Winston-Salem to Cincinnati


As first days tend to be, this was our day to cover a lot of distance without a lot of stops. We drove ever northward through the day, stopping for lunch at a very uninspiring Bob Evans in Wytheville VA and for dinner at a slightly more inspiring Big Boy in Maysville KY.

Highlights for the day included lots of fall color, a nuclear power plant outside Charleston WV, and Maysville KY itself, a surprisingly cute Ohio River town we imagined our mothers would both like very much. We also stumbled onto some really cool radio station in Cincinnati that played everything from Big Band to 1930s jazz to pop standards.

Cincinnati itself looked worthy of exploration as well.

Cincinnati to Chicago


After being a bit horrified by the tube of Anal-Ese we found on the headboard of our bed (no, it wasn’t ours), we checked out of our nondescript motel and had a similarly nondescript fast food breakfast before briefly exploring downtown Cincinnati.

I really want to spend more time here. It’s one of those midwestern cities I love, the ones that used to be much bigger and more important than they are now, and look it. Most people know Cincinnati — if they know it at all — as the headquarters of Kroger and the home of WKRP. But it has a pretty massive and attractive downtown area surrounded by interesting neighborhoods in varying stages between scary decay and scary gentrification.

We also found another great radio station that played the Dead Milkmen and the Pixies, and which has apparently switched to a considerably less tolerable format since our trip.


After a stop by Pamida, we made our way to Indianapolis to have lunch with my friend Bob. Those of you who have been reading the site for a long time may remember that Bob made the suggestion that led to my first online cross-country road trip in 1997. Thus, Indy has always been a necessary stop on any trip that takes me in the general vicinity.

We had lunch at an MCL Cafeteria that was much better than the one in Columbus, and then took the nickel tour of Indianapolis, including my favorite old Kroger on Tenth Street.

We arrived in Chicago to find that every road into the city was under construction. It’s amazing the detrimental effect that having only two lanes of freeway capacity into the third largest city in America will have, even on a Sunday night. We finally made it to our Best Western in the Rogers Park/Loyola area, and were amazed at how nice (and cheap) the room was. We had dinner nearby, stopped by Dominicks for provisions, and called it a night.


I woke up excited. Chicago is one of my three or so favorite American cities (the others being Los Angeles and a third which varies from year to year). I love to explore Chicago.


We wanted desperately to have breakfast at the Ohio House Coffee Shop. It looked wonderful. We found it, went in, had a seat, got menus, and then…nothing. No one would take our order. No one would bring us silverware or drinks. No one would acknowledge our presence. The waitresses were chatty and attentive to the patrons at the counter, most of whom they seemed to know. But no one would say a word to us. After a reasonable amount of time, we left.

Apparently, if they don’t know you, you aren’t allowed to eat at the Ohio House Coffee Shop in Chicago. So they can pretty much rot in hell. We ended up at a Potbelly around the corner, which was OK, if vaguely unsatisfying.


We took a rainy walk around The Loop and visited Marshall Field’s (no, it will never be Macy’s) and Carson’s just for architectural purposes. We oohed and aahed over the Louis Sullivan buildings and the more modern treats as well. It was a very photo-intensive day.


OK. I cheated and grouped all the photos from The Loop here together. It seemed to make sense, and that’s why we’re wearing different clothes (and standing in vastly different weather) in some of them.





I was very excited to have finally seen the Bob Newhart building, not to mention the 15,000th 7-Eleven location in the world. Both have plaques.


We had dinner with my old friend Rae (who I hadn’t seen in nearly ten years, I think) and her Rob at a bar whose name escapes me right now. But it was good.


Breakfast at the Golden Nugget is a good thing. We did Clark Street and parts of Broadway before driving the length of North Avenue to the western suburbs, on the advice of Rae and Rob. It was a good way to get a sort of “big picture” experience. It also allowed us to hit a suburban Target for some necessities.


On the way back in, we stopped at the Sears Tower and looked out from the 110th (0r 109th or whatever) floor, which is about as high up as you can get in a building in the United States. It was pretty cool, and I called my mom from up there, since it was her birthday. Predictably, the call was dropped midway through. That seems to happen a lot in Chicago.


We circled back to the motel in order to get showered and ready for dinner at Moto.

Moto is definitely an experience. What could be a very pretentious place gets marks for not taking itself too seriously. The food was interesting, based as it was on assorted chemical reactions, etc. In observance of pizza night, there was a pizza soup served. And we got a tour of the kitchen and its lasers, I’ll leave the actual specific review to my hubby, though; I’m better at deconstructing diners.



The rain continued, making me wonder if there would be a single day on this trip where I could take photos without a gray sky. Normally, I love rain and gray and gloom, but not when I want to take pictures, dammit.

Anyway, we took the El back to River North this morning in search of Portillo’s. I love the El; it gives a great view of Chicago’s backyard, which is strangely appealing. Portillo’s italian beef was pretty good too. We also stopped into the biggest freaking McDonald’s in the world across the street. It had an escalator. Set your expectations accordingly.


At some point this afternoon, the annoying brake chime (the one that alerts you that the emergency brake is on) started going off constantly. It never really got any better. We headed north that night, into Evanston and Skokie and Des Plaines in search of pizza and car repair places.


We found our pizza at a bowling alley. It was good. The chime was still going when we got home. I began to suspect there was something amiss.



After finding just the right spot for car repairs in Skokie, dropping it off, and navigating the miserable suburban transit back to a El station, we headed south to Standee’s for breakfast. I’d been wanting to eat there since we first saw the place a few days before. It’s a classic “joint” in the purest sense of the world, run-down and home to a rather colorful cast of characters, good food, and cheap prices.

We killed a little more time in our own neighborhood, finding a passably good used bookstore, and finally were able to pick up the car and dispose of several hundred bucks for the new brakes.


We drove around the northern suburbs a bit, noting happily that they pretty much all seemed to date from between 1940 and 1960. And then it was off to Superdawg for hot dogs, followed by a Milwaukee Avenue tour, ending in a nighttime drive through The Loop.


Chicago to Detroit

As luck would have it, the day dawned sunny, which finally allowed me to take some decent photos.

Morning brought a southbound tour of Western Avenue, a stop in The Loop, a northbound tour of Lincoln Avenue, and then a southbound exit from the city just as rush hour was beginning. We departed via Lakeshore Drive and through a relatively safe chunk of the south side. I’d love to see more of the southside, but with a guide who knows his way around.

I realized upon leaving Chicago that most of my best stuff was shot on video as we drove through the never-ending commercial strips and neighborhoods of the city. One of the things I love most about Chicago (and one that’s hard to capture with a still camera) is the very “old meets new” texture of the city, where a hundred-year-old streetcar strip may very well contain a 1970s shopping center with a Kmart (or a Googie coffee shop or a motel) in its midst. The whole city has grown organically rather than by way of a master plan, and it’s urban in a way that most “new urban” complexes can never be.

Anyway, our drive from Chicago to Detroit was pretty uneventful. I’m pretty sure we ate someplace, but I have no idea where.



After breakfast at a coffee shop on Woodward Avenue in some suburb, we headed into Detroit. It’d been eight years since my last visit, and I was without a tour guide this trip, so I fear I may have been too nervous to show Mark any of the really heavy-duty decay. It is, however, still there, if a little harder to find because of “gentrification” downtown and demolition elsewhere.

To make things more interesting, we just happened to arrive the day the first game of the World Series was being played in the new Comerica Stadium downtown, so the whole area seemed disorientingly occupied.

The Book-Cadillac Hotel is apparently being converted into condos. I’ll believe it when I see it. While there seems to be a lot of money flowing into downtown Detroit right now, I have my doubts that it will stick, or that it will even continue flowing. It all seems a little forced to me.


There’s even a Borders downtown now in the Compuware Center, a new building in the middle of a sea of abandoned skyscrapers dating from the 1920s to the 1970s. It has a nice parking garage where we were able to get some great pictures — and park for free.


After downtown, we drove out Michigan Avenue to Dearborn and circled back across the northern border, covering the whole length of 8-Mile Road. I made my annual pilgrimage to whatever A&P-owned store I was near (Farmer Jack in this case) to pick up some Jane Parker fruitcakes for my uncle.

Back in Detroit, we visited what was left of Brush Park, an amazing area of Victorian mansions which was in serious decay ten years ago, and is now almost nonexistant. Apparently, whichever houses can be rehabbed are being rehabbed, but there’s just not much left to work with.

We did some more driving in the evening before having dinner at an Olive Garden in Dearborn.

Detroit to Toronto


Too many doughnuts too early in the morning precluded our obligatory visit to Lafayette Coney Island on the way out of Detroit, so we crossed the border into Canada without mystery meat in our systems.

Border towns are pretty much dumps everywhere in North America, and Windsor is no exception. While Canada is almost universally “nice”, it’s as if creeping blight from Detroit had come across the Ambassador Bridge and tried to get its clutches into western Ontario as well, with some limited success. Windsor is much “nicer” than its neighbor to the north (yes, in this particular area, one travels north into the US) but it’s not exactly a model Canadian city.

We stopped at a supermarket to use our ATM card for cash back in Canadian funds and realized that, by and large, this feature only worked with Canadian ATM cards. US cards, most of which have Mastercard or Visa logos, apparently only function as credit cards there. So much for cheap cash withdrawals.


Despite all that, I was excited to be driving across Ontario for the first time. My previous trips to Canada had consisted on one trip to Montreal for the World’s fair in 1967 (at age 3), a day trip to Victoria BC in 1974 (age 10), a day trip to Toronto in 1979 (age 15), and assorted quick runs to Windsor and Niagara Falls over the years. I was looking forward to spending a few days there and seeing what things were really like.

And what they’re really like is “expensive”. It was not the greatest time to be in Canada on US dollars. But we travel cheaply, so it was OK.

For lunch, we stopped at a little diner in downtown Chatham. I was intrigued to see that a little town like Chatham had a giant, new Sears store downtown. I assumed it had originally been an Eaton’s, as had many Sears stores in this part of Canada.

Over the next few days, we’d see more examples of how downtowns never seem to have died the slow, agonizing death in Canada that they faced in the US during the 1960s and 1970s. Yes, there are suburbs and freeway development, but the cities and towns still seem relatively centralized. Maybe that’s because the freeways (the 401, at least) don’t really go into most of the towns but more around them at some distance from the core. The interstate highway system in the US was supposed to do this as well, but it didn’t quite work out that way.

We drove around London a bit as well, crossing the Thames and everything, and hit and A&P and a Wal-Mart (which probably used to be a Woolco), and finally made our way into Toronto at about 7:00. We checked into our hotel on Queen Street in the East Beaches area, and were surprised by how nice it was: a big, cheap room in a nice area.

We had dinner at the Tulip, a diner-type place down the street, and then went for a night drive trough the streets of Toronto, which promised to be a rather amazing city. My tooth was starting to hurt a little, though.


Toronto just works. That’s the best way I know to describe it. It’s unlike any city of its size in the US. To begin with, there don’t seem to be any really dicey, scary neighborhoods. Some are better than others, to be sure, but I didn’t feel nervous anyplace we went, and we pretty much went everywhere. That wouldn’t be the case in an American city of two million people.


While Toronto is a very dense place focused on transit and pedestrians, it also manages to be very car-friendly. Driving was generally not all that unpleasant, except in a few specific neighborhoods. There are mile after mile of tightly-packed commercial districts of the sort I’d call “1920s streetcar strips” just like in Chicago, but they all seem more healthy and in tune with the neighborhood, with stores that residents would actually shop in.

Granted, it sometimes lacked the little “surprises” you see in Chicago, where the streetscape is interrupted by some infill from the 1950s or later. I always like these areas because they break up the monotony, but lots of people disagree on that.

There also seemed to be none, or very little, of the classic American suburbanization patterns of the 1950s. Apparently, while we were focused on individual ranch houses in sprawling suburbs, Canada was building dense suburban highrises that probably did much more to fix the postwar housing crisis than Levittown did. Unfortunately, these peripheral highrises apparently haven’t aged well, and many now house only those residents who are too poor to move someplace more appealing.


After being fortified with breakfast from a diner on Bloor Street, and after stopping at Wal-Mart for videotapes, we pretty much did the length of Yonge Street, and more. Mark got a Tim Horton’s fix. After covering large portions of the city, we made our way to the massive Loblaws at Queens Quay (because that’s what I do) and to dinner at a really cool old-style Chinese place with a moat and a bridge. Alas, I noticed that my tooth was getting more and more sensitive when I had my very hot soup.


I’ve really only mentioned it twice, but my tooth had been getting a little worse for several days, and it peaked Monday night with me sitting up in bed at about 3AM almost reduced to tears. I decided that I had to do something about it, and that’s how we spent our Tuesday morning.

It was really pretty easy. We found an emergency dental clinic across from a graveyard on Yonge Street, and I got x-rays and a prescription for Vicodin and antibiotics within minutes. Canadian dentistry works much better than Canadian medical care, apparently, and my guess is that it’s cheaper primarily because most Canadians don’t have dental plans, making the field rather competitive since people have to pay out of pocket.

Everyone I’ve heard from says that the whole “single payer” health plan in Canada leaves a lot to be desired. Ditto for the drug plan, which doesn’t even exist unless you purchase a private plan or get one through your employer. As I found at the pharmacy, the drugs may be cheap, but the pharmacist’s fee for dispensing them can be rather steep. My two presciptions were about four bucks each for the pills and ten bucks each for the “service charge”.

Anyhow, I decided the pain was manageable and that I wasn’t going to let my tooth ruin our trip. Unfortunately, Mark was pretty much feeling like death at this point as well. His stomach was a nightmare, he was feverish, and he had chills. We had lunch at a Harvey’s in a rather bleak shopping center, took a short drive, and went back to the motel. With both of us in a sort of nether region of hell, we pretty much spent the rest of the day in our room, with him sleeping through most of it.

We did escape long enough to keep a dinner engagement with David and Jeremy, though. We must’ve seemed pretty pitiful, but we somehow managed to scarf down lots of Indian buffet before returning to the room to die.



Things were better today. We’d originally planned more of a pedestrian day, but we were both a little iffy about that now, so we did another long drive instead, around the periphery of the city and then back down the west side and along the lakeshore, having lunch at a Subway because we both needed a piss and it was handy.


Eventually, we made our way downtown to the CN Tower.


After descending from the 147th story (or “storey” as the Canadians type), we went back to the room before having one more nighttime drive followed by pizza from Pizza Pizza, because we couldn’t get 967-1111 out of our heads after seeing it painted on every surface, building, and bench in town.


We both rather liked Toronto, especially knowing we were on sacred ground where Jane Jacobs had recently trod (trodden?).

Toronto to Pittsburgh


We took the long way out of Toronto before eventually getting on the QEW somewhere in the vicinity of Mississauga. It was the start of a very long drive that took us through Niagara Falls, across the border into Buffalo, and down to Pittsburgh, where we spent the night.

Along the way, Mark was impressed by how simple the border crossing was. I got to visit my first Wegman’s. We both got to see Buffalo and decided that it was worthy of a later visit.

This being the fifth anniversary of the night we met, we also had our obligatory dinner at Denny’s. This year is was at the location on the New York State Thruway service plaza just south of Buffalo. And if that doesn’t sound romantic to you, then you don’t know us very well.

Pittsburgh and Home


After a quick drive through Pittsburgh and a quick breakfast at my favorite diner there, we hit the road for home. As is the case on most days like this, the excitement was largely gone and was replaced by the drudgery of driving. To make things more fun, it was pouring down rain all the way from Pittsburgh to Winston-Salem. We had dinner at a diner and Beckley, and we went home.

Drama aside, it was a great trip.