Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Road to Kentucky Part II

Five weeks after leaving Chicago, the “H” appeared to me like a beacon of hope in an uncertain land. The Hilton Gardens Inn, Bowling Green. I had arrived. As exciting as the adventure had been, it was nice to finally arrive at my destination and I looked forward to settling in with a nice meal and a whisky sour, which for some reason I had a taste for (perhaps it was the many signs for distilleries that I saw on the way). Parking the car I ventured into the lobby of the hotel where a pleasant woman behind a pleasant desk pleasantly told me that she couldn’t find a reservation for me. Just my luck, I left the confirmation e-mail in the car, so venturing back out to get it I ventured back into the hotel and was told, pleasantly, that I’d actually ventured into the Bowling Green Holiday Inn which, interestingly enough is right across the street from my destination du jour, The Hilton Gardens Inn. So exited was I by the beaconistic H on the sign, that I didn’t actually read the name of the hotel beneath it. “Don’t worry, it happens all the time.”

Bundling my luggage back into the car, I pulled out of the Holiday inn lot and pulled into the Hilton lot and found a similarly pleasant lady behind a similarly pleasant desk who thankfully had a reservation for me. It’s been about two decades since I’ve stayed in a hotel. Friends and I used to stay over regularly at hotels when attending Beatlefest (which is what it used to be called) or one of the many science fiction conventions we used to attend. I suspect that, living with our parents during the 80s, the main reason my friends and I stayed over at these conventions, was because we were living with our parents at the time. Given a choice between spending Thanksgiving watching mom and dad fight between courses of Cold Duck or hanging out with geeks at a convention, the con won hands down every time.

I forgot how much I love the hotel experience. The crisp sheets, the 50 towels in the bathroom, the joy of room service. I went for a walk around the area, went to the bar and ordered my whisky sour, went back to the room and ordered room service which was brought to the room by the bartender (not a huge surprise since the restaurant area and bar was about the size of a small bedroom and wasn’t exactly packed at that moment.

I’m guessing Bowling Green is a great little burg to visit with a vibrant historical district and quaint areas of interest. I’m guessing this because my schedule didn’t permit much of a gander round town. I got there around 5:30 p.m. Friday and wasn’t much in the mood for more driving, so I hung out at the hotel, which was fine, me loving the hotel experience as I do. The next day, I was expected to get to the bookfest about 8:30 a.m. for check in so of course I got there at 10. This wasn’t necessarily my fault. While I’m guessing Bowling Green is vibrant historical and quaint areas of interest, the area I was staying looked more like a farm town. I was given directions to the convention center and left early Saturday morning, but I didn’t count on the fact that the town had decided to double name their streets. Driving north, a right turn might take you down Love Ave., while a left turn on the other side would take you down Dilly Drive. So if you’re supposed to go left on Dilly Drive and you’re looking out for it on your right, you ain’t gonna see it. You will see Love Ave. which mirrors Dilly Drive and if you only realized that, you might realize that was the intersection to make the left turn on.

Long story short (and short drive long) a 10 minute drive took me 90 minutes before I located the convention center. Once inside and registered, it was a fun afternoon. I sold and signed some Vampires’ Most Wanted and even sold some Chicago’s Most Wanted. It was nice to see the latter still had some steam to it. There were some big names there like Carl Hiaasen and Heather Graham but they were kept in their own enclosure up front for fear they’d get lose and tear up the place. They can get very excitable in a crowd. Yeah, that’s right, you know who you are Hiaasen.

Sitting next to me was an author named Amy Clark who wrote the book Success in Hill Country based on the oral histories of eleven natives of the Appalachain Mountains who went onto success. You always worry who you’ll be squished next to at these sorts of events, but Amy was a pleasant neighbour and we actually had a lot of fun. Plus, she has a doctorate, so she’s a scholar with credentials as opposed to me who’s a scholar because “I said so, so shut up!”

Another person I met was positioned two doors down the row and roamed by the name of Bertena Varney. She wrote the book Lure of the Vampire: A Pop Culture Reference Book of Lists, Websites and "Very Telling Personal Essays" and I wish I would have met before Vampires’ Most Wanted was published since I think her book would have been very helpful in researching mine. An interesting book to check out. As experiences go, it was most definitely an enjoyable one that I wouldn’t hesitate to do again (now that I know the way) once my vampire series is printed. All that was left was the long drive home Sunday. I had a chance to arrange my schedule, I would have stayed over a day or so for some sightseeing, but that wasn’t to be. I considered stopping at the local mall:
But then I thought better of it. It was a long drive home and I wanted to make it before sundown (cause that’s when the zombies come out. It’s a proven fact). A thousand Enrights cried for every distillery marker I passed by on 65 North. Every DNA strand in my body cried for me to stop and take a tour, but I couldn’t. Though, as I drove, I swore with each marker I passed that somehow, I would find my way back down to Kentucky and inhale the angel’s portion (and drink like a fish) from the distilleries I was unable to visit that Sunday.
As always happens, the ride home seemed to go quicker than the ride down. I left the sweet mountains of Kentucky for the flatland and billboards of Indiana (though I was looking forward to seeing the windmills again. I love those things). There is something surreal about driving across two or three states. At some point I stopped at a yogurt store for a comfort break and a cup of frozen yogurt (in that order) and had to ask the sales clerk if I was in Kentucky or Indiana. From his response it seemed as though I was at the tail of Indiana. I still had a drive ahead of me but I was filled with courage having made the first part of the trek with nary an incident. I entered Indiana wondering if I was going to stop at Illinois or if I’d just keep on driving wherever the road took me. I chose for my ride back home the printed directions from Mapquest. I was still bitter about the little joke Rand McNally (you know, the map people) played on me. And actually, as I neared the Indiana and Illinois border I found the directions a little simpler. So bite me Rand McNally. I crossed through post-war Berlin and made it into Chicago $5 lighter.

I was of course disappointed that I had forgotten to accidentally take the 73 Exit that would take me to the Lion’s Den Adult Super Store in Indiana, then I remembered the many resources available to me on the Internet and felt better. Besides, all I could concentrate on when I hit the Dan Ryan expressway was my supreme frustration at having to go down to 55 mph after driving several hours at 70. Add to this the fact that apparently everyone had chosen that moment to go back home and we were lucky to make it up to 25 most of the time, and I was fairly crawling out of my skin. So yes, after weeks of worry and uncertaintity, I made to and back from Kentucky in one piece. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. I'll just have to remember that St. Louis/Louisville splits.

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!