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It was early 2008. The spring semester is well underway, but it’s still weeks away from break. The Western New York snow hasn’t begun to thaw just yet, but Scott and I are packing the car for our first roadtrip together. We’re planning to take the weekend and go to visit a friend in Chicago. We’re driving - no question. Two college students on a weekend adventure without the cash to throw at plane tickets. The drive will take approximately 12 hours, according to the route we planned on Google Maps. We planned to leave in the early afternoon; I’d get out of class early, and we would fly straight through - crossing Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and finally into Illinois. Jumping in the car and hitting the highway was a little bit like looking over a steep ledge. Though we’d been friends for years, we’d only started dating not long before this trip. Would we drive each other crazy after twelve hours? How quickly would boredom set in? Could we survive?
For us, it was an era before smartphones. We had what (at the time) was a shiny new TomTom GPS with the destination locked in, and a CD player full of music. The radio was tuned to a local radio station up until we drove out of range. Listening to the music fade into static was a delightful way of realizing exactly how far we’d gone.
The Chicago trip was to become the first of many times we’d hit the road together, and it was on this trip that we learned a lot of the little tricks we still use on trips to this day. The most important of these was to always have a good set of directions - whether they’re printed or on a GPS, always make sure you have a backup. We learned this the hard way when we made it all the way to the city -- and then realized the TomTom wasn’t able to navigate in the city itself. I’m not sure if the streets were too close together, or the map data was just bad, but we wound up making several circles of the whole city before we were able to get to our destination. I believe that most mapping apps and standalone GPS devices are much more accurate these days, but even still: batteries can fail, signal can get lost, devices can crash and need a reset. It’s always good to have a Plan B in a bad situation.
While it’s not much of a lesson, this first trip we took gave me a real taste of what roadtrips could be. Spending time on the road is refreshing. You can try new things and see new places, and it gives you lots and lots of time to just think. Despite bringing along a book, my iPod, and Nintendo DS, I didn’t break any of them out until the homeward trip two days later. There was just too much to see as we cruised along the Great Lakes, through Cleveland and on to Indiana. Conversation wasn’t a problem; we talked for hours, and even when we stopped, it was a comfortable silence. The skies were blue, the beating sun warmed our car despite the snow outside, and it was just a pleasant drive.
Our first rule of travel was forged on this trip: pack something to eat. We brought along a cooler of soda, and some other small snacks, but it wasn’t long before we were really hungry. Which brings us to the second rule: be adventurous. We ended up stopping at a White Castle, which doesn’t exist anywhere at home, and I had my first White Castle burger. It was a historic day. Loaded down with greasy junk food, and on a serious quest, we burned through the rest of the miles to Chicago. And for the sake of nerd points, we figured out exactly where we’d be at 106 miles from Chicago - so we could briefly recreate the scene from the Blues Brothers. Because that’s just how we roll.
The weekend itself was great. We arrived with no plan at all - other than being in the city, and visiting our friend - so the next day, we decided to spend the afternoon touring the Museum of Science & Industry. This place was huge, and we easily lost hours wandering through all the exhibits. The building was also gorgeous and old, clearly a very cool part of Chicago history. This would also set the stage for many of our future adventures; we love visiting museums, and can’t resist a good science exhibit.
When the time came to head home, I was ready. It had been a long, long weekend of driving, walking, and exploring. But I knew there would be more roadtrips in the future, and I couldn’t wait to go.
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