Vacation 2009: Day 2

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Day 2: July 24, 2009, Pacific, Mo. to Columbus, Ohio, via I-44 and I-70, 479.9 mi., 11:30 en route (plus one hour lost to the time change).

11 a.m. was a later start than I'd hoped for, but it was much better than the day before. We sailed through St. Louis without a snarl. The kids were under a no-books, no-DS order until we passed through the city so that they might actually pay attention to what we were driving past. Interest was expressed in going up in the Gateway Arch, but we were too far behind schedule for that to work; we'd try to fit it in on the return trip. I made sure to call their attention to the Eads Bridge, the Mississippi River, and the near-ruin that is downtown East St. Louis. The oldest boy noticed a tall building that no longer had tenants or even windows: "You can see all the way through it!"

We hit construction delays as we approached the point where I-70 and I-55 split, so I opted to drive a while on US 40. That two-lane road was backed up by what looked to be a serious accident. I gave up after about 10 minutes, confessed to my bad call, turned around (traffic was stopped in both directions) and headed back to the jammed interstate. But before we reached the on-ramp, I spotted a streetsign for "Old National Rd." The old highway led us through the village of Troy, Ill., then back to US 40, which we followed through the town of Highland, settled, according to a book I have on the National Road, by Swiss immigrants; the influence was apparent in some of the town's older buildings.

The current alignment of US 40 doesn't go through Highland, but bypasses it. Having missed the spot where the older alignment splits off to go through the main part of town, we turned south on Poplar, following the signs for the business district. I took a guess, based on years of experience following old highway alignments, about which street would take us east out of town on old US 40. After a few blocks it appeared that my guess was wrong, so I pulled into a subdivision, consulted Google Maps on my Treo, and, correctly oriented, got us back on track. Our path back to new US 40 and I-70 took us past a farmhouse with beautifully decorated shutters, spangled with stars in what we guessed was a traditional Swiss immigrant pattern. (Didn't get a picture, sadly.)

As we were nearing three hours on the road and people were complaining about hunger, I decided that we would stop at the Vandalia McDonald's. It had a Playplace, which would give the two younger kids a chance to burn off some energy, and wifi, which would let me get a couple of tasks handled while the kids played. Before the trip, I'd used McDonald's travel planner to find all the locations on our route with a Playplace and wireless internet, and massaged the data into a spreadsheet (a Perl script was involved), which I printed out and put in a binder along with our AAA online Triptik.

Chillin' with Ronald McDonald

Although we often bought sandwiches out, we'd get water and no fries (or maybe one order to share), and make use of our stock of sodas, Vitamin Water, and snacks in the car.

From there, we headed into Vandalia for a visit to the old Illinois State House, which served as the state capitol from 1834-1837 and was the place where Abraham Lincoln first served as an elected official. Foreshadowing the construction of new stadiums to keep the pro sports franchise happy, it was built at local expense in hopes that the legislature would not relocate to another city. (Nevertheless, Lincoln and other upstate legislators made Springfield the capital just three years later.) The rooms had been restored to appear as they would have in the 1830s, with wood-burning stoves for heat and standing desks.

The docent told us a story about the State Auditor's office. When the state offered a bounty for wolves, a hunter had to bring the wolf's scalp to the Auditor in exchange for a voucher, which he then could take to the local bank to receive payment. To prevent someone claiming the bounty more than once for the same wolf, the Auditor kept all the wolf scalps in an ever-growing pile in his office.

Madonna of the Trail, Vandalia, Ill.We paid a visit to the Madonna of the Trail statue on the southwest corner of the State House grounds, marking the western terminus of the National Road. The Daughters of the American Revolution placed 12 of these statues, honoring pioneer mothers, along the National Old Trail Road from Bethesda, Md., to Upland, Calif. (The statues are roughly contemporaneous with E. W. Marland's competition for the design of a Pioneer Woman monument in Ponca City, Okla.)

Across the street from the State House is a pocket park devoted to Abraham Lincoln, with a statue of Lincoln seated, reading the newspaper. There is a display telling the story of Lincoln's odd proposal of marriage to a woman he didn't love and how devastated he was when she turned him down.


Back on the road after our two hours in Vandalia, we stopped for gas in Terre Haute (my original goal for Day 1's overnight stop) at about 5, then picked up a half-dozen sliders at White Castle for a snack. Reviews were mixed: The grownups liked them; the kids, not so much. We zipped through Indiana, passing through Indianapolis (and marveling at the enormous Lucas Oil Stadium), and taking a break at the Greenfield rest area, which had a pretty wetlands and wildflower area to walk along.

My wife picked up a hotel coupon booklet (RoomSaver) at the rest area, and as I drove she combed through it looking for a good deal along our route. I had hoped to make Zanesville, but the rooms there were scarce and surprisingly pricey. She found a coupon for a Hawthorn Suites on the north side of Columbus. It would take us out of our way, but at $50 it seemed like the best deal. I made the final calls from a gas station just east of the Ohio border, where we stopped for yet one more potty break and to take care of a nasty diaper. (This was an old fashioned convenience store with outside-entrance restrooms and no convenient changing table. Had to change him on the floor with the diaper bag as a pillow. Yuck.)

The kids watched The Return of the Pink Panther for a while, then everyone (except me) fell asleep. We wound our way to the Hawthorn Suites Columbus North, arriving about 11:30 Eastern Time.

Without a doubt, this was the tattiest place we stayed on the trip. It was a converted Residence Inn. The room was large and had a full kitchen, but it was musty, the cabinets had some missing veneer, and there was a big crack across the full-length mirror. It could use some refurbishment, and I was a little surprised that the place met Hawthorn's franchise standards. Nevertheless, we managed to get settled, with the grownups on the double bed, the girl on the fold-out couch, and the two boys on sleeping bags on the floor.

The next morning, the breakfast made up for any deficiencies in the room. Fresh biscuits with real sausage gravy with visible chunks of sausage, and freshly cooked scrambled eggs, along with the usual continental breakfast stuff and the make-your-own waffles. Without a doubt it was the best hotel breakfast of the entire trip. I checked out the breakfast while the rest of the family showered, then we swapped: They ate while I fixed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for later in the day and got the car packed. We hit the road for Day 3 at 9:22 a.m.

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Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

I like that no books no DS rule, so they could pay attention. I thought it was just our little guy.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 17, 2009 11:07 PM.

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