© 2010, 2023 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.
In August of 2010, my wife, Jenny, and I headed out on an 11-day driving trip that would take us to parts of the US states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and West Virginia.
From Home to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
We were up early and had a light breakfast. We packed our luggage, took the back two seats out of Jenny's Dodge Caravan, and loaded everything in. At 10 am, we departed Reston via Route 7 west to Route 15 north. At Point of Rocks, we crossed from the state of Virginia into Maryland and continued north to Frederick where we caught Interstate Highway 70 (I-70) west to Hancock. Then we turned north crossing into Pennsylvania. That first 100 miles took us two hours.
We then traveled west on I-76, which is a toll road. None of the rest stops on that section had any picnic tables, so we had our picnic lunch in the van at a gas station. The weather was great for driving; we had the windows down the whole way with the sun mostly behind us. The countryside was green with forest most of the way.
By the time we exited I-76, we'd paid $8.40 in tolls. From there, we ventured west on I-376 on into Pittsburgh. However, the tunnel through the hills at the exit of the downtown area was closed for repair for the weekend, and it took more than 90 minutes to go about five miles due to the detour, single lane, and lots of traffic. We'd gotten some hotel discount coupons from a visitor center along the way and made our way to the Knights Inn in Bridgeville, just west of Pittsburgh. Originally, we'd planned to go back into the city for the evening, but with the tunnel closure and subsequent traffic jam, we decided to stay in and eat another picnic for supper. The hotel room was cheap ($56), very comfortable, quiet, and came with a microwave and fridge. As is the case with many cheaper hotels around the country, it was operated by an Asian Indian family.
A short, light rain shower fell as we lay on our beds reading novels. We watched a bit of TV, and I connected my laptop computer to the free Wi-Fi link, took care of mail, and surfed the internet. Lights out around 10 pm. By the day's end, we'd driven 260 miles.
On to Cleveland, Ohio
We were up around 8 o'clock and lay in bed reading. A light breakfast was included in our room rate, so we went down to the breakfast room for that. We loaded up the van, checked out of the hotel, filled the car with gas, and hit the highway at 10 am going north on I-79, west and north on I-376, and then west on I-80 where we crossed into Ohio. Along the way, we crossed over the Ohio River, which starts in downtown Pittsburgh at the confluence of the Alleghany and Monongahela Rivers. We stopped at an Ohio State visitor's center to pick up some hotel discount-coupon books and other information and had a cup of tea and picnic lunch at a table in the shade. The weather was wonderful.
We exited the freeway onto local road 422, which ran through some small towns. We stopped at a yard sale where we bought a flowerpot (50 cents) and a toolbox ($1). Along the way, there was forest, forest, and more forest! Using the hotel books, we located a very cheap hotel near Cleveland Airport and arrived there around 2 pm. It cost only $46 for two people, and included continental breakfast, free Wi-Fi, an indoor pool, and hot tub; what a deal!
We spent the afternoon at the RainForest Center and adjoining Zoo, which, combined, cost $10 per person. The RainForest Center was two acres on two floors, enclosed in a glass-domed room and walls. It featured animals; birds; flowers from Africa, Asia, and South America; and a huge waterfall. A digital clock counted the world's population at a rate of 165 births per minute while another counted the number of acres of rainforest destroyed in the world at a rate of 120 acres per minute. These were very sobering statistics.
We crossed over to the zoo and started at the large Australian exhibit, which included animals, birds, and a recreated outback station (ranch) house. There was also a sheering shed complete with Merino lambs and camel rides. [Camels were taken to the Outback for the early explorers, and many went off to breed in the wild. Now, more than a few are exported to the Middle East for racing!] From there, we walked around the African Savannah, through a butterfly house, to the veterinary medicine facility, and on to the rhinos.
On the way home, we looked for possible eating-places, and ran across one of our perennial favorites, Denny's. So, at 6:30, we pulled in for supper. They had new $2, $4, $6, and $8 menus, which were great value. One of their selling points is that they serve breakfast 24 hours a day. I had biscuits (AU: scones) with white sausage gravy and a side order of four sausage links. Jenny had chicken wraps. It was all very tasty and cheap, and we had a very nice young waitress. As we went to pay, we found that we were eligible for a 20% discount for "old farts" (although we were only 56 and not retired, we were members of the American Association of Retired Persons).
We were back in our room by 8 o'clock, and once we removed our shoes and lay on our beds, we hardly moved. Later, I started this diary while listening to an instrumental CD by an Aussie composer. We read novels until lights-out at 10:30. We'd driven 160 miles.
A Visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
We slept quite well until 8:30 am, and thanks to the very heavy drapes the room was pitch black inside. The continental breakfast was served until 9 am, and it was spartan even from a Spartan's point of view! 'Nough said. Back in the room, I checked my email to find a message from the guys ripping out the old bathroom and kitchen in one of our rental properties. The good news was they had started the project on time. The bad news was that they had discovered that the original plumbing was in poor shape. C'est la vie!
We left the hotel soon after 11 and drove downtown right to the waterfront where we found an all-day parking station for $10. After a 5-minute walk, we were in the "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," which opened 15 years ago. Admission cost us $22 each. We walked around the main exhibit floor for several hours looking at guitars, cars, clothes, and other memorabilia from numerous well-known artists including Elvis. And we listened to many song snippets at various audio stations as we learned of the artists who had influenced the more well-known stars.
Next, we moved to a theater with a very large screen to watch several hours of a 4-hour concert filmed earlier that year. It featured many of the hall's inductees all performing at the same place. We came to it near the end when Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel were playing. After a few minutes break, the video re-started, and we watched a lot more. The seats were comfortable, we got a stage-side view, the price was right, and the volume was LOUD! We really enjoyed the performances.
We looked at more exhibits on other floors before sitting in another theater watching a 60-minute video that covered the highlights of all the hall's inductions, which started in 1986 well before the hall was completed. While we were familiar with most inductees, there were a few we'd never heard of. The Hall closed at 5:30 and we spent a bit of time in the gift shop. After six solid hours of high-volume Rock and Roll, our ears were ringing a little.
Just outside the Hall, we waited to cross the street when a woman drove through the intersection and caused an older guy riding his big motorcycle to fall off on the ground. I went over to help him up and gasoline was pouring out of a broken fuel pipe. After a short sit, he was able to get up and walk around, and his bike did not seem damaged otherwise. [Ohio doesn't require riders to wear helmets, and we'd commented earlier that no matter whose fault an accident was, the rider would always come out worst off.]
On the way home, we found our way to Denny's again; however, our waitress from the night before was not on duty, so we had to "break in another one!" I had studied the menu the night before, so was ready to order immediately. I had ground steak with BBQ sauce, gravy, grilled red and green peppers, mashed potatoes, green beans, onion rings, and slices of garlic bread. It was just like Grandma used to make! Jenny had an omelet with biscuit and white sausage gravy. The meals were big enough that we took the excess food home.
Back in our hotel, we found that housekeeping had passed us by, so we made our own beds. Oh well, we had gotten an extra cheap rate anyway. I worked on this diary and we both read our novels. Lights out at 10:30.
On to Michigan
We were awake soon after 7:30 am, and we read in bed for a while. For breakfast, we finished up leftovers from the night before, and they tasted just as good. By 9:15, we were loaded and checked out. We stopped off at a gas station near the hotel to fill the cooler with ice. From there it was a straight run north to Highway 6, which ran east/west along the southern shore of Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes.
Light rain fell intermittently as we drove west. There were many very nice houses along the coast, most of them with huge front yards covered in grass and large trees. There was very little traffic. After some time, we were among cornfields and vegetable gardens. We stopped in a quaint little town called Vermillion where we rescued some "treasures" from a consignment shop and bought some books and videos at a Goodwill charity shop. Just west of Sandusky, we drove north on a peninsula up to a ferry that took day-trippers to one of several islands on the lake. We found a small picnic area in a local park and ate lunch there while planning for our time in the next state.
On the outskirts of Toledo, we waited in a long line of traffic at a light when a woman wanted to get across in front of us from the on-coming lanes. So, we backed up a bit and let her through, for which she thanked us by waving and smiling. She pulled across in front of us and then started to cross the next lane when a guy came racing along from behind us in that lane and hit her car dead center. There was a loud bang, and the impact pushed her vehicle across the road and up into a garden on the side. I dare say both drivers' days were ruined, although neither appeared to be injured. If we hadn't had been kind to her, she would have avoided the accident!
We drove north on I-75 and crossed the border into Michigan soon after. It was our first time back in that state for 30 years, when we lived in Chicago in 1979–80. We stopped at the Visitor's Welcome Center to pick up a hotel coupon book, and after studying that, we found a favorite chain that had a property right near where we wanted to be, so we headed for that location.
We arrived around 4 pm and they had a nice room with a king-size bed for $45 + tax. The desk clerk was a very pleasant and efficient young woman. Free Wi-Fi was included as was breakfast, a daily newspaper, and tea/coffee in the lobby. We unpacked and made a plan for the next day. Then we snacked in the room while watching some TV. Later, we took care of some email and read our novels. Lights out at 10. We'd driven 170 miles.
A Visit to the Henry Ford Museum
We slept soundly waking at 8 am. The room rate included a breakfast voucher for $3.50 per person at a local restaurant, so we walked there for our morning exercise. Leon's Diner was busy and a typical neighborhood place with regulars. The menu had a wide selection and cheap prices. I had bacon and eggs with toast and hot tea, and Jenny had eggs with sausage, ham, and hash-brown potatoes.
We departed the hotel around 9:30 and after a short drive to the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, we parked at the Henry Ford Museum. We'd visited it more than 30 years ago, but didn't remember many of the details. We bought a combined ticket for the Museum and the adjacent Greenfield Village, which we'd visit the next day. The museum contains a collection of Americana all housed under a 12-acre roof. The main exhibit areas are Manufacturing, Furniture, Agriculture (tractors and implements), a futuristic house promoted in 1946 as the "way of the future," Power Generation, Liberty and Justice (including the bus on which the black woman Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man; we sat in the bus itself and heard of that historic event), Early Aviation, and Transportation (including the car in which President Kennedy was shot). On one exhibit, I read the following text: "American woodworking machinery became famous in the late 1800s as fast and labor-saving, but very wasteful of wood. In many ways, Americans today continue to have similar attitudes: willing to sacrifice natural resources for convenience and labor-savings." An interesting observation. After seven hours, we'd covered the place from one end to the other pretty much without a break. It was a short drive back to our hotel where we were very happy to put our feet up, have a cold drink, and read our novels.
Around 7 pm, we headed out to a Bob Evans family restaurant nearby to inspect their menu. I had a wonderful chicken quesadilla fully loaded with tomatoes, peppers, cheese, onion, and salsa with sour cream. Jenny had the homemade meatloaf, gravy, and mashed potatoes on a slice of Texas toast. We had great service from all the staff. Back in our room, we read, and I brought this diary up to date. Lights out at 10:30.
A Walk Back in Time
We slept late and took our time getting going. Once again, we enjoyed breakfast at Leon's Diner, and then we drove a few miles to Greenfield Village, another of Henry Ford's pet projects. In 1929, he opened the museum we'd visited the day before. He also decided to gather in one place the original buildings (or in some cases, reproductions), in which numerous notable people had lived or worked. As he was a good friend of Thomas Edison, he recreated Edison's New Jersey research labs and Edison's lab in Florida that was next to his holiday home. Ford also brought the county courthouse from Illinois, in which Abraham Lincoln had practiced law for many years, and the poet Robert Frost's house, Ford's own birthplace, the Wright Brothers' house and workshop, and many others. All of these were put in Greenfield Village. The land occupied by the Village is more than 250 acres, but only 75-odd are in use for buildings and supporting gardens, farms, and animal enclosures. Some of the rest is being developed.
We spent five hours alternating between live entertainment, visiting houses and workshops, and riding around the park. We saw a 30-minute song-and-dance review of Broadway shows; listened to concerts of women, men, and co-ed groups; and heard stories told by a man posing as Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. A fleet of Ford Model T vehicles (sedans, touring cars, and small buses) took people on 10-minute tours around the village. We paid $4 each to ride in a 1914 touring car, one of the nearly 15 million Model Ts built using the same engine design. For another $4, we rode a steam train around the whole compound, and while it was enjoyable, there certainly was a lot of coal soot. Quite a few locomotives and carriages have been restored and put into service. The last thing we did was to listen to a live 15-minute presentation by a 1904-era Federal Forest Ranger. He was dressed in a uniform from the time period and carried a .45-caliber Winchester rifle in a saddle scabbard and a matching revolver on his hip. His horse was named Catherine, and her breed was distinctly American.
On the way back to our hotel we stopped to resupply our emergency rations kit, and then we had supper in our room. I settled into a couple of hours of work to help pay for the trip. Later, we read and watched a bit of TV. Lights out around 10:15 after an interesting and educational day.
Back to Ohio
Once again, we slept late, then packed and checked out of our hotel. We ate our usual breakfast at Leon's Diner while reading the national newspaper. By 10:45 am, we were headed south on the freeway on the next stage of our trip.
It was great weather for driving, not too hot with the windows wound all the way down. We headed south on I-75 to Toledo and continued south for another hour. Then we went east on a state highway that took us through corn and soybean fields aplenty. After about 2½ hours, we stopped at a very nice rest area and had a light lunch at a table in the shade.
By 3 pm, we were in the metropolitan area of Columbus, the largest city and capital of the state of Ohio. We found a nice Red Roof Inn hotel with a great price. Our room was still being cleaned, so we waited 30 minutes in the lounge/breakfast area, sipping drinks and surfing the internet on the public computer. An ever so tiny chambermaid from Mexico finished making up our room, and we moved in with our gear. A microwave and fridge were included as was a large selection of cable TV channels, a continental breakfast, and all for $50/night. Jenny went off to work out in the exercise room while I worked on this diary.
Jenny met a woman who told her that the Ohio State Fair was on and would end the coming weekend. As we had never been to a state fair and we'd just been talking about the possibility of attending one sometime, we jumped at the chance. And, don't you know, as a local supermarket chain was selling $10-admission tickets for only $6, we bought tickets for the next day. On the way home, we stopped off at Pizza Hut for a salad and pizza. Lights out at 10:15 pm. We drove 190 miles.
Our Very First State Fair
The heavy drapes kept the room dark, and we slept through until 8:15 am. The hotel breakfast consisted of juice, tea, coffee, bread, and pastries, and a toaster was available.
We left the hotel in very nice weather and drove the five miles downtown to the fairgrounds. It had opened at 9 am, and as we arrived before 9:30, we got a parking place quite close to an entrance. Parking was very orderly with swarms of State Police everywhere directing traffic. After entering, we took the program and map, and sat for 15 minutes to see what was on when and where, and just how much there was to see and do. There was a lot to do with some events scheduled only once, others every few hours, and some running continuously. And the grounds were extensive. The fair is one of the biggest in the country and runs for two weeks.
As far as livestock went, we saw a lot of beef and dairy cattle, horses, pigs, sheep (including an Australian Shepherd dog and a Border Collie pair with five new pups), poultry, and many hundreds of rabbits. We also watched some judging. For entertainment, we watched a family of four juggle (sometimes on unicycles), two artists singing new country, a high-diving troop, a barbershop quartet, a juggling comedian, and a 200-student All-State Choir. We joined a large crowd to watch a pig race. After much anticipation by the people, out waddled three very fat and slow pot-bellied pigs, which were quite entertaining. A large petting zoo included the usual farm animals, some exotic ones (including camel, deer, and zebra), along with a pair of kangaroos, and three emus. Some dog handlers demonstrated their skills with black labs and retrievers, which swam out into a pond to fetch decoys while directed by hand gestures and whistles. There was also a pumpkin contest with the winner coming in at 790 lbs. (360 kgs) that grew in 52 days.
The weather was excellent all day with quite a lot of cloud cover to hide the hot sun. We alternated between sitting and watching events, visiting animal halls, and strolling through sheds full of commercial, educational, art, and handicraft displays. In total, we spent more than 10 hours there, and it was well worth it. Back in our room, we put our feet up and ate slices of leftover pizza and drinks. Lights out at 10:15 after a most enjoyable day.
A Look Around Downtown Columbus
After a restless night, we were awake soon after 9 am, but decided to take things easy. I worked on this diary while Jenny got a few more ZZZs. We made breakfast in our room and topped that off with hot drinks from the fancy machine in the hotel breakfast room. I settled into some personal and business email, a call back east to friend Phil, and some work on my personal blog. Jenny went off to do a load of washing at the local laundromat, which turned out to be quite crowded.
At 1:30 pm, we headed south to downtown Columbus where we parked in the shade next to the State Capitol. We entered and chatted a bit with a young State Highway Patrol officer at the front desk. There was no security check; it was nice to know that there were still parts of the country that hadn't yet succumbed to the "surrounding everyone with everything" Homeland-Security mindset. We joined five others for the 2-o'clock guided tour, which took us through the basement, the Senate, and the House. It was most informative. Afterwards, we toured a small museum where we learned that Ohio adopted ideas from the Australian Voting Act of 1891 requiring all candidates' names and party affiliations to be printed on the same ballot slip, which was only distributed to voters at a polling station on Election Day. Apparently, this went a long way to removing the corruption that had plagued prior elections. On the way out, we stopped and chatted with a male and female trooper to find out how one becomes a state policeman and what the job entailed. We spent 1:45 hours there touring the buildings and walking around the grounds.
Next up was a visit to a full-size replica of Christopher Columbus' flagship, the Santa Maria. The name of the city Columbus was taken from the famous explorer, and the ship was built for the 500th anniversary of his discovery of the Americas in 1492. For a $4 fee, we got a 40-minute tour literally from "stem to stern" lead by a young university student. He knew his stuff and answered all our questions.
Many years ago, the Ohio School for the Deaf stood on a 10-acre block downtown. After the school was relocated, the city turned the block into a very nice park and commissioned a sculptor to make metal frameworks around a set of yew trees to shape them into people, animals, birds, and boats, all to look like the scene from a famous French impressionist painting. The result was the "Topiary Garden at the Old Deaf School." We stopped by to take a look. A few people were looking at the sculpted trees while others sat in the sun or shade reading. Free Wi-Fi was available throughout the park for those people who just "had to be connected!"
On the way home, the traffic slowed down as we approached the state fairgrounds. It was the final day and people seemed to be leaving in large numbers, so we got off the freeway and drove back through some local neighborhoods. Jenny went off to the breakfast lounge for her late-afternoon cup of tea while I brought this diary up to date.
At 6:30, we drove a few blocks to a Red Lobster restaurant where we had a very nice meal. Our waitress, Nia, was a student studying psychology, and she was both interested and interesting, much more so than most 21-year-olds. We watched a movie until lights-out at 11 pm after a restful and educational day.
On to West Virginia
We were up, packed, breakfasted, and gassed up by 9:15 am. We took state and local highways south and east all the way to the West Virginia border, stopping a couple of times along the way to stretch and snack. We also visited a small factory that made washboards. While some sales go to musicians and others become souvenirs to hang on a wall, most are actually bought by people who wash clothes by hand! One group that does the latter are US military people in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we saw letters and photos of that on a pin-up board.
We got to Charleston, the capital of West Virginia, mid-afternoon. As it turned out, the only thing we really wanted to do there was to visit the State Capitol. It was a magnificent building and we walked around on our own. There was no security desk. After that, we decided to head in the direction of home and we drove more than an hour northeast on I-79 until we were tired, and we found a hotel. Pretty much all we saw was trees, trees, and more trees. We had supper at an Italian family restaurant and bought some emergency rations at the supermarket nearby. Lights out at 10 pm. We'd driven 250 miles.
Headed for Home
We got up soon after 8 am and had a light breakfast before heading out. It was great weather for driving. After an hour on the interstate highway, we turned east and wound around smaller roads for more than two hours, passing into the western tip of the state of Maryland then back into West Virginia.
We found a picnic stop in a small town and sat there for a while. By that time, it was well over 90 degrees F, so we started up the van's air-conditioning. Soon after, we crossed into Virginia and drove the 75 minutes home. We'd driven 250 miles that day and 1,380 all told.
We unloaded our gear and packed everything away. It was good to be home. We'd covered a lot of ground in 11 days, but got a taste of each area we visited. It was a most enjoyable trip.