Well, the most exciting day I never enjoy seeing has arrived. Day Zero of Vacation! Day Zero, the day we travel from home to wherever our car might take us.

What is Day Zero, you ask? Well, clearly, it is the travel day you spend going away TO vacation. Most people, being less aware of the intricacies and sneaky ways of the Travel Gods, would call this Day One, because, they’d say, “You’re already ON vacation when you start GOING on vacation.” “Horsepuckey!” I say. “Vacation starts after you’ve calmed down from the extreme, inconceivable horror which is the travelling.”

Okay, so I would never actually say “Horsepuckey!” because I’m just not that kind of guy. I wouldn’t say “sweet niblets” either. Or “shiver me timbers”. I might say “great googly moogly”, though.

Where was I?

Oh, right. I was performing a numerical calendarization of the first day away from home. Day Zero. The only calendar day I wish could contain fewer than 24 hours, because I just. Want. It. To. Be. Over.

So, this year, we decided to extend the joy of Day Zero by splitting the travelling into two days. Isn’t that exciting? I know I’m excited.

This year, the family decided we should go somewhere we haven’t gone before, someplace new and different and exciting. Usually we head south, toward Massanutten or Williamsburg, both in Virginia. So, in looking for a new and different location, a voice, perhaps that of a cat or an evil ferret-elf from the planet Zorgon, said, “Head west, my friends.”

And so, we decided to head west. Our two-day trek will end up with us arriving in sunny, beautiful, Sheridan, Illinois, about 78 miles southwest of Chicago. This will be the first time my children are outside of the Eastern time zone as well as their first chance to inspect the restrooms in three new states! The restrooms along Route 80 through Ohio, Indiana and Illinois won’t know what hit them!

The day started with a haircut for The Boy. His head had gotten so unmanageable, he looked like a crazy mop with eyes, legs and arms. When he was done, there was enough hair on the floor to make a wig. I considered sweeping it up and taking it home… you know, to save it for when he’s balding later in life.

Baldness… a gift to my son’s future from my wife.

Because she cares.

Anyway, I resisted that urge because we really have no space to store that much hair. I also considered a stop at Starbucks and/or Dunkin’ Donuts to try to ensure that I received my recommended daily allowance of coffee and coffee-related condiments such as donuts, muffins and pumpkin bread, but I was in a hurry so I resisted that urge, too. You know how excited I get about travelling and I didn’t want anything, not even something as amazingly awesome as coffee, to delay the fantastic wonderfulness of the drive.

So we went back home, hairless and coffee-free and I began the job of getting the car packed. At a harried pace I worked, slaving away over the hot pavement as I dragged bag after bag out of the house, narrowly preventing Mr. Bear, the great Houdini cat, from slipping through. I’m sure he’d have loved to be a stowaway in the car for about 13 seconds, after which he’d have started crying and whining, much like the voices in my head do when I’m travelling. No wonder he and I get along better than I’ve gotten along with any cat in the past. He hates traveling, too.

Anyway, as always, I packed the car up with little distress, finding a space for each bag and putting each bag in its space, ensuring that bags we’d need sooner were easily accessible, that bags with food were inside the passenger cabin and that my peppermint tea was within reach.

“Peppermint tea?” you ask?

Why yes, peppermint tea. I figured that travelling is such a miserable thing to do, I might as well skip the coffee, too. Not that I don’t like peppermint tea – I love me the peppermint tea. But usually I follow the strict rule of no peppermint tea before noon, so this was clearly a violation of normal and accepted protocol. I made it acceptable by reminding myself that it was noon somewhere and so the peppermint-y travel extravaganza began.

Don’t tell my wife or kids, but we left almost exactly when I wanted to leave. I told them we needed to leave at 9:00 am, but the reality was that I was shooting for 9:30. We left at 9:32, so I count that as a win. I should probably give them audacious departure times like 6:13am from now on, just to make sure we leave when I really want to. Probably best not to tell them about my amazing plan. Thanks.

Anyway, today’s trek included the tiny bit of New Jersey we needed to go through and then the full width of the state of Pennsylvania. A few minutes into Ohio, we arrived at our hotel in North Lima, Ohio. I must admit that while I despise EZ Pass, it has been helpful on this trip so far, though it’s frustrating to be in the high-speed EZ Pass lane behind a couple of vehicles who slow down to 10 miles-per-hour in front of you despite the “maintain highway speeds” signs. “Get off my road if you don’t know how to drive!” I say. Imagine… if all the people who don’t know how to drive would just get off the road… there’d never be any traffic jams. Driving might be fun again. Travelling might become pleasant—

Alright… I must be tired… that last sentence is pure fantasy fiction –travel is and forevermore will be a horrific invention of an evil, mad society.

But I digress.

The drive across the Pennsylvania Turnpike was amazingly uneventful. We waved to our friends and family as we passed their respective exits. The kids watched and the grownups listened to many, many episodes of iCarly. We stopped at many restrooms.

Well, being fully honest, we stopped at fewer restrooms than I feared we would. Our first stop was somewhat east of Harrisburg, at the Lawn service area. We stopped for lunch and, of course, one or more restroom inspections. The food available at this rest area was Burger King and some pizza, along with Starbucks and an ice cream or pastry thing (I can’t remember). Clearly, Burger King is not the most vegetarian-friendly fare on the planet, but most of them have the “BK Veggie”, a veggie burger with “special sauce” and lettuce I might have mentioned once or twice before. This one had the BK Veggie listed on the nutrition information poster, but they didn’t have it on the menu. This, of course, bummed me out, but I pulled it together and trudged 30 feet west to the pizza counter, where the single-tasking woman behind the counter rolled her eyes and grunted as I requested 4 cheese pizzas (she had already put out four pepperoni pizzas in boxes under the heat lamps and was clearly wondering why I wouldn’t just take those). About seven minutes later, I sat down with the family to enjoy our freshly-made pizza. It was amazing how bad this pizza was. I mean, it was fine as far as pre-fab cardboard pizza goes, but for six dollars per individual pie, it was pretty crummy. But it was food and we were hungry, so we ate it (seriously, have you ever known me to back away from eating something that never had a face? I don’t think so.)

Another restroom inspection (in case we missed anything the first time) and we were ready to get back on the road again. But not before looking at the little map of the Pennsylvania Turnpike that was conveniently displayed on the wall. This, perhaps, was the most helpful map I’ve ever seen in a rest stop.

One of the things that irritates me about driving on a long trip is that you never can be sure where there are rest areas. I despise leaving the highway to trek cross-country to a McDonalds or other restroom facility that has a food service counter. If I’m on the highway, especially if it is a toll road, I want to stay on it and keep moving toward my destination rather than taking a bunch of sideways steps to Nowhereville, with no guarantee of an easy way of getting back onto the highway after completing the restroom inspection. But, you can never know when there’s a rest area coming up or how far away they are. But here, in the Lawn Service Area of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, was a chart of all of the rest areas! I heard angels playing harps and choirs singing joyous songs as I wrote all of the important information down in the handy-dandy notebook I never leave home without. Now, with this information in hand, I would be able to tell my children just how long they’d need to wait until inspecting the next restroom. A lot of travelling stress melted away in that very instant.

As a public service, I am providing the locations of the rest areas on the Pennsylvania Turnpike here. I may come back and add more details later, as I remember them:

Westbound mile markers Eastbound mile markers
304 49
258 112
202 147
172 219
147 249
112 289
77 324


Wow, isn’t that chart exciting? I added the greenish color to make it look fresh and new. Because I care about your visual experiences as you labor through my blog.

As I said, a lot of travelling stress melted away just from the existence of this chart. That said, it all came back when we hit the next construction zone. The first signs showed that one lane was closing in about a mile and it was at that spot that the traffic essentially stopped moving. It was as if everyone decided to move to the right lane a mile early. Eventually some folks saw the foolishness of this and shifted lanes to snake around some of the traffic, only to be thwarted by a truck who, apparently, decided to be an enforcer of the single lane traffic strategy. The truck, a big flatbed with a bright orange commercial dumpster on it, drove down the Pennsylvania Turnpike at about 25 miles per hour, straddling both lanes. With no shoulder space, there was no way for cars to get around him. I looked beyond the truck and saw the wide-open lanes of the construction zones and I felt sad for the lost opportunity of travelling at somewhere closer to the speed limit.

Eventually we reached the actual construction zone and the single-lane area. All told, there were three miles of closed lane for this construction zone. There were six or seven trucks idling with the big flashing arrow signs telling us to move right, as if the big orange cones and the big orange dumpster truck weren’t enough. Eventually, about two miles into the zone, we came upon a single pickup truck with a worker using a shovel to fill in a pothole. How exciting to see our tax and toll dollars at work improving the travel experience.

There were several of these construction zones along the Turnpike. Luckily the traffic wasn’t too bad at any of them, though I hate any slowdowns at all on my journey. There was only the one lane-enforcing dumpster truck, so even though most of the traffic approaching the construction zones shifted to the single lane immediately upon seeing the “lane closed one mile ahead” sign, the smarter ones among us could stay in the other lane and keep the traffic flowing as best as possible.

Our second stop of the trip was at the Sidling rest area. This was simply a bathroom break, but the family convinced me to break my coffee fast by stopping into the Starbucks conveniently located in the building. I got in line and waited. And waited. And then, for fun, I waited some more. It was quite possibly the slowest Starbucks I’ve ever been in. “How You Love Me Now” by Hey Monday was playing on the radio. Luckily I like that song. Eventually I was able to get my coffee in my personal travel mug (unlike the last time I stopped at a Starbucks along the Pennsylvania Turnpike when I handed them my mug and they handed it back to me, empty, with a paper cup filled with coffee and allowed me to pour it into my mug myself).

Oh, this was also the rest stop where an old man came up to me and asked me for the time. I gladly gave him the time, and then he proceeded to tell me how much better the next rest area was than the one we were currently at. And he kept talking about it. For like 30 minutes.

Okay, it was more like 30 seconds before my wife and daughter managed to scare him away. And by “scare him away”, I mean they walked up and asked me why I wasn’t in line at Starbucks yet and he left. Clearly, he was either scared of them or not interested in my coffee drinking habits. I vote “scared”. Because I can.

Our final stop along the Pennsylvania Turnpike was at the New Stanton rest area. As restrooms go, this one was pretty much standard. Water, soap, smelly air…. What was really standout about this rest stop was the reserved parking spaces. Obviously, we’ve all experienced the big blue handicapped parking space signs in the closest spots. This rest area had those, of course, but right next to these were spots marked with big green signs which said “Green Parking Space for Low-emitting, fuel efficient vehicles only”. Again there were angels playing harps and choirs singing. We need to see more of these spots, everywhere! At the mall, at the movie theater, at gas station convenience stores… This was almost better than that rest area map in the Lawn Service Area; it would have actually trounced the bathroom map if there had been cars parked in the green spots. I guess progress has to start somewhere…

Anyway, soon we were waving to the last exit in Pennsylvania and cheering the big sign welcoming us to Ohio. Our journey for the day was almost through as we only had to drive another 20 or so minutes into Ohio to get to our hotel. We checked into the Holiday Inn Express and carried in the one bag we needed, packed so efficiently into the most accessible part of the trunk because I just rock that much.

Then the fun debate about dinner could begin. We pulled out the list of area restaurants to find there weren’t directions. So, I connected to the internet to get directions, but of course we couldn’t agree on any restaurants. I did use the internet to narrow our choices down, since restaurants which served nothing made of vegetables could be easily ignored. This narrowed it down to a ‘breakfast for dinner’ diner-style establishment, a pizza joint, an Italian place and a Subway. Debate ensued and the meal was put to a vote. As you can guess, every place got one vote. I can’t remember how we did it, but we eventually decided on Subway and trekked back out to the car.

The Subway shop was nice enough from a visual perspective. But they didn’t have veggie patties. And they didn’t have carrots. And they didn’t have spinach. And they didn’t have mozzarella cheese. And they only gave two half-slices of cheese for each six-inch sandwich. And if you wanted a mix of cheese… that would be an extra charge. (Note: back home, it’s four half-slices of cheese per six inch sandwich and they never look down on us for mixing our cheeses.) But we had decided on it so we ordered our slightly-less-delightful-than-normal veggie delights and brought them back to the hotel. I sat down to eat but got occularly scolded by my wife, who was frantically moving furniture around to make a makeshift dining room table, rather than allowing us to just eat on the beds. Sigh. Even in a hotel that was so barbaric that it didn’t have the SyFy channel or Nickelodeon, we have to eat like we are civilized.

The kids went to the pool after dinner (waiting the required 40 minutes after eating, of course) and came back a little while later complaining about how cold the water was. Being a good father, I told them to grow from the pain and go to bed, because we were leaving at 4:13 in the morning (don’t tell them I really meant 8:00). We made some tea, but it was pretty nasty so we couldn’t drink it. I gave it a good try, of course, since tea never had a face, but even I, with my tastebuds of steel, could not do it. I swear there is something about hotel water that makes any coffee or tea horrifically bad.

So, I went to bed too, knowing I was going to struggle to fall asleep – you know how excited I get when there’s more travelling to do in the morning. Not to mention the continental breakfast—you know how I love breakfast!