Sunday, July 26, 2009

Oshkosh: Day 0 - The Drive

I started waking co-pilot Egg up at 0630 as planned. I say 'started' because it is a lengthy process. One of the (few) perks of aging is that it gets much easier to wake up in the morning. I haven't forgotten my own teen years, though, when it was routine to sleep in until late, late morning. Trying to get up at 0630 on those rare occasions when I had to was like trying to shake a wet blanket off the inside of my head. It's normal, but it does beg the question of exactly how teenagers survived in the wild, way back when. It seems to me they'd have been pretty easy prey. Seriously, why would a lion waste hours lying in wait for a careless gazelle at the local watering hole when he could just grab the nearest sleeping teenager?

She finally emerged and we went through our last minute checks to make sure we had everything we will need for the full week of Oshkosh. My normal practice is to start a few days ahead of the departure date by setting out the things that I know I wouldn't forget anyway. That also lets me get an early start on forgetting the things that I will forget. I also double checked the driving directions I had diligently acquired and printed from Google Maps. These are wonderful maps - each major turn has a Streetview color picture next to it so I can see exactly what the intersection or exit looks like. I carefully collated each package and labeled them 'Home to Hotel', 'Hotel to Oshkosh,' etc. Things of beauty, they are. All in the interest of redundancy, mind you, in case the GPS in the car flakes out or gets stolen. Trust me, it's a pilot thing. Always have a fallback plan.

Once in the car I pointed the trusty Garmin GPS at the street address of the hotel. I had entered the address into the GPS a few days prior just to be ready. Of course, I did that in the garage where the GPS couldn't see any satellites, so I didn't have the opportunity to look at the calculated route. This morning I hit the magic Go button and waited while the clever little gal with the sexy voice who lives in the GPS box planned the optimal route to the hotel. Which, as it turns out, was significantly different than the route provided by Google. Which, as you can imagine, completely obsolesced fully half of the lovingly crafted emergency Google maps. Que sera, sera.

On the plus side, all indications were that the Garmin route was far superior to the Google route. Rather than allow Google to force us into the I-70 to Indianapolis route that I hate hate hate so well, Garmin had us going northwest from Columbus towards Marysville, Lima, Fort Wayne, and South Bend. We'd meet the Google route somewhere near Gary. As it was still pretty early on a Sunday morning, the wide open route 33 proved a perfect opportunity to let Egg, she that is currently undergoing driver's training under the tutelage of Yours Truly, gather up some loggable time and miles on a divided highway. We pulled off the highway and made a quick driver change. It worked out very well - for quite a while we were the only car on the road. Well, at least during the sporadic times that we were actually on the road.

Ok, just kidding: she did fine.

I took over the duty as we approached Lima. From there we headed northwest until we intercepted I-80. This is where I learned what the biggest difference was between the Google and the Garmin routes. Google route: free. Garmin route: $6.00 in toll.

Still, the drive went very well and traffic was wonderfully light. Until, that is, we reached Gary, Indiana. Gary did its usual fine job of reminding me why no one wants to live in Gary. Gary is the last waypoint before Chicago and its legendarily bad traffic and aggressive drivers. In other words, Chicago did its normally fine job of reminding why people do live in Gary.

After the typical stop & stop traffic jam in Chicago, we broke out into what is normally a far more sedate ride up I-94. Normally, yes. Today? No. It's a torn up mess. Signs proudly proclaimed that a worn out 50 year old highway was being fixed up. As if that was a good thing. Which, were I a frequent traveler on that stretch of road, it might be. I am not a frequent traveler on that stretch of road so I was left asking myself why they couldn't have waited a few more years. You know, for my personal convenience.

Some traffic engineer had what must have been viewed in whatever meeting he was in as a terrific idea: they had moved a separate lane off to the left side that would have no access to the normal exits. They named this the 'Express' lane. I have since learned that 'Express' is Chicago-speak for 'An Absolute Mess.' I can see the thinking behind it, though. They must have thought that without entering and exiting traffic to muck things up, that solitary lane should be able to maintain a pretty decent pace. They.Were.Wrong.

I'm not sure what caused the traffic to repeatedly come to a stand still. Actually, I was able to identify the cause of one of the incidents when we came to a van parked halfway off of the relatively narrow lane, thereby blocking traffic, while a young girl squatted by the concrete retaining wall relieving herself. While I was a little peeved at the delay, I have to think that this was a pretty uncomfortable moment for all involved, truth be told.

After sitting in the so-called express lane watching the traffic in the (by implication) slow lanes whistle on by unabated by defecating youngsters, I decided to avail myself of the very next opportunity to get out of the express lane and go back to the "slow" lanes. Surprisingly, I was not the only one that had that idea. As an entire line of cars bailed out of the express lane, the slow lanes bogged down to a stop. Those that remained in the express lane? They drove off into the distance, never to be seen again.

Once we got past the construction, I told Egg that she was in for a treat. You see, When I was a kid I made this trip every summer when the whole family would travel to Milwaukee to visit my maternal grandparents. There were three of us kids, and the big thing for us was to be the one to toss the coins into the big metal basket at the toll stops. The coins would jingle their way down into the guts of the machine, mechanical calculations would ensue, and as long as you didn't commit the mortal sin of missing the basket, the gate would rise and off we would go. It was so very, very cool. It was probably the most memorable part of the drive, although I did see an old restaurant today that brought back the memory of me getting my behind swatted in the parking lot after throwing a tantrum of some sort. A tantrum that I'm sure was justified, of course, but my memory is hazy on that.

Anyway, the baskets are gone. The tolls have risen to the level where a humorless human automaton can sit in a booth and collect paper money.

In the name of progress, I'm sure.

Still, we arrived at the hotel and we're quite pleased with it. It's only a little more than a year old and the service has been exemplary. I've paid twice as much for half the quality, so we're happy as clams. It's early evening and we've already had dinner and a swim in the indoor pool, and I'm just about ready to wrap this up and hit the shower. We'll be getting up early again tomorrow in order to make the 55 minute drive up to Oshkosh early enough to meet Lynda and get Egg to work in the Girls With Wings booth.

Well, I'll be getting up early. Egg? Probably only if I can find a lion to help roust her out of bed.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting thought about the toll plaza. It brought back childhood memories of the (then) brand new New York State Thruway. It introduced punched paper tickets and the toll was computed by a calculating machine. I was intrigued as a this magical invention. Next time back I must take a trip on the Thruway just to see how the machines have evolved.