Thursday, July 22, 2010

Heading West

In late April, despite his misgivings about helping us continue to shirk work, Hilary's brother Tom invited us to join him on his move from Norfolk, Virginia to Monterey, California. In Monterey he would be spending six months learning French at the Defense Language Institute before heading to Paris to study at their War College (insert surrender joke here). He rented a giant Penske truck the color of the sun to accommodate the three of us with his Harley-Davidson motorcycle in the back and his 1970 Mustang convertible, known as the Blue Bomber, on a trailer.

On our first day we went through Maryland and crossed West Virginia and Ohio to Cincinnati where Tom and Hilary spent several years of their childhood, while their mother was working for The Cincinnati Post. We stayed with their friends Albert and Deborah who treated us like family. Their daughter, Mary, joined us for dinner, but I stupidly forgot to get a picture of her. She has been one of the most faithful readers of this blog.

The next day we visited Albert at the Mercantile Library where he is director. It is a beautiful subscription library founded in 1835 for young working people wanting to improve their minds. It is still only 45 dollars a year to join. It has commanding views of the city, a large collection of books and magazines, spine melting chairs, amusing statues, and the kind of pervading peace and quiet that feel like heaven to a city dweller.

We also visited the art deco Post building, Tom and Hilary's old neighborhood Mt. Adams, and the charming downtown where we had lunch at Arnold's, an old-fashioned place with a bathtub on the second floor that was used to make gin during Prohibition. It made us wish we had more time to explore.

We left Cincinnati that afternoon and crossed Indiana and Illinois without much to report. Western Illinois was pretty grim. We were shooting to stay in Galesburg, but when we arrived the only motel we saw was boarded up and the only real restaurant was named Crappy's. As we were leaving town on a back road, we passed a promising looking roadhouse. The three of us leaned forward as a unit to read the name...Crappy's North. We slowly settled back into the Penske's bench seat, shaking our heads, and rode on to Moline where we stayed in a hotel near the Mississippi.

The following day we crossed through the northeastern corner of Iowa, past neatly kept fields and cheerfully painted barns and silos. We stopped at the National Farm Toy Museum and the Field of Dreams, a wonderfully non-commercial place, especially considering its Hollywood origins. There is no charge to visit and they let Tom and me hit fly balls to each other. A friendly and talkative woman was selling postcards and t-shirts. She told us about the place and about the progress of her daughters, one of whom was studying in Montevideo, Uruguay. Finally we got back on the road heading for Minnesota and feeling relaxed, refreshed, and impressed by Iowa.

That evening we stayed with Tom's friend from flight school, Scott, his wife, Tami, and their three adorable kids, Reagan, David, and Ted.

Over the next two days we crossed Minnesota and South Dakota, stopping at the underwhelming Pipestone National Monument, the somewhat silly Corn Palace, the breathtaking Badlands, and the snowy, nearly invisible Mount Rushmore.

We headed into Wyoming planning to go through Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons but it turned out to be too early in the season. Most of the roads were closed, and we didn't relish the idea of driving the Penske through a full-blown snowstorm. Instead we drove up into Montana and spent the night in Billings at the Dude Rancher Lodge (thank you Ria!). Billings had good food and a nice wine bar where Jeremy the bartender made us feel right at home, introducing us to some delicious Australian reds with racy labels.

We continued on through Bozeman, across the mountains, and stayed the night in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. We then crossed the southeastern corner of Washington into Oregon, followed the Columbia River to Portland, and then headed south to Coos Bay (passing a bar advertising "good drinks, fine food, and fancy ladies") where we stayed with our friend Jake, his wife Stephanie, and their 6 month old son, Wiley. Wiley is cute, good natured, and gigantic. He is the size of a kid a year older.

From Coos Bay we went south along the Oregon coast, through the redwoods of northern California, and down to Marin County where we reunited with our friends Sue and Ronan well into the evening. I again foolishly forgot to take pictures.

We crossed the bridge into San Francisco the next morning but went on to Monterey to move Tom into his new digs. The following day we blasted back up to San Francisco in the Blue Bomber with the top down, and into the loving home of Hilary's Aunt Colette, Uncle Mark, and cousin Isaac. There Hilary and I came to rest for a few weeks to start our summer in San Francisco. Hilary had accepted a job at Georgetown University Hospital starting in August and prospects looked good for a job for me as well, so we were able to look forward to catching up with friends and family and continuing to shirk work with a minimum of angst.

Thanks Tom, for a wonderful trip and an opportunity to see more of las Américas.