I have returned to the great state of New Jersey for a little downtime with the family. I really enjoyed the drive back. It wasn’t nearly as brutal as I expected it to be. I left Columbia at about 4:30am Friday, July 31. Yeah, I know it was 4:30, but it wasn’t that bad! I’m used to being up at crazy hours to work as a production assistant or live truck operator for KOMU, so I felt wide awake getting out of the shower. On my way out of Columbia, I purchased the breakfast of champions: an apple fritter and chocolate donut from Quik Trip and a 44 oz. Diet Coke. Topping off the RSX’s tank, I hit the road. Missouri was really easy. I had the iPod on then switched to KBIA for some Morning Edition, until I lost the signal around milemarker 180. I picked KWMU’s signal up for the drive through St. Louis. Their morning announcer is awesome, I must say. Plus, the ads for The Law Firm of Gallop, Johnson, and Newman are always fun, since my good friend Jeff’s father, Robert Epstein, is a partner at that firm. Instead of taking 270 around the city, I stayed on i-70 for the scenic route through St. Louis. I hit the metropolitan area around 6am, and I was really surprised with the volume of traffic at that hour, it was quite heavy – not slow, mind you, but just busy – I’d have expected it to be that way an hour later in the day. I stayed on I-70 into Illinois, which was quite uneventful. Missouri and Illinois both seemed to take good care of the highway. Illinois’ DOT was out in full force with tons of construction projects for the entire length of I-70 in the state. Either way those were the only memorable things about the drive in the ‘Nois. Indiana was another story. It had construction everywhere and terrible road conditions. Extremely bumpy and not fun to drive in my car, where you feel every bump and niche in the road. Upon hitting Indiana, I stopped in Terre Haute to gas up and refill my 44 oz cup. I had an odd exchange with the clerk inside the Speedway gas station, who commented on my “Arch Rivalry” Mizzou v Illinois t-shirt by saying “I don’t speak to people from Illinois or Missouri.” I chuckled and unsure what to say, just said “Thanks” and took my change and went out to the car. The rest of the way through Indiana was easy – Indianapolis is very easy and has a much nicer skyline than I would have expected. However, in my boredom behind the wheel, I tuned in on my AM dial to the ESPN Radio affiliate in Indianapolis to catch Dan Dakich, former Indiana and Bowling Green head basketball coach. I was appalled at how bad the show was. It was July 31 – MLB trade deadline, and I wanted to hear updates on trades/rumors/etc that I would typically hear on almost every other ESPN radio affiliate. However, instead of a 20/20 type Sportscenter update, I was forced to listen to Dakich drone on about why women are smart about sports. Now, to most people living in 2009, to say women are smart about sports is like saying the sun comes up in the East. Yeah, there are women out there who know their stuff – and it’s been that way for a long time. This isn’t some breakthrough occurrence – I’d say for at least the past 100 years women have been involved as fans or participants in every and all types of sports. So, hearing Dakich pontificate on why suddenly NOW women are smart about sports when he could have been talking about sooooo many other, more interesting topics, I felt compelled to call in and bash the man. I got through right away and was on the air quickly. I made my point, bashing Dan, and got cut off. Thankfully there was a 3-4 second delay, so after the line clicked, I turned the volume back up and caught his response. I think it was only then that he realized it was a dumb topic, as he casually mentioned “Oh, there’s Michael Vick, there’s NFL training camp, there’s the Senior Open here in Indianapolis…” My thoughts were – WHAT ABOUT THE MLB TRADE DEADLINE!? I understand Indy doesn’t have an MLB team, but still, they’re in Cubs/Reds/Cardinals territory and we’re in the middle of the season. Come on.
So, I continued eastward on I-70 into Ohio. I stopped outside Dayton for a fine, filling lunch of a spaghetti 5-way from Skyline Chili. Having stopped there before, the timing almost always works as it’s a good spot to take a break for lunch. I got back on the road, and stayed on I-70 through Columbus. It’s a beautiful city and I enjoyed Columbus’ FM transmitter for ESPN radio, 97.1. This time, of course, they were streaming Van Pelt and Tirico, a quality show, so I enjoyed it until I lost the signal about 50 miles east of Columbus.
My destination for day 1 was Pittsburgh, so Google Maps had me getting off I-70 to go north on I-77 for about a mile before heading east on US-22, a 2-lane road twisting its way through northeast Ohio. This part of the trip was a lot of fun because the road was hilly, full of fun curves, and very scenic. I was on it for about 3 hours and even got stuck behind an 18-wheeler unable to traverse a steep hill. Much like Indianapolis, Pittsburgh snuck up on me quickly – despite having to stop in West Virginia for a desperately-needed bathroom break. I hit major traffic in Pittsburgh at the junction of 22 and 60, which was narrowed down to 1 lane in each direction during rush hour. It was quite silly but it ended up not hurting me. I checked into my hotel by the airport, the Hampton Inn, got changed, and headed out to my next destination – PNC Park in downtown Pittsburgh. Again, I hit traffic on 279 as people didn’t seem able to merge into 2 lanes to go through the tunnel. But whatever. Pittsburgh seemed beautiful and it has a really amazing skyline – very underrated. I loved all the bridges, and how the rivers’ confluence is right in the middle of a steep valley. I parked a block away from the park for $10 and headed inside. I was greatly impressed by the park. The skyline is far better in person than on TV. The crowd also seemed really into it for a game between 2 terrible teams. I enjoyed all the nostalgic/historic items throughout the park – something Citifield desperately needs. On a side note – the PA announcer was really bad. Weak voice, little enthusiasm. The Pirates ended up winning 5-4.
I returned to the hotel and passed out, exhausted after the extremely long day. I awoke the next day, enjoyed my free breakfast, and put together my itinerary for the day. Curious to see how long the trip would take, I Google-Mapped the trip and saw it would have taken me just 20 miles or so south of State College. Since I’d never been to Penn State before, I figured I had to take the opportunity and check it out. So, I hit the road. Like the day before, I was on US-22 for a long time. Much of it was under construction, which slowed me down, but I didn’t mind since my gas mileage ended up being fantastic. About 2.5-3 hours later, I got to State College. The campus was outstanding – very much like Mizzou but a lot bigger. It also seemed more spread out than Mizzou. But overall it seemed really nice. I got a “Peachy Paterno” from the Creamery, the famous ice-cream place on campus, then walked over to Beaver Stadium. It’s enormous. It reminded me of an NFL stadium and rightly so – friggin 100,000+ people on Gameday is obscene. I checked out the Penn State Athletics Hall of Fame and then got a tour of the stadium, where we got to see the inside and sit down in the club seats. Very cool all-around, but it was really hard for me to fathom watching a football game in such a huge building. Faurot Field and everywhere else I’ve been do not seem nearly as big. Actually, Memorial Stadium in Oklahoma might be the only one I’ve been to nearly as big. Oh well. So I got back on the road and followed US-322 through the mountains to Harrisburg, where I got on I-81/78 and followed that pretty much all the way home. Since the Mets were playing at 7, I had expected to pick up some afternoon WFAN talk or at least the Mets pregame show, but to my surprise I couldn’t get a strong signal until about 10-15 miles into NJ. I enjoyed 78′s 3 lanes of majestic, well-paved blacktop all the way to exit 48, the first of my 2 exits. Now I’m home and I’ve been having fun!