Summer Road Trip

The idea for this vacation started with wanting to see Mammoth Caves in Kentucky.  Since we were driving all that way we decided that we might as well head to Nashville as well.  I didn’t want to schedule more than four hours of driving at a time, so we filled in the rest of the path looking at things no more than four hours apart.  Liam wanted to go to the Football Hall of Fame which put a little wrinkle in things being decidedly more to the East than everything else, but after some thought a plan started to form.  As for when this trip would take place Ann wanted to see a certain act at the Grand Ole Opry so we worked the schedule around that.

The original plan had us driving to Canton, Ohio to the Football Hall of Fame and then on to Columbus for the night.  We’d see COSI in the morning and then head to Kentucky.  Kayaking would be the next day and then a couple cave tours the day after that.  We’d head to Nashville after three days in Kentucky and catch the Grand Ole Opry.  We’d swing by the Country Music Hall of Fame the next morning and then head to Memphis for some BBQ.  From Memphis we’d swing north to St. Louis for a day then Chicago for another day then finally back home.

I made reservations for hotels, tours and concerts for Mammoth Caves and Nashville, but kept the rest open in case we changed our mind.  That was good as in Nashville all plans went out the window…

Day 1 (Friday)

Day one of the trip was to see us leaving by 9AM so we could meet a colleague for lunch in Canton, Ohio and then head over to the Football Hall of Fame.  However, by 9 things were still not fully packed and tasks such as watering the plants so they had a chance of surviving until we returned were still being performed, (they didn’t and I really need to remove their brown carcasses from the front porch).  Around 9:30 we felt ready, but then as we pulled out there was the usual flurry of, “I forgot to pack something.”  After one trip back to the house then another trip to the “other” house we were finally on the road.

The person we were meeting sent us an address for a restaurant on Cleveland Avenue.  Then this was entered into the GPS it asked if we wanted Cleveland Ave. N, NW or S.  I figured it didn’t matter at this point so just picked South.  About an hour out of Canton, Ohio I called the person we were meeting and asked which Cleveland Avenue was right.  It turned out to be NW so I gave the GPS unit to Ann to reprogram as I was driving.  She handed it back a little later and it guided us straight to a small house in the middle of a residential neighborhood with obviously no restaurants nearby.

I called my colleague and verified that it was Cleveland Avenue NW and he confirmed.  I asked Ann if that was what she entered and she confirmed.  Then I checked the “Recent Searches” section of the GPS and found the issue.  When Ann had entered the first three letters of the street name the GPS had kindly prompted her with two choices that matched: Cleveland and Clearwater.  She had chosen Clearwater.

Luckily our real destination was only a few minutes away and we arrived about the same time as the person we were meeting.  Then it was off to the Football Hall of Fame for a couple of hours.  None of us are into football enough to really appreciate all that the Hall had to offer, but it was impressive and had some nice displays.

The next stop was Columbus.  We did not have any plans in Columbus other than it was a major city not too far from Canton and shortened the time on the road the next day into Kentucky.  Liam wanted to pick up a shirt at a Target to wear to the Grand Ole Opry and Ann wanted some Dramamine as she was getting nauseous trying to read in the car.  As we approached Columbus we put Target in the GPS and followed it to a large shopping district called Easton.  It reminded me of 12 Oaks although even more condensed and with more hotels.  While at Target I looked up some hotels nearby and called one to make a reservation.  Then off to dinner, to the hotel after and finally into the hot tub and pool.

Day 2 (Saturday)

Liam loves to swim and Ann loves to sleep in, so Liam and I headed back to the pool in the morning.  We woke up Ann in time for the complimentary breakfast and looked over travel guides for Columbus to see if there was anything we wanted to do there before heading to Kentucky.  I suggested that Ann put on her Michigan State shirt, Liam put on his University of Michigan shirt and I put on my Purdue shirt.  Then we could go to the Ohio State campus and take a selfie in front of an OSU sign.  While the kids thought that to be a funny idea Ann was afraid we’d get assaulted.  So we went to COSI instead.

I am not a fan of paying for parking if I don’t have to, so when we arrived at COSI and saw the lots there were $8 I exited and drove the streets around the building.  Unfortunately they had meters.  However I did not see meters a block away and we were able to find a free spot only a quarter of a mile from the science center.  While purchasing tickets the cashier asked if I needed to pay for parking and I gave her a smug, “no.”

We left around lunch time and Ann decided since we were downtown we should just drive a little and find some place to eat.  I wasn’t too keen on that as there for sure would be no free parking and the restaurants would probably be expensive, but we drove around a little anyway.  One turn led us to something like a city within a city.  There were several blocks of new buildings that all looked similar dressed in red bricks.  There was also construction still being done on the roads.  We passed a building with a hockey motif and decided it was where the Columbus Blue Jackets played.  Next door was a parking structure that we slipped in to.  The structure was one where you paid a machine and you put the paper it spit out on your dashboard.  I didn’t feel too bad about paying for parking this time as it was a more reasonable $3.  We found a pizza place across the street and lunch was reasonably priced as well.  As we walked back to the car we saw a man looking in our window then moving on to the next car and doing the same—the meter “maid”.  Sometimes it does make sense to pay for parking.

We prepared to head off by entering the address of our hotel in Cave City, Kentucky into the GPS unit.  It estimated our time of arrival to be about three hours later.  This surprised me as I was expecting to drive a little over four hours.  I didn’t worry about it too much at the time as it seemed to be pointing us in the right direction, so we headed out.

As we reached Louisville we decided to stop, stretch our legs and get something to eat.  We didn’t see anything that looked like civilization yet even though Louisville was only supposed to be a few miles away.  The GPS showed a river to the right of us, but we couldn’t see anything but sheer rock faces created by dynamite to make way for the road.  So when an exit came marked as leading to an historic water tower which several people seemed to be using, we decided to leave the freeway.

It was a short block to the water tower and we could see a river beyond it.  However as we drove into the parking lot we found not only it filled but there were also cars in loose rows filling the lawn area where common sense said they should not be.  As if on some cue based on our arrival people started emerging from the building behind the water tower.  It was close to 5 so at first I figured that the landmark was closing, but then Ann noticed one of them crying and all were dressed up.  It suddenly dawned on us that we had probably arrived at the tail end of a funeral.  Unfortunately people were now streaming out of the building and crossing the street to the field beyond clogging my direct line of escape.  So we drove onto the grass and crossed by the furthest rows of cars as people had not made it out there yet.  Liam asked me if we were supposed to be driving on the lawn but then looked at the rows of cars on either side of us and answered his own question with an “Oh”.

Finally a clear driveway was in sight nestled at the other end of a small curb.  Ann told me to just drive over it.  However I hesitated for a couple of reasons.  The first being that Ann is getting close to driving age and this is the second time this trip that she told me to just drive over a curb.  This gave me a slight pause wondering what sort of decisions she’d be making when behind the wheel.  Secondly I didn’t want to encourage such behavior by partaking in it myself.  But looking at the alternative of going back the “proper” way and trying to forge what was now a steady couple streams of slow-moving people I just went over the curb with a stern warning for Ann to not drive like that.

When we reached the end of the driveway to the water tower we had the choice to go right, straight or left.  We chose right as it was going the same way as we had been going on the freeway but was closer to the water so maybe there would be another place we could stop and walk.  After a couple minutes we also saw downtown buildings peeking over the trees ahead of us.  A curve or two later and people started appearing on the sidewalk beside us and two lanes became one as several cars were parked on the side of the road.

I figured that where there were cars and people with children walking around and bikers would be a good place for us to stop, so we drove until we found an open parking spot and pulled in.  Right next to us was a long, old bridge crossing a river.  It looked like a train bridge with the repeating sections of curved tops, but it ended in a long, gradual spiral walkway filled with a constant although not crowded flow of people.  Ann needed to use the restroom and I spied a narrow building nearby that seemed to fit the bill.  As we walked toward it we saw groups or people having cookouts, birthday parties and the like surrounding a large area with a spray park, playground equipment and a play structure.  The building was indeed a public restroom with four individual doors.  The first three doors opened to reveal no toilet paper and the fourth was locked.  Ann wanted to give up, but we waited and door four turned out to be a winner.

Next we walked down to the river and Ann and Liam sat on one of the many swinging benches scattered about as we plotted our next move.  I wanted to cross the bridge and see what was on the other side, but Ann, not keen of heights, wasn’t interested.  Both kids were slightly hungry, but even though there was a restaurant just beyond the play area they were not interested in that either.  So we walked a little more and came across a hot dog stand.  I asked the lady behind the counter what was on the other side of the bridge and she said it was a small town with shops and restaurants.  I asked her if she had any favorites and she listed off a few which I promptly forgot.  For some reason this conversation changed Ann’s mind about crossing the bridge so after a quick stop at the car to pick up sweatshirts in case the weather cooled we took the long, winding ramp to the top.

The bridge turned out to be an old railroad bridge as first suspected.  Except it had been rebuilt twice and was now a bicycle bridge a mile long.  It had started to rain slightly as we walked and although there were no really threatening dark clouds there was also no blue to be seen at all.  Now that we knew the bridge was a mile long and that the rain could easily become heavier I asked the kids if we should turn back.  “No,” Ann said, “it’s an adventure.”

By the time we had reached the town at the other end of the bridge the rain was hard enough that we were hugging the store fronts to stay under their awnings and timing lights at intersections so we could dart from under one awning, cross the street and arrive at the next awning without any time wasted waiting for signals to change.  The only thing I remembered the hot dog lady saying was that her favorite place had Café in the name.  After searching in vain for a few blocks we ran across a place called Clucker’s that was blanketing the area with a delicious chicken smell and decided to stop there instead.

After eating the rain had retreated slightly and we braved it without awning hopping and without getting too soaked either.  Back at the car the GPS still insisted that we had about 15 minutes to Cave City, so we headed out.  This time, however, I asked the kids to check the paper map I had to verify that the GPS wasn’t leading us astray.

This turned out to be quite an adventure.  I had pretty much figured out that the time zone must change between Lexington and Cave City, and that the GPS was reporting arrival in the destination location’s time zone.  However, I decided to let the kids check things out anyway to give them something to do.  At first they complained that the map just showed detailed sections of various cities, so I told them to turn it around.  Then they couldn’t find Louisville so I told them to use the index.  They still couldn’t find it so I told them to find the Interstate, (big blue line), that we were on and follow it.  Still no luck, but they did find Mammoth Park as it was a big green area on the map.  So then I had them follow it in reverse until they got to Louisville and then use the key to estimate how many miles Cave City was from Louisville.  Finally I broke the news that we didn’t have a 15 minute drive, but an hour and 15 minute one.  This did not resonate well, but we lived.  As soon as we pulled off the road and into Cave City the low fuel level alert sounded.

Day 3 (Sunday)

The plan for this day was to find a church to attend in the morning and then go kayaking in the afternoon.  The morning sky was grey and the weather report called for rain and thunderstorms throughout the day but the temperature was supposed to get into the low 80s.  We decided to find a church first and after worship decide what to do based on the weather.  The hotel guest services directory listed three local churches and we chose one with a very generic name: Cave City Christian Church.  The congregation was nice and the speakers that day were a couple missionaries about to head to Columbia.

Unfortunately the weather forecast about precipitation was right.  As we stepped out of church there was a slight misting of rain and thunder in the distance.  We changed into swimsuits, grabbed a quick drive-through lunch and headed out to the kayak rental office.  The further we traveled the harder the rain came and soon the wipers were on full-time instead of making their arc every few seconds.  I asked the kids if they were sure about this and they said that yes; it would be an adventure.  Besides, we were going to get wet anyway and it was warm enough outside even if more like mid 70s instead of low 80s.

The rental office was a weather-beaten wooden structure that looked like it belonged on an old farm as some sort of storage area or small work place.  Inside was a scattering of various supplies like waterproof boxes and river shoes along with three men standing around a small table shoring up life vests.  I said that I knew the weather was crazy then asked if they were still renting.  One of the men looked at me and said that if we wanted to rent they were renting.

After some paperwork and instructions there was a small debate on which kayaks to use.  The “sit in” models were smaller and one man thought better for the kids to control, but another was afraid they’d keep filling with water and we’d have to stop to empty it several times.  We finally decided that the kids would have the “sit ins” and I’d take a “sit on top”, and we’d take our chances with having to purge the water.  With that settled we followed the van towing the kayaks to the pickup point then headed eight miles upstream to the ingress point.

There were a couple flights of long, wide concrete steps leading down to the water edged with slippery mud that made its way onto some of the steps as well.  In the middle of the steps was a thigh-high pair of boards angled into a slight V shape.  Ann and the man who drove the van carried the two smaller kayaks down at the same time resting one of them on the boards.  Liam and I hefted the larger kayak and slowly picked our way down the steps trying to avoid precarious mud slicks.  At the top of the second flight of stairs the man told us to just place the kayak on the boards in the middle and slide it down.  This was much easier and soon we were in the water ready to start.

At this point the rain completely stopped.  The downpour had retreated back to a misting during the drive but then ceased altogether right before we took our first pulls of the paddles.  The sky was still overcast and thunder grumbled in the distance, but for now things were clear.  As we floated further and further downstream the thunder seemed to follow us from behind as if threatening to pounce and at one point a cold, electrified wind buffeted us which I was sure was a sign of another downpour.  However the rain held off for four and a half hours and only gave a timid showing when the stopping point was in sight.  The thunder faded into the distance at some point, but not before Ann made up a Haiku-like song about mountains and echoes and thunder.

In the mountains
Where the echos run wild
The thunder rolls.

Our first stop was a small cave on the bank of the river.  If you were very careful you could guide your kayak through the shallow waters guarding the entrance of the cave and then glide the 30 or so feet to the end of it.  The kids made it about halfway in before deciding it was too dark and turning around.

The river is slow-moving and deep except for occasional shallow areas around islands or outcroppings of land.  A couple of times we stopped in the shallow areas and waded around picking up clam shells, (of which there were a plethora), snails and other riverbed treasure.  The half shells we used to spell out “HI” on one of the islands and the ones that were still connected and shiny inside the kids kept.  Soon the kids had a large collection of shells in their kayaks and snails on the front.  They’d call out when one of their snails peeked out of its shell or moved about.  At the end of the ride the kids whittled their shell collection down to one each, but then ditched those as well when bugs kept crawling out of them in the car.

Dinner was the kid’s first experience with Cracker Barrel and they loved it.  Then McDonalds where the soft serve cones cost 59 cents—10 more cents than in Michigan.

Day 4 (Monday)

The day started with an early morning three hour walking tour of a small part of Mammoth Caves, (three miles out of 400).  The tour, called the Violet City Lantern Tour, was lit by lanterns carried by some of the participants and the tour guide’s talk was more about history than geology which was interesting.  There were a bunch of ups and downs, and the kids were worn out and ready for some downtime afterward.  We hunted around for a local diner and only found one that was still in business, so stopped there and ate with the locals.  Then back to Mammoth Caves as we had a second tour scheduled for that evening.  However the description of the tour sounded a lot like the one we had just completed and a park ranger confirmed that there was indeed a bit of overlap between the two.  Luckily we were able to change our tickets to a totally different tour called Domes and Dripstones the next morning.  Since our afternoon and evening were now free we decided to go horseback riding at a place just outside of Mammoth Park.  The trail was nice and the horses weren’t the type to just follow the path, so the kids and I were able to play around passing each other and trotting some.

On the way back to our hotel in Cave City, we stopped at a few of the tourist souvenir shops for the fun of it.  Most of it was general things you could get anywhere although they all seemed to also have a small section of antique things.  One store, however, reversed the trend and had a small section of general things and the rest filled with antiques, garage sale rejects and just plain weirdness.  The store had three sections which were all the size of places we had already visited separated by doors.  A sign in front of one of the doors said that “this is not a museum” and that “all this junk is for sale”.  I’m not sure who would want a broken adding machine of some kind probably circa 1950 and various rusted metal items that looked like pieces of old farm equipment, but if one did this was the place to get it.

For dinner we went to the next town over: Glasgow.  It was bigger and had more choices for food.  We located a non-chain Italian place where the food was decent and the portions obscene.  We all had enough leftovers for another dinner and in fact did cart it with us to Nashville and ate it the next day.

Right before dinner Liam was nominated to take the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge”.  This is a social media campaign to raise awareness for ALS.  Basically after you are nominated you have to give money to an ALS foundation or video yourself having a bucket of cold water dumped on you then nominating up to three other people.  During dinner Liam and Ann decided who they would nominate as Liam would for sure nominate Ann.

Back at the hotel Ann started filling a garbage can with ice while Liam changed into his swimming suit.  Some water was added to the ice and then we headed outside to make the video.  Unfortunately at this point it was dark, Liam didn’t want to wait until the morning to make a video, and I refused to allow them to make their film in the main car breezeway.  So we exited one of the side doors and ran into a couple teenagers walking in.  They looked at the kids and asked them if they were doing the ice bucket challenge and said that they had just done it themselves.  Sure enough, by one of the outside lights water and ice cubes were visible on the sidewalk.  We ended up going to the grassy area behind the hotel and standing near one of the orange street lights to record Liam’s video.

Day 5 (Tuesday)

The day started packing up the car then heading out to another cave tour.  This one had us going down three hundred stairs, (the guide told us the number of stairs, but Liam counted to make sure the figure was correct), and squeezing and ducking through narrow passageways.  The kids thought that was pretty neat.  They had wanted to go on the “Introduction to Caving” tour which I thought sounded fun, but it required that you bring your own lace-up boots and I wasn’t going to get them some shoes they would probably only wear once.

After the tour we drove straight to the freeway and headed toward Nashville.  The kids were hungry and the quickest way to the freeway was through the park where there would be no restaurants, but I was pretty sure we wouldn’t have to go far before either the now very familiar Subway sign or the almost as omnipresent Waffle House sign popped into view.  Sure enough, a couple exits away was a small gas station and convenience store with an attached Subway sitting on a two-lane road that seemed to lead to nowhere.  We were able to restock the cooler with ice and grab some sandwiches for the road, but passed on the live bait and small doses of 5 Hour Energy.

We had tickets to the Grand Ole Opry that evening and reservations at a hotel that said it was right next to it.  When planning the trip I specifically searched the Internet for hotels right next to the Opry so we didn’t have to deal with traffic.  The more expensive ones, including one that looked like it could be a hotel in Vegas complete with indoor gondola rides, were sold out.  This one was obviously more dated, but had a nice pool which Liam loved and a decent-sized suite for a third of the cost.  For dinner we planned to eat our leftovers from the night before even though ice had melted in the cooler and some water had leaked into the Styrofoam containers.  When we got to our room, though, we’re weren’t especially hungry so decided to wander over to the Opry, pick up our tickets, scope out the place then come back to eat.  We still had a couple hours before show time—no problem.

We asked the front desk the best way to walk to the Opry and they said it would take 35 minutes and they wouldn’t recommend walking, so we drove.  I guess “right next to” is a relative term.  Honestly it wouldn’t have taken 35 minutes to walk, (maybe 20 tops), but the streets were pretty busy and it was probably not the best place to be walking at night after the Opry lets out.  It was obvious now though that we were not going to drive back to the hotel to eat then get back to the Opry without rushing, so the leftovers would have to wait for another time.

We parked strategically, (a bit more walking than we could have gotten away with, but should make for a much quicker getaway), got our pictures taken, picked up our tickets, and grabbed a small yet expensive “sandwich of some sort in a bag” to eat in the lobby.

Ann had picked this show because Craig Morgan was performing that evening and she liked him.  There were plenty of tickets available for it at the time I purchased them, but I wanted somewhere that we, being vertically challenged, could still see the performers with people standing in front of us.  Therefore my search was constrained to first few rows where you’re still looking up or the first row of the balcony.  There were exactly three seats available in the first row in the near-center of the balcony, so we got those.  As it turned out the venue was not the type where people stand during the performances, so it was probably good that we didn’t get some front-row seats or our view might have been blocked by the audio monitors.

It was also lucky that we purchased tickets when we did because soon after a well-known singer named Carrie Underwood was added to the line-up.  Our show was not only sold out, but another show was added half an hour after ours and that one sold out as well.  The opening act said that the radio spots announcing the shows advertised, “Carrie Underwood and more”, so she concluded that her name must now be “Anda Moore”.

The audience warm-up entertainment started about 45 minutes before the show, so it was also good that we were there early.  At one point the emcee started saying the names of various tour companies with groups there that evening expecting a ruckus response from the named, but after several failed attempts he ruffled his papers and asked if he had the right day.  He finally received some yells after calling out a couple groups, but I guess most of the companies didn’t get the memo that they were supposed to arrive early.

The concert was great, getting out of the parking lot took under five minutes and when we got back to the hotel we were able to enjoy a late-night meal of slightly soggy yet not too bad after being reheated veal parmesan and spaghetti with meatballs.

Day 6 (Wednesday)

At breakfast we decided to change our itinerary and spend another day in Nashville.  The first stop was the Country Music Hall of Fame, but since we had decided to spend another night and did not have to check out of the room we didn’t reach downtown Nashville until lunch time.  A friend of Ann had recommended a pizza place called Mellow Mushroom.  The GPS listed two locations one a mile away and the other 1.2 miles.  We opted for the closer one and took off passing the stadium for the Tennessee Titans on the way.  However, when the GPS triumphantly declared that we had reached our destination, we were in the middle of an overpass with no restaurants next to or under us.  So we chose the other listing and found it next to the Vanderbilt campus along with some very tight yet free parking at a nearby Starbucks.  The places next to the Starbucks had stern signs warning that people using their lot but not their establishment would result in their car being towed, but the Starbucks lot had no such threat, so I figured we were kosher.

It turned out to be the restaurant’s 40th birthday to the day and they were running some specials where certain things were priced the same as they were in 1974, (basically a small cheese pizza and various drinks).  The place was packed although I’m not sure if that was normal or because of the specials.  Liam was given a small container of bubbles which amused him although the people whose bodies and food were close to his exploding bubbles were probably not as amused. 

The Country Music Hall of Fame was next.  I’m not a big country music fan, but there were some nice displays and things to read.  We then decided we’d go to the mall next to the Opry as well as visit the large resort/hotel there.  We couldn’t find how to park at the hotel, so headed to the mall first and figured we’d walk to the hotel from there.  Besides, Ann had been chomping at the bit to get a pair of proper boots since the concert last night.  I told her that boots were expensive, but she found her prize back in the stacks of clearance items for a decent price.  Liam was getting restless with shopping, so the next stop was Dave and Buster’s also in the mall.  Finally we decided to head over to the resort/hotel and check it out.  Unfortunately it was raining—hard.

We wandered back in and I had the idea that there must be a shuttle between the mall and hotel.  We asked the Maître d’ of one of the restaurants next to us and he glumly replied after realizing that we did not want a table that he knew of no shuttles.  We went to the next restaurant which was basically a huge aquarium with fish swimming all around the diners and the hostess told us where the shuttles arrived.  Sure enough we made it to an exit by the food court and there was a sign stating that shuttles arrived on the hour and the half-hour.  It was 35 minutes after the hour.  We were tired of the mall and didn’t want to wait 25 more minutes, so decided to brave the downpour enough to get to our car and find some dinner.

Ann decided that we should Chinese food.  We queried the GPS and found a few prospects nearby so started at the top of the list.  Unfortunately the first one we came to was the type of establishment where the menu was a bunch of pictures above the cashier and there were only a couple small tables in the place.  We were looking for more of a sit-down type of meal.  So we went to the next closest one, but found the same thing.  We kept following the chain getting further and further from the hotel without any luck.  After each rejected place we would consult the GPS again and try to figure out what restaurant name conveyed the type of place that would be a more refined establishment.  For example, “China Fast” was immediately ruled out.  We finally found a sit-down place on the fifth try, but it was either out of business or just closed.

The rain continued during our increasingly lengthy trip, but lessened and we were treated with spectacular displays of lightning.  These were not crooked lines that shot toward the ground, but spidery shapes that crackled in the clouds.  One breathtaking visual started as a thin line shooting across the sky, exploding in several directions like a firework then bending back on itself leaving the image of a flower pressed into our minds.

While heading toward the ninth attempt we were pretty hungry and had been driving for almost an hour, so decided that this was the last try and we’d just go to Waffle House if it was a strike.  We also decided to think positive thoughts about us finding the perfect end to this adventure.  As the GPS cheerfully guided us to our destination there were several stand-alone restaurants and things looked promising.  However in the distance a small strip mall attached to a gas station came into view.  As we grew closer we saw that the strip mall had a small storefront advertising Chinese food.  When we finally pulled into the parking lot we saw the familiar decor: a counter with pictures of food behind it and a couple small tables by the front window.

We ended up at a steak place next to the hotel with a log-cabin interior.  We were seated next to a large pool with catfish sluggishly swimming about in it under the gaze of stuffed deer ringing the shore.  It wasn’t Chinese food and was somewhat more costly than what I had been led to believe from earlier research, but at that point we were not going to start another restaurant hunt.

As we got back to the hotel and in WiFi range of Ann’s iPod she must have gotten some sort of text because she asked me if we were going to be back on Friday.  I told her that we were not planning to be back until Sunday.  This didn’t go over too well with her as she informed me that Friday she was supposed to go to the school to pick up her schedule, get her school picture taken and attend a session to set up her school-issued notebook.  I had not received any letters or emails from the school about this, so it was a complete surprise and I spent some time after the kids went to bed drawing up a new plan.

Day 7 (Thursday)

With the new understanding that we needed to be back in Michigan the next day by 2 PM the plan was to travel to Louisville, take a break at the Louisville Slugger factory, then continue on to Indianapolis for the night.  We would then leave early the next day and arrive home with time to get made-up for pictures, etc.

The Louisville Slugger factory was interesting and Liam walked out with a new wooden bat, (too heavy for him to actually use, but something to hang in his room).  Then it was time for lunch.  There were two places where the kids wanted to eat before getting back to Michigan: Chick-fil-A and Waffle House.  Since I didn’t remember how far north Waffle House went, we decided to eat there and save Chick-fil-A for dinner.  The kids loved it and were amazed at all the different topping options available for the hash browns.  I had mine smothered, Ann had hers country and Liam had his topped.

In Indianapolis I planned to stop at the Canal Walk to stretch our legs.  Unfortunately there was a minor league baseball game that afternoon and the usually free parking was now a pay lot.  We drove a little further down the waterfront to the Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis campus and quickly decided there would be no free parking today.  We started on the Canal Walk at the southern end and after only a few minutes the kids asked if we could continue on driving.  I had only planned to drive a little out of town and find a hotel, but figured since the kids weren’t getting stir crazy in the car and we had a late lunch so weren’t hungry we might as well push on and maybe stop in Fort Wayne.

About an hour out of Indianapolis the kids decided that they were hungry, so we looked up Chick-fil-A on the GPS.  The only one that didn’t require a bit of a detour off the freeway was in Fort Wayne.  Since we would be arriving in Fort Wayne well after the regular dinner hour I called the restaurant to see when they closed.  As it turned out they would be locking the doors about 10 minutes after the GPS said we’d pull into the lot.

At this point getting Chick-fil-a had crossed from being a strong desire to being a challenge, and I like a good challenge.  Therefore we decided that even though the closer Chick-fil-a would take us about 15 minutes off-course, (and another 15 minutes to get back on-course), we’d do it.  Although I didn’t know it at the time, the Holy Spirit also played a role in nudging us in that direction as our journey was about to get a lot more interesting.

The rain started a little before we exited the freeway.  It wasn’t especially heavy and the lightning helped illuminate the way as we headed down a county road toward chicken goodness.  The lightning also sparked some jokes about exploding farts as we passed a place named Gas City.

After guiding us through some rural and residential areas, the GPS had us turn into a very dark and unpopulated parking lot while cheerfully announcing that we had reached our destination.  As it turned out we had reached the campus of Indiana Wesleyan University and obviously school was closed for the night.  I suppose the unlighted building in front of us was some sort of student center that probably an hour or so earlier would have been populated with people enjoying a meal from Chick-fil-A or other dining establishments while studying or socializing.  However now everything was locked up.

While I hated the idea of giving up on the goal of a Chick-fil-A dinner I knew Willie Nelson would say I had to know when to fold and walk away.  While not happy with that we headed back to the freeway vowing to stop at the first place that was open and serving food.

The rain was constant but not a bother until we left the residential areas and were driving along another county road through a dark and unpopulated area.  At this point the rain turned into what I can only describe as a waterfall.  I knew that there was a car in front of me and one behind me because I saw their lights before, but now those lights had vanished.  The choice as I saw it at the time was to pull over as far as I dared, (which would not be far as there was really no space between the pavement and what must now be a muddy trap), hoping to not be rear-ended by the car behind me, or press on to find a better option.  I chose to press on and shortly after passing the car in front of me who chose the option of stopping saw some lights from a gas station to the right.  It was hard to find the entrance, but did and then saw an Arby’s next to it.  Dinner time!

The parking space we pulled in to was no more than 15 feet from the door to the restaurant, but in the time it took us to run that distance we were as drenched as if we had jumped into a pool.  While we ordered I asked the cashier when they closed.  It was in about half an hour but she added that they wouldn’t send us out into this weather and we could stay as long as we wanted.

After sitting down with our (non-Chick-fil-A) meal I checked the weather on my phone and it screamed all sorts of things like severe thunderstorms, hail, high winds, tornado warnings, (not tornado watches mind you), etc.  Technology being what it is we could also see a real-time weather image over the last 10 minutes.  The red (bad) spots were directly over us now, but based on the speed they moved over the last 10 minutes it seemed that they would pass over soon.  As it turned out they did and we didn’t have to take up the cashier’s offer to stay after closing time.

As we left Arby’s the rain was back to constant but not a bother.  The lights on the gas station that guided us into safety were joined by the lights of a hotel right before it only a couple parking spaces more distant from the road on which we had been traveling.  However they had been invisible the first time we had passed them making a startling point on how heavy the rain had been.

We reached Fort Wayne and the GPS had us following what must have been a bypass as there were no signs of hotels and or other civilization.  I had been planning to stop around this point, but the kids seemed to be sleeping and I had a second wind, so we pressed on. As I drove Indiana turned into Ohio and then into Michigan, while Thursday turned into Friday.  A little after 1AM we arrived home and stumbled into bed.  Ann made it to her school engagements and all was well.  Granted: there was no Chick-fil-A or Memphis BBQ or Chicago deep-dish pizza.  Those, as the kids would say it, will have to be future adventures…

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