Wednesday, August 20, 2014

On the Road Again...

 Terry and Pam Dornburg lean on the fence, watching softball action in Grantsville. (Photo by Bonnie J. Schupp)

Getting away ain't easy these days

The hardest part of a road trip may be getting out of the house, into the car, down the street and around the corner. Then don’t look back

It’s been a long time since our last real road trip... 2008, really, when we set out for Appalachia in search of Democrats. We had other trips, shorter adventures, and airplane rides. But this is totally roadie, and it’s not political – not yet, anyway. After all, you never know what you might encounter on the highway to somewhere else. Serendipity, good luck, bad luck. It’s all out there, lying in wait.

One thing we won’t be having is hitchhikers. No room in the car. It’s packed with electronics, clothing, meds, snack food, bottled water, extra shoes, sweatshirts and jackets, our own pillows. We’re gone for more than a month this time, and we’re probably going to outlast summer.

The journey is really the fault of my nephew Ross, who chose the bicentennial anniversary of The Star-Spangled Banner to get married. The kid is from the Baltimore area, but fled – to Aspen, Colorado, where he owns a pet supply shop in the center of town. And that’s where the ceremony will  take place on Sept. 13 as he  weds a dog trainer.

Family is important, so missing the wedding was not an option.  But why fly when you can drive... to Colorado, and lots of places between here and there before we’re back again.

So we packed the car, and packed, and packed. Times like these I miss the 30-foot converted school bus camper I owned in the 1960s, two wives back. The damn thing could sleep eight people. Or a few years later, the 1945 Ford mini-bus with custom wood cabinetry, a brick fireplace and a stovepipe chimney. But the 2012 Toyota Camry will have to suffice.

We should have left in the morning on Monday, but a friend prevailed upon my wife Bonnie on short notice to shoot his family – photographically speaking. It was a rare occasion when his entire family was under one roof – some from New York, some from Israel, even his 98-year-old mother-in-law. Like I said, family is important, even when it may be someone else’s.

So when the road trip began, it was 4:45 p.m., just in time to head westward into the maw of rush hour traffic fleeing Baltimore and Washington. It wasn’t pretty or efficient, but Interstate 70 finally opened up and we made it to Frostburg in Western Maryland before sunset.  We might have stayed there, except I got tired of being on hold for a reservation agent at Days Inn’s 800-number. So we drove through town along Main Street and picked up old U.S. 40, once known as The National Road,  all the way to tiny Grantsville.

                   Me, sitting on the porch of the historic Casselman.

It was a stroke of luck, really, stopping there at the historic Casselman  Inn, a registered historic site  which dates to 1840 and once catered to the stagecoach crowd. There's also a 40-room Casselman motel section in back. But the old building is still in use, with a few rooms and a quaint restaurant, run along with the motel by Mennonite folks who constitute a fair measure of the population in remote Garrett County. Most of the staff seemed to be Mennonite, but I noticed one dark-complexion there... a man repainting one of the sitting rooms, who turned out to be an Iraqi. He spoke a little English, and I got across that I was sorry his country was such a mess and hoped it would be mended some day. I was told the Iraqi chap is attending the local Mennonite church.

A longtime resident of the hotel (he checked in more than 40 years ago, and apparently never checked out) was sitting in a rocking chair on the porch, watching not much happen. Cars were few, as has been the case since Interstate 68 opened to traffic and bypassed the old two-lane stretch of highway in front of the Casselman. I asked if much was going on for local entertainment, and he pointed up the road where, a short distance away, you could see the ballfield lights in the town park.

So after a picnic dinner in our very clean, but somewhat austere, room (about $62 a night, including taxes), Bonnie and I strolled up to the park, caught the last inning of a church league slowpitch softball game between  Mennonites from Grantsville and Mennonites from Bittinger, a few miles away.The oldest players were the ministers -- Grantsville's at third base, Bittinger's pitching.

A middle aged Mennonite couple leaned at the fence, and I nudged Bonnie pointing them out as a charming image, and she walked over to ask permission to take their picture. Terry and Pam Dornburg were happy to say yes, and inquired about us strangers... so we explained how we’d just driven about 170 miles from the Baltimore area on our first leg of the long road trip.

                                                                         Pam Dornburg

Pam gave Bonnie a warm hug, quick proof of the friendliness of little Grantsville. Her husband, Terry, is a dentist. And they were watching one of their sons play outfield, while a younger son, a few days short of the minimum age of 15 to play in the league, was among about two dozen other spectators.

When the game ended, with Granstville on the losing end of a slightly lopsided score, Pam gave Bonnie another hug and we all shook hands. Then we walked back to the Casselman for a little sleep time.

You’d think we’d know better, embarking on Day 2, to get an early start since our goal was to reach Indiana – some 400 miles. But after an excellent breakfast of eggs, bacon and home fries, we backtracked no more than half a mile to see the historic stone arch bridge over the Casselman River, built some 200 years ago to accommodate traffic across what was then the National Trail. The bridge was in use until 1933, and remains as a remarkable specimen of early 19th century engineering – the centerpiece of a small state park

We walked across the bridge and found ourselves in the tiny Spruce Forest Artisan Village, where arts and crafts folks – a weaver, potter, blacksmith, photographer, among others – work and sell in restored and transplanted homes from the area in the early days of America. That, and the beautiful flower gardens outside several of the buildings, were a grand excuse to delay our departure.

And then, a little past 11 a.m., after half an hour talking with weaver Ann Jones (we had met her a year or two ago in Baltimore when she took part in the annual Maryland Traditions Folklife Festival) and a guest artist photographer, we were back in the car – 400 miles to go before nightfall.

Other than a roadside piece of whimsical humanoid sculpture made from metal scrap – including the springs of an old mattress as its torso – the drive was relatively unremarkable. We managed to avoid bad weather until shortly after crossing the Indiana border, where an extraordinarily high cross looms to the north side of Interstate 70. If there is a god, as many Indianans would insist, it was not a happy one. We had to navigate through a deluge of rain and fierce lightning. We saw what looked to be a tornado funnel, but it turned out to be an immense amount of rain pouring out of the edge of the dark bank of clouds.

It was time to search for a hotel, so we used the cell phone to see what might be available nearby in the way of a Holiday Inn Express – a chain that has upgraded very nicely in recent years, and proven consistently good. Besides, I hold a credit card from the hotel parent corporation, IHG, that has accrued some 92,000 points redeemable for discounts or better.

We did much better. The room we wanted in the town of Greenfield would have run about $125 with our AAA discount. I asked the reservation agent if I could lower the price by using some of my points -- like what would it cost with 10,000 points? Answer: Nothing. The room, with the standard two queen beds, was free. 

Twenty minutes later, reservation number in hand, I bantered happily with the motel room clerk. She  noted that I was a "platinum" IHG Rewards member (a status you get by paying for the $49-a-year credit card), and gave us an upgrade to a king suite. It was an incredibly nice room, with extra furniture, a fridge, desks and chairs,  and a king bed with soft pillows that felt so darn good. So thanks, IHG Rewards -- and a shout out to the folks who staff the motel in Greenfield. You do a great job, and the company owes you a big raise.


Stacy Spaulding said...

Have fun and keep these postcards coming!

Johnathon Briggs said...

It's great reading your voice. Are Bonnie's photo on Instagram? She should definitely have an Instagram portfolio.

Anonymous said...

You didn't mention Indiana at CS? I had the idea you were starting from San Diego, somehow.
Mennonites are extremely stranger friendly. Stop at any church on Sunday and you will have many invites for home dinner- and stay the night. (MennoniteYourWay) may be on the web- or it might not...but they do invite perfect strangers, and very cordial.