It took us four days of driving to get to our pitstop in Cleveland where we spent a day recuperating. To read the first part of the cross country road trip from San Diego to Cleveland, go here.
Cleveland to Maine: Lobsta
After a very relaxing day in Cleveland, we set out for Maine via Pennsylvania, passing south of Lake Erie. It was raining hard but the scenery became more and beautiful as we got further east. Architecture began to look different. Older. I also noticed birds traveling south for the winter in a very recognizable “v” formation.
We were plagued with toll roads. To cross New York state, it cost us over $20 in toll road fees! And as small as the states look (Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire), it took us nearly all day to reach Maine from Cleveland. The trip to Maine ended at 9 p.m. and our hopes for a lobster dinner were dashed thanks to inaccurate Yelp listings. We resorted to a bar to get lobster rolls and lobster bisque to eat in the uncomfort of our questionable hotel room. (This was the first time I feared bed bugs.) Hotel rooms in Portland are expensive, even the questionable ones.
But we could smell the ocean — the Atlantic Ocean. We reached the other side of the the U.S.! The beaches we saw were filled with rocks, coarse sand and we were freezing. Secretly, I was hoping to see snow on the beach.
Maine to Cleveland: Scary Road Conditions
We got up early the next morning to explore and seek out more lobster. By this time, the odometer in our brand-new rental car was already past 4,000 miles.
I’ve heard a lot of jokes about the prevalence of lobster in Maine and it’s all true! Most signs seemed suspiouciously touristy but I fell for it all. Street names had water-related names, every eatery promoted lobster on their outdoor signage and we even passed what looked like a lobster theme park.
It was a little less difficult finding lobster for breakfast but I wanted it on a roll. I didn’t care it was 10 a.m. — my sense of time was messed up. Unfortunately, most lobster shacks were closed for the season but we found a sit-down place by the water. They were only serving breakfast but after our story about driving out from California (just look at our license plate!), they graciously served us lunch at breakfast. It was glorious. The lobster meat was lightly dressed with no fillers in sight.
I’ve never been to any of the New England states and Paul made it his priority to get into as many states as possible: Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, etc.
New Hampshire is only a few miles from Portland and we filled our tank as soon as we crossed over. I spied lobster advertised at the gas station convenience store. Inside were lobster sandwiches, live lobster in tanks and milkshake dispenser machines. Milkshakes in this part of the country is entirely different from what we know in Southern California. It’s basically flavored milk. For a concoction using ice cream, they’re called frappes. I didn’t get a chance to try some but it’s another reason to return.
It was a really bad idea to head into Boston. The World Series was in town that day and getting around in a car was difficult (traffic, random road construction/detours, etc.). We did a quick stop at the Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute to get a Paul a shirt. It’s really just a writing center but with a bigfoot theme. The clock was ticking and we needed to be back in Cleveland that night.
The weather really started to turn for the worse coming into Buffalo.
Rain turned into sleet in Pennsylvania and we started seeing accidents due to ice on the road. It took us a few hours longer to get back to Cleveland. This was the most frightening part of the road trip.
Prior to reaching my brother’s, he reached me via text to instruct me to do any “bathroomy things” before we arrived. His electricity was out for more than a day due to a freak snow storm, and the electric water pump was out. No power OR water. Yikes!
Ohio to Indiana: A Shower-Free Day
We arrived at my brother’s around 1 a.m. after washing up and using the facilities at a nearby hotel. The next morning we woke up to snow. It was the Doctor’s first snow and he was whipping around the yard trying to figure it out.
As much as I would have liked to stay longer, there was still no working power or water so we headed south looking for a bathroom to use. But a shower would have to wait until Indiana hours later.
Southern Ohio didn’t have snow (the part of Cleveland my brother lives in was the victim of “the lake effect”). Not taking a shower to start my day took a toll on my spirits (I was feeling grungy) but it didn’t dissuade us from checking Grandpa’s Cheesebarn in Ashland, Ohio.
Much like Zingerman’s, it was another food paradise… but with better prices. Everything could be sampled and it was unbelievable. If I could’ve safely brought Amish butter back to San Diego, I would have. The samples we had were our breakfast until we hit Steak ‘n Shake an hour later. I’ve heard great things about Steak ‘n Shake. I ordered a trio of sliders and Paul’s burger looked good but I was craving something else.
Ohio led us into Kentucky (where the grass really looks blue) and finally Evansville, Indiana, where we stayed the night and finally took showers. The hotel was the most expensive one on the trip but it was worth the money to get in early and relax.
Ohio to Missouri: Food Poisoning Strikes
There weren’t many places I experienced culture shock during the trip but it began on this leg. I also suffered a bit of food poisoning from the previous day. (I blame it on the jalapeno poppers purchased at a large national retailer.) Due to that, we left a little later than usual but by mid-morning, I was fully recovered.
We traveled from Indiana to Illinois and then to Missouri to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and home. Here’s a tidbit about me: I loved, loved, LOVED the Little House on the Prairie books. (If you’re a fan of the TV show, I don’t want to hear about it.) When I’m feeling down I reread the books, so visiting her home was dream come true for me.
Laura Ingalls Wilder and her husband, Almanzo, are buried in Mansfield, Missouri. It’s a podunk little town — city hall and the fire station are combined into one building. But across the street is a statue dedicated to her.
Further down the road is the house Almanzo built after they left the Dakotas. In reality, she was a tiny woman standing barely 5 feet tall and all her cupboards and counters reflected her height. I got to see artifacts mentioned in the books: pa’s violin, the piece of lace given to her when she was married, patchwork quilt, etc. Visiting this home has been on my list forever and I finally accomplished it, thanks to Paul.
Remember the bit about culture shock? It was also in Missouri that we noticed damn-near everyone in Walmart wearing hunting gear while shopping. It was eerie and reminded me of how Southern Californians wear yoga pants while running errands. It was a wakeup call.
We continued through Missouri and snacked on lobster bites from Captain D’s (the chain seemed very popular with elderly folks) and I spotted taco pizza from a Kum & Go gas station. (Insert joke here.) The stop for the night was in Bethany.
Missouri to Oklahoma: Culture Shock
For this part, we did a bit of back tracking and lots of driving. We returned to Nebraska to drop off Cool Jerk books at a store we had missed the first time around and also scheduled a quick stop in Lawrence, Kansas. Oklahoma City was the final stop of the day and that’s when the homesickness hit hard.
Oklahoma City to San Diego: California or Bust
In Oklahoma City I encountered different dialects, men wearing 10-gallon hats and heard the clinks of spurs when I checked into the most questionable hotel during our trip. Hotel pictures on the internet aren’t always accurate.
Earlier in the evening, Doctor had puked in the room and he wasn’t handling it well, either. When we woke up the next morning, we had plans to sleep in either New Mexico or Arizona but we eventually drove the entire day and night to return home. But we had five large states ahead of us; four of them among the six largest in the union!
The weather was starting to agree with us again (Paul was back to wearing shorts) and we filled our stomachs with visits to the Waffle House and Donut Stop in Amarillo, Texas. Good thing, since we had several more hours of driving ahead of us.
At this point, we were chasing the sun across the western sky but we managed to do a brief stop in Albuquerque to check out some sights from Breaking Bad and deliver some Cool Jerk books to a comic shop.
That leg was the longest on the trip but we eventually made it to San Diego around 3:30 a.m. to finally sleep in our own beds.
Next: The wrap up