looked at rooms in both and, for whatever reason, I figured I’d rather stay in the For Sale A B C Motel that was next door to the slightly-higher-functioning motel next door (the same woman ran both of them and was happy to give us rooms further from the road which meant in the second motel).

However we did decide that this was the last night we’d leave the decision about lodgings til after dinner. I settled in to my room and decided to find an AirBnB for the next night that offered instant booking and we found one in Pennsylvania. Neither of us slept that great (mostly just too tired from the trip, the room was decent) and so got up early and got on the road the next day.

Day Nine – Michigan City to Barkeyville PA

This was the day we drove through Randolph Ohio! We made a reservation in what seemed to be a manufactured home in Barkeyville PA, a booming metropolis of 300+ people. I enjoy taking risks so reserved it based on the one short review (usually I’m a “look for a lot of reviews” person). The owner was a new host and seemed friendly, so we figured what the heck. We had a totally decent lunch at a place called American Table which is a midwestern Denny’s. This would have been my Waffle House chance but we didn’t see any and we were really trying to avoid fast food (which we did). The drive was nondescript and I’m not even 100% sure where we went, though we spent a while on Route 30 (which was lovely) because we were trying to avoid big city traffic. We also went through Upper Sandusky Ohio which is south, by a fair distance, of regular Sandusky.

We did stop at Cooper’s Cider Mill in Bucyrus Ohio and had a lot of sample cider donuts. Kate really wanted a donut on this trip and so we loaded up on those and other road food. At some point in the day we drove through Randolph Ohio which is now at least the third Randolph I have been in this month (after MA and VT). It had a cute fire station. We listened to a lot of the QI podcasts and the playlists Jim made for his old clickwheel iPod which he had left with us. As we approached the town we realized our food options might be limited. However we found a good Chinese place and got takeout so we could get to the place and eat.

Which isn’t quite what happened but for every good reason. Our host was charming, super friendly and nerdy and we wound up talking with him for nearly 45 minutes about the history of the town which was where he’d grow up. He told us about the constable who lived across the street who walks his dog without a shirt. And he told us a story about “Murdering Bill” which I don’t quite remember but it was clear that he was no sort of threat. The house had belonged to our host’s parents and he was now renting it out. We gave him a ton of AirBnB advice including “Charge more!” and “Tell people this isn’t in a mobile home park!” which he enjoyed. I was so tired I forgot to take a picture of my room but I did get one of the bathtub in the en suite and the lightup tree in the living room. When we finally ate that Chinese food it was the best we ever had.

I just peeked at his listing and he’s taken some of our advice and I see our hashtag on his chalkboard.

Day Ten – Barkeyville PA to home

This day was just highways, notable because we went to a great diner in upstate New York and because I realized that we’d be driving with a few miles of my friend and Archive colleague Jason. Kate is always up for meeting new people on a lark and so we stopped by there as our last official non-food stop of the trip. Wrapped up the evening at a diner in Elizaville NY where we had decent food and just-out-of-the-oven rice pudding.

The last push was a slog since it was just on the Mass Pike and we were tired and it was late and hot, but we made it to Kate’s before midnight. The next day I headed to Vermont to say hi to folks I’d been missing and did a quick tagging in with folks before heading back down to MA.

We’ve been thinking about what we’d do differently next time and besides lining up rooms in advance and possibly going the other direction to NOT be driving in to the sun 6-8 hours per day, we couldn’t think of many ways to improve things. Stay at a llama farm. Go to a Waffle House. Small things really. It was a good trip.

What do you think?


  1. Re: the Upper Sandusky thing. This is my favorite example showing that “North” and “Up” are not the same thing. The Sandusky River flows North towards Lake Erie, and Upper Sandusky is near the river’s source – hence, up-river from, and at a higher altitude than, Lower Sandusky, which is closer to where the river empties into the foot of Sandusky Bay and is now called Fremont (which is also the county seat of Sandusky County).

    All of this, by the way, is separate from regular Sandusky, which is at the mouth of Sandusky Bay, and is the county seat of Erie County. Ohio!