Eight installments down. One to go.
Exactly one month from the day we first got in the car to drive southeast, we got back in the car to drive northwest.
A friend living in Wyoming had invited us to stop there on our way back. I was all set to accept her invitation, as in: I’d already typed the words, ‘yes, we’ll do it!’ when I realized driving straight west would add seven hours to our return trip. I could handle a seven hour detour….on the front end of the trip. But I could not handle seven extra hours in the car….on the way back.
If nothing else, our stop in Yellowstone, circa 2011, had taught me that much.
So I declined very apologetically and we set our sights on the shortest, most direct route: Minneapolis. Regina, Saskatchewan. Calgary.
We hugged our family members goodbye……and then the professor hugged me. Which I found odd, considering we were going to be spending the next three days in very close quarters. ‘I’m saying goodbye….to happy Nicola,’ he explained.
We drove away from South Haven and, somewhat apologetically, steered our old and tired van onto Highway 31. Maybe cars don’t have feelings, like fatigue, but I find myself feeling sorry for our little Sienna. Approximately 3 minutes after hitting the highway, the tire pressure light glowed orange on the dashboard. Surely, a new trip record.
We pulled off at a gas station and the professor checked something and hit a button and then we started driving again, crossing our fingers that would be the end of it.
Already at the orange alert level of despair, I decided I needed to find better-than-swill coffee to get me through Chicago. Some people have smart phones with out-of-country data plans and coffee-finding apps. I have a sister. I texted her to inquire about good-coffee possibilities in St. Joseph or New Buffalo. And, albeit with a slight time delay, she steered me to the latter town’s David’s Delicatessen. Complete with driving directions.
We bought one final Sunday edition of the New York Times, just to clutter up our filled-to-the-brim car, and a couple of coffees and climbed back in the car to navigate the maze of highways and traffic that define Chicago, past Kid-Vegas (Wisconsin Dells) to the land of 10,000 lakes.
The professor and I used to live in Minneapolis many moons ago. We made the drive through Chicago, past Madison dozens of times. And yet, on this, the first day of our trip home, in what was to become another of the mind-boggling, brainless moments that seemed to define Roadtrip 2015, we somehow missed the Madison exit and drove straight to Milwaukee instead.
As far as navigational malfunctions go, it wasn’t the worst, but when you’ve already driven six thousand some kilometers, you don’t want to drive even one unnecessary kilometer. Unless it’s for a donut or an iced coffee. And even then, it’s 50-50.
Like our meander through Kid-Vegas. Based on my memory of previous drives, I felt confident that I-90/94 was void of any easily accessed Starbucks chains. But when we got to the last Wisconsin Dells exit, we saw the telltale green and white logo on an exit sign. Naturally we veered off. Not because we like Starbucks all that much. But because it is a beacon of comfort and security; offering a momentary respite against the cruel world of asphalt and highway signs and gross fast food chains.
Except, when we got to the stop sign, the arrow pointing to Starbucks had some crucial small print underneath it: 2mi thataway. I was fully prepared to steer the car-van back onto the highway for, believe it or not, we have a fairly strict rule about only stopping at places that can be seen from the highway (unless, of course, we’re talking about a Whole Foods or something awesome.) ‘Oh, let’s just go. What’s two miles,’ the professor sighed and so, against my better judgement, we headed east. For the longest two mile drive known to man, that featured the least accessible Starbucks in the history of coffee chains. Where we sat in the drive-thru for a tears-inducing amount of time.
Though I despised my venti iced coffee, I still drank it.
Eventually, despite detours and stupid stops, we made it to Minneapolis. Driving along the curve of I-94 near ‘the U’, I thought back to my coffee-drinking, graduate school days when we had no kids and lived in a little bungalow. And I had a monthly pass at a downtown parking garage because it was the cheapest place to park my car while I was at class.
It struck me as very grown-up and light years removed from my current life, having a monthly pass at a parking garage.
Our resting place for the night was in some far western suburb, near the highway we’d be taking on our way to Saskatchewan. But first we had to acquire some provisions for our next day’s journey. And there was the matter of dinner. And ‘naturally’ this could only be remedied by stopping at the Whole Foods near Lake Calhoun.
We cut through Uptown on Hennepin Avenue, past the long-gone Blockbuster where we used to rent movies on Friday nights. So many new restaurants and coffee shops keeping company next to places we used to frequent. Like D’Amico & Sons, where the Balsamic Chicken Salad with Strawberries is still on the menu after all these years.
After the boys had eaten something that resembled real food, we headed over to Lake Calhoun to stretch our legs and feel something besides air conditioning on our skin. It was a beautiful night and people were out; walking, running, sitting at picnic tables with friends. The sun was just beginning its descent and the lake, dotted with sailboats, glowed.
Yes, I pretty much follow them around and take pictures of their backs.
Minneapolis really might be the perfect place to live, with its lakes, trees, architecture, vibrancy, and natural beauty. If you’re able to set aside the brutally cold winters. And the way too humid summers. And there’s the matter of the never-ending road construction projects. Truly it feels like something from FDR’s New Deal – are they just working on roads to create jobs for people?
Aspiring American Ninja Warriors
I could have stayed at the lake for hours. But the boys were dying to find our hotel so they could watch American Ninja Warrior. They’d discovered the show on our last night in Michigan (six years after the fact) and it had become their only topic of conversation. In the car. Running to the play structures at the lake. Jumping onto rock-hard sand from a six-foot-high ledge. The surprised look on my middle would-be warrior’s face as he hit the sand suggested he hadn’t quite thought it through.
While the boys were glued to the hotel television screen, watching insane feats of strength, I readied everything for our earliest-possible departure the next morning. I marveled at how things had changed in the seven years we’d been making the journey to the heartland, recalling some very late nights of kids screaming in hotel rooms while exhausted parents struggled to retain their sanity.
And then the professor turned off the light right in the middle of Fat Guys in the Woods. And somebody completely lost it. And I thought, ‘maybe not.’
Calgon take me away