Sunday, January 9, 2011

Eastward, Ho - Part I

Back to the Drive Across America…February turned to March and it was time to proceed on. I rented a car in the morning and drove into the Eastern Time Zone, 450 miles from Chicago to Aurora, OH. I stopped in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where in October 1960, candidate John F. Kennedy stepped off a plane at a campaign stop and at 2:00 am proposed the idea of a Peace Corps. A plaque marks the spot in front of the Michigan Union where he stood, and I stood on the same spot! That was a nice capstone to the Peace Corps experience (of course, Peace Corps Response was yet to come, and there will always be Third Goal, so it’s not really a capstone, but I like the word).

I stopped in Toledo to see Rebecca, a Morocco RPCV (in environment, but she did a lot with the SIDA committee and is now going into public health) who, though we weren’t close, was persistent and nice about seeing me when I came through. We ate at a Waffle House – no fast-food qualms about going there; Waffle House may not be healthy but it is a fun treat. And then it was on to a Starbucks on the west side of Cleveland for a rendezvous with Jong, who came up from Columbus; my friend Tom had the local knowledge to suggest this location. So good to see her! Of course, an afternoon wasn’t enough. She wasn’t up for piffle (good thing I taught it to some friends along the way!) but we did play some rummy. And then it was on to the east side of Cleveland, to stay with Tom and his family. They were among the last people I saw in 2006, when I did a Midwest Farewell trip to Put-in-Bay and Cuyahoga National Park. As with my cousin’s family, the kids look two years older and the parents as young as ever! Amazing phenomenon! They made me a “welcome back” cake and we had a lovely dinner.

I didn’t plan any side trips between Chicago and New York – no Moab, no Lake Tahoe, no California coast. Just driving and friends. I guess the East seems more accessible, though I’m not sure that’s actually true. Gettysburg was on my wish list, but it wasn’t right off I-80, and there aren’t many national parks to visit. If I hadn’t been to Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob I might have done that. The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania is something I’d like to see (if only for the name!), but it’s nowhere near the route. And I guess I was ready to press on – as I mentioned, Chicago became the turning point where the vacation/touring part kind of ended anyway.

Pennsylvania always seemed like a long state, but compared to some of the other drives along the way, it wasn’t – Aurora, OH to Narberth, PA was 410 miles. It also has hills – mountains, even. And trees! So many trees! If you grow up with trees and hills, you never really get used to the Midwest. And then I was overcome with a wave of emotion – I realized that the last time I had done that drive was on the way to Chicago, when I moved there almost two decades ago. So I wasn’t just returning from 27 months in the Peace Corps, I was also returning from 19 years in Chicago. That doesn’t mean that the East is my last stop, but it did mean that a big chapter closed.


  1. I am planning (and hoping it will actually come off) a driving trip from Florida to Chicago, and I checked how far off the path Fallingwater would be. Unfortunately, too far, but I've had it on my dream destination list since you went there and shared your experience with me. I'd never even heard of the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania until reading this post, but I Wiki-ed it, and it looks most impressive. I always learn so much from my acquaintance with you. You know you are the first person to have ever mentioned Harry Potter to me, and now I'm a total convert!

  2. I hope you get to Fallingwater one day! I saw another FLW house over the weekend (will post about it at some point) and still love seeing those. As for the G.C. of P - who knows? It's not near anything! I stopped seeing the HP movies - when they were coming out at the same time as the books, it confused me. My best book(s) of 2010 were the Shaara Civil War trilogy, but I don't know if they're your kind of books. Thanks for the compliment though!