There were two problems I had to cope with as I crossed Ohio on Route 80. (1) The state is so very, very wide; and (2) Cleveland.
Cleveland, like every American city, is surrounded by an incredible tangle of highways. The breadth and design of the tangle depend on hundreds of destinations. It’s all about destination. From my perspective, that meant a lot of branching out from Highway 80. If I didn’t pay close attention I could end up again in some odd suburban place again.
But I made it. And feeling proud and self-satisfied about the accomplishment, I felt even luckier when the town I pulled into had a half dozen motels, one on a green space within walking distance of four restaurants. Granted, all of them were chains, but I’d never hoped for miracles. Red Lobster isn’t always a total loss, and when I walked in I got to live out one of my fantasies about this trip. I could sit in the bar, alone at a table for two in the lovely glow of a mirrored bar with twinkling bottles, drink a cocktail, share badinage with the bartender and eat a not-really-so-bad meal…. I was playing the lead in one of those wonderful movies from the 40s but without the storyline. I was too tired for a storyline anyway.
The next morning I approached the Chicago area with some trepidation, but could it be that much worse than Cleveland? It was. Nonetheless, I was doing well, hitting just the right lane again and again.
Alas, it was not to be. Suddenly and without warning I found myself on the way to Wisconsin. I had to pay $1.50 to go there.
I didn’t think I’d accomplish much by arguing with the toll taker. This isn’t where I meant to be, I’d say. Please, please, I don’t want to go to Wisconsin, not today, maybe never. And the toll taker would shout directions over the roar of the traffic, telling me where to exit and re-enter, and I wouldn’t be able to hear or comprehend a word of it.
It took more than an hour of wandering through a nameless Chicago suburb to find my way back onto 80 going West.
The problem, dear reader, is that I really couldn’t afford all these detours. In the first place, they were demoralizing, in the second not very scenic, and in the third they took up so much time. I had to be in Brush, Colorado by Saturday afternoon. That small, probably not very impressive town—I hadn’t seen it in more than fifty years–had helped form the narrative of my childhood, and I was to meet my sister (from New Mexico) and a bevy of relatives (from Florida) there–including my aunt who was going on 93. I had no intention of standing up my aunt!
So there I was again, heading down Rt. 80, doing 80, waiting for the Iowa border, when the poor little Cruiser did her “I’m dying, this is it” thing again and I had to pull off the highway into the town of Peru, Illinois. (No, not Indiana, which people have heard of, but Illinois, which no one has.) This time I knew what to do. I headed straight for the Dodge dealer.
There were no whisperers in Peru, but there were guys who knew how to use a computer and who were sympathetic to an old lady driving cross country in the little car. In fact, the guy who would replace her cam sensor had a son who collected PT Cruisers. He thought they were marvelous. But the garage didn’t have the part and someone would have to drive 45 minutes to get one from another Dodge dealer. (They’re networked, these guys!) And then, it would take another hour or two….
There was a waiting room with shelves full of donated books, including a limp copy of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” I secured the book and waited across the highway in Applebee’s. Once again, I’d been blessed. Although Applebees was full of lunchtime Peruvians and loud waitresses, the book was great and I took it with me. It was clear that no one would ever read it in that waiting room, so I stole it. After all, the cost of the repair was double the New York bill… the book would have sold for a quarter should anyone in Peru been willing to buy it. The guys fixed the car in less than two hours. By the time I got to California I’d finished a very good read. My conscience is clear.
“Are you sure you want to take 80 into Iowa?” the guy with the Cruiser-loving son asked. “It’s not a very interesting way to go. Illinois isn’t much, but Iowa….”
(to be continued)