May 17, 2012

In and Out of the Quad-Cities

Contributed by Gail McPike and Toni Hall

On the Road Again

Since Biblical Times, road trips have held significance. Father Abraham saw Ur in the rear view way back in Genesis. Saul had a revelation on the road to Damascus. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby took Dorothy Lamar on seven road trips in those movie classics from the 40s and 50s. The beat generation’s Jack Kerouac penned On the Road and Hollywood brought us the greatest girl road trip of all times, Thelma and Louise. We’re thinking there’s something magical about a road trip.

Being the kind of kids who strive to share well with others, we’d like to invite you all to join us as we fire up the old Chrysler and head out to the open road. We’ve loaded the car with salty snacks, healthy treats, suitcases, hiking sticks and spinning wheels; all you need to do is hop in, fasten your seat belt and hum a few bars of Willie Nelson’s On the Road, Again.

Last month, we headed out on an annual pilgrimage to visit Gail’s uncles Mickey and Chuck in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The drive is a solid 17 hours, but for us it’s a rolling two-day party each way. This year, we left late morning on Sunday and headed east, following the Quad-Cities own I-80 for a good stretch of the trip. We have no schedule. We hardly keep track of time, except to say we want to be comfy in a hotel in time for a nighttime swim.

For the first part of the drive, it’s mostly the same old scenery. The Illinois scenery is pretty, but it’s much the same as here. Cornfields, small towns, farm houses and truck stops dot the way. But, once you swing around the southern tip of Greater Chicago, a subtle transformation takes place. In Indiana, the barns seem older, the country side just a bit more quaint. By the time you hit Ohio, you’re noticing a shift in the flora and fauna.

Along the way, the red bud trees stand majestically, showing their full bloom. We notice them everywhere. Then as we hit the edge of the mountains at the Pennsylvania line, red buds give way to stands of forsythia.

For our manly readers, who watch more baseball than Home and Garden TV, forsythia is a low slung bush with rough bark for most of the year. But in the spring, a great explosion of yellow bursts from the plant. It’s like Mother Nature’s Roman candle – you can spot the bright bursts of yellow for miles. Here in the QCA, these things are typically found in backyard gardens as an ornamental shrub. But we see these things growing wild from Pennsylvania east. Great yellow patches run along the roadway, over hills and into the forests. If nothing else, this spring display makes the trip worthwhile – but we keep rolling.

Or at least we roll until we decide it might be cool to explore a scenic Pennsylvania State Park. If you haven’t heard, we’ve taken up hiking. Mostly, we’re hiking through the woods of local parks. Duck Creek in Davenport, for instance, has some really amazing hiking trails, but you have to look for them. Last winter we hiked Wildcat Den down near Muscatine – if you haven’t been, we can say it has the Gail and Toni Seal of Approval. We do get distracted don’t we… back to Pennsylvania.

There are tons of wild rhododendrons; we see beautiful mountain streams and a lake. Just to show you what a small world it is, while there we meet the local Park Ranger, and he relates his own story of bicycling across Iowa a few years earlier. We see a stuffed fisher. Not a fisherman, but a fisher. Yeah, we didn’t know what they were either. It’s one of the largest of the weasel family and lives in the woods in that part of the world. With a bear-like face and a house-cat-sized body, we judge fishers to be the cutest of the weasel world.

As we meander our way to a good spot for lunch, somewhere near Bald, Pennsylvania (nope we don’t make this stuff up). We see Americana come to life. Nestled in a picturesque valley is a little country schoolhouse, and the kids are playing in the school yard. As we drive closer the image reminds us of a P. Buckley Moss print. Amish children dot and dance around the schoolhouse yard. The boys are each equipped with straw hats and the girls wear their plain home spun dresses. Can you imagine – a school full of kids who’ve never played a computer game? That’s a point to ponder. But on we travel.

We arrive in Bridgeport Connecticut on Tuesday. We do a lot of hanging out with Gail’s Uncles – we’ve been to Bridgeport countless times, so we skip most of the “must see places.” Bridgeport is an old factory town, but today it mostly serves as an outlying suburb of NYC.

Speaking of New York City, we take time to ride the commuter train into the Big Apple for, as Current Trophy Husband Frank would say, a “heaping helping of big city culture.” Our original plans include a date with Spider Man, but he leaves us standing out in the lobby. But in our desire to be city slicker wannabes, we make a midcourse (or maybe that’s mid-town) correction and head to the Guggenheim Museum. We’re excited to learn they feature a special exhibit by American Sculptor, John Chamberlain. It seems Mr. Chamberlain’s art comes by way of welding old car parts together. Recycle, reuse, save the planet and have yourself some art.

Zap, we’re back in the QCA. There’s more to tell, but we’re artfully out of here. Those April Showers should be paying off soon. Happy May!