One of the conversations my wife and I often have regards traveling. Specifically, which places we want to see, and which places we might actually see. I’d like to go to New Zealand, but I doubt I ever will. It’s the same with Iceland, so for the sake of a sane discussion, we generally limit the places that we’d enjoy seeing to those that are realistic and mutually agreeable, so sorry, Reykjavík.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never liked long car drives. I have no idea how or why somebody would get in a car in New York and willingly drive it to Florida unless they were caravanning in front of a moving truck. I did it once for a vacation in 1972, and I thought I was driving to Venus. Never again, I vowed, and that worked out OK. When I was working in the building business, I logged so many hours that it would have been difficult to drive long distances. Time was the premium, so when we went anywhere, we flew. Well, as it works out, I have more time on my hands these days, which leads to the second most popular travel conversation that Mrs. G. and I will have—that a person can go almost anywhere for a few days, and find more than enough interesting things to do that are distinctively different than home.
Case in point: I had an appointment in Cleveland that would take, at the most, a couple of hours, and given that Cleveland is a four hour drive on the Interstate with no zigzagging or bothersome compass variations, the drive would be simple. Point the car west on I-90 for four hours, make a left, and Bob’s your uncle, there we are. What could be simpler? So the plan was to leave mid-morning, take care of the appointment, and drive back home the same day.
That was the plan anyway, but we had a dogsitter and we had the time, so why not see what Cleveland had to offer? For the record, we’re talking about the Cleveland in Ohio, not one of the ten other cities named Cleveland in the United States. We were going to the famous one. The one with the Cleveland Browns and the Cleveland Indians and the Cleveland Cavaliers … and … and … I honestly had no idea what else, but this goes back to the idea that one can go almost anywhere and fill a few days—even Ohio.
Day One: We decided to pack light, so everything I needed (including a dopp kit and an iPad) was crammed into a Jansport daypack. My wife stuffed her things in a girly looking duffle bag, and she put no less than five jackets in the backseat of the car. I did bring a camera, and we packed water bottles, yogurt, apples, and snack bars so we wouldn’t have to stop, but that was it. If the car had a coffee maker and a bathroom, we would have been good for a week.
The four-hour drive went a lot faster than I thought it would. New York flew by, then Pennsylvania, and finally we were into Ohio, where we stopped to stretch our legs and use the restroom. My wife also grabbed some brochures to add to the steamer trunk collection of brochures she already had back home. Mrs. G. absolutely loves browsing brochure racks, so if you need information on anything, she’s your gal. We left the rest stop, and before I knew it, we exited I-90, made a left at FirstEnergy Stadium—home of the Cleveland Browns—and drove less than a mile straight to our hotel. Since parking in the city is ridiculous, we said goodbye to our car and handed the keys to the parking valet.
After the usual check-in procedure and room assessment, we headed out on foot to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which should be sub-titled The AARP Convention Center. It was great. I mean, Ringo’s drum kit? Hendrix’s guitars? Handwritten Billy Joel lyrics? If one were to take the time to see every little bit of memorabilia and read every sign, it would take days. It’s worth the drive just for the Hall of Fame, but the day was getting long so we stopped at a deli, and got something to eat before heading back to our room. We were both sound asleep by 10:00.
Day Two. Early. Wee hours early. Why is the digital time display on the nightstand clock so bright? And why is the gap under the door so big? Do they illuminate the hallway with klieg lights? And that nightlight in the bathroom that seemed like a good idea? Is that a hundred watt bulb? Things got covered and cracks got stuffed and a door got closed and sleep came back easily, once I figured out the duvet/sheet assembly instructions.
6:30 am. I got up and took some long exposure shots from the window of the street below. Mrs. G. was already stirring, and within a half hour, we went down for the complimentary breakfast—omelets, potatoes, yogurt and waffles. The coffee was good and the newspapers were free, so this was not a bad way to start the day. I took notice that several people, including actual grown-ups, were still wearing their pajamas, which I half-considered for the next day.
My appointment was at 3:00, so we had enough time to visit the Cleveland Botanical Garden, which was beautiful. There’s something to be said for a city that puts aside vast acreage for elaborate gardens and related buildings, and this one didn’t disappoint at all. Right next-door was the Cleveland Museum of Art, which is one of the finer art museums that I’ve seen, and that includes the fancy one in Paris. There was enough of everything, and it wasn’t dark and somber; rather it was open, bright and airy. After lunch in the museum’s cafeteria, we headed off to my appointment.
Some of the other highlights of the trip were the Cleveland Arcade (built in 1888), and East 4th Street, which is closed to car traffic, and home to lots of cool restaurants and stores. Those were really nice. That being said, it should be noted that Cleveland is a city that has been hit hard economically. There are many empty storefronts, and the Cleveland Arcade was a ghost town, but everything is clean and well maintained. The streets look as if they’ve been vacuumed. As we didn’t bring fancy clothes, and since we aren’t fancy-eatin’ people anyway, we had dinner at the Hard Rock, bought a bottle of wine at a CVS drug store, and went up to our room.
Day Three: The plan was to head home today, so we took our time getting ready, and went down to breakfast a little later. I did not wear pajamas. We struck up a conversation with a guy in the restaurant who happened to be from Rochester, New York (small world) so we swapped advice about places to see in Cleveland. After breakfast and a stop at the brochure rack, we packed up our stuff and did a quick checkout while we waited for our car to be brought back from the bowels of the city.
We were on our way, but there was one thing left to do, and it was only a few miles away. We had Siri guide us to the Christmas Story House. Yes, that Christmas Story House. The house in the movie that runs on TV for two days in a row around Christmas. Much of the film was shot in a studio in Toronto, but all of the exteriors and many of the interior scenes happened in a little house on 3159 W 11th Street in Cleveland. The house was purchased and rehabbed by a gentleman who made his money manufacturing leg lamps, and while this might not have been the highlight of the trip, it was darned close, and yes, I bought a Red Ryder BB gun at the gift shop and no, I won’t shoot my eye out.
The drive home went quickly. On the way back, we passed the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, and shorty after that, we saw a bald eagle circling the thruway. “Sure, why not?” I thought. Mrs. G. and I talked for four solid hours about all the stuff we had seen and done over the course of a few short days, and while we have satellite radio in the car, it was seldom on for both legs of the journey. Mrs. G. and I have been traveling together for over thirty years, and we have a rhythm that is both comfortable and engaging. Who knows? This car traveling thing might catch on.
We left our house not knowing what to expect, which is often the best way to go somewhere, and we left Cleveland a few days later wanting to go back. There’s a lot to see, which also opened our eyes to something else—Philadelphia is only five and a half hours away, where I’m sure we could easily fill a couple of days. They have a big bell on display that’s kind of cool, and the Rocky statue, and the Betsy Ross house, and I also hear that they make a mean steak sandwich there. I’ll ask Mrs. G. about it. I’m sure she has the brochures somewhere.