We woke up well before 8, and got the complimentary breakfast that’s available in all road motels these days.
My plan for the day – again, I’m keeping this secret from Ben in case we need to change plans on the fly – is to go to the Field Museum in Chicago. It’s a big, cool, natural history museum, but most specially it’s the home of Sue – the most complete, and biggest, Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton in existence. Ben and Hope have had a book about Sue since Ben was 4. After that, I just wanted to get past Chicago – DeKalb, Davenport, Rockford, Springfield … someplace like that.
We packed up quickly, but were distracted by two things.
First, while we’re still in the room, Jeff Garrison calls. Jeff was the minister at a church we used to attend in Cedar City. He moved to southwestern Michigan 5 years before. I was shocked. He’d gotten from Mary Jo that we would be passing close. We talked it over and decided that we wouldn’t be passing close enough for a visit – they’re about 100 miles (each way) off our path. I’d thought about this as a sidetrip in the weeks before we left, but it really only made sense if we cut across Canada and Michigan – and I didn’t want to deal with a moving van going through customs. Anyway, we had a good visit.
Second, packing was easy, but dealing with a 10 year-old wasn’t always easy. This morning, I took a load out to the truck and told Ben to wait in the room. But … he got nervous. So he grabbed a load of stuff and brought it out to me. So, after a little lecture that it was really important for him to follow directions, I asked him if the room was clear, He said that it was. I went in and briefly double-checked, and we hit the road.
I was getting nervous about distances and time again. We’d stopped early the night before, so we had a lot of Ohio to cover that I wasn’t part of my plan. And the museum’s last admission is at 4 PM.
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So we drive, under cloudy but not threatening skies, and the miles slip by. I skipped another potential sidetrip here – getting off the interstate in the Toledo suburbs to visit my friends Dave Black and Mike Dowd from graduate school. The timing was right to call them for an early lunch, but I didn’t want to potentially miss the Field Museum. When we passed by Toledo, away went our last views of Lake Erie in the distance.
We’d been on the road close to 2 hours when Ben announced we’d have to turn around (he’s 10, and doesn’t quite get the gravity of that suggestion). He’s left the stuffed wolf he bought as his only souvenir of Canada in his bed in the hotel in Milan. Frankly, I didn’t remember him bringing it in, and when he said the room was clear I was too inclined to believe him. He was pretty sure it was in the covers of his bed.
I said we were not turning around for a $15 stuffed animal, but that at the next service area, we’d check the back of the truck, and if it wasn’t there we’d call the hotel. It wasn’t in the truck, so I called, the manager checked with the staff, and there was no wolf to mail home to Utah. I left my cellphone number with the manager.
We never saw that wolf again. I’m more upset about it than Ben is. I even tried to order one from the store when I got back to Utah, and they wouldn’t ship me one. And … I hadn’t left a tip for the maid when we checked out. I didn’t make that mistake again.
It wasn’t a good morning for Ben. After a little bit of Indiana, he announces that he doesn’t have the headphones for his Nintendo. I remind him that I packed them in Utah, and he hadn’t used them yet on the trip. But, he looks, and can’t find them. So, we make a deal: we’ll stop at a service area and I’ll buy headphones, if we find his when we get to Utah, he has to pay me for the new ones. It turns out that he likes the new headphones better than the old ones, but when the latter turned up in our luggage in Utah, I took the money out of his souvenir budget.
Otherwise, Indiana is boring. I remember three things. First, was all the closed auto plants – huge complexes with enormous parking lots, almost completely empty. The second, was the anti-Obama billboards. This was around the time that Obama (who is pro-choice) was speaking at the Notre Dame commencement, and a lot of pro-life alumni were ticked. You didn’t hear it in the legacy media, but there were many billboards in Indiana dissing Obama for coming and Notre Dame for having him. There were no billboards putting a positive spin on this. The third thing was these new trees that started appearing in stands by the road, usually mixed in with other trees: they were tall and straight, and had either leaves or flowers at the top that were a pale whitish yellow. We continued to see them until we left Illinois the next day.
Other than the two stops, we made excellent time across Ohio and Indiana, and even into south Chicago, by eating snacks in the truck and putting off gas and bathroom breaks. All told, we covered about 300 miles, and got off the interstate in downtown Chicago about 2:30. From there it was an easy drive to the Field Museum on the lake shore. Parking was a different story. Finally, I played chicken with a parking ramp. This got an attendant’s attention. He walked out to the truck, told us we couldn’t park there, but he did give us directions to where we could park. It wasn’t close: on the other side of Soldier Field, about a mile away. We drove there, and it was perfect: a big, empty, attended lot, with no height restrictions. I think it’s one of the places they allow campers full of tailgaters for Bears’ games. So we park, and walk back.
I’m still worried about time, because it’s 3:15 when we get to the museum. But, at the desk, I realize we’re now in central time, so we have an extra hour that I hadn’t accounted for. Three hours isn’t great for a big museum, but it’s excellent for a 10 year-old who deserves a long break. My stress melted away.
We go see Sue first. She’s in the center of the main hall, and she’s big and cool (I think we both were not amazed because we’ve seen so many dinosaur skeletons over the years).
We came off the elevator on the wrong floor, so our first view of Sue was from above.
Sue. I found her less impressive than other dinosaurs I’ve seen because the room she was in was so big and airy.
They know that birds are dinosaurs because skeletons like this one have a wishbone.
They have a faux head on the body, and the real one in glass case upstairs so that you can get a closer look.
Then we went to an series of galleries which housed the Whydah. This has been written up in National Geographic: this is a pirate ship that sank off Cape Cod early in the 18th century, and has only recently been recovered and put on display. This exhibit was big, and really cool, but very popular and congested. We lost each other in the crowd for a few seconds here and there. Like all special exhibits, there’s a dedicated gift store at the end, and Ben liked that.
The Blackhawks had been knocked out of the playoffs earlier in the week, but this jersey was still on display.
Too bad it wasn’t real.
Ben knew what a coelacanth was, but he’d never seen one up close.
We checked out most of the rest of the museum, but what Ben really liked – and which surprised me a little – were the mummies and other Egyptian artifacts. They had a mock-up of a large Egyptian temple, and an actual smaller one that they’d rebuilt inside the Field. Ben liked the former, I liked the latter: 4,000 years ago, the high technology for a secret room was to have stairs from the inside up to the roof, and then a sealed two-floor stairway that descends through the walls of the first floor to the crypt.
Ben as a barnacle.
I loved these boots, but I couldn’t justify buying them for kids that live in the desert.
Being a big city museum, there were 2 more gift shops to hit … lot of loot. They pushed us out the doors about 5:15 central time.
We were both hungry and thirsty – no lunch today – and again, because it’s a big city museum, it’s in a park with grill. They were out of a bunch of stuff, and they were surly and getting ready to close, but they had hot dogs, and chips, and pop in big cups.
A nice place to picnic.
We sat at a picnic bench with a view of Lake Michigan. It was in the high 70’s – Chicago had a record cold June, and I saw on the internet in early July that this had been the last warm day.
Ben chased seagulls, and blew off some steam.
I put a choice to him. No pressure. If he was hating the drive, and wanted to get home earlier, we could take I-80 west. If the drive was OK, and he liked seeing the sites, we could stay on I-90 and go to Mt. Rushmore. I told him that route would take an extra day, and I’d probably be more stressed about getting home, so we might have to push our driving later in the day. He wanted to know what sites there were along I-80; I had to be honest and say not much. The one big thing is that Celestial Seasonings in Boulder is supposed to have one of the best factory tours for kids. We wouldn’t even have decent mountains unless we dropped down to I-70. I didn’t mention that those were the mountains that had given Bob and me so much trouble in a Ryder truck in 1991. I also didn’t mention that Bob had told me the great thing about I-90 was that the sites were right next to the interstate, and you didn’t lose much time.
Ben took a minute. He’s never impulsive about a big decision. He chose to go I-90.
We’d been calling Mary Jo and Hope every day, sometimes more than once. This was a big decision, so I called her right then. She had a map out and was worried about how much extra distance it would be. I said about 400 miles if we didn’t use the interstates and cut diagonally across Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. She was worried about what sort of time we’d make on U.S. and state highways. I thought we’d make good time – I’ve never had a problem on those roads out west.
Cruising Lake Michigan
The Chicago skyline from the breakwall.
Two videos of Ben frolicking on the beach.
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Ben put the pressure on now. He said I’d gypped him out of seeing Lake Erie, and he wanted to see Lake Michigan. It was right there, so we walked over. Out on to a huge breakwall, around past a marina, and onto a public beach. It was pretty deserted, except for 3 lifeguards, and one of their younger brothers. Ben frolicked, but it was too cold for him to even ask about swimming: up and down the beach, in and out of the water, with shells and without, with sticks and without, followed by seagulls the whole time. I was content to sit and watch. Even though it was Saturday, it was still rush hour in Chicago. About 7 I made him pack it in.
We walked back to the truck. I was having another little panic attack that I couldn’t share with Ben: what if the parking lot was locked? What would I do? Drive through a gate? Call the police? In Chicago? At night? That mile walk was a long 20 minutes. When we got there, the parking lot was deserted, and the gates were down. The great thing about a stadium lot is that there were port-a-potties and dumpsters right there. We took advantage. Then we got in the truck, started her up, and drove to the gate … and its sensor detected us and swung open.
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Off we went, following the signs for I-90, under the El, and over the river. Yes, I told Ben they dyed it green every St. Patrick’s day. Then, up the ramp, and onto I-90 heading northwest.
Ben declared that he hated toll roads. We’d been on them pretty much since we left Buffalo – except for Pennsylvania and part of Ohio. It was worst in Illinois. There were toll booths every 10-20 miles. All the locals had an RFID pass that was read automatically as they sped by. But we had to bear right to go through each barrier, and Ben had to make exact change, or we had to sit in line.
The exits in the center of the road, descending from the elevated interstate to the city streets below, were bugging me too. Those just aren’t friendly to a truck, in a strange place, in heavy traffic.
We made it to Rockford by sunset. The first place we stopped had a few rooms with king-size beds ... the hotel was busy because it was a prom weekend. We took a dip in the indoor pool, and I got some expensive munchies at the front desk.
From the room we called Mary Jo. She was mapping out our route, and wanted to know where we were going to stay the next night. That was the only time I committed to a specific distance. I looked at the map and miles, and optimistically picked Chamberlain, South Dakota – on the Missouri River about halfway across the state.
We settled in to a shared bed, and watched part of Close Encounters of the Third Kind on my laptop. We didn’t finish it, and fell asleep by about 11.