Sheridan, Illinois Vacation Day 0.5

I was so excited to continue travelling, I woke up at 2:30 in the morning. It clearly had nothing to do with the bed. Or the pillow. Or the fact that hotel beds make me feel like I’m sleeping downhill, no matter what direction I sleep. I couldn’t follow the suggestion I received on my last business trip, which was to sleep in the middle of the bed. Well, I guess I could have followed it, if I was willing to kick my wife onto the floor, but experience has taught me that this might not be the best course of action, so I did not do it. This time.

Instead, I stayed there in the bed, watching the digital clock slowly tick away the minutes and hours, doing the complicated math to translate the boring Central Daylight Time to the more exciting Eastern Daylight Time equivalent, so that I could know what time it would be if I was staring at the clock, unable to sleep, in New Jersey. Of course, since we were still in the Eastern time zone, I had to first translate the Eastern Daylight Time to Central Daylight Time and before translating it back, but once I applied the correct differential equations and quadratic formulas to the issue, it was relatively straightforward.

I probably should have gotten up and wandered down to the lobby to do some work and write a little, but I didn’t and when I finally did get out of the bed around 5:00, I was kind of mad at myself. And I had a staying-in-bed-too-long headache. And to make it worse, the continental breakfast wasn’t opening for another hour. And the wife and kids were still snoring or sleeping or yelling at each other to stop snoring so they could keep sleeping. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to be jealous of their ability to sleep; but this morning, I was jealous because I felt like I couldn’t do anything at all until they all woke up. Again, I could have gone down to the lobby, but I didn’t feel like it. So, instead, I let the travel voices inside my head get me worked up for an hour, until I finally decided to start making noises in an attempt to wake everyone up.

It eventually worked and after showers and yelling in whispers at the children (so as to not disturb the noisy people in the room next door), we wandered down to the continental breakfast at about 7:00. Soon we were filling our travel mugs with coffee (me), cranberry juice (Rosa), apple juice (Nick) or some weird, somewhat-less-than-healthy combination of coffee, hot cocoa powder and half-and-half (Ginny). Our plates were filled with scrambled eggs that may have begun life as a powder, cinnamon buns, biscuits, bananas, cereal, bagels, muffins and/or yogurt (we didn’t all have all of the items). She didn’t think I noticed, but Ginny, my favorite militant vegetarian, was visibly doing a silent rant about chipped beef and bacon. I’ve learned it is best to allow her to rant about these things in her head so that she doesn’t rant about them in the direction of my head, so I instead turned my focus to the television and the other people in the room.

There was a baseball team staying in the hotel, it seemed. Mid-teenaged players, I’d estimate. They came down in their stripey shirts and pants and grunted at each other as real men do, so I was impressed. I was less impressed by the way they cut into lines for the egg-like things and the juice. The television was showing Good Morning America or some equivalent morning news thing and the news was, of course, all bad and depressing. I watched it, helpless, much as I was helpless watching The Boy fill up on pastries and half a bagel instead of the “good stuff” he picked out for breakfast. It was all awesome to experience, I’m sure you’d agree.

Anyway, we trekked back up to the room after eating. Rosa continued to complain about how she hates elevators, so we continued to take the stairs. I, honestly, prefer the stairs and would have been taking them anyway, but her constant complaining about elevators almost made me want to require the use of the elevator, even at times when we had no need to go up or down. It reminded me of the time when we were in Newark Airport and she suddenly decided she was afraid of escalators… That was a fun thing, as you can imagine, especially since I was already DOWN the escalator with a bunch of our luggage and she was still at the top. After I lectured her quite a bit and threatened to turn around and go home instead of going to Disney… we used escalators every time it was possible to do so and now she at least gets on them, though it appears she is certain she will be falling off at any moment.

It also reminded me of the time when Nick wouldn’t eat broccoli, choosing to go to bed early rather than eat a few small pieces. He’d eat everything else, then complain that his stomach hurt. So, I’d say, “If you’re sick, go to bed!” and he would. Eventually we stopped allowing him to go to bed when he made this sudden “My belly hurts” claim and, in fact, we served broccoli with every meal until he ate it without trouble. Rosa likes broccoli, but it was starting to bug her that she was getting punished too. We ate so many little broccolis, I should have bought stock in broccoli farms. Alas, I didn’t and now that he eats it without (much) trouble, we don’t have it anywhere near as often.

But where was I?

Oh. Right. Coffee. So, we finished packing up our room… an impressively complicated feat considering how little we allegedly brought up to it last night. I moved the furniture back to its original configuration so as to avoid the twenty million dollar furniture moving fee all hotels secretly charge to your credit card in the form of taxes and surcharges (don’t ask them about it – they won’t tell you anything. It is against Hotel Code to speak of it). That accomplished, we headed down to the front desk, via the elevator just to make Rosa uncomfortable (in my many years of experience as a parent, I’ve learned that it is extremely important to make your children uncomfortable as often as possible). We turned in our room key cards like good boys and girls and then I went and refilled my coffee mug with bad hotel coffee. And finally, we were off, at 8:15 am. Not too far off from when I wanted to leave… another win!

The drive itself was relatively simple – the best kind of driving there is, really. Few traffic delays, despite most of Indiana being under construction, fewer restroom inspections than I anticipated and as many iCarly episodes as you could possibly want to hear (in the front) or watch (in the back), along with extras from some movies, like “Bob’s Big Break” from the “Monsters versus Aliens” DVD set. The biggest problem we had was that the built-in compass in my car went wacky. When we were clearly facing north, it was telling us we were going southeast. In fact, as we travelled on a straight stretch, headed in some direction, it was flipping between several different directions on the compass, many of them in direct conflict with each other. As it turns out, it appears the compass needs to be calibrated again because, according to the owner’s manual, we crossed too many compass zones in too short a time. Or something like that. I guess we’ll figure that out later.

There were no helpful maps showing the location of all of the rest areas along Route 80 through Ohio, Indiana and/or Illinois, like there were yesterday in Pennsylvania. But we noted the ones we saw and I’ll provide that handy little chart here. Unlike in Pennsylvania and many other states, when there was a rest area on one side of the highway, there was one on the other side, too. It certainly makes the charting easier. Of course, it would have been more efficient for them to build ONE rest area in the middle, to be shared by both sides. But what do I know? Anyway, here’s today’s handy dandy chart of rest areas on Route 80 through Ohio, Indiana and one part of Illinois (both eastbound and westbound):

State Mile Marker
Ohio 50
78
100
139
170
197
Indiana 22
55
90
126
146
Illinois 1*

*I *think* this was a rest area and I *think* it was mile marker 1 in Illinois. But I’m not positive. The signs were really not all that clear.

Note that I got all fancy here with four colors. If you were to go to Staples or Kinkos or some other disreputable establishment like that, you’d pay a lot to print that chart. So be smart and print these important charts only if you really must and if your budget allows. Always consider the environment as you look at your printer.

So, where was I? Oh. Right. Time zones.

I did a lookup on the internet to find where the time zone changed from Eastern to Central. Now, everyone knows how my internet searching usually goes, but this time I thought I had done it right and therefore was sure the time zone boundary was the border between Indiana and Illinois. So, we planned to watch with great excitement as our cell phones suddenly shifted times and we looked for the big glowing signs announcing:

Congratulations! You have just crossed into the Central Time Zone and you have, officially, gained a 25th hour in your day (use it wisely)!

Alas, there was no such time zone announcing sign and when we pulled out our cell phones about 10 minutes from the Indiana-Illinois border, they already showed the time as if we were in Central Daylight Time.

Sigh.

As it turns out, Indiana is a perplexing state and I am not sure if anybody really knows what time it is, or if anybody really cares (about time). The six northwestern-most counties (Chicago area) and the six southwestern counties (Evansville area) are in the Central Time Zone, while the rest of Indiana celebrates Eastern Time. No wonder we missed the signs and missed the dramatic time change on the cell phones.

Anyway, as we drove through Gary, Indiana, thinking it was like 2:30 when it was really only 1:30, we pulled out my Zune and played “Gary, Indiana” from the original cast recording of “The Music Man”. It seemed like a fitting song to play, for some reason, and besides, Rosa and I auditioned for The Music Man just last weekend and are awaiting word on if we got parts; assuming I got either the part of Mrs. Paroo or Wynthrop Paroo, I figured it was a good idea for me to start learning the song (yes, Mrs. Paroo sings the town’s name once…at least in the Matthew Broderick movie version).

The first real traffic we had was right as we crossed the border into Illinois. It kept moving, but it was heavier than we’d seen all day. But we could sense that we were getting close to our destination so even the traffic and the terrible drivers couldn’t make us unhappy. So we drove the last bit on Route 80 before getting off onto a local Illinois road.

It was exciting to see corn fields and soy fields. As vegetarians, these are wonderful things to see. And as I said, it was exciting.

For the first 5 miles, at least.

27 miles of nothing but corn and soy fields, though? That was a bit much. And wow, is the land flat!

We eventually arrived at our resort, the Silverleaf Fox River Resort in beautiful Sheridan, Illinois. The directions became rather unclear at this point and after stopping at a stop sign that appeared to serve no purpose whatsoever, we continued up the street to the Welcome Center. We went in and were welcomed by the staff behind the desk who were more than happy to help us check in… until they learned that we were members of RCI (our timeshare company). “Oh,” they said, “RCI members have to register at the registration desk by the outdoor pool.”

“Okay,” I said, “so where is that?”

“Do you know where the outdoor pool is?”

“Um, no, we just arrived.”

“Oh, well, it’s over that way, to the left. Registration is next door.”

Right. I mean, left. I mean… we dragged our travel-weary butts back into the car and headed left, coming to the registration building around a couple of turns. We went in and I registered while the wife and kids grabbed themselves some free drinks and snacks. Note, they did not grab any for me. I had to get my own.

I tried to ask the desk for directions to the train station, since we’re going to need it tomorrow, but they really didn’t seem to have a clue how to tell me to get there. Someone in line behind me told me directions, but they were somewhat locally flavored. “Oh, turn left at 71, then turn left on 34 then go… a while until you see the big bridge, then turn… oh, left or right, I don’t remember…”

As I was signing the papers that will allow them to take my first born if I damage their property, one of the ladies behind the desk whispered “Is that him?” as she pointed at me. “Yeah,” said the other lady, “I think it is.” Then they smiled. I was looking behind me to see if Eric Estrada or Barry Manilow had suddenly walked in or something, but there was no one there. I felt almost like a celebrity as they came up to me and said “Sir, are you Rob Diaz?” Looking at the paperwork they had helped me fill out, my credit card sitting on the desk and the information on the reservatiion sheet, I felt safe that they actually knew the answer to this question already, so I nodded. “This is for you,” the first lady said, handing me a water bottle. “The lady who left it said you’d know who it was from.” I thought about it and realized it must be from our friend June, who was actually at this resort last week.

So, thanks, June! The water bottle was a nice surprise and welcoming gift!

Sigh. I figured at that point I’d come back later to use the internet which is only available in the registration lobby and recreation center areas, and only during their business hours. But first, we needed to go grocery shopping and grab some dinner.

We followed directions to the area of a Super WalMart, figuring we’d find a place to eat at that point since no one would agree on what to go eat. On the way to the store, the skies opened. The wind whipped. We could barely see out of the car, the rain was coming down so hard. It looked like the wind was spinning, so I told Ginny to get the camera ready to take pictures of tornadoes, since in the Midwest every storm comes with tornadoes (free of charge!). She took it out and had it ready, but somehow managed to be unable to get pictures of Grumpee’s Weenie Wagon, stationed on the right side of the road, at the intersection of Route 80 and Route 71. So, dear readers, I’m sorry I don’t have pictures of the most exciting Weenie Wagon we saw on our travels. But I do have some pictures of the storm:

(Note: This picture is blurry because of the wind whipping the trees, not because of my driving, as we were stopped when this was taken.)

At the area of the Super WalMart, we looked for food. And there was nothing for vegetarian freaks like us. There was a Quiznos, so we figured we’d give that a try, though we’ve never eaten at one before. We parked and walked up… to find it was closed. I assume it was out of business, as deliveries were being directed elsewhere.

So, we decided to go toward a different shopping center to look for food. We found traffic lights to be out or malfunctioning. We found the shopping center to be darkened due to power loss. We found a light post down on a car:

Note the car that is partially in the picture, all the way to the right. They were also taking a picture of this situation. I assume they are blogging about it too.

We continued around the parking lot and found a Chinese Buffet. We’ve had little luck at these in the past but it was the only thing we could (almost) agree on checking out so we went ahead in. It was… disappointing. Mostly because of our vegetarian requirements, which were met by only a couple of dishes in the buffet (a veggie-lo mein, some white rice, French fries, roasted potatoes and garlic string beans). Oh, there was garlic bread, too. The food we could eat was pretty good and I made sure to eat my share of it, given the fact that I was sure it was going to cost far more than it was worth. I then made sure to sample a lot of deserts. And I mean a lot of deserts. But seriously, why is it that Chinese buffets don’t have vegetable dishes as a regular thing? Why is the fried rice “pork fried rice” and not vegetable? Why aren’t there just plain tofu dishes? I could rant for hours and many pages on this, but in the end we did get fed so I think I’ll stop.

The bill paying was exciting, too, given that the storm had knocked out their credit card machines. So, we scrounged together enough cash to pay for the meal and headed out to shop at the Super WalMart, where we got lots of food, some Illinois wines and some tennis balls. I got carded at the checkout because of the wine, which is an interesting thing to have happen when you’re going gray and travelling with kids and all but it is what it is, I suppose.

On the way out of the parking lot for the power-less shopping center, we took these pictures of the traffic lights:

Note here that the lights were on blinking red for all directions. Some are upside down or at least sideways. They are dangling and broken. That might be more visible here, where you can see one of the light pieces dangling below the main light mechanism:

Anyway, this was the majority of our day. We got back to our villa and unloaded the car, then I decided to go search for directions to the train station for tomorrow. So, I sat in the lobby of the registration area and searched the internet using my feeble abilities. The internet came and went in terms of connectivity, but eventually I got directions. It took about an hour and a half to accomplish this, but I got them.

But not before being subjected to some strange drama or prime time soap opera on Univision HD. The HD, of course, is important, because life requires HD anymore. I was most impressed by this show, not for the dialogue (which was in Spanish – and I could understand a good bit of it, I think, though when I understood them to be talking about strange alien invaders eating in a diner in a small Mexican town in Wisconsin, I was pretty sure I had missed something important). Anyway, the best part of this Univision HD experience for me was when they zoomed in on some old lady after her passionate plea to some dork and his ignorant and insensitive refusal to acquiesce to her heartfelt request for understanding and humane treatment for aliens enjoying gyros and all-day breakfast at Mexican diners in Wisconsin. They stayed focused on her, zoomed in so that her face was the size of the harvest moon over corn and soy fields in Illinois. Then, after what felt like several minutes, she squeezed a single tear out of her left eye. The camera focused in even a little further and watched the tear trickle down her wrinkly face. The droplet was so amazing, so dramatically wet – an experience one could only get from a high definition broadcast such as this. I felt moved, fulfilled even. The whole vacation will seem dull now in comparison to this.

Sigh (contentment).

I trudged back to our villa without incident, unless you count the dude in the golf cart at 9:45 at night who screamed at me to slow down. I’m amazed that he could tell I was going 13 miles per hour in a 10 mile per hour zone. But I slowed down. Because I care.

All in all, the travelling part of the beginning of vacation went pretty well and had few, if any, troubles. And after last summer’s tornado and floods and downed trees, a little rain and wind in Illinois is almost relaxing! Of course, the ease of the drive probably means terrible things to come, like malfunctioning DVD players or not enough forks or something. But I guess we’ll see tomorrow, on Day 1 of our vacation.

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