- Where We Started: Erlanger, Ky.
- Where We Ended: Great Falls, Va.
- Miles Driven: 598 (18,578 total).
- New States: West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland.
- States Still to Go: 9 (New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
The FHMA crew began its long march to Great Falls on Thursday excited at the prospect of once again experiencing the comforts of home. Sixteen hours later, we went to bed having left that enthusiasm somewhere on the highways of the Midwest, thanks to two foul-smelling beagles, two exhausted human beings and a home lacking some bare necessities.
We started the day with some more presidential sites. I mentioned in my last daily post that Ohio holds the distinction of being the birthplace of seven presidents, second-most after Virginia's eight. Two odd facts: All seven of these presidents were elected between 1868 and 1920, and none of them -- with the possible exceptions of Ulysses S. Grant and William McKinley -- were particularly notable as presidents. But, hey, only 43 men have been president -- no, not 44, look it up -- so I'm up for any and all presidential sites.
We started with a president who wasn't actually born in Ohio, but will reside there forever. The tomb of William Henry Harrison -- born at Berkeley Plantation in Charles City, Va., which we visited on FHMA Day 3 -- resides at the Harrison Tomb State Memorial in North Bend, Ohio. Harrison, the nation's ninth president, died after only one month in office, which makes him a shoo-in for the worst First 100 Days ever.
Only four blocks away sits the birthplace of William Henry Harrison's godson, Benjamin Harrison, our 23rd president. The home where Harrison was born has long since been demolished, but there's a small marker at the site.
Next, we headed into Cincinnati, where we stopped at the William H. Taft National Historic Site, which is largely comprised of the home where Taft -- our 27th president, from 1909 to 1913 -- was born and lived for most of his first 25 years. I went in to get some information, bringing the total number of visitors to ... well ... one. The National Park Service ranger, doing his best Maytag repairman impression, asked whether I wanted a tour. Normally, one doesn't get a private tour of a former president's house, but this was not the day for long stops, so I had to pass. I almost felt bad for the poor ranger, although he was probably just as happy to go back to his crossword puzzle and dream of one day being sent to Springfield, Ill. to work at Lincoln's home. It is worth noting, however, that while his presidency wasn't particularly memorable, Taft is the only person to ever serve as president and Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme CourtUnited States.
After lunch in downtown Cincinnati, we crossed the Taylor-Southgate Bridge and back into Kentucky. We decided our stop there would be the James Taylor Park, which is named after a general and not a wimpy folk singer. The park features nice views of the Cincinnati skyline and the Ohio River.
While the park did afford nice views of Cincinnati, it had nothing else going for it. There were some shady characters hanging around the parking lot. It didn't smell particularly good. And it was disgustingly filthy. Unfortunately, one of the ways we discovered this was when we found Fred eating poop that Joan diagnosed -- and don't ask me how, because I don't want to know -- as human feces. This made us yearn for the good old days -- like Wednesday -- where Fred merely chewed a bone and snarled at us. Unfortunately, Fred's poo-poo platter was just the beginning of the dogs' efforts to make our drive home as unpleasant as possible.
Agreeing that Fred's feces buffet at Taylor Park was a sign that it was time to go home, we bypassed a planned detour to see the birthplace of Ulysses S. Grant in Moscow, Ohio, and hit the interstate. As we were heading up I-71, it occurred to us that we hadn't gotten pictures of the beagles anywhere in Ohio, so we decided to stop at a park in Columbus to get the pictures and give them some off-leash time. We picked Schiller Park, near the city's German Village. Unlike the park in Kentucky, this was a pretty city park, with ponds, lots of open grass and some bridges. There was even some fun wildlife watching, as one of the ponds was graced with a pack of about 12 baby ducks.
Now, ducks are very cute, but unfortunately, cute animals poop too. So the grass on the edge of the pond was filled with duck poop, which made it a minefield for humans and heavenly for beagles. One of the unpleasant realities of owning dogs is that, if they see something that has recently died or recently come out of another animal's butt, they must roll in it. Alas, while Joan was taking some photos and looking away, Fred decided to take a duck poop bath. That was all well and good; sometimes the dogs catch you sleeping and you have to deal with the smell. The real mistake she made was deciding to let him do it again. She then chose art over practicality, and decided to capture Fred's joy-filled moment.
After a few minutes of this fun, we got the dogs off their backs and herded them into the car. And as soon as we closed the car doors, the magnitude of our mistake became quite clear. Both dogs smelled like death, and we were still eight hours from home. We used some Handi Wipes to take off the surface stank, but it was like trying to clean Chernobyl with a mop. Eventually, we just decided to floor it and get home as quickly as possible. But we still had one more state that we needed to deal with: West Virginia.
As I've mentioned before, the rules are simple: We have to stop and see something in a state for it to count, and also need photos of the dogs in every state. Our place to stop in West Virginia: the Wheeling Suspension Bridge, in Wheeling, W. Va. When it was completed in 1849, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. The title only lasted two years, however, until the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge over the Niagara River was completed. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975, the Wheeling Suspension Bridge remains the oldest suspension bridge in the country used by automobiles.
Two nasty-smelling beagles pose in front of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge. As you can tell, as we get closer to the end of the trip, our state-specific photo ops and getting lazier and lazier. Hey, you try doing this for 10 weeks.
Once we were able to cross West Virginia off the list, it was time for dinner and a dead drive home, so that I could get some sleep before my 9am meeting on Friday. In order to give me time to get caught up on some blog writing, Joan actually did the bulk of the driving, taking us all the way from Cincinnati to Grantsville, Md., at which point I took over. And, at a little after 12:30am, to the sounds of Neil Young's "Cowgirl in the Sand," the tired, smelly, grumpy, unkempt FHMA crew pulled into our driveway together for the first time since March 6. We were too tired to celebrate. Plus, the entire northeast was still out there, waiting to be conquered.
- Great blog post from washingtonpost.com's Ed O'Keefe on a whiz that recently left a mark on Yellowstone National Park. Apparently, three employees of a park concessionaire decided to pee into Old Faithful, clearly unaware of the Web cam that keeps an eye on the geyser. Apparently, someone was watching the Web cam when this incident occurred, and pissed off, decided to call the park. Hopefully, these three idiots will get fired. Ah, if only Old Faithful had chosen that moment to break from the rigid schedule its become so famous for. And, yes, I know what you're thinking: The incident occurred on May 4. We were at Yellowstone on May 6. I have a number of people who can vouch for my whereabouts on May 4.
- Brian Murphy passed on this unfortunate news about our beloved Five Guys Burgers & Fries. Apparently, the Dupont Circle and Georgetown stores are having some vermin problems. This is indeed bad news, but our vote still stays with Five Guys over In 'N' Out Burger. In fact, I was impressed with the straightforward, honest way that Five Guys addressed the problem.
- We've been to so many places between our 2003 and 2009 journeys, it made me wonder which large cities in the United States I still have not been to. Looking at the top 100 urban areas in the country, I now have not been to only the following: Dayton, Ohio (No. 52), Akron, Ohio (60), Grand Rapids, Mich. (67), McAllen, Tex. (70), Wichita, Kan. (76), Columbia, S.C. (77), Des Moines, Iowa (85), Chattanooga, Tenn. (90) and Augusta, Ga. (92). Joan's biggest uncharted urban area: Sacramento, Calif. (No. 28).
- Random trivia fact I encountered on Thursday: The Ohio city of Xenia is the only city in the United States starting with the letter "X" that has a population over 5,000 people.
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "Statesboro Blues," by The Allman Brothers Band. My love of the Allmans has been well-established on this trip, so I don't think I need to say much more here, other than that we passed within about 10 miles of Statesboro on this trip. Related note: We also did some time on Highway 41 (technically U.S.-41) that the Allmans made famous in "Ramblin' Man," with the lyrics "I was born in the backseat of a Greyhound bus rollin' down Highway 41."
- Here's the Day 12 report on our A-to-Z iPod Exploration:
- First Song of the Day: "Cocaine Blues," by Johnny Cash.
Last Song of the Day: "Cowgirl in the Sand," by Neil Young.
- Best Songs: "Come Sail Away," by Styx; "Come Talk to Me," by Peter Gabriel; "Comfortably Numb," by Pink Floyd (one of the greatest songs of all time, in my opinion); "Coming Up Close," by Til Tuesday; "Complicated," by Avril Lavigne; "Confrontation," by Tangerine Dream; "Corduroy," by Pearl Jam; "The Core," by Eric Clapton; "Cortez the Killer," by Neil Young; "Couldn't Stand the Weather," by Stevie Ray Vaughan; "Countdown," by Rush (yes, Rebecca, another Rush tune); "Countin' on a Miracle," by Bruce Springsteen; "Courtroom," by BT (from "Monster").
- Pleasant Surprises: "The Cosmic Game," by Thievery Corporation; "Cotton Tail," by Duke Ellington; "County Fair," by Bruce Springsteen.
- Guilty Pleasures: "Colour My World," by Chicago; "Come and Get It," by Badfinger; "Come and Get Your Love," by Redbone; "Come On Eileen," by Dexy's Midnight Runners; "Could It Be I'm Falling in Love," by The Spinners; "Could It Be Magic," by Barry Manilow (yes, Barry Manilow. So sue me).
- Bad Songs by Good Artists: "Come Back," by the J. Geils Band; "Come on Baby," by Moby; "Conquistador," by Procol Harum; "Cover Me," by Bruce Springsteen.
- Great Rediscoveries: "Come Dancing," by The Kinks; "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill," by The Beatles; "Could This Be Magic?," by Van Halen.
- First Song of the Day: "Cocaine Blues," by Johnny Cash.
- Lunch: Skyline Chili, Cincinnati, Ohio: We haven't had much chili on this trip, and what better place to get Cincinnati-style chili than Cincinnati. Cincinnati chili is served over spaghetti and intended as more of a sauce than traditional chili. Texas chili is an altogether different thing. We each got beans and cheese in addition to the chili and spaghetti. I was impressed, Joan felt it lacked some taste. But the service was wonderful, as our waitress gave us the history of Cincinnati chili and good recommendations on how to order. Jim Nutrition Rating: 1.5 star (out of 5). Only because it wasn't a particularly big meal. Restaurant Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5). Joan would have given the place a 3, I thought it was more like a 4. We compromised.
- Dinner: Sbarro, Claysville, Pa.: We wanted to eat quickly, since we still had a long drive ahead of us, and when we saw a Sbarro sign soon after crossing into Pennsylvania, all seemed right with the world. It turned out the Sbarro was in a truck stop, which wasn't necessarily an issue, since most Sbarros are inside some kind of larger rest stop anyway. But the first tip-off this might not go well came when we walked into the truck stop and saw this was a mini-mini-Sbarro, with only a few slices of pizza laying around. The truck stop was also completely filthy. But we didn't want to waste time looking for anything else, so we each ordered a couple of slices and sodas. I got my soda cup, walked over to the fountain to dispense, and encountered an OUO (odor of unknown origin). Our stanky dogs were in the car, so it wasn't them. I never did figure out what it was, and am still unclear how a soda fountain can smell so bad. Then, the booth we sat in looked like it had last been cleaned during a Jimmy Hoffa visit in the 1960s. And, yet, after all that -- wouldn't you know it? -- our pizza ... well, it completely sucked. Jim Nutrition Rating: 1 stars (out of 5). And for what? Restaurant Rating: 0.5 stars (out of 5). The pizza was probably worth at least a 1, but the nastiness of the place as a whole was a fat old zero.
- Hotel Brady, Great Falls, Va.: Wow, what a dump. We arrived at this establishment to find that it had no water of any kind. No hot water. No cold water. This made washing off two hellish-smelling beagles quite difficult. We had to drain the half a bucket of water we begged from the pipes and wipe them down with a rag. On top of that, the lack of water meant Joan could not do any laundry. Plus, this place had no frequent stay membership. And the pool wasn't even open. All in all, a completely unpleasant experience. We're planning on having a chat with the proprietors, though I hear the guy can be a real asshole. Hey, at least the wireless worked. Hotel rating: 1 star (out of 5). You don't want to stay there.
COMMENT OF THE DAY
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTOS
Fred looks back at a young girl walking behind him at Schiller Park in Columbus, Ohio. Fred was right to be wary; about five minutes later, this young hellion grabbed the scruff of his back and yanked on it, generating a startled and pained yelp from Fred.