A River Runs Through…the air?

We decided to take two vehicles since we intended to register both in South Dakota after getting our new licenses. I wasn’t sure how successful an acquisition of a license would work for myself as all the proper documents were not in our possession. Steph had her US Passport, but I didn’t have one nor a birth certificate. I looked into getting one from my state of birth, California, but it took weeks. Getting one for my daughter or step-son in WA state was a 30min affair and cost a mere $30.

Bulletproof windows at an AM/PM in Anaheim. Representative of almost everywhere in California.

California sucks balls. I hate driving to, through and around California with a passion. Too many people, fuel is a dollar more a gallon than anywhere else, and there’s an overall feeling of not being welcome or safe. Everything has bars on the windows or doors, there are bullet-proof glass enclosures at many businesses, etc. In my forty-eight years on the planet, I’ve only spent four of them in California. They were formative years to be sure, between 10 and 14, but filled with bad experiences and tumultuous times. If you are from or live in California and love it, good for you. I guess there’s a place for everyone. Being that I have lived in six states and the Middle East before reaching my 17th birthday, I’ve never felt anything resembling “state pride”, only the feeling of being an American. I’m not from anywhere but America.

Anyways, Steph and I headed out from Bangor. We decided to try to avoid hotels and drive straight through with naps at rest stops. In order to save on time, we also figured the extra expense of tolls was acceptable. We reached Massachusetts and I had a long phone call with my dad while going through Worcester. The tolls system there was probably my favorite. You drive through and they take a picture of your license plate, sending you a bill in the mail later.

We continued on through New York where I experienced some of the worst fog of my adult life. However, I didn’t slow down. Using a combination of what my phone was saying the road was like ahead and what could be seen of the road, I set the cruise control to 60mph and kept going. Some people slowed down to almost nothing and I would pass them. Later when there would be a clear patch, they would speed back up and pass me, but eventually there was another patch of dense fog and I would pass them. Being something of a traditionalist at heart, I follow the ancient American axiom of “safety second”. One would be wise to know their limits though and so I’m still alive, if only by luck.

We reached Ohio very early in the morning, probably around 3am or so. The sky was black, the stars and moon blocked by thick clouds that one could see as the lightning flashed within. As we got deeper into Ohio, the rain started to fall, and then it got rainy for real. Now, I’ve seen heavy rain before. Living in Florida and Alabama, rain, sun, rain, all within a thirty minute period was a daily occurrence. At least four times we had to run away up to Birmingham, AL to stay out of the path of hurricanes. But the rain that hit us in Ohio was the most sudden, thick ass rain of my adult life. Living in the Pacific Northwest doesn’t even begin to prepare you for this downpour. This stuff was dense and wind driven, so much so that I could see a river of rain curving like a serpent in the air and moving in a horizontal direction. I slowed to 45mph or so and turned on the hazard lights.

Semi’s were passing us with ease, maybe they got doppler vision? Everyone else we happened upon was either going slower than we were or simply pulled over. It was horrible. Yet, I refused to stop. The lighting was everywhere! Huge bolts coming down super close and far away, everywhere. The thunder shook the truck as I plowed through and hydroplaned down the road. It was an exciting and marvelous sight.

Eventually, the weather eased up some and we got of I-90 to get some fuel. We stopped at McDonald’s and there were some Amish folks inside. Ohio is Amish country for sure. They had a fifteen passenger van, the kind I’m used to seeing Mormons drive. Much like another other religion, not all sects of Amish follow all the same rules. Perhaps they had a driver who wasn’t Amish, but I didn’t see. We had an innocuous conversation with a McDonald’s employee and got on our way.

A travel oasis in Maine. Fairly representative of all of them though regardless of state.

There’s something I’d like to mention about turnpikes and other toll roads. The turnpikes in most of these East Coast states seemed to have these places called a “travel oasis”, “service plaza”, or “service area”. These are right off the highway and have no roads going anywhere else but back on the interstate. They are stocked with a single place to get fuel and a handful of chain restaurants or fast food.

They are a rip off of the highest order. You know how at most McDonald’s you can get a large soda for $1 or get cheap eats on the value menu? Not so at one of these “oasis” places. It was $3 for the soda and the value menu didn’t exist. Gas was higher than at stations on non-toll roads. Everything was more expensive than at places we had already been in the same state. Obviously, these businesses get contracts with the state to be there and they charge whatever they want since you’re captive on the turnpike system. Easy, convenient, or cheap. You can have two of these things but never all three. So not only are you paying to use the turnpike, but you pay extra for everything you need along the way.

Once could argue that the extra revenue pays for better roads and services, but only an idiot who’s never been anywhere would think that. In other states we found roads that were nicer, next to fuel stops and eateries that were more reasonable who didn’t have tolls at all. But the fuel is more expensive? Nope, usually cheaper. These other states, especially the ones with large populations, are simply gouging people as much as they can for additional revenue. If anything is an artificial construct, it’s fairness. Bigger gubberment means more taxes. They need the money to pay for all the other crap in their state.

After a fitful nap at an Ohio rest stop (very clean) we continued on. Indiana was a breeze and we got into Illinois no problem. The weather was sunny with a handful of clouds and in the 80’s. Google Maps wanted to shove us through the outskirts of Chicago again and I put the kibosh on that. We took an insanely out of the way route and Apple Navigation wanted to send us all the way down to Missouri for some reason. Jesus, these apps are retarded some times. After figuring that out, we made our way through Illinois and get into Iowa.

We reached the outskirts of Des Moines, which is in the middle of the state. I wanted BBQ. Iowa is a mostly agricultural state and since I’d lived here before, their BBQ was known to be good. We stopped at Smokey D’s, right off the interstate. The parking lot was packed and I had to park in the back. Always a good sign that the food is good. We got in line, picked our meats and enjoyed a welcome respite from the typical travel fair of burgers and wraps. I can’t recommend the place highly enough. Their BBQ was better than anything experienced in the Portland, OR metro area. Although, if you are in the PDX area, try Podnah’s on Killingsworth. I had the best wings of my life there and the regular brisket is excellent.

After fueling up across the street from Smokey D’s we got on the road and made our way to South Dakota. After passing miles and miles of farms and tiny towns with cheap drinks and snacks, we made it to South Dakota and enjoyed the 85mph speed limit all the up north to our final destination.

The falls of Sioux Falls, SD.

Sioux Falls is the largest city in South Dakota. If I remember right, the metro area is around 180K people. So not big by the standards of most other states, but we were able to find anything we wanted there. We got a hotel room for the next three nights and got ready to get our licenses in the morning. I liked it there a lot. Small, but not too small. Reminded me a bit of Vancouver, WA back in the 80’s. There was a real mall, Walmart, all the fast food chains were represented, Perkins, Petsmart, Home Depot, etc. The downtown area was bigger than most small cities and had lots of older architecture that was well kept up. The city was clean and felt like a safe place to be. Like most places we had been in the preceding weeks, there were “now hiring” signs everywhere as well.

We slept a lot that first full day in Sioux Falls, but we were happy to have made it to our destination. Now all we had to do was get our new SD licenses, which I was sure wouldn’t happen for me anyway, and an RV to live in. Ah, yes, so simple. So deceptively simple.