RoadTrip America

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The Phoenix One Journals      Stories from the dawn of RoadTrip America

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September 13, 1999
From Chicago to New York

Marvin the Road Dog enjoys a hole just his size on the edge
of Lake Michigan

Leaving Chicago under a bank of magnificent clouds, we skirted the south edge of Lake Michigan. Our intention was to cross northern Indiana on the toll road that would have taken us on a pretty straight beeline to Pittsburgh, our next destination.

But a local newspaper and an e-mail message from a former resident convinced us that missing a look at the Indiana Dunes would be a big mistake. So who needs tolls, anyway? We moseyed along Highway 12, stopping to walk to the edge of the lake, climbing a large golden dune and walking along a long, flat beach with some of the best sand I've ever seen. Think brown sugar.

Driving north, we hugged the shore and entered Michigan. Highway 12 took a turn to the right and brought us to New Buffalo, a small town with one main street. I mention this because we were keeping our eyes peeled for a post office, and small towns with one main street are the best places to find them easily. Sure enough, an American flag announced the presence of New Buffalo's post office, and while Mark ran inside to mail some letters, I waited in the Phoenix, enjoying the view of a remarkable establishment across the street. Its decor included lots of hot pink paint and a collection of pig-related signs When Mark came back, I convinced him that we were both in need of an infusion of ice cream. And that's how we discovered Oink's, a place where you can pig out and feel proud.

The dinner hour had come and gone when we passed Sandusky, Ohio, and suddenly a restaurant sounded like a good idea. Mark and I don't dine in restaurants very often, a fact that often surprises people. But every once in a while, a restaurant meal is a great convenience, and we were hungry after a long day of driving. We got off the highway on a road that led to Cedar Point. Except we didn't know it led to Cedar Point, nor did we know that Cedar Point's claim to fame is a large and popular amusement park. It follows that we had no idea that Cedar Point's amusement park had just closed for the day, and that every one of its visitors was looking for dinner. All we knew was that every restaurant parking lot for miles was jammed with cars.

We finally squeezed into a parking lot next to an Applebee's Neighborhood Grill, went inside, and joined the throng packed just inside the front door. A hostess gave us a pager that was supposed to vibrate when a table was available, and we edged our way over to an empty stretch of wall. Tuna sandwiches in the Phoenix were beginning to sound like a very good idea.

Mark turned to a young man and woman standing next to us and asked, "Why are there so many people here?" And that's how we found out about Cedar Point and its wildly popular roller coasters. Our fellow would-be diners were from British Columbia, and by the time our pager vibrated, we were good enough friends to share a table.

"Do you know each other?" asked the hostess when we told her we'd like to eat together.

"Not until twenty minutes ago," I said. "Is that long enough for us to share a table?"

With silent disapproval, she led us to a booth, where we enjoyed a happy dinner with Don and Carmel, who were on the homeward leg of a grand circuit of North America that included a friend's wedding and as many roller coaster rides as possible. Thank goodness proper introductions aren't required by law. It would make road-tripping a sorry pursuit indeed.

Pittsburgh. This is a city that suffers from an old reputation. Mention the place in a city west of the Rockies, and someone is sure to say, "Steel mills. Black fog. Ugh." And if I say, "No, you're wrong! Pittsburgh is one of the most beautiful cityscapes I've ever seen," I'm eyed with as much suspicion as a person who'd have dinner at Applebee's with a stranger. And so the outdated reputation lingers, even as Pittsburgh's bridges twinkle enchantingly in the moonlight.

Four friends met us in Pittsburgh. We first crossed paths with Bob and Marjie Miller and Dave and Joan Shaner three years ago in Key Largo. We had dinner at one of Pittsburgh's classic restaurants, and no one would have dreamed of asking us whether we knew each other. And yet, there was a time when we were strangers in a campground, brought together by chance and a hibiscus flower so deliciously red that it demanded comment.

Before departing from the city of rivers, we spent an evening with Steve and Liz Kapur at their home in the hills, where we learned more of the remarkable story of connection and travel that united them with their two daughters. Through International Association Group, an organization based in Pittsburgh, Steve and Liz traveled to Russia twice to become the proud parents of Katie and Karly, who are now five and three years old. (For more information about IAG, write to 21 Brilliant Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15215, or call (412) 781-6470 or (800) 720-7384. IAG's e-mail address is, and if you would like to talk to someone with firsthand experience, call Liz Kapur at (412) 257-7777.)

Our next stop was New York, but we moseyed our way across the top half of the state before arriving in Pleasantville. My sister Libby Brennesholtz lives in Pleasantville, which is forty-five minutes north of Manhattan by train and right next door to Chappaqua. I wouldn't have mentioned Chappaqua if it weren't for the fact that Bill and Hillary Clinton bought a house there two days after we arrived. This was big news in Westchester County, and for the next week, television trucks and police cars were in obvious abundance. While we scored no sightings of the first couple, we did notice a sign in the local toy store reading "Bye, Bye, Beanie Babies- Hello, Bill!"

Lady Liberty

The highlight of our sojourn in the Empire State so far has been a ride on the Circle Line, a venerable boat tour around Manhattan. Libby, her husband Matt, and my nieces Rachel, Eleanor and Margaret told us that we would see a whole new side of the Big Apple, and they were absolutely right. It was a fish-eye view of the city that never sleeps, beginning and ending at the USS Intrepid, which is permanently docked at the west end of 42nd Street.

It was a foggy, rainy day, but we still caught a glimpse of all New York's major icons and enjoyed a spectacular view of the Statue of Liberty. Little did we know that the big treat of the day was waiting for us back at the Intrepid, which happened to be hosting its annual tugboat rally. Over a dozen tugs of every style, age and size had gathered to test their mettle in races, pulling trials, and even a beauty contest. In spite of the rain, which had escalated by the time we walked to the end of the dock, we checked out all the entrants and met the captain of the Janice Ann Reinauer, a 2400 horse power tug built in 1967. Captain Tom Teague invited us aboard, where we met engineer Leon Furmanski.

Leon Furmanski and Captain Tom Teague
Leon Furmanski and Captain Tom Teague in front of the Janice Ann Reinauer

After the awarding of trophies- we cheered mightily for the Janice Ann when it took a first place - the rain was sheeting down even harder, and we turned to run for cover. As we left, a departing tugboat sounded her whistle. Another joined in, and then another. Soon a dozen tugs were united in song, surrounding us with a chord so delightfully loud and dissonant that we all burst out laughing as we ran.

At the moment, we're in Pleasantville again, enjoying the waning days of summer, plenty of sweet corn, and the delightful company of friends and family.

Pleasantville, New York
September 13, 1999

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