- Where We Started: Springfield, Ill.
- Where We Ended: Chicago, Ill.
- Miles Driven: 453 (17,560 total).
- New States: Wisconsin.
- States So Far: 32 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois, Wisconsin)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
A fun Tuesday that included a tour of the Land of Lincoln, visits to some early Ronald Reagan sites, great meals and some live music ended unfortunately, as one of the human members of the FHMA crew lost it in front a fancy hotel in Chicago's Lake Shore Drive.
The first mission of the day was exploring three Lincoln sites in Springfield, Ill. We started at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, the heart of which is the home where Lincoln lived before heading to Washington. The entire block around Lincoln's home is also part of the site, and each preserved home is adorned with a sign that explains who lived there in Lincoln's time and what their relationship to Lincoln was.
Because we had such a full day ahead, we decided not to wait a half hour for a tour of the home, and instead, headed a few blocks to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum. Because of the temperature, Joan decided to hang with the dogs and her KIndle in a park across the street. The library and museum are in separate buildings, so I decided to start in the museum. It was quite impressive, although -- for reasons never explained -- you can't take photos anywhere other than the atrium. The museum even managed to get away with using wax figures. I usually find the use of wax figures to be a fatal flaw for any serious museum, as it tends to make them feel too Disney-ish. But, for whatever reason, these worked for me.
The museum, which just opened in 2005, has in fact been criticized by some for being too-Disneyesque, partially because of the wax figures and re-enactments, but I found it to be quite effectively done. It was respectful, well-done, informative and full of interesting information and artifacts. The only thing that did surprise me was the prominent role granted to John Wilkes Booth. Obviously, one can't talk about Lincoln's life with referencing Booth, but he gets an awful lot of air time in the museum. He was given one of the choice wax slots out in the museum atrium, and inside the museum, there was a wax re-creation of the assassination at Ford's Theatre.
The two most famous of Lincoln's many Civil War army chiefs: Gen. George B. McClellan (left) and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Lincoln replaced McClellan after Antietam, largely because he was frustrated he wouldn't fight Lee. Lincoln then went through a handful of army chiefs before finally putting Grant in charge of all Union forces in 1864. (Photo by Jim)
By the time I finished at the museum, I'd lingered too long to go to the library. So off we went to Oak Ridge Cemetery to see Lincoln's tomb. Because of Lincoln's presence there, Oak Ridge is the nation's second most-visited cemetery (after Arlington National Cemetery). It's considered to be good luck to rub the nose of the bronze Lincoln bust in front of the tomb, and because of that, the bronze has been rubbed away completely.
Although there was still a ton of Lincoln stuff left to see in Springfield, time was getting away from us, so we had to keep moving. After lunch, we headed northwest to see Ronald Reagan's birthplace and boyhood home. Reagan was born in a second-floor apartment on Main Street in tiny Tampico, Ill., where his father was working at a variety store. While Tampico does herald the fact Reagan was born here, it seemed understated. Yes, there's a marker outside the second-floor window where he was born, a large mural across the street and a small Ronald Reagan Birthplace Museum. But it was all pretty spare, compared to the most of the presidential birthplaces we've seen. Part of the reason may be that Reagan's two stints living in Tampico were brief. But you'd think that Tampico -- a sleepy, dusty place -- would better milk its piece of history.
The next stop was the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home in Dixon, lll., where Reagan lived from when he was 9 through high school. In addition to the house, there's a Reagan statue on site as well.
Next, it was time for a brief invasion of Wisconsin. The planned destination there was Lake Geneva, a resort town in southeastern portion of the state that, in the 1950s, was a finalist to become the location of the Air Force Academy. Lake Geneva lost out to Colorado Springs, Colo., and as a result, has remained a small, obscure, pretty resort town. But, as we got close to Lake Geneva, it became clear that the light wasn't going to hold out, and since we decided we needed to do something in every state and also get pictures of the dogs in every state, we went to Plan B: Delavan Lake in Delavan, Wis. There, we gave the dogs some off-leash time, which they took advantage of it, chasing each other around and playing some. And, of course, they posed.
We then drove two hours to Chicago, where we had a late dinner. While we were eating, I got an e-mail from a friend, Adrian Holovaty. He'd seen that we were headed to Chicago and let me know he was playing guitar Tuesday night at a club with a gypsy-jazz band, Alfonso Ponticelli & Swing Gitan. So we stopped by and watched half a set, chatted with Adrian and then went in search of a hotel. If we'd just chosen a nice, cheap hotel, the day would have come to a quiet, uneventful conclusion. But I pushed to stay at a nicer hotel, and with that, planted the seeds of my own meltdown.
It took Joan a little while to work out a deal with the W Chicago Lakeshore over the phone, so when we finally pulled up to the hotel, it was late and I was beat. Immediately upon pulling into the hotel, Fred starting barking like crazy at the uniformed bellmen. Soon, Hank joined in. For some reason, uniformed people seem to freak Fred out. Nonetheless, I did not find this barking humorous, and I started yelling at the dogs to shut up. They did not, and the thin wire that was keeping me from blowing up continued to fray.
Because our plans came together so late, we were not prepared with clothes for the following day, and since we were going to valet the car, Joan needed to pull some clothes from the trunk, so while she did that, I took both dogs for a short jaunt. Not too far from the front of the hotel, we came across a woman walking a beagle. As tense as I was, this seemed like it would be a nice interlude. So the woman stopped, we had the obligatory conversation about how great beagles are and let the dogs sniff each other. All was well until Fred went after the other beagle, teeth bared. Now, in fairness to Fred, I understand why he gets jumpy at times. Ever since his knee surgeries, Fred has been protective of himself, and if a dog gets a little too aggressive, he tends to snap. But this usually only happens with bigger dogs. We'd never seen him snap at another beagle. In the end, Fred going after this sweet beagle was the event that led my frayed wire to snap. I yanked Fred back on his leash, and starting screaming at him. Between my yelling at the dogs as we pulled in, and this screaming fit, I'm sure the hotel staff was quite impressed with me. But, by now, I didn't care. I had gone to that dark place. When this happens, it doesn't usually last more than five minutes or so, but let's just say it can be a long five minutes for anyone who comes into my orbit. Soon, I was fine, and all was well. But my first public meltdown of the trip was not pretty, and definitely embarrassing. The truth is that the entire FHMA crew is pretty weary these days. It seems that, as we get closer and closer to end of the trip, we no longer feel the need to suppress any fatigue.
- As we got off the exit to Reagan's boyhood home in Dixon, Ill., we saw a sign for the John Deere State Historic Site in nearby Grand Detour, Ill. Until that moment, I never realized John Deere was an actual person. So being the curious guy I am, I decided to learn a little more about the man behind the tractor. Turns out -- and many of you may know this, but farming history is not a strength of mine -- Deere produced the first steel plow in his Grand Detour shop in 1837, and sold the first one in 1838. By 1855, Deere was making more than 10,000 plows a year, and in 1868, incorporated as Deere & Company. He died in 1886, and by 2007, the company he created did more than $24 billion in revenue. Talk about plowing ahead.
- Sign of the Day, on the shoulder of Interstate 43, near Beloit, Wis.: "Emergency Parking, 2 Hour Limit." Now, let's be honest: If you're on the shoulder of an interstate, you're not there because you want to be, so its highly unlikely you'd have any control over how long you're there. If I -- the jackless jackass -- had broken down on the side of I-43 and not in Death Valley, let's just say a loitering ticket would not have been by biggest concern.
- A few of you took exception to my ragging on "American Idol" a few days back, when I made fun of Blue Springs, Mo. for so proudly declaring on its welcome sign that it's the home of American Idol Season 7 winner David Cook. I predicted that sign would not exist in two years. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but here's one thing I can say definitively: I will never watch the show. No interest whatsoever. And its nothing personal against "American Idol." I have never watched any reality TV show in my life. Sports is my reality TV, and it happily comes without Simon Cowell or Paula Abdul.
- The little signs that we're getting closer to home are kicking in. First, we're seeing a lot more 7-11s, though I have to say that my fling with QTs on this trip made me wish we had those in Virginia. Also, for the time first time since the first few days of the trip, we were able to use our E-Z Pass on the Ronald Reagan Highway in northwest Illinois.
- I mentioned in a recent post that, after passing through the raisin and ice cream capitals of the world, what I really wanted to know was the location of the Funyuns capital of the world, being that it's one of our favorite snack foods. Mark Potts found this video, which identifies the Funyuns capital of the world as Perry, Ga. The good news: I discovered there are actually some real onion products in Funyuns. I always suspected that no onion product of any kind ever got near a Funyuns factory. Bad news: Everything else in them is terrible for you.
- Matthew Greenberg passed on this photo of a family piling onto the marker at Four Corners. The photo is funny, but the overall site -- awkwardfamilyphotos.com -- is the real gem here.
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "Cadillac Ranch," by Bruce Springsteen. One of my least favorite songs off of my favorite Springsteen album, I can't quite say I don't like it, because it's got an infectious enough hook. But it's cotton candy: light and fluffy. The rest of the album is anything but light, which is why I love it so much. Let's just say you're not going to burst out laughing listening to "Point Blank," "Wreck on the Highway," or "Drive All Night."
- Here's the Day 10 report on our A-to-Z iPod Exploration:
- First Song of the Day: "Carousel for Little Tamao," by Elia Cmiral (from "Ronin").
- Last Song of the Day: "Cheap Sunglasses," by ZZ Top.
- Best Songs: "Carouselambra," by Led Zeppelin; "Carry On," by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; "Carry on Wayward Son," by Kansas; "Cat's in the Cradle," by Harry Chapin; "Catch Me Now I'm Falling," by The Kinks; "Caught Up in You," by .38 Special; "Celebration Day," by Led Zeppelin; "Centerfold," by the J. Geils Band; "The Chain," by Fleetwood Mac; "Champagne Supernova," by Oasis; "Changes," by Yes.
- Pleasant Surprises: "Cause We've Ended as Lovers," by Jeff Beck; "Central Park," by Tangerine Dream; "Chaiyya Chaiyya Bollywood," by Sapna Awasthi; "Channels and Winds," by Philip Glass & Ravi Shankar; "Chant," by Hans Zimmer (from "Black Hawk Down").
- Guilty Pleasures: "Cars," by Gary Numan; "Celebration," by Kool & the Gang.
- Bad Songs by Good Artists: "Centerfield," by John Fogerty; "A Change Would Do You Good," by Sheryl Crow.
- Great Rediscoveries: "An Cat Dubh," by U2; "Change," by John Waite; "Chasing the Night," by The Ramones.
- Lunch: Cozy Dog Drive In, Springfield, Ill.: After missing out on this Roadfood joint on Monday, we stopped by for lunch Tuesday. The Cozy Dog Drive In has an important place in corn dog history. While there are multiple claims for first serving the corn dog, the Cozy claims it was the first to serve it on a stick. You can get the whole history of the corn dog here. I have no idea whether the Cozy's claims would hold up to scrutiny, though I can't find anyone filing a counterclaim on the meat-on-a-stick innovation. In the end, we didn't care about that; we were too busy enjoying these amazing corn dogs. Now, this will come as a complete shock to everyone who knows me, but I had never had a corn dog in my life before this meal. The concept never really worked for me. But count me as a convert, if they're all as crispy and delicious as these. Joan -- who is a bit of a corn dog aficionado -- gave it two huge thumbs up. Jim Nutrition Rating: 0 stars (out of 5). Restaurant Rating: 5 stars (out of 5). The fries were great as well. One of the best meals of the trip.
- Dinner: Five Guys Burgers & Fries, Oak Park, Ill.: I didn't mention earlier in this post, but Tuesday was our eighth wedding anniversary, and while we knew from the start we weren't going to do anything fancy, we still wanted to do something meaningful. It occurred to me that Chicago might have a Five Guys Burgers & Fries. Turns it out it had a bunch. So after we crossed Wisconsin off our list, we made a beeline for Oak Park. We arrived 10 minutes before closing, and happily wolfed down our first Five Guys meal in months. After we were done, we both looked at each other and nodded knowingly. Yup, to us, Five Guys is the clear burger champion in our household. Jim Nutrition Rating: -1 stars (out of 5). I'm into negative territory. Restaurant Rating: 5 stars (out of 5, on the fast-food scale).
- W Chicago Lakeshore, Chicago, Ill.: I think it's already been established that staying at a nice hotel when we were only going to be in Chicago for 12 hours was a bad idea. But the hotel didn't help matters much. After my meltdown in front of the hotel, we went into the lobby to check in. Joan was the only one keeping it together at this point, but the W soon was testing her as well. The clerk informed us of a $100 cleaning charge for the dogs, which was never mentioned when Joan booked the room on the phone. Starting to come down from my meltdown, I whispered to her that we should just let it go and get to the room, so we could all cool down. But Joan was having none of it, and the clerk saw the same narrowed eyes I did, and went back to talk to the manager. She returned shortly thereafter and told us the hotel would waive the fee. Score one for Joan. Unfortunately, while the hotel takes dogs, it isn't too keen on giving them a place to pee. Every patch of grass around the hotel has a sign saying dogs can't go to the bathroom there. This didn't help our collective mood. We then got to the room and found that the wireless connection sucked. Then, the air conditioning was also so loud that every time it went on, we had to turn the TV volume up, and every time it went off, we had to turn the TV volume down. Finally, it had one of those stupid showers that you can only turn on by basically standing in it. This is a problem if you don't get the temperature right on the first attempt -- and, when you're not at home, you never do. This was a disastrous stay. We only stayed at two Ws on this trip: in New Orleans, and Chicago, and both were lousy experiences. No hotel chain took a bigger hit on this trip than the W, and we've pretty much decided not to stay at any more of them. Hotel rating: 1.5 stars (out of 5, on the luxury hotel scale).
COMMENT OF THE DAY
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTOS