Saturday, September 01, 2001

I grew up in the northern end of a state in which one could drive in one direction for three days and still pay the same sales tax, so it's still an event to enter a new state. A day like today -- five states! -- feels like a feat of Ripley-esque scale.

The first order of business upon crossing any border is figuring out which color car Johnny Law is driving, so as to better be on the lookout. Ohio was tan, Indiana was white, and Maryland was black -- very difficult to spot at night. We saw a lot of flashing lights across Ohio, but never for us. Progressive in politics, but conservative in driving, that's us.

Sandy spent the second half of Pennsylvania and most of Maryland working on an interface for our pictures, and he did a bang-up job. Take a look. (We promise to spend the rest of the week at places more photogenic than the Pennsylvania Turnpike.)

And I have more to say right now, but I am exhausted, I have postcards to write, and I'm getting up early to run tomorrow. More later.


"It was drizzling and mysterious at the beginning of our journey. I could see that it was all going to be one big saga of the mist. 'Whooee!' yelled Dean. 'Here we go!' And he hunched over the wheel and gunned her; he was back in his element, everybody could see that. We were all delighted, we all realized we were leaving confusion and nonsense behind and performing our one and noble function of the time, move. And we moved!"

You said it, Jack.

I got home from work only six hours ago, so it wasn't much of a surprise this morning when I tried to cook my eggs without first turning on a burner. But I've had some coffee and am now good to go. Ready or not, Sandy, here I come.


A good sign: when the alarm went off at 6 this monring, WXRT was playing the final notes of Jeff Beck's "The Freeway Jam." The DJ came on with something approaching the following (remember, I was half-aseep): "That's a great song for any of you who are heading out for a long road trip this Labor Day weekend, getting up nice and early to hit the roads without any traffic, getting your breakfast somewhere in Indiana while it's still early. What perfect weather for a road trip, especially if you're doing it in a truck." I had to call the station to make sure I wasn't dreaming. I wasn't.

Well, Luke'll be here to pick me up momentarily. I better get my stuff together. See you in Silver Spring!


Friday, August 31, 2001

Successful road trips are a careful mix of good preparation and good luck, so you better believe the first words out of my mouth (early) tomorrow morning are going to be, "rabbit, rabbit!"

I suggest you do the same thing.


What's the best way to get from Chicago to Silver Spring, Md.? We asked two road scholars.

Uncle Matt, with whom we'll be staying, urges us to avoid the Pennsylvania Turnpike "and its engineering design for Model T's going 40 mph." He suggests we take I-79 south, then I-68 east. It's more mileage, he says, but shouldn't be much more time.

Our friend Jim disagrees, and he offers a baseball metaphor as argument: "The Pennsylvania Turnpike is Fenway Park (old and historic, but still functional), whereas I-79 and I-68 are Three Rivers Stadium (modern and utilitarian)."

It's interesting to note that both MapBlast (a stellar tool) and Yahoo suggest the turnpike, but MapBlast predicts an hour less time. Maybe Yahoo anticipates more potty breaks.

We'll discuss this in the morning, but I'm thinking we'll take Jim's route. After all, he made the most curious contribution to our gas fund: $6.50. It had us scratching our brows until he explained: "That's the Pennsylvania Turnpike toll from the Ohio state line to the Breezewood interchange, where you'll be exiting to follow I-70 toward Baltimore." It would be a shame not to honor this donation.

Road wonkery runs in my family. It's been more than 15 years since Uncle Matt lived in Chicago, but he can still rattle off the names and numbers of the bus routes he took. And I fondly recall calling Grandpa after a game at Coors Field. Even though he hadn't passed that way in decades, he was fluent with the highways close to the stadium.


Let me just say that I am much less impressed by Pedro now that it's been proven he's not 12.


I just returned from Evanston, where I picked up the digital camera we'll be using. It's a very nice camera, though no amount of technology can redeem certain subject matters.


I'm feeling much better, thanks, even well enough to have run 8 miles this morning. I couldn't say the same Wednesday, when a cold had me calling in sick and worrying about the trip. (It's a funny thing, calling in sick in Chicago: Everyone accuses you of pulling a Bueller and going to Wrigley Field. But if I were to fake illness, I wouldn't do it for a night game and I certainly wouldn't do it to see the Marlins. Please.)

On my first trip to Uncle Matt's, in 1985, I came down with a bug, too. The drive westward was spent contemplating the bottom of a used coffee can, which Mom had filled with baking soda to hide the odor of vomit. Err, to attempt to hide the odor of vomit. Sixteen years later, the mere thought of soggy Arm & Hammer causes me to shudder.

Now if I could just shake this baseball fever.


Thursday, August 30, 2001

Where we'll be sitting, sixth in a series:

Game number seven, the final game of our trip, returns us to our stomping grounds: gorgeous Wrigley Field in beautiful Chicago, Illinois. Atlanta Braves vs. Chicago Cubs. Sunday, Sept. 9. 1:20 p.m. I actually bought these tickets well before this trip was first discussed, way back in February. It took a long lunch break from work on the first day single-game tickets were offered to stand in line long enough to snag these. I ended up buying tickets for five games, almost all of them in the bleachers. Including this one.

Here's the seating diagram the Cubs web site. (You'll notice there's no arrow, as bleachers are general admission. Our seats, therefore, will be determined by one of two things: [a] how quickly we can fly down I-80 Sunday morning or [b] who wants to get there early to save seats for us. This the only game for which we have two extra tickets, and as of yet, no one to take them. If you're free Sunday afternoon and care to take in some baseball with the two of us, write us to let us know.)

Wrigley Field

Is there any dispute that Wrigley is the greatest stadium in baseball? Of course there is. Is it true that, as the stadium announcers like to profess, Wrigley bleacher bums are "the greatest fans in baseball?" I doubt it. But still, sitting in the bleachers at Wrigley Field is one of the most quintessential moments of baseball. One of the most repeatable moments, at least. And the fact that I've done it at least a dozen times in my life and thrice this year does nothing to diminish the thrill each time. That, combined with a rapidly shrinking Cubs magic number, earn these seats nothing short of an A.


Finding myself back home again in Indiana this week, I called up Grandma May to see if she'd let me treat her to a night of AAA baseball. The idea came to me Monday evening as I inadvertently drove by Victory Field -- the outside scoreboard was advertising available tickets for the week's upcoming Indianapolis Indians games. I had nothing to do Tuesday, and I figured the game would be a great prologue to the trip, not to mention an perfect opportunity to spend time with Grandma.

The Indians play at an absolutely stunning 4-year-old ballpark in the southwest corner of downtown Indy. May and I saw the game on a clear, crisp Tuesday evening, four nights away from the end of the season. Incredibly, the seats were over half empty. Why so incredible? I suppose it might not have been had we been watching a mediocre, second-class farm team, but the Indians know how to play some solid ball. Their starting pitcher, a guy named Dan Serafini, faced 19 batters before allowing one to touch first base. He and the closer allowed a combined zero runs on four hits, two of those coming on the last out. Two Indians batters homered. The final score: Indians win, 5-0.

And it's not like the games are financially burdening. Ticket prices ranged from $7 all the way up to $11, which is how much it cost for us to sit 10 rows up from the visiting dugout. Parking was a whopping $2 for the night. Hot dogs were $3 and beer $3.75. I couldn't believe that this kind of entertainment was available in Indy, was accesible, and the city seemed to hardly know about it.

More nuggets from Tuesday night:

• When we handed the tickets to the usher, he took them, led us to our seats, then gave them back to us, but not before taking out his dust rag and personally wiping down the surface of our seats.

• The center field scoreboard displayed the lyrics to the national anthem. This is something's Luke's suggested before -- a gimmick to encourage the restless quasi-patriotic fans to pay their attention and respect.

• Instead of using a patch of green grass or a blue tarp as a backdrop for the batter's line of sight, the Indians have elegantly planted a small grove of spruce trees.

• Victory Field boasts one of my favorite features often found at minor league ballparks: a lawn seating area in the outfield instead of bleachers. For $7 a person you can plop your blanket and cooler down on the grass and have a picnic while you watch the game. And if you're lucky, you'll chase after a home run.

Luke, Little Ben and I took in a AAA game in Kane County back on Memorial Day. It was nice, but the fans seemed to pay more attention to the inter-inning marketing schticks than the game itself. That, and the team sucked. Here in Indy, the fans were clearly there to really watch baseball. When Serafini walked off the mound at the end of the 7th, he was met with a standing round of applause. I can't see that happening in Kane County.

If you ever find yourself in Indy and starved for entertainment -- an almost redundant statement -- make your way over to the corner of West and Maryland streets. It's just too bad we won't be able to hit some AAA parks on this trip. Maybe we'll make it the goal for our next expedition.


Wednesday, August 29, 2001

I'm very excited to announce our newest car game: Choose Their Own Adventure. It's based on the Choose Your Own Adventure books we all enjoyed as children.

Sandy and Luke have two free afternoons in Boston. One will be spent wandering Boston proper. What should they with the other?

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Thanks for voting! We'll check the totals Tuesday morning, and then away we'll go!

And there are still two days left in which to play our first car game, How Far Will They Go? Play now, while good numbers still remain.


Did you know that Veterans Stadium has the smallest hot dogs and the loudest boos in baseball? Or that the Camden Yards complex includes the longest building on the east coast? Neither did I, but thanks to the baseball section at, I do now. I stumbled upon this site today, and I think I'm going to download the whole thing to my computer so I can read it while we're on the road. It's got extensive history and trivia about all of the ballparks in all of the major leagues.

Also hosted on the site is "My Baseball Dream," a series of articles that superfan Ray Bergman wrote about his 60-day 1996 tour of all 28 MLB ballparks. Suddenly, six stadiums doesn't seem like such a big deal.


Tuesday, August 28, 2001

We need to know something very important: If you were to go on a day trip leaving Boston in the morning and returning by 6 that afternoon, where would you go? Please send us your suggestions.


Where we'll be sitting, fifth in a series:

Game number six is at young but beautiful Jacobs Field. Saturday, Sept. 8, 7:05 p.m. Chicago White Sox vs. Cleveland Indians. Our seats are in section 551, which is in the upper deck, pretty much aligned with the third base line. Here's a diagram from the Indians' web site (except for the arrow, silly):

Jacob's field

We did pretty well with these tickets. Sitting in the upper deck, at least at Wrigley, has always seemed underrated to me. You can survey the whole field, you have a clear view of the scoreboard, foul balls occasional fly by, and on a nice day, with the breeze blowing out, you might catch a glob of the broadcaster's spittle on your collar. Overall grade: B+.


Monday, August 27, 2001

With less than a week to go until we launch, I've imposed an immediate moratorium on all non-trip-based conversation between Luke and me. Nine days together in a cramped cab of a Ford Ranger will test the limits of our ability to stay civil to each other, let alone come up with new things to say. It's best that we save up an arsenal of topics, at least enough to last us until Silver Spring. Yes, I realize this is the reason God invented car games, but really, how long can two people play 20 questions before question #1 inevitably ends up being, "Can we please play something else now?"

I guess you could call me the George Ryan of our friendship. After all, Luke did force me to offer him a bribe before I was given permission to drive his truck.


Sunday, August 26, 2001

There are two pitchers I'd like to see on our trip: Boston's Pedro Martinez and New York's Roger Clemens.

After two months on the disabled list, Martinez pitches tonight against Texas. If he does well and is plugged back into the five-man rotation, we should see him Sept. 8 at Yankee Stadium. Clemens, however, pitched last night, and if the Yankees hold to their rotation (not a given) we'll miss him by a game. But who knows: Clemens vs. Martinez with the A.L. East on the line? It's very possible.



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