I finished the travelogue. I win and when I win you win and then all 19 of us win. Now I can get back to the business of typing about stupid crap and observing things that were really best left unseen.
It really feels good to be back with you guys. All 18 of you.

7/13 Chicago, IL 4382 Miles

The ride from Cleveland to Chicago was relatively uneventful. Some tollways, some roadsides, we got gas somewhere. Hell, even our time spent in Chicago wasn’t eventful. Normally when in Chicago, we tool around downtown, take in some shopping, check things out, fun stuff like that.
Not this time.
We got into town and stopped at Portillo’s for lunch. If you don’t know Portillo’s, you should. Portillo’s is a staple for us when we visit Chicago, it’s all meat and meat and more meat. Vegetarians have limited options, and vegans really need to just not go inside.
After a lunch that shortened my life by a few days, we headed off to IKEA to kill whatever life might have been remaining in our checking account. I got a new set of pans to replace the ones I got for Christmas 10 years ago, and Jen got herself an umbrella that is the physical manifestation of swank.
Back to Portillo’s for dinner. Being that the past two weeks were about tasting the adventure and doing new things, I figured I would try something new. Usually I get something with their tasty Italian beef, but I was craving ribs so I ordered up a half slab of ribs for carry out. Big fat ugly mistake. My last meal of my trip was a flat grey slab of meat that tasted the way a dog smells. Terrible. Shit.
I rounded out my evening by watching Men in Black and discovering that none of the RoadRunner-provided dialup numbers in the Chicago area worked. No email for me.
The next day I drove quickly and safely home, a route I have taken a million times before. My sister and my in-laws were waiting for us and while I was sad to have such a great vacation end, I was relieved to be back in the familiar comfort of my own home.

7/12 Cleveland, OH 3996 Miles

Up early, very early. Packed and ready to leave, we’re gonna go home. It is with a touch of melancholy that I bid adieu to this great nation’s capitol, but it must be done. I have a house and cats and a job waiting for me, so I must begin my trek back to the Midwest. We checked out and kindly Mohammed lifted the suitcase that I would bet was larger and heavier than himself into the car. Parcels rearranged, we set out to find gas, coffee, and the freeway out of town. Gas and coffee were relatively easy, but the freeway was not. As I said before, the city is easy to drive in as long as you ignore all the angled streets and all of the circles. At first it seems that the angled streets are a good idea, a quick way to cut across town when your destination is at an angle from your current location. These angled streets are deceptive. Sure, on the map they look fat and quick, but every few blocks you have a circle with a damned statue in the middle and things get all mucked up and you have to drive slowly and read each street sign so you find the right turn out of the circle, plus you have cars roaming in and out of the circles and their goal is not to get somewhere, but to kill you. But my point is not circles or angled streets or the city planning commission, I am trying to tell you about the freeways. I-95, 295, 395, and 495 all run in and around the city. You can see them clearly marked on the map. What you do not see is any agreeable way to enter these freeways. Street signs led me on a crazy chase all over town, and 18 years later I finally ended up on 495 in the middle of morning traffic.
Meeting up with I-95 was easier, and we headed on our way to Cleveland. The trip was uneventful, really. I had one of those perfect music moments as I was listening to Prodigy while whipping through the Allegheny Mountains at 90 mph. Nothing quite like “Smack My Bitch Up” blaring while you watch the scenery whiz by. We made a quick reroute so we could drive into and out of West Virginia, just to say we had been there.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike was almost completely construction free and reasonably priced. Peace, Love, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike indeed.
Nothing to report about Cleveland, as we didn’t care to actually go exploring. If my experience in Cleveland were the basis for reality, I would have to say that Cleveland is populated entirely by drunken New Yorkers waiting to go to a Yankees game, as well as woefully uninformed desk clerks. I am certain this is not the case, as it probably has its share of shady lawyers and snotty baristas, but I can only work with what I know.
I was in the mood for sushi, but I figured Cleveland sushi would be suspect, so we ordered some room service, watched some TV, and fell asleep.

7/12 Washington, DC 3656 Miles

Our last day in our Great Nation’s Capitol.
We wanted our last day to be leisurely, with only a few more things on the list to see, and this is really the wrapping of our vacation so we figured we should take it easy and relax. We slept in a bit, got ready and headed out around lunchtime. We meandered towards tourism central, hoping to find something to eat. A stop at a place called Harry’s was just what we needed. It was hard to tell if it was really a throwback kind of charming diner with brusque waitresses, simple food, and pleasant atmosphere, or if it was a calculated marketing ploy that worked beautifully. Hard to say, and frankly I didn’t care after my food was delivered and I found 2 Oreo cookies nestled in the chips. I ate one right away and saved the other for dessert. Oreo cookies, hooray.
After lunch we realized we had gotten pretty close to the White House and there was no need to find a Metro station. Someday I will develop a special skill where I will be able to easily maneuver from one map to another and not be messed up by the change in scale. Until then, I will always be surprised to find that the distance from the capitol to the Lincoln Memorial is not equal to the distance between Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
Inside the White House visitors’ center, there was a man dressed as Thomas Jefferson rambling on about important things. I wonder if they specifically started hiring Thomas Jefferson docents that looked like Nick Nolte once the movie came out? I won’t ponder hard on this one, as I have more important things on my mind, like whether or not butter goes bad even if kept cold.
Near the White House is the Department of Commerce Building, and in a city-planning coup, the National Aquarium is located in the basement. I am trying to imagine the meeting in which they are deciding where to put all the tourist attractions on the Mall, and the powerful Department of Commerce lobby managed to get the aquarium in their basement. Probably very much like the meeting where they decide to put a monorail in Springfield, but with less singing and more oral sex.
The aquarium itself is a modest attraction (it’s in the basement of a building that houses a department not in any way related to icthyology). The whole place is reminiscent of a fish store, but the information at each display is thorough and there are many species here that you don’t see regularly at other aquariums. The highlight of my visit was the little boy with his mother, one display behind me. He paused at the tank with the gigantic lobster. “Look, mom, it’s Larry Lobster.” I didn’t catch the reference immediately, then all was clarified: “Mom, where’s SpongeBob?” I wanted to die right there. The kid wanted to see SpongeBob! This was quite possible the most perfect child on the planet.
There was a tank with a nurse shark with a remora stuck on his head, which was good for a few laughs. The touch pool was loaded with horseshoe crabs, hermit crabs, starfish and snails. I felt bad for these animals just trying to hang out, maybe put the moves on that chick with the fancy shell, then suddenly they are torn from their world and smacked around. Sure, this new life keeps you safe from predators that want to eat you, but the average 5 year old is a different beast altogether.
After this, we meandered slowly down the mall, communed with the geese and dragonflies, and headed towards the Vietnam Vets and Lincoln Memorials. There at the end of the mall we sat quietly and had one of the most vicious games of ‘What’s Their Story’ of the whole trip. Nothing was spared and no sympathy was allowed. This whole day was about war memorials, and after flirting with some park rangers, we happened by the Korean Memorial, the DC War Memorial and the future site of the WWII Memorial. We walked a lot this day.
We found our way to the Metro, headed back to the hotel, and collapsed. Not having enough energy to call up for the car and then try to actually pick a place that we would both want to eat at, we decided to order in. A mess of Indian food was delivered and we watched a Star Trek movie until bedtime. We had worn ourselves out and decided that it was, in fact, time to go home.

7/11 Washington, DC 3656 Miles

Once again, it seems that every drop of moisture in the universe has relocated to our great nation’s capital. I have to accept that if I want to do something such as view our nation’s greatest phallic symbol,I am not unique in this desire, and many things, molecular and human alike, will have the same urge. Universally speaking, DC is a pretty neat place to vacation, so I welcome the visits from other beings, including airborne water particulate.
Our first stop was the Holocaust Museum. It was an incredibly somber place, everything you would expect from a museum detailing one of the more horrific events in human history. Having read about and studied the Holocaust, much of it was not new information, but one thing did catch on my brain. In the 1930’s, when Germany was getting around to implementing their big plans for the Jews, they began with social programs. You can’t just kill a bunch of people without first getting the general public behind you and your plan, so they started with strong PR campaigns against the Jews, and then moved on to stiff segregation practices. They did a little research and decided that the system the U.S. had in place to segregate the races was pretty solid and adopted that. Kind of puts things in perspective.
The cafeteria behind the museum was staffed by comforting, matronly black women who called everyone ‘sweetie’ and ‘baby’ while serving knishes and lox.
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing had the same sort of confusing ticketing system as the capitol, so we looked at the outside of the building and wandered away. In a city so densely packed with tours about the inner machinations of this nation, missing one is hardly noticed. On the other hand, I was not able to purchase a little pack shredded dollar bills equaling $100. My friends are emptier for it.
Easier to get into and much more interesting was the Museum of Natural History. I got to see fossils from many eras, and there is a fantastic trilobite display. A teacher or tour guide of some sort was leading a group of middle-school-aged children through the area of early to mid-age dinosaur fossils. In the course of 30 seconds, she was able to give incorrect information regarding Pteronodons, crocodiles, and birds. I kept my mouth shut because people who interrupt teachers and tour guides only to contradict them usually sound like crackpots, especially if they can’t remember specific sources to cite. Most kids don’t really care about paleobiology the way I do, and not understanding the branches of evolution certainly is not going to hinder their future whitewater raft-style adventures in office politics.
We checked out the gemstones and series of rocks and the like. Various quartzes and rubies and spikey grey things. The Hope Diamond was on display and we all took time to look at it and ponder its colorful history. One ten-year-old child kept repeating in her own special ‘I’m ten years old and I have a logical leg up on all of you adults’ sort of way, “Why is everyone so excited by it? It’s just a pretty necklace.” She may have been right in a long-term-history-of-the-universe way, but in a short-term-human-history way, many of us wanted to donate our socks to be shoved into her mouth to make the noises stop. Not trusting how the DC cops might treat someone who has violated a child with a dirty sock, I left the room before I was further tempted.
Back on the street, I enjoyed a moment of people-watching as I sat and ate my sno-cone and fed the ravenously hungry pigeons. Back on the Metro and back to the hotel for a bit of a rest before we headed out again. The next stop was the National Zoo and a rendezvous with my altogether too witty DC friend. The big attraction at the Zoo is the Panda exhibit. Off we went first thing to see the pandas, but they had already had enough of being cute and round and had wandered into their inner sanctum. Through the door you could see one round panda ass, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this fuzzy ambassador from the east was sending me a somewhat less than diplomatic message. Having had enough of his bad attitude, I moved on.
I got to see a hippo eating lettuce and hay. Hippos don’t seem to chew, their mouths just open and a cubic foot of food disappears before their mouths close. Repeat until the floor is shiny and clean. In another area, a baby elephant lay on its side sleeping. His mom stood nearby protectively so that he could dream about his favorite beach ball. His feet twitched happily and I was glad he was born in the zoo so that his dreams would not be of the savanna or that time he and another baby elephant played with the fallen tree trunk while the herd matrons discussed the best route to the old feeding ground.
We met up with my trendy buddy and off we went for sushi and beer and general happiness. Stories were told, jokes were made, and we played ‘What’s Their Story’ again. It should be noted that my friend kind of dug the waitress in the Looney Toons tie. We speculated on the extent of her wacky tie collection and on dating those in wacky ties. The only thing that could have made the dinner better would have been having my boss with us. His acerbic wit and dry humor would have rounded out the evening nicely.
We ended the evening with a slow drive around the monuments at night. They were very impressive all lit up like that, but none of the pictures turned out (obviously). We also hit town at the same time as a Britney Spears concert let out. It doesn’t bother me when little kids like Britney, that’s kind of her job. Even when the creepy old guys like her, I can appreciate this (it’s creepy, but I can accept it). What I was surprised at was the number of late-teen boys that were at the show. I thought perhaps Korn or Linkin Park had opened for her. Probably not.