Monday, May 28, 2012

The Road to Kentucky Part I

It was my privilege last month to be a part of the Southern Kentucky Book Fest in Bowling Green, Kentucky. I was asked to attend last year, but Vampires’ Most Wanted hadn’t been released on schedule, so the organizers were nice enough to let me attend this year. There was just one problem: Getting down to Bowling Green, Kentucky.

To understand the full implications of this trip it has to be remembered that for years now, the majority of my travels have been from point A. Park Ridge to Point B. Glenview and back with the occasional zip up to my sisters in point C. Grayslake. So a seven hour car trip alone to Kentucky seemed a bit imposing. But what was I to do? My public was out there waiting. How could I disappoint them?

Screwing up my courage, April 21 I found myself on I90/94 east headed to the Skyway. I had gone to bed at 11:30 the previous night and fell asleep about a week later. It had been my plan to leave at 5 a.m. to avoid traffic so of course I left at 9 a.m. As I bumped around getting ready that morning, my cat Oliver (or “evil incarnate” as I like to call him) stared at me with uncertainty bordering on accusation. Just as they can smell your fear and know what you did last summer, they also have an uncanny knack to sense when they’re schedules are going to be put off even by a fraction of a moment. He was going to be without his favorite scratching post for three days and wasn’t too happy about it. Eventually I said goodbye, stitched up the claw wound, and went on my way. To my relief, since in Chicago rush hour usually lasts from 8 a.m. to 9:45 p.m., traffic was amazingly light on the Kennedy and I was able to leave town with little fanfare. Well, there was a slight issue on my way through Chicago, but nothing that some careful driving couldn’t help clear up.

I'd chosen as my guide for the trip printed up directions from Rand McNally. I also brought printed up directions from Mapquest, but I ran with Rand McNally because, well heck, you know...they’re the map people. Oh I know what you're thinking: Did I invest in any maps of the three states I would be driving through, and to this I say a hearty "No!" since I live by the edge of the seat of my pants, you see and common sense very rarely enters the picture. I’m an Enright! An Enright doesn’t make plans. They just put their faith in whatever god is convenient at that moment and plow ahead. No, I was on an adventure and nothing makes an adventure better than having no idea where you’re going! I rolled down the windows, cranked up the tunes, stepped on the gas and hoped for the best!

The Chicago Skyway is a 7.8 mile long bit of toll road leading to the Indiana Toll Road.  You're hit first with the $3.5 toll and once you're invested (i.e. have no way to get off) they pop you again with a $1.5 toll. Nicely played, boys. And in exchange for the $5 toll you get the privileged of experiencing what it must have been like entering post war Berlin of several decades ago (the overcast sky only added to the aura of hopelessness and desolation). Still, it was a decent drive as congestion goes and I found it quite relaxing.

Scenery, unfortunately, did not pick up when I crossed the border into Indiana.

I'm sure there are some lovely areas in the Hoosier State, but I seemed destined to miss every one. Indiana, like Illinois, is flat. Very flat. A quiet sea of flat land broken up only by the occasional grove of trees and spurts of billboards along the highway.

There are a lot of billboards along 65 South. Not much else, but plenty of billboards advertising hotels, restaurants, farm equipment, Jesus (nice to see him getting his name out there). The most curious billboard announced, “Billboard Space Now Available” which is an odd name for an establishment and didn’t really give me a clue as to what was offered there. One billboard announced that up ahead was a Children’s Museum which boasts a sample of every child ever known (and some only suspected). Then there was the billboard for the World’s Largest Flea Market, which I found a bit disconcerting not really being a big fan of the regular size fleas. But what I did think was nice was that, per the billboard, truckers were welcome.

Had I thought of it, I would have taken a fireworks order from friends and family because, since they’re legal in Indiana, they’re not bashful about announcing to the traveling public that “Fireworks are Sold Here.” Many of these “mini-Hiroshimas in the making” were installed in what looked like airplane hangars. If someone dropped their cigarette at the wrong place and time, the resulting explosion could take out half of Indiana. I could have also picked up some gifts for people from Lion’s Den Adult Super Store, the billboards of which sprouted every five feet and promised pleasure if you took Exit 73. You know honestly, they had me at “Adult” they only sweetened it with “Super.” I made a note to plan on making an accidental turn onto Exit 73 on the way back.

There are also, apparently, a lot of Cracker Barrels. Indiana and the south seemed rotten with them. Every other billboards is emblazoned with the promise that just a little further you will find the fine dining and shopping to be had at a Cracker Barrel. If Lion’s Den and Cracker Barrel merged they’d clean up. I just hope they wear protection. And clean up.

Day Four of my journey. It had been my intention not to stop, for anything, but rather to drive straight through to Bowling Green. I was assured by Rand McNally that the journey would take 6-7 hours but I grew worried that something was wrong and perhaps Kentucky might actually be a figment of someone’s overworked imagination. Either that or Indiana had swallowed it in a relentless march to the sea. So I finally pulled over to find a map and see if perhaps I had missed something (yes I’m an Enright, but I’m also a Gajewski, a people known for their worship of map technology and careful planning). Apparently, the exit I wanted, St. Louis/Louisville, was still about an hour away and Indiana wasn’t endless, it just seemed that way. Phew! on both counts.

Shortly after the stop, it was exciting to see a field of giant windmills looming across the land like an invading army. They were tall and strikingly-white against the purple backdrop of a storm-swollen sky. I thought for a moment that I’d accidentally drove into the pages of The War of the Worlds only this time it wasn’t destruction, but green energy the aliens were bringing to us. So numerous were the windmills that if a Koch brother drove through the field, they’d burst into flames. It’s a proven fact.

At last I saw what Rand McNally promised: The sign warning of the St. Louis/Louisville merge. And merge I did. Happily. Proudly. Without incident, continuing to drive in the direction of my objective. There was but one problem: Rand McNally neglected to warn me that at some point, St. Louis/Louisville would split and I would be expected to make a choice. One would think that would have been a key bit of information for them to include in the directions since, after all, they are the map people. But no, I was left to make the choice and let’s just say, I chose poorly, following the path to St. Louis and ultimately heading back toward Illinois. As hiccups go, this was a small one; a tiny inconvenience (made even more inconvenient by the stretch of highway I was on that didn’t offer a chance for me to exit so that I could turn around for about 30 minutes) and the rest of the directions were accurate. Never the less, I felt betrayed by Rand McNally. I trusted them since they are, after all, the map people. I hope one day I can bring myself to trust them again. It’ll take time.

The first things you notice about Kentucky, while driving 70 mph along the highway, are the mountains.  In fact it seemed like a good portion of 65 South had been threaded through mountains. A mosaic of cool greens and blues, and warm browns and reds. It’s a pretty sight after four hours of flatland. They rose in the distance and on the side of you and if I wasn’t going 70 mph along the highway I might have been tempted to stop along the side of the road and take a long, luxurious drink of them. But I was on a mission and was almost there. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride that, despite one wrong turn, I actually made it into Kentucky without a major problem. I had arrived! Well, not exactly. There were still a couple of hours until Bowling Green but I was close. Next stop, the Hilton Gardens Inn!

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