Friday, January 11, 2008

Party in Illinois

We set out for Illinois bright and early, around 5:45 AM on Sunday, December 30. First stop was the Portland, Maine, bus station, where we dropped Lisa off. After that, we were on our own for 800+ miles of driving, mostly on toll roads. Toll roads stink – most obviously because you have to pay to drive them, but also because you tend to be stuck on them because you don’t want to exit the toll road and get back on. So you buy gas at service stations right beside the toll road and overpay – we paid $3.39 for gas at one point, a new record for us. Ugh!

Anyway, after a long day of driving, we arrived at the Stanford Hostel in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where we’d stayed earlier this month. It turned out that no one else was staying on this night, so we managed to rent out an entire farmhouse (that sleeps 38 on busy summer nights) for $22 -- $11 per person! We slept in the first-floor suite, a huge room with an adjacent bathroom. It was fabulous. We went to bed before 8 PM and didn’t get up until after 7 AM – driving that far is exhausting!

On our way out of the park, we stopped when we saw a group of deer on the side of the road. This one cautiously approached our car until he was no more than 10 yards away! Then he stopped for a minute or so posing for us.

We stopped at a Shell station to fill up, and noticed that they had a car wash. Sarah’s dad had recommended that we get a car wash with an undercarriage spray because our car had lived its whole life in the salt-free locations of Texas and Washington, and it would be a shame if the salt that accumulated from driving across the Rust Belt damaged our car. So we paid our $9 for a premium car wash with undercarriage spray, got our ticket, and drove over to the car wash building. When we got there, we saw that the door to the car wash was shut, and a big orange cone and tarp were blocking our path. The car wash was closed!

Shortly, two Shell employees promptly appeared, promised us that the car wash would be open in “one hot minute”, and hustled around to get the car wash opened, and then one of the employees directed us to move our car forward onto the conveyor belt. She seemed pretty unsure about whether the car wash was working, and we wondered if our car was going to be damaged. We got partway through the process – the car was soaped and rinsed – and then the machinery completely stopped with our car still sitting on the conveyor belt. The employee now appeared at the other end of the car wash, told us to drive out, and said she didn’t know what had just happened and would refund our money. She hustled into the convenience store and came back with $9 for us. Not bad – we got most of a car wash for free. But we still had salt on the underside of our car.

The second day’s drive was comparatively short – somewhere around 500 miles. We got into Illinois early in the afternoon, so we stopped at Trader Joe’s, our favorite grocery store, before heading to Brian’s parents’ house. It hadn’t snowed since we left Maine but started snowing just as we left the grocery store. That was fortunate timing for us.

We went to Brian’s parents’ house for no less than four reasons. First, and most importantly, it’s almost right on the most direct route between Maine and Colorado, so Brian’s parents’ wouldn’t have been pleased if he didn’t stop in. Second, it was a chance to celebrate Christmas and open presents together a few days late. Third, Brian’s dad had just had his birthday, so it was a chance to celebrate that. And finally, the University of Illinois, Brian’s parents’ alma mater, was in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1984, so we could watch that together on New Year’s Day.

Because there were so many occasions to celebrate, between Christmas, Dad’s birthday, and the Rose Bowl, we broke them up – Christmas on New Year’s Eve and Dad’s birthday and the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.

Here’s the Christmas tree, all decorated up with presents under it:


The back porch was also looking quite Christmasy:

We knew Brian’s dad had been working on some home-made Christmas presents, but we had no idea what they were. Turned out that he had printed notecards for us, with various photos from our blog on them! They came out really nice – we’ll be writing lots of notes to friends and relatives on them, particularly since we’re in Colorado for the winter and can only send so many Colorado postcards. Another highlight gift was a national parks pass (called the America the Beautiful Pass now), which we’ll likely use a lot once we leave Colorado at the end of the winter. Brian’s sister bought us a gift card for Breckenridge Brewery, where we’ll drink many happy-hour beers, and Sarah got new homemade scarves and hats from Brian’s crocheting mother and knitting sister.

Sarah also got a sarong:

And yet another hat, this one with earflaps, that she’s been wearing regularly ever since:

Brian’s mom was excited to get several new CDs from us:

And in his retirement, Brian’s dad has taken up eBay sales as a hobby. Only problem: He didn’t have a postage scale, so he had to wait in line at the post office to have each package weighed. We figured we’d solve that problem by getting him a scale from, where else, eBay. Now he can weigh his packages at home and print postage online.

We mentioned in an earlier posting that we’d had technical difficulties – the problem was that the power cable to our laptop had broken. Our laptop is a five or six years old and the battery doesn’t hold a charge anymore, so we were computer-less. We’d ordered a new power cable, and an extra one as a backup, and had them shipped to Colorado. But on New Year’s Day, Sarah found one on craigslist in the Chicago suburbs, so she drove 40 minutes to get it. Problem solved: The laptop was working again, and now we would have no fewer than three power cables, just in case we have any future malfunctions. So if you noticed that we went for a little while without blogging, that’s why.

On New Year’s, Brian’s Aunt Pam and Uncle Ron came over for the University of Illinois game – they were playing USC in the Rose Bowl. The Illini lost 49-17, so the game was pretty much a disaster, although it was still better than their last Rose Bowl appearance, when they lost to UCLA 45-9 in 1984. Given that the Illini seem to make the Rose Bowl every 24 years or so, Brian joked that they should all meet again for the Illini’s next Rose Bowl appearance around 2030.

At some point, we also saw part of an NHL game, the first one in the U.S. ever played outdoors. It was in Buffalo, in a total blizzard. We’d driven through Buffalo two days earlier, so we were very grateful for the fantastic weather we’d had for the drive between Maine and Illinois.

Before we left, we had to pose for a picture in front of the tree – there’s Brian in his University of Illinois T-shirt. He was tempted to burn it in effigy, but it was borrowed from his dad, so he refrained.

Now, on to Colorado!

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