I wasn’t afraid, but as we crested the top of the roller-coaster I thought about all the rotting wood and rusty nails beneath us. Hurtling down the face and swerving into our first turn, I wished we were on welded metal. The idea of these old boards giving out jarred uncomfortably in my head…death only takes once, and a roller-coaster with no accidents was due. Two minutes later the cars slammed to a halt, squishing the contents of my organs in opposite directions. I was at Cedar Point Amusement Park, I’d ridden only 3 roller-coasters so far; I hoped this was my last. I stumbled off to rejoin the Prosceno family, who’d taken me under their wing for the afternoon.
The day before, I drove through the wooded hills of southwestern Pennsylvania as they melted into the wooded hills of West Virginia, before crossing a river into Ohio, where I rolled passed farms dotted with cylinders of hay. North America continued to suffer through a wretched heat wave; with the engine block next to my knee, and no air-conditioning, I was dripping with sweat. Indeed, the passenger seat was piled with empty water and Gatorade bottles. At an Autozone in East Liverpool, I purchased a door handle I needed and more water, then sped over the back roads to Canton, a small town in the center of the state.
Therein dwelt the Football Hall of Fame. I felt surprisingly nostalgic, roving its retro halls, peering across the decades, marveling at humanity’s amazing redirection of primal aggression called: Competitive Sports. Posters of Jim Thorpe, busts of Joe Namath, and clips of Joe Montana, among countless others, were all housed in a building that resembled a church, complete with a cathedral-like football dome trimmed in stained glass, the vaulted inner chamber infused with a religious hush. In Canton also, I ate the best (and only) cream-of-chicken sandwich I’d ever had at Woody’s Root Beer, got a cheap sundae at Taggarts’, ran up the steps of the McKinley monument, before settling into a Walmart in Akron for the night.
Earlier, I’d taken an online survey to find the best Ohio venue for the 4th of July. One suggestion, fully endorsed by the Italian family I met at the Pittsburgh reunion, was Medina. In the morning I wandered through what turned out to be a quaint and cheerful little town with a pretty public square, the insects silenced by the looming clouds. Rain chased me to my first Waffle house since North Carolina, then flushed me to Cleveland and the ultra-modern Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where I paddled once again down a soggy memory lane.
My friend Melanie put me in touch with a family vacationing at Cedar Point. The Chief sloshed through the growing deluge, past cars stopped on the roadside. I was fully aware only intrepid idiots like myself were dumb enough to plod on, without headlights, peering through a windshield that blurred the world into an impressionist painting. Thankfully, the skies cleared by the time I reached the park, allowing me to enjoy Raptor-induced roller-coaster nausea, before meeting up with the Prosceno’s.
The internet’s consensus for the 4th congealed around the islands in Lake Erie, particularly Put-in-Bay. I was happy to have Natalie join me, driving out from Pennsylvania for the adventure. We crossed on the ferry, hung out in a very Spring Break-like environment of cocktails and swimming pools and pirate ships and dance music. We ran into the Prosceno family once again, ate potato skins, and watched the fireworks over the lake when it got dark.
More farmland and relentless green drew me south, where I stopped in Bucyrus for the murals, and in Delaware, off a tip, for the famous burger at Buns restaurant. Columbus offered an evening stroll through the giant indoor-outdoor Easton Mall, countered the next morning by a jaunt among the red brick buildings of German Town and the hip neighborhood of Short North. However, after a day in the city, I was eager for some nature.
A mere hour outside Columbus was an amazing area called Hocking Hills, with forested canyons, and overhangs where waterfalls fell when there was water. None now, this summer offered precious little. The Chief took tiny two-laners toward Cincinnati, where I was excited to meet the Sugarman family, who provided me with an oasis from traveling for a few days, and organized a very appreciated over-haul for the van.
There I practiced hula-hooping, had my first 4-way, yes 4-way, at Skyline Grill, and ice-cream at Graeter’s. Anna and her father, Chuck, took me to the Underground Railway Museum, and I ate the best waffle of the trip at Findlay Market. The family was kind enough to let me celebrate Chuck’s birthday with them, and included me in an excursion to the eclectic Kentucky town of Rabbit Hash, whose mayor was a dog whose owner was Anna’s brother’s band-mate, make sense? (Noah plays in a successful local band called 500 Miles to Memphis). I also managed to extract some impromptu piano lessons from Cindy, Anna’s mom.
With another week tucked under my belt, I was behind on my State Sign Dances. Anna accompanied me into Indiana; we recrossed into Ohio and picked one up there. I’d planned on knocking off a Kentucky dance too, but the signs hung over bridges. I decided to put that one off, and hoped to find a landlocked sign sometime later in the week.