July 17, 2008

Traveling With Bob, Day Two

Day Two: Crossing off two things from my list and The Dad Show explained

Before we left for our cross country road trip I told you that my father isn’t much for talking. During the meat of our trip there were whole stretches in which we would go an hour or two and the only sounds came from the stereo, the humming tires on the road, or the dog. This was never awkward, but I found myself thinking of ways to get the old man to open up. Unfortunately, before we left I told my family that I would be attempting this and so every time I asked him a question it felt like an interview instead of a conversation.

Despite his near silence for much of the trip, there is one scenario in which my dad becomes positively fucking loquacious. I call this The Dad Show in honor of what my wife calls The Joe Show, because despite our obvious differences, I am very much like my father. He may stay silent for much of the day while I have verbal diarrhea, but once we have a crowd, there pretty much isn’t any stopping us. Take day two for example. We were on the road for 9 hours—much of it silent and determined due to our late start the day before—and yet when we reached our destination my father rubbed his eyes, brushed his wispy hair back with his hands, and—Boom!—he was on.

But back to the beginning. Day two dawned a little cooler in Memphis and I could taste the coming Northeast already. It’s possible that it was just the previous night’s barbecue though, because I forgot my toothbrush in the car the night before. Mmmm. We had a quick bite of cardboard, shaped to look like a muffin, some household cleaner, colored like coffee, and hit the road. It was 9:30. The late start made me a little bitter, but I sometimes have a difficult time taking a backseat to someone else’s needs. By needs I mean that we had to take two quick laps around the hotel to loosen up my dad’s back. How could that make me bitter? Where was my sympathy? Would I relax more as the trip went on?

Our itinerary for the day would take us east through Tennessee on Route 40, then north on 65 through Kentucky, and finally finishing up in Cincinnati after a stint on Route 75. Before we began our trip, my father had one request: to see a civil war battlefield. We have been talking about doing this for years and missed our opportunity to take a drive to Gettysburg when I lived in Washington, DC and on the first day of our trip the plan to see Vicksburg, Mississippi was derailed by our late start. The drive through Tennessee seemed promising in terms of history and we didn’t have that many miles to cover, or so we thought.

We reached our first historic battlefield after just two hours on the road. I happily pulled off the highway to make the short side trip to Shiloh. However, we soon found out that it would be a 130 mile detour on back roads. I looked to my Dad to see if he would give me an out and there were no words forthcoming. It was up to me to make the decision. Having a baby on the way, it was quite easy. Shiloh was out. The detour, sightseeing included—it must be quite a solemn place—would have cost us at least three hours. This would have jeopardized our chances of making Cincinnati that night, and I had two extremely special things to accomplish there. The first was to see my wife’s cousins who I have become close with. The second, well, you’ll have to wait until later for that.

With the brown, somber Shiloh sign in our rearview mirror, we continued on. After an unfortunate stop at a combo A&W/KFC, we were halfway between Nashville and Louisville. I was disappointed that our trip didn’t allow for more sightseeing (Nashville would have been fun), but I did get to cross off my 34th visited state when we made that sad lunch stop in, appropriately, Kentucky. I was now only two states behind my wife, as she has been to California and Florida and I have not. Are you shocked by that sentence? Am I the only person you know who has never been to those states?

Once we reached Louisville, we were only two hours from the end of day two. The hills were getting larger, the traffic thicker, and I could just tell that there was a Dunkin’ Donuts in my near future. Sure, I had consumed three or four or six cups already during the drive, but when it comes to things that fill you with memories of home, exceptions are made.

My surprising knack for identifying areas populated with a Dunkin’ Donuts population proved accurate as within a few miles that beautiful orange and purple sign broke over the horizon like a beacon of hope and sugary, creamy coffee. And yet, I never even mentioned stopping for it. I never even took my foot off the accelerator. You see, my Dad was tired and we were less than an hour from stopping. Coffee—the way I like it—could wait. It had been six months since I last saw a Dunkin’ Donuts, but it was time to put my Dad to bed.

I broke my eight mile per hour rule for the home stretch and we sailed into North Bend, Ohio at 6:30 to the open arms of the VanHart clan. I won’t gush about them, but instead try and describe them in one sentence. The VanHarts are the best combination of zaniness, intelligence, wit and love that I have had the pleasure of encountering. Their three children feel like true siblings and I couldn’t wait to see them. Having said that, it is time to tell you the real reason for our stop in Cincinnati. For the uninitiated—a group that no longer includes me—it’s called Skyline, and it’s chili.

Before we could go out for chili we had dinner with the family and The Dad Show commenced. You know The Dad Show is beginning when I become the subject of as much good natured derision as he can muster and the old New York accent sneaks out as if he were back on the corner with his childhood friends. Soon enough, everyone was laughing at what an idiot I was for passing up on Shiloh because I couldn’t wait to stop at that A&W/KFC, the new hotel we stayed in the previous night was now a dive, the barbecue we ate was terrible, I only drove for one hour that day, I never paid for anything, and all I wanted to do in the car is talk, talk, talk. Believe it or not, this is love.

This went on for about an hour and then it was time. Dad went to bed and we kids went out for Skyline. If you aren’t from Cincinnati, or a lover of Greek food, Skyline may sound a bit strange. It is like no other chili you have tasted. In 1949 a man from Greece settled in the area and opened a restaurant in which he combined the traditions of his homeland with those of his new country. Born from this is a chili that is sweetened with cinnamon and other spices and tastes much like moussaka. If you have had moussaka and liked it, you’re still with me, but here is the best part: it’s served over spaghetti and topped with beans, chopped onions, and a six inch mound of shredded cheddar cheese. I was in a Greek inspired, Midwest Heaven. I stole a menu.


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