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The Road Home

Champaign, and back to Pennsylvania

sunny 85 °F
View Roadtrop on mormolyke's travel map.

We had one more friend to visit before we steered the Magnum back to our home state: Craig Cohen, whom I first met when both of us were working at a PBS/NPR affiliate in Harrisburg (sadly, the quality of that station and its adherence to its mission went down the tube eventually at the behest of its plutocratic masters, and nearly everyone I used to work with has been driven off by bad management). Craig stayed with us in Philadelphia a couple of times before he moved to Illinois, and it was finally time for us to return the visit and have him show us around his new/old hometown, Champaign. ("New/old" because he used to live there years ago, and has recently returned.)

Matt was excited to come to Champaign for this:

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That historical marker reads:

WEB BROWSER
Mosaic, the first popular graphical browser for the World Wide Web, was created by Marc L. Andreessen and Eric J. Bina at the National Center for Super-Computing Applications (NCSA). Upon its 1993 release to the public, Mosaic gave internet users easy access to multimedia sources of information. Web browsers have transformed the exchange of information.

A chain of causes and effects stemming from the event memorialized by that plaque led to our marriage, our careers, and this blog. History!

We also went to a brewpub called Destihl (I'm pretty sure that was the one) where we gorged ourselves on the best heart-attack-triggering food the Midwest has to offer, including fried cheese curds (again), potato croquettes, and beer-battered bacon. Yes, if you thought bacon was bad for you by itself, imagine it coated in batter, fried until it's crispy but juicy on the inside, and piled high on a plate *drooooool* *gains five pounds*

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We ended the evening by catching the Alien prequel Prometheus on opening night. We love going to cinemas outside of Philly; the theaters back home are notorious for not only horrible conditions and rude employees, but patrons who shoot people (and/or talk constantly). Craig wasn't too sold on the film, but despite its flaws, Matt and I were pretty into it. What can I say; I am a big fan of female-driven scifi. Plus it dropped allusions like the second Matrix movie, which is always fun (so long as the next installment isn't as terrible as the third Matrix movie).

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June 9. Day 34 of 35. It was strange to take our leave of Craig and Illinois that bright morning knowing that the next day we would be home, after some long, uneventful driving through ever more familiar landscapes. That night we bedded down at a motel fit for Scully and Mulder called Twin Pines in St. Clairsville, Ohio, and the next day, after a quick dip into West Virginia, we crossed the border into Pennsylvania while I belted out "Take Me Home, Country Roads" in the passenger seat with my mandolin.

We had two planned stops before we made it to Philly, though we ended up making three. The first had been on our to-do list for years: Fallingwater, the famous Frank Lloyd Wright house built over a waterfall south of Pittsburgh. We weren't allowed to take pictures on the interior tour, though it goes without saying that it was gorgeously designed, filled with eye-popping works of art, and I would kill to live in a house like that. The gift shop was amusingly sprinkled with Ayn Rand novels and related items.

FLICKR SET: Roadtrop: Fallingwater
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Our schedule had us heading straight across the state from Fallingwater to Centralia, but on the way, we realized we were in Somerset County, and soon, we began to see highway signs for the Flight 93 Memorial. Our first Google search for an address led us to the administrative office in a shopping mall, but we soon figured out how to reach the crash site. The 9/11 cliché is "Never forget," but it's hard to imagine how anyone who was old enough to understand what was happening that day could ever forget it. At the moment Flight 93 went down, Matt and I were on different continents, sending instant messages to each other on ICQ about how he was probably safe from the unfolding terror, being located in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania (York). Matt actually volunteered across the river from Ground Zero in Manhattan soon afterward, and the memory still chokes him up when he talks about it. I visited Ground Zero myself seven months later and remember the thick blanket of quiet that still surrounded the block, as though snow had just fallen; when the occasional car horn or burst of oblivious laughter penetrated the fog, passersby seemed to turn slowly to look in admonishment, and all sounds became muted again. So visiting this crash site, which is still in the process of being completed, was a similarly sobering experience. Several of the 44 white slabs of marble erected to honor the 44 passengers and crewmembers have short chiseled epitaphs under the black-enameled names. The epitaphs are so subtle that they don't show up in press photos, and it's difficult to read them until you are right next to the slabs: things like "flight crew," "co-pilot," a Japanese name spelled in Kanji, and most heart-wrenchingly, the words "and unborn child" under one woman's name. All I could think about when I saw that slab was how impossible it must be for the father of that almost-child, if he's alive, to visit this place without going mad.

FLICKR SET: Roadtrop: Flight 93 Memorial
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It was time for our very last stop. Honestly, when I first planned the trip, I wasn't sure if we were going to make it to Centralia; I figured we'd be burnt out and want to get home faster, but we had the energy after all. Unfortunately, Centralia was nothing like the deserted wasteland I'd imagined and which it's frequently portrayed as in news articles. For a start, there appeared to be more than six people living there. We saw many residents in the front yards of their houses, which made me feel a bit uncomfortable about being a snoopy tourist. Second, there were no glowing cracks in the ground spouting smoke, and the environment is pretty verdant for an area that is supposed to be quietly smouldering from below. Any eeriness in the atmosphere was dissipated by the constant whine of ATV's and hunters' irregular shotgun blasts. Yes, there were some streets that were no longer being maintained, and the wilderness was quickly reclaiming them. But it was no Silent Hill.

We took the opportunity to take some new headshots of me with my crazy silver hair, since I look nothing like any of the shots I have currently.

FLICKR SET: Roadtrop: Centralia
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And then we were done. Two hours later, we were home in Philly where the stars don't shine, kissing our cats and saying thank-yous to our house-sitter, composer Tony Solitro.

35 days.
9877 miles.
Over 175 hours at the wheel.

Over and out.

Posted by mormolyke 00:51 Archived in USA Tagged west_virginia ohio fallingwater pennsylvania illinois champaign flight_93 centralia Comments (0)

Madison, WI and Chicago, IL

"Now this could only happen to a girl like me ..."

sunny 75 °F
View Roadtrop on mormolyke's travel map.

I left Sioux Falls with mixed emotions that made the final week of the trip bittersweet. As we crossed into Minnesota on the way to Madison, Wisconsin, I knew I was leaving behind the mountains, high plains, and geothermal marvels that I found so compelling and speeding toward the large city environments that have always been my home. Home was a thought that both attracted and repelled me, containing within it an intimidating list of summer projects that I would have to face once back in Philadelphia. Oh, to be able to travel forever, or at least until home seemed more appealing.

In the meantime, we had found an unexpected must-see stop on our journey: the Spam museum in Austin, Minnesota. Yes, the whole concept of a museum devoted to Spam is absurd, but I was sold when I read on their website that they had a Monty Python exhibit.

FLICKR SET: Roadtrop: Spam Museum in Austin, MN
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The museum had a terrific gift shop containing literally every promotional item you can imagine emblazoned with Spam logos, but I could barely believe that they didn't have any kind of restaurant or cafe! Surely a Spam Museum would be the perfect place to promote their (oft maligned) canned meat by preparing interesting Spam recipes for visitors to try. I had been looking forward to some kind of gourmet Spam sandwich or Spam stir-fry or Spam salad, but I left disappointed. Bad form, Spam Museum!

Instead, we ate at another small-town culinary gem in the same mold as Murdo Drive-In: Tendermaid burger shop. While we watched, our server threw slices of cheese into a giant vat of ground beef patty to melt before scooping both ingredients onto waiting buns. I can understand even more clearly why America has such an obesity problem. This is absolutely Beef Country, and they know how to cook it.

By dinner, we arrived at the Madison apartment of our buddy Brandon, aka Malechite, and his collection of games, game-related toys, NIN paraphernalia and nice photography equipment, but we were soon back out the door, as I was on a mission to experience Wisconsin cheese. I love cheese. I mean, I really love cheese. Wisconsin delivered. We ate dinner at the Great Dane, where I began with fried cheese curds, then tried their $10.50 gourmet macaroni and cheese for an entrée. You wouldn't think that mac and cheese could possibly be worth $10.50, but this one was (and it lasted two meals, since I took away leftovers). We also visited Woodman's, a supermarket that is similar to any number of East Coast chain stores such as Giant or Wegman's, except that it has three whole aisles of cheeses. We bought some bags of cheese curds for the road. I never did get to try squeaky cheese curds, however, or poutine -- next time, Madison, next time.

In between cheesy destinations, we stopped at the capitol building; we had arrived at an opportune time. The recall election of awful governor Scott Walker was scheduled for the next day, and a mid-sized crowd of union supporters had gathered on the plaza to rally for their cause. I stood with them for a while, which was a nice feeling -- I'd followed some of their political misfortune from back in Philadelphia, and it was gratifying to feel as though I was actually taking part in a small way, even if I couldn't vote -- until I felt the protest had become a little too dirty hippy for me. I can stand (barely) watching people sing songs like "Oh Susannah" with tacky altered lyrics, but when there's talk of performing an "om" to the "strawberry moon," I start to get kind of mad that some people are making the movement appear kooky to the general population. Don't come to the rally wearing your purple rag skirt and tie-dyed shirt, for god's sake. You're fighting for jobs, right? Come looking like you're going to a job interview.

(As we discovered on the way to Chicago the next day, the recall election failed. More bittersweet.)

The "strawberry moon," by the way, was a reference to the partial lunar eclipse that took place that night -- what is up with eclipses occurring on this trip? -- coloring the moon a deep rusty red. We caught it rising over a lake, but we were driving and could't stop to take photos.

We did get a couple of photos taken, though, for an ongoing project of Brandon's:
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And here are the ones that we took:

FLICKR SET: Roadtrop: Madison
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On June 5, we left for the largest city on our tour, Chicago, one of Matt's favorite places, although I had never been before. Our stay there was also the longest of the roadtrop: a whole three nights in the same location! Wooo! Since it was such an extended stay, we lodged at an Extended Stay America 15 minutes from downtown, and experienced the luxury of being able to leisurely explore without immediate pressure to move on. We didn't have to see ALL of Chicago in four days; we could always come back (and probably will).

Some of the highlights included the Field Museum, where we saw the mounted fossilized skeleton of Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex and spent hours in the most extensive and well-curated Native American exhibit I've ever seen, the observation deck of the Hancock Building at night, the Art Institute, which houses Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte and featured a Roy Lichtenstein exhibition, and a free concert of ambient electronica and IDM in Millennium Park.

But enough of these words; pictures speak louder than.

FLICKR SET: Roadtrop: Chicago
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Posted by mormolyke 12:18 Archived in USA Tagged chicago illinois minnesota cheese madison wisconsin spam spam_museum scott_walker Comments (1)

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