JULY 25, 2016
Waking up in Rochester, Minnesota after a very late night, means a late checkout. When we realized the time when we checked in, we immediately asked to have a grace period for sleeping in. They understood. The morning was a slow gathering of sorts. I was taking advantage of the extra time and the space. At the end of our travels, I have discovered that the extended stay hotels are a better option compared to a standard room. For about the same cost, you are practically getting a suite, with a separate sitting area and full size kitchen stocked with dishes and appliances. It would have been nice to sleep in until the actual check out time and have breakfast in my pajamas, but that would have been asking for too much. But I am still very tired.
For breakfast we stop at Amish Market Square, which includes a gas station, convenience store, gift shop and the Amish Ovens Restaurant and Bakery below. Inside the busy gas station convenience store they have an assortment of amazing looking bread and pastries screaming at my inner junk food junkie. The Amish know how to make some serious treats. Back in the day, I have been known to drive over 40 minutes away for the best sweet potato bread ever, to buy loaves for myself and any other person I deemed lucky enough to know me. Here, the one item that stands out to both of us is the apple crunch bread with its golden color and large bits of apple. In the restaurant, where we plan on dining, they make a French toast with it. This menu item only confirms that we made the right choice, not to mention they have an option for all you can eat. We order the apple crunch french toast and it is outstanding. Our waiter is a young guy with a morning’s worth of jokes. He was going to charge us for our menus and just about everything else, maybe for the air we were breathing too. Originally from Arizona, he moved with his mother and the two of them work at the restaurant. It was a lighthearted meal joking around with him. It was like he was our younger brother and we were going to all give each other a playful, hard time. I might be showing my age, but in a way, he reminded me of a very young Jonathan Winters (for my generation, Mearth from “Mork and Mindy”). He was unusually tall for his age, with a baby face and naturally funny and not afraid to share his wits. We named him Ralph. It was nice to have a relaxed meal before we hit the road for the last of the long haul. Miraculously, I did not buy any baked items to take home. I didn’t trust myself.
For what seems like any other day of the trip, there was not much happening besides driving and talking. There weren’t going to be any more stops or filming or places marked to see. I could feel the trip putting its final toll on us both. We may have both been in our heads more now than at the start of the trip. My thoughts are definitely on my grandmother and the reality of what I was going to face when I get back, but I refuse to get overwhelmed. While we are driving we see a middle aged man standing on the side of the highway with a trailer of wildly colored amusement park spaceship cars being towed on the back of his truck. He was leaning against the back of them with his eyes wide open in distress as if he was waiting for the mothership to come pick them both up. Why didn’t I have my camera ready for this!?
Today, we decide to make reservations for this fancy hotel in East Chicago, Indiana. On the way out on the trip, Thomas did some investigating to find a place where we could stay and he could possibly treat himself to a massage for his birthday. Apparently, East Chicago is a popular destination because there was no availability at any of the hotels. I got the impression from the lake front location and the fact that there were also casinos and a cluster of hotels that people were probably trying to get their last summer fixes in on a weekend. Since it was a Monday, our chances increased 100% to get in. When we arrive, it was like we went from the rags to riches. None of the places that we stayed were anything close to being dumps, but this place was sweet, in a casino hotel type of way. The property sat right on Lake Michigan. All of the details and interior were quite luxurious. Not a bad way to spend the last night on the road after a long trip.
Image courtesy of Thomas A. Huggins
We check in and drop off our stuff. The only other order of business was to find something to eat, but only after we investigate the beach at Lake Michigan, right out front of the door. When get to the beach, I was surprised to see groups of young black families enjoying the remaining hours of the ending day. A charcoal grill was still smoking, there were kids splashing around in the lake and the remaining people are casually engaged with each other placed about on blankets. It was nice to see them all enjoying themselves on what looked like their own private beach. The smell of the food on the grill was starting to anger my stomach. I was hungry. We head back inside the hotel to scout out dinner. Casinos are such odd things. This particular one still allowed smoking on one of its floors. It has been so long since I had been in a building that allowed smoking, I almost couldn’t remember why anyone would have ever allowed it in the first place. It was quite the mishmosh of folks. I fell for the trap and was feeling like we could be lucky tonight and wanted to get Thomas in on the action. We found a slot machine that looked like a potential winner and I put money in for him to play for his birthday. I have never won anything substantial the few times I have gambled, so I thought he could be the lucky charm. He hits the buttons a few times and we watch and wait. Nothing. When the money ends, so do we. We thought that $5 was plenty of money to throw down the drain. It wasn't meant for me to be mega rich, or at least not from gambling. There were a few options for eating and after a few menu reviews, we finally pick a place. We both go to town on our meal as we lounge in the ultra plush booths watching multiple games on the many televisions. One driving day down, one more to go. Tuesday night, we will both be back home.
JULY 26, 2016
Time to check out and make the last stretch home. There is even less happening today. In Indiana, we pass an exit sign that has both Whitetown and Brownsville listed. Thomas and I both chuckle and wonder what that was about. During our drive, Thomas mentions that he would like to stop at Phantom Fireworks in Ohio to pick up a few things. Over the course of our trips, we have stopped in a few fireworks stores, but this one is by far the biggest and most sophisticated. When you walk in, there is a large counter at the door before you can enter the rest of the store. A woman walks to the counter and greets us. She then proceeds to inform us that we have to be registered in their system first if we are new customers. There was a paper to sign and I had to give her my driver’s license for proof of age and residence. This was way more protocol than I was expecting, but she was kind to explain the purpose. In Ohio, as in most other states that sell fireworks, there are many fine lined details and laws about the use and transportation of any purchases. For instance, if I were a resident of the state of Ohio, I wouldn’t be able to purchase fireworks (I think). Also, my understanding is that we can not use the fireworks in Ohio and have to take them out of the state. The laws around fireworks have always confused me and I question the motivation and enforcement of said laws. Nevertheless, we stock up. Thomas wanted to get some pyrotechnics for his birthday celebration and I thought I should pick up some old school snapdragons and such for my sister and her crew.
Hours and hundreds of miles later, by the time we pull into my neighborhood, I am officially on E. It was dark and late and Thomas and I robotically unload my car, his stuff to his car and my stuff into the house. My mom had popped her head out by this time and after her warm hug, helps me. She asks a few questions but could probably tell from our less than animated response that she will get better answers later. She thanks Thomas for keeping an eye out for me and we say our goodbyes or at least, until the next time. He drives off and I am glad to be home in one piece, physically that is.