the further adventures of

Mike Pirnat

a leaf on the wind

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Journey to Turkey Day

We ended up leaving several hours later than originally planned thanks to the last-minute chaos at my office. There's nothing like being one of the only geeks around during a holiday week and having to get something new and potentially dangerous designed, coded, tested, jammed through QA, and live in the same day. But I got it done, and got home, and we hit the road. Little did we expect the adventures and silliness that lay ahead...

The Accident
About forty-five minutes out of Westlake, we came upon a most horrendous accident on the turnpike. At least the ODOT folks had gotten the signs out to warn people to expect to stop, and placed them far enough out to give adequate notice. Traffic started to thicken and slow to a molasses crawl. When we finally got to the scene, strangely accompanied by the sounds of They Might Be Giants on NPR, we saw what all the commotion was about.

First was the mini-van on the eastbound side of the road; I couldn't really see the front of it, but most of the back was visible... or what was left of the back; the body was pretty much missing, leaving it looking like someone's deranged stick-figure drawing of an automobile. But as there were more flashing lights, and more police and ambulances, we knew there was more. About a quarter-mile further was a Highway Patrol cruiser, facing somewhat eastbound, embedded in the concrete barrier of our westbound lanes, its hood penetrating the smashed wall and hanging a foot or two above the shoulder. Yikes. Luckily, we only had to contend with the rubbernecking; the westbound travelers were not so lucky. We figured that they were bumper-to-bumper and not moving at all for about eight or ten miles.

The Quest for Food
Neither of us enjoys turnpike fast food very much--in fact, neither of our digestive systems seems to even want to tolerate it very well--so the quest for dinner on the road is always exciting. But according to billboards, there was a Bennigans at exit 144, somewhere in the middle of Indiana, and that seemed like it might be acceptable. So, off we went at exit 144, to see what we could see.

The first thing we had to contend with at exit 144 was the dizzying array of twisty, criss-crossing little access roads and side highways, none of which were marked terribly well. Once sufficiently disoriented by the process of exiting the highway, we looked around and saw nothing. A complete lack of what one would expect to find at a turnpike exit, especially food. Just intersecting roads and darkness. In the distance, we sighted a motel that looked like it didn't have food with it, and in another direction we could make out the signs of the outlet mall, another of the billboard promises. We set out south toward the outlet mall on the theory that food would be in the same direction. It turns out that unless you like the buffet at places like Dress Barn, that an Indiana outlet mall is not the place to go looking for dinner at 9 o'clock at night. Unless it was only eight -- both of us missed the time zone sign last night, so I don't know what the actual time was.

Discount Cancer Outlet
We kept on south past the outlet mall, and the world grew dark and devoid of civilization again. As we crested a hill, a lighted group of buildings emerged from the gloom, and our hearts leapt in anticipation of dinner. Alas, it was not to be. We had come upon the Butt Hut, a discount cigarette outlet of massive proportion. More creepy than the drive-through window was the large sculpture of what looked like an anorexic Mickey Mouse, made from what might have been wood, but might also have had giant cigarettes for limbs. It was blocky, and stretched thin like some kind of Iggy Pop nightmare, and it definitely had big ears. It's really a shame that we left the camera at home; it was worth sharing, if only to prove that it was real. It's also worth noting that, when you're as punchy and giggly as we were, saying "Butt Hut" as many times as possible is pretty freaking entertaining.

Pokemon State Park
We pressed on, coming to a T-intersection. To our left was a highway underpass with little promise, and to our right was a big, scary forest with even less hope. The entrance to Pokagon State Park was to go up a little rise, and then down, down into who knows where. Inky darkness, absolute black, where even the menacing outlines of the trees faded away into the pitch-colored shroud of night. It looked exactly the kind of place where a Soprano goon would take you out and kill you, the kind of place where little Hobbits should not tread for fear of black riders and Old Man Willow, the kind of place where Aragog or Shelob would make a nice winter home. We promptly renamed it "Pokemon State Park," laughed at it, and turned left.

Bennigans of the Damned
We crossed under the highway, came up a hill, and behold, to our wonderment, was the strange love-child of the Bennigans/Ramada Inn. We entered, were seated at an oddly chilly table overlooking the river, placed an order, and giggled stupidly and silly jokes and conversation. We wondered if perhaps it was a bad sign that even though there was plenty of staff, so many tables were left un-bussed for the duration of our dining experience. The staff were nice enough, and the food came... eventually. It was... edible. We gave thanks, and ate until full enough to continue with our trek.

I, of course, thought it might be prudent to use the restroom before getting back on the road. The Bennigans itself has no toilets, so I had to cross the hotel lobby, passing the surprisingly large collection of tourist attraction fliers (who knew there was so much to see in Indiana??), in order to find the men's room. I had assumed that a hotel or restaurant bathroom would be less scary than a turnpike rest area, but it turns out that this time I assumed incorrectly. Granted, the bathroom at Bennigans/Ramada was well-lit, and it was ADA-compliant... But it chilled my soul to the very core.

The first item of note was the floor. I'm used to the occasional small puddle or bits of goo and ick on a public bathroom floor, and in fact expect it. This was a whole new ballpark, however. We've all been to the movie theatre and experienced the sticky floors by the seats, with their layers of spilled soda, decomposed candy, and slippery pseudo-butter slime; but we don't expect a similar experience in a bathroom floor, do we? Though to be fair to the movie theatre floors, this bathroom floor was just sticky. Sticky, sticky, STICKY! It was actually difficult to lift my feet to walk across the bathroom to the toilet, and my shoes made a sickening schhhlurp-schhhlurp noise as the floor suckled greedily upon my soles.

The third item of note (I'm saving the second for last, so it has the proper impact, you see) was the sink, which featured two exciting temperatures for my hand-washing pleasure: ice-cold, and glacial-runoff! Now I understand why Liz was complaining about cold fingers so much after her return from the bathroom.

Second, but scariest, was not the toilet itself, but what was found thereupon. Again, I'm used to seeing little splashes and spots around public toilets. De rigeur, goes with the territory. For God's sake, it's a men's room! But... There was one little bit of dried-up splashy fluid near the front lip of the toilet that I could not identify, that I did not want to identify, that gave me grave concern. It had all the appearance of a urine spot, but the dusky rose coloration was rather unexpected and disturbing. I strongly suspect that somebody, somewhere, needs to seek medical attention. (Ick, ick, ick!) Oh, how I vigorously washed my hands after that! And that's how my hands got so cold after my restroom visit.

I guess business must not be good at the Bennigans/Ramada Inn of t he damned, because, according to a sign that Liz found, if you stay there for two nights, they'll give you a free Back to the Future DVD set, something that seemed almost as weird to me as the signs urging us to make reservations for celebrating New Year's Eve with Bennigans/Ramada.

After paying, we delightedly rushed out to the car, zipped back under the highway, past the foreboding Pokemon Forest, past the Butt Hut, around the confusing twisted little roads, and got back on the highway.

Animal Present
Every so often, there would be a road sign declaring:


Ummm... Okay... Whatever.

After the third or fourth of these signs, I started doing Animal (the Muppet) impressions, much to our mutual amusement.

The Hiccups
I get the hiccups like crazy. Usually after having a full meal. Liz will say something, or tickle me, and I'll have hiccups for hours, and I cannot stop them, and it seems like an age passes before I can settle down again.

Well, friends, here is proof of divine justice in action--I did not get hiccups at all on our drive; Liz did.

About fifty miles outside of Chicago, Liz started hiccuping, for no reason that we can really explain, and didn't stop until shortly after our arrival at her mom's house. Every few seconds, she'd let out a sharp YARK! or HORKUP! and then break out laughing at herself. It took all my strength to keep from laughing uproariously at this turn of fate, for I knew that once I started laughing, I'd have the same problem.

Ah, justice is sweet.

Arrival, Goat, Plans
We pulled in at Anne's house around eleven or eleven-thirty local time, unloaded, and met the goat.

Okay, he's not really a goat. His name is Chance, and he's a dog. But in photographs, he looks extremely goatish, and has a stubby little goat-like tail. He was pretty barky about our late arrival (sorry!), and was even more barky about being put in the back yard while we finished with suitcases and whatnot. He settled down pretty quickly and made friends with Liz, and was satisfied with giving me a few sniffs before deciding that if I was going to ignore him, it would be okay for him to ignore me.

He's a good goat.

Plans for the rest of the weekend include:

  • Brief visit with the Chicago side of the family this afternoon
  • Thanksgiving dinner tonight at Bin 36
  • Blue Man Group tomorrow afternoon
  • One-Man Star Wars on Saturday
  • Drive back on Sunday, just like the rest of America... I fear for the road congestion.

Time to get cleaned up and start the day. I suppose it would be nice to let Liz use her laptop again at some point.

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