Good evening, everyone! Happy Friday, friends. At the time of writing this, I’m in the car barreling down I-80 somewhere in the middle of Ohio. Our ETA is sometime after midnight, so Marissa graciously agreed to take a shift at the wheel so I could get the entry out on time.
Open road ahead of us. A pair of dogs behind us. And if all goes according to plan, we’ll be returning home with a third dog - our new puppy Minnie.
Sip. Our journey began at about 8:30 AM this morning, departing from our home in Madison. We’d first drive two hours in the opposite direction to Sparta Wisconsin. We don’t have any special connection to Sparta other than the fact that it makes a good halfway point between us and Mimi. I piloted the car off the highway exit and slowed to a stop sign, fumbling my phone out of my pocket.
“Hey I’m trying to get pictures of all the places we visit,” I said. “Would you mind taking a picture for me of Sparta?”
I handed Marissa my phone and slowly accelerated through the light.
“Make it the most Sparta picture ever. You know, really capture its essence,” I added.
“Oh, it’s definitely got to be the giant guy on the bike,” said Marissa.
If you’re trying to fit the mysterious little town of Sparta in a nutshell, the giant statue of a mustachioed man riding an old timey bike is a good start. I get the feeling there’s more than meets the eye with this town, but sadly the most we ever see of it is the Culver’s parking lot.
We parked alongside Mimi. She gave Miles a long first embrace while Marissa and I busily unpacked the car. Just before we were ready to bid final goodbyes, I offered to take Rodney inside for a bathroom break.
“Hey dude, do you want to go potty before you go?” I asked.
I found Rodney around the corner. His pants were already dropped to his ankles, and he was peeing into the grass in front of our car.
“I think he’s good,” laughed Marissa. Way to take the initiative, Rodney.
After sending our boys away with Mimi, we doubled back past Madison and continued into Rockford. Marissa has a special relationship with Rockford, and I tease her for it often. Even though we only lived in Rockford for about two years when we were first married, she has an enduring photographic memory of where everything is located. She’s the rainman of Rockford. Even before we reached the highway exit, she was giving me descriptive turn-by-turn directions for reaching the Chipotle.
Chipotle wasn’t the most exciting lunch choice. But we swear that Chipotle tastes the bests in Illinois, and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity. “We’ll pick somewhere crazy for dinner,” Marissa assured me.
We hit the road again, continuing down I-90 into the city. We turned a corner on the expressway and beheld the broad and beautiful Chicago skyline. The stop and go Dan Ryan traffic that immediately followed would give us plenty of time to enjoy that skyline.
We followed the congested highway through the bowels of the city. Our car was swallowed up by a dark tunnel. I noticed Marissa looked nervous.
“You good?” I asked.
“I think I get nervous in tunnels,” said Marissa.
“Why is that?” I asked.
“Just look at all that rust… all those cracks” said Marissa glancing around nervously. “What if the whole thing collapses on us?”
“Do you know how many people drive under this tunnel every day?” I quipped. “What makes you so special that it would collapse on us now?”
We broke free of the traffic, exiting out the south side of the city. US Cellular field whizzed by as we got on the Chicago skyway. We decided to pass the time by playing “twenty questions”. Marissa dug a little electronic device from her bag that she bought for just this occasion. The machine beeped, and began flashing questions on the screen. She read them aloud and we answered them together. After playing a few rounds, it was clear that the machine wasn’t as clever as she had hoped.
“Let’s give it an easy one,” I said. “Let’s see if it can guess dog.”
The device asked questions like Is it a mammal?, Can you play with it? Can you eat it? No matter how accurate and straight forward we played it, the device kept deducing in circles.
“I… have… a… guess…” Marissa read aloud slowly. “Llama.” She pressed the no button. “Ah… then… it… must… be… an Irish Wolf Hound.”
We played the next few rounds without the machine. I was feeling pretty clever when I stumped her with “eclipse”, but she made me eat my hubris when I failed to guess “hauncy”, Rodney’s green dinosaur.
As we barreled through Indiana, we started to make plans for dinner. At my request, we were shooting for something regional and greasy. “I want an experience. Some place that we would have no access to at any other time than now,” I vocalized.
We settled on a little diner just outside the Ohio turnpike. Marissa clicked the search result to view the menu, expecting to see a web page. “Oh, it’s literally just a picture of their menu,” she laughed.
“Oh, that’s a good sign,” I said. “Just watch - this place is going to be the best place we’ve ever tried. It’s going to be an experience.”
Marissa gave the number a call and put in an order. She ordered a pair of Belgian Waffles, and I took a gamble on their house special - French toast stuffed with cheese sauce and fruit. After another half hour of driving, we found the diner. I paid and picked up our order. With much anticipation, we tore open the plastic bag to dig into our breakfast. In my tray was a single slimy piece of french toast floating in bright fruit drizzle (the kind you might drizzle on a sundae at Dairy Queen). In Marissa’s tray was just a pair of bare, unadorned Belgian waffles. No syrup. No silverware. No sugar. Against my better judgment, I finished my “fruit and cheese stuffed French toast”, which tasted neither of fruit, nor cheese, nor French toast.
We press on down the this dark, narrow highway through the mysterious and frightening land of Ohio. We will arrive in Pittsburgh a little after midnight, and by God I hope there’s somewhere to get some hot food.
Thanks for stopping by today. I’ll see you all tomorrow. Oh, and go ahead and wish Marissa a Happy birthday - she could use some uplifting words after the collosal disappointment of her Ohio Belgian waffle dinner.