After Niagara Falls, we had a couple of uneventful days cruising through Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. From the car window, it all seemed like a beautiful film playing back again and again: autumn colors, gray skies, and decrepit rustbelt factory towns.
Unfortunately for this blog, we weren’t able to stop in Chicago more than a couple of hours. From what we did see, I can say the Chicago skyline is second only to Manhattan, which I suppose is fitting, as it’s called the SecondCity. The highway ran along Lake Michigan, so on one side you have skyscrapers and on the other, the vast, calm lake. After the first few skyscrapers, I thought we’d passed the downtown area so I was surprised when the tall buildings kept coming for minutes and minutes on end with the same consistency as the lakeshore.
One thing we made a point of seeing was the Baha’i temple in Wilmette, a small suburb to the North of the city. The Baha’i religion was founded in 19th Century Persia as an outgrowth of Islam, and it emphasizes the similarities between all religions. While that sounded like a reasonable enough religious principle, the temple was a huge, ominous white dome that loomed surreally over a very clean and plain Chicago suburb. It’s hard to describe still how out of place it seemed there. The temple was open to the public, even late in the evening, so Reilly and I went inside. The outside of the temple was surrounded by gardens and long, decorative pools and fountains. Pure white granite steps led up to the eight sided temple; the intricacy of the sculptures and etchings that adorned the sides of the dome was incredible. On each wall was an inscription proclaiming the ultimate unity of all religions. Inside, no one greeted us. Everything was completely silent. We walked around the building, staring up at more inscriptions on each wall, surrounding a podium and rows and rows of seats, all under the high dome ceiling. Coming out again, I was practically dizzy, from both the sheer size and shape of the temple and the uncanny quiet inside. Walking back to the car, we actually got lost, thinking we were on an adjacent side of the temple. Still, we couldn’t spot anyone associated with the church.
As we drove away from Chicago, I sat in the back seat quietly bewildered and then pestered Reilly to look up information about the Baha’i on his phone. We planned to stay that night in Milwaukee, so we hit the highway again, leaving the Baha’i behind.
Our first stop in Milwaukee was the bar outside our hotel. Not a real Milwaukee beer experience, but it served local beer nonetheless. The locals there were interesting—an even blend of yokel and Midwest average. Reilly and I felt a little out of place sitting at the bar. We ordered beers, and after a few minutes, a man in a white tuxedo came in with a girl, in what appeared to be a prom dress. He had long, wavy hair and a foreign air about him. The entire bar turned to stare (this is not the last time we would experience this phenomenon in Wisconsin) but we never got a full explanation of why the couple was dressed so out of place. Reilly and I felt like we fit in a little better after that.
Not being a beer connoisseur, I couldn’t honestly say whether Milwaukee beer lived up to its reputation, especially after I’d had a few. We checked in to get a good night’s sleep before exploring Green Bay the next day.
We’re all back home in Lodi (well, Acampo) now. We all made it back alive, though half of us came down with laryngitis on the last stretch home. The trailer made it back intact as well, despite a few bumps and scrapes and an inspection at the California/Nevada border.
Now that I’m back and settled in, I’ll be going back and writing a few stories I didn’t have the chance to earlier, and posting pictures that didn’t get posted or had to be developed…
We’ve covered a lot of ground across the northern states, which is just as well because there is a whole lot of nothing up here! We sped through Niagara Falls, Chicago, Milwaukee, North Dakota and Montana in four days. Last night we drove through Yellowstone National Park, spotting bears, birds and genial elk.
After spending a night in Syracuse, we made our way toward Ohio. Niagara Falls got in our way, so we made a pit stop to watch Lake Erie drain into Lake Ontario for a few minutes.
Eerie is a good adjective to describe the way it felt to watch four million cubic feet a minute of water simply flow over the edge of a precipice and disappear. Mists shot up seemingly at random as we leaned over the railing and stared 167 feet below us.
Our visit to Boston was far too brief. Between commuter traffic and needing to get back on the road, we only got to spend a few hours in the city.
We drove from our hotel in Framingham directly into downtown Boston. Moving through the brick buildings and October foliage, we eventually came to the North End, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. Without much time to explore, I managed to get a glimpse of the Paul Revere House, the Old North Church, Faneuil Hall, and the Old State House (where the Boston Massacre occurred). The streets around the Paul Revere house were narrow and lined with old buildings and the cobblestone underfoot was incredibly uneven. The lack of a solid grid pattern for the streets (not to mention the innumerable one-way streets) made the North End a maddening place to take the modern convenience of a car through.
After the North End, we drove across the Charles River to have lunch in Harvard Square. Driving by MIT and Harvard, I couldn’t help but feel excited at the thought of being in the midst of some of the best minds in the nation.
Photos from Princeton. I’ve wanted to visit this place since reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel This Side of Paradise loosely based on his time there.
Princeton–The Last Day
from This Side of Paradise by F Scott Fitzgerald
The last light wanes and drifts across the land,
The low, long land, the sunny land of spires.
The ghosts of evening tune again their lyres
And wander singing, in a plaintive band
Down the long corridors of trees. Pale fires
Echo the night from tower top to tower.
Oh sleep that dreams and dream that never tires,
Press from the petals of the lotus-flower
Something of this to keep, the essence of an hour!
No more to wait the twilight of the moon
In this sequestrated vale of star and spire;
For one, eternal morning of desire
Passes to time and earthy afternoon.
Here, Heracletus, did you build of fire
And changing stuffs your prophecy far hurled
Down the dead years; this midnight I aspire
To see, mirrored among the embers, curled
In flame, the splendor and the sadness of the world.
Reilly and I ventured out from Brian’s (Linda’s son) apartment in West New York. Brian lives in a nice part of a mostly working class Dominican neighborhood, not far for the Jersey side of the Lincoln. For him, it’s a good location from which to travel to work in the city.
We waited for a bus to pick us up on Bergenline Avenue a few blocks away. The bus arrived and fifteen minutes later, we were stepping out of the Port Authority Bus Terminal onto 42nd Street and 8th Avenue, directly facing the New York Times building. We’d both been to Times Square, so we walked through it briefly then turned south toward the Village. It was the beginning of a long day of walking, walking, walking.
Somewhere in the Village, we stumbled upon the Parsons School of Design, a part of the New School. The New School is a sort of alternative university spread out through Manhattan and it produces a lot of bizarre “avant-garde” urban intellectual types. As we passed, we saw what looked like a college discussion section through a window on the ground floor. The scene inside looked like a cross between a Buddhist meditation session and urban planning meeting. Odd, intense hipsters sat around on cushions looking like they were over-thinking esoteric abstractions. They looked like they put more than a little thought into how they looked.
I don’t know exactly when we reached the World Trade Center site, but the walk there seemed to take forever. Reilly and I stopped and sat down in front of Trinity Church where old tombstones were knocked down on September 11th. Across the street, World Trade Center 1 was under construction. Two square fountains mark the former bases of each tower and panels along their sides list the names of the victims. It was a quiet place and the rush of the water from the fountains seemed to emphasize the sense of loss; water flowed down toward the center of the monuments in successively lower squares until it was out of sight. I was reminded of being twelve years old and staring at a TV screen in my father’s room when the South and North Towers collapsed, soundlessly vanishing into themselves under a cloud of dust.
I noticed a group of men wearing beards and conservative suits walk by. They appeared to be Middle Eastern and they were laughing. I had the novel experience of being uncomfortable with my own thoughts, the associations I was making. A few minutes later, Reilly and I stopped in front of a memorial in bronze along a wall. Names of firefighters who died in the rescue were listed. There was a jarring engraving of the Twin Towers, one in smoke, the other emitting a cloud of flame, suspended in bronze as a Boeing airliner crashes into it. The same group of men I noticed laughing before walked around the corner and stumbled upon the engraving. Quiet immediately came over them; they stopped and starred.
We walked from the World Trade Center site over to the Hudson River a few blocks to the west. Along the river there is a really nice walkway made partly of brick. It seemed windier there and the Hudson flowed strangely swift and quiet against the seawall. Jersey City’s skyline seemed like a pale reflection of Manhattan across the river. Looking south out over the river, the Statue of Liberty stood out in the distance like a recalcitrant sea green light against seas and skies otherwise black. We decided to start back on the long march to the bus stop in Midtown, half way up the fifteen mile island we were at the bottom of. We turned north and began to notice our aching feet and legs.