Musings From The Road

We drove back from Chicago to Maryland on Friday. It made for a long day (11 hours and 20 minutes on the road), but we had the three-day Memorial Day weekend to recover from our break.

Those long drives get me thinking, and today’s post covers some of my thoughts. The photos are from the trip, but they aren’t related to the musings. I just wanted to share some of them.

If you live in the US, have you ever noticed all the blown truck tires on the interstates? I’ll swear there were a hundred of them between Maryland and Indiana. But I’ve never seen a truck on the shoulder with the driver putting on another tire or waiting for roadside assistance. Thank heaven I’ve never seen one blow out, either, because that has to be dangerous for nearby vehicles.

This one’s for Carrie Rubin of The Write Transition and fans of “The Big Bang Theory.” The Cheesecake Factory at Water Tower Place in Chicago, with “American Girl” making its presence known, too.

Have you ever driven through “ghost” construction zones? On the trip west, we passed a number of construction signs telling us to slow down. But there was no evidence of construction other than the signs. And this was the week before Memorial Day, so there shouldn’t have been any holiday breaks then. What’s really being done in those areas?

Why were so many cars on the shoulders? I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many cars pulled off the road for unknown reasons as I did Friday. No flat tires. No open hoods. No changing drivers. No digging through the trunk or rear seats. Were people being good and pulling over to talk on the phone? Somehow I doubt that.

This was a fun place for a tour. Lakefront is a small, craft brewery in Milwaukee. If you can get any of their beers near you, my husband and I heartily recommend them.

When did Canada geese become perching birds? I wish I would have taken a photo of the pair that landed on a building’s roof in Chicago. Or the one that laid her eggs on the support of a pedestrian bridge on the Milwaukee Riverโ€”at eye level with the daily crowd. The city erected a burlap screen, but you could easily see behind it as you approached. Mother Goose was tending a nest with at least ten eggs in it, calm as you please.

Why is it that every time we make a May trip to Chicago and Milwaukee the weather turns cold??? It only got to 53 in Chicago on Thursday, and it dropped to 44 while we drove through Ohio on Friday. At one stretch, I wouldn’t have been surprised if it started to snow. And Chicago definitely lived up to its nickname of “The Windy City” on Thursday. If not for a fellow tourist’s quick hands, my husband’s baseball cap probably would have ended up in Lake Michigan.

Note the leather coat on the guy in the foreground and the bundled up pedestrians in the street. It was cold!

Why are people too polite at times? On merges, why let aggressive drivers into the lane ahead of you? That’s actually one of the reasons that traffic slows down in construction zones and congested areas. Make them cool their heels enough, and they might figure it out. Maybe. Yeah, I know. When pigs fly.

Despite some of the dramas on the road (trucks running cars off the interstate, cars shooting across multiple lanes without checking for others in the lanes), we had a great visit with family. My niece’s wedding was beautiful, and everyone had a wonderful time. It was a perfect start to her married life.

In this photo we’re coming up on South Mountain in northern Maryland. The north and west parts of the state have some good-sized ridges that are called mountains. Those of you living near real mountains should feel free to smile or snicker.

And I hope being back home means I’ll get back to my writing. Will Meghan start whispering again? Will my inner critic let me read Death Out of Time objectively for revisions? There’s only one way to find out–get my behind back in that chair.

Are you ready to kick off summer? Or winter, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere?

55 thoughts on “Musings From The Road

    • Everyone was doing great, which was really nice to see. Of course, when we got home, I was hit with massive congestion and sneezing, which I now think is a cold and not allergies. Or maybe it’s an awful combination…. Either way, I’d like to breathe freely again! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  1. Some lovely photos, especially the last one. The sky is unusually blue in Chicago considering how cold it is! I have noticed those ghost construction zones (although I’ve never thought to call them that!) – I wonder if they forget to remove the signs when they finish?

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    • The air was amazingly crisp and clear that morning, and the sky really was that intense shade of blue. I just wish it was about 20 degrees warmer!

      Finished construction projects could have explained some of the “ghost signs.” In other areas, the roads were in bad shape, so I hope that wasn’t the case! Maybe the signs went up before work started…. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  2. Traveling does put a damper on one’s writing, doesn’t it? I’ve managed onky 1600 words over the past 5 days since I’ve been in New Hampshire. At least it’s something, I suppose.

    Glad you had a nice trip. I love Chicago, and I have indeed eaten at that Cheesecake Factory! (Thanks for the mention. ๐Ÿ™‚ )

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    • I thought of you when we went past it. ๐Ÿ™‚ I got no writing done at all while we were gone. But yesterday, Meghan and I did work a bit on revising her first story, and that felt good. I might get more done if I could breathe again! I’ve gone back and forth on whether my allergies are suddenly worse than they’ve ever been or I have a spring cold that’s more intense than anything I’ve ever had. Maybe it’s an awful combination of both, but neither cold nor allergy meds seem to be helping the symptoms much. Fingers crossed things improve in the next few days….

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      • Oh, I hope they do. Allergies can really mess up a person’s functioning. My oldest came with me on my New England trip, and he’s been suddenly ensconced in a home with two dogs and a cat. Very sneezy. Thank goodness for Claritin and steroid nasal sprays!

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  3. I love being on the road and I could really relate to your trip observations. Since my husband’s family members live about 900 miles down route I-5 on the west coast, we’ve made this trip dozens of times over the years. The only road enlightenment I can offer is about the blown truck tires. These, apparently, are typically re-treads that de-laminate and fling themselves off from the heat of the road, leaving the naked tire body behind. You can often see trucks rolling hell-bent-for-leather with re-tread shreds flapping up a storm in the wheelwells. Since the big 18-wheelers have so many, well, wheels to spare, they usually just keep rolling when they lose a retread and probably change the tire at the next scheduled stop. Time is money on the road!

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    • Ah, thank you for the information about the truck tires! That would explain why trucks aren’t lining the shoulders. ๐Ÿ™‚ I still think those retreads could be dangerous to other vehicles, though. Given their size, they could do serious damage to a windshieldโ€”or send a car veering into another one while trying to avoid it.

      Roads can be a dangerous place for more than hobbits!

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  4. Definitely ready to kick off the summer! I’m just not sure if that means I’m going to have as much time to write as I’m hoping for. I did some productive writing this weekend while I was out of town. Not as much as I’d like, though. (I write pretty well when traveling. Now why doesn’t it work the same way when I sit down in Panera bread down the road? Strange, that.) Glad you had a good trip!

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    • I’ve started some revisions to my first Meghan Bode mystery, and I’m hoping that’s a good sign. I’ve really been in a slump so far this year when it comes to writing. So maybe I’m getting past my self-doubt, at least a little bit. That nasty beast needs to be tamed again, I’m afraid. But that’s all part of being a writer, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰

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      • Yep. I guess it’s a good thing to have self-doubt–it keeps one grounded, at least. I certainly want my stories to be halfway decent. What is it Monk says? It’s a gift…and a curse. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  5. Hahah – I’ve had similar thoughts while driving from Cape Cod to Michigan every year to visit family. It’s always fun when thoughts like that are accompanied by that feeling of floating that you get during a long car ride. Those rides are great for sorting out story details too. Hope you enjoy the warmer weather back home!

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    • I love those trips when the characters want to spend the time talking about the story. ๐Ÿ™‚ Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of them! But Meghan and I spent part of yesterday and today revising her first story, so my fingers are crossed that’s a good sign. And I got a blog post out of the drive, so I can’t complain. ๐Ÿ˜‰ The warmup really begins tomorrowโ€”they’re calling for 90!

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      • Wow! I can’t even imagine 90. We’re still getting that cold Chicago weather here but I have a feeling it’ll suddenly go from that to hot and humid soon.

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  6. When I lived in the States we once drove from Las Vegas to Indiana (not in one day!), and I noticed all the ripped tires along the side of the interstate! We had a bit of a scary experience because we actually got a puncture and flat tire ourselves along one of those completely unlit interstates late at night. My husband (at that time) had to change the tire by the side of the road in pitch darkness, while I stood on the verge holding my daughter who was a toddler. Every so often big trucks kept thundering past which was quite frightening in itself. It was just one of those awful times where I was just holding my daughter tight in the darkness in the middle of nowhere there thinking “Please let us make it out of this situation ok!” Luckily he managed to change the wheel and we were able to drive on to the next town.

    I haven’t been to the Cheesecake Factory in Chicago, although I’ve been to one somewhere else, and I’ve been to Gino’s East Pizza in Chicago which I loved!

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    • Knock on wood, I’ve never had a flat tire on a busy interstate. That would have been absolutely terrifying. I’m glad you didn’t have anything happen while you were dealing with your own car! At least when I was younger, the trucks only had one trailer. Now you see them with two or three on these routes. We don’t allow them in Maryland because there’s too much traffic, but they are scary when they pass!

      Ah, Gino’s East. You can get into some serious pizza wars in Chicago! Not to forget with Italian Beef and Chicago-style hot dogs, too. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  7. Great photos, JM. I just love the shot of the mountains ๐Ÿ˜€

    I’ve often wondered about those blown truck tires on the side of highways. I’d hate to be around when one of those beauties flies off! ๐Ÿ˜ฏ

    Driving long distance teaches you a lot about the good and bad side of people – I’m so glad you had a safe trip ๐Ÿ˜€

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    • Yeah, something tells me you have some real mountains in Australia. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Our highest spot of land is Hoye Crest on Backbone Mountain, which is all of 1,023 m high (3,684 ft). That’s taller than anything in my home state, but small potatoes for folks in the Rockies or Grand Tetons out west!

      The trip west was worst. Every bad driver seemed to be on the road with us. Luckily, coming back home was “mostly harmless.” ๐Ÿ™‚

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  8. I remember as a kid having flat tires a lot and also seeing cars with flat tires on most of our trips. Tire technology is so much better and there are fewer blowouts today. Maybe the roads are better to and contribute, but not all roads :-). I have a relative that works for a tire company and know a little bit about retreads. They are both good and bad, especially when the truck just keep on going and don’t clean up after themselves. They can actually be fined if they are caught right away, but it is hard to track them.

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    • I was just amazed at the number of tire parts on U.S. 70. At times, there was less than a mile between them. And if you’re the unlucky person behind them when they fly off…. I saw one truck pulled over by the policeโ€”and he had clearly forced a car to swerve off the road. Luckily for those folks, there was a cop around when they needed one. 70 was in rough shapeโ€”maybe that’s why there were so many blown tires!

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  9. Fun questions. Yes, I have wondered about all those tires, too. I get annoyed with aggressive drivers. The other thing I can’t stand is when people swerve in and out of lanes hoping to get somewhere faster, when that’s another reason traffic slows down!

    I haven’t been to a Cheesecake Factory in a long time, but I have good memories! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I hope your cold/allergies settle down soon and don’t affect your writing time too much. I usually have a terrible time trying to write with a cold.

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    • Ooh, those lane changers are another pet peeve of mine. They refuse to believe all the studies that show staying in one lane keeps everyone moving faster. Maybe not fast. But at least faster.

      Believe it or not, I’ve never been to a Cheesecake Factory. ๐Ÿ™‚ I hear they’re really good, but really high calorie and fat. I try to avoid too much of those, which is hard. So it’s probably best that I don’t get hooked!

      Meghan and I didn’t get a lot done over the weekend, but we did make some progress. So my fingers are crossed that it’s a good sign. Once I’m over this cold, and caught up a bit on work, I hope we’ll keep going. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  10. Nice photos, JM! Glad you enjoyed this trip west.

    The horrors of interstate driving in the US really don’t compare to anywhere else in the world, if only for geographical expanse. No matter where else I’ve been, US drivers have an obnoxiousness level all their own. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Some of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in my life were on cross-country (or even cross-county) trips. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Good to have you back! Hopefully, your rest was worthy of the excitement. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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    • I’m thinking you don’t mean memorable in a good way! Passing an accident scene where the ambulance is putting someone on a stretcher is such a sobering experience. Were the few seconds to be shaved off the trip more important than someone’s well-being, or life? (For any aggressive drivers out there, the correct answer is no.)

      The trip was definitely worth the adventure. It was great to see friends and family for the wedding festivities, which were truly memorable in a good way. ๐Ÿ™‚ Now to get over this cold, settle back into a routine, and spend more time with some characters!

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      • Well, not all memorable road moments were terrifying. But, that’s more often the case than not. It’s always been worst on the Cross-Bronx, for some reason. I suppose because the road is just so terrible. But, I-80 and I-76 can be nerve-wracking, too. Once, we saw someone drift off at the wheel, and sideswipe his own car along the divider!

        Good luck with the cold. Summer is an awful time for one! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Though, I’ve had many an interesting idea come to me when in the clutches of NyQuil. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  11. Thanks for sharing your trip pictures ( American Girls’ sign is larger than the building’s? What does that say? The Cheesecake factory location looks wonderful)…sorry it was so chilly – but you weren’t sweltering! A wedding and some big hills/small mts – what a nice trip.
    Oh, tires – when did so many get left? – and they are dangerous as they come off and to run over with their steel belts which puncture your tires. The roads used to be so much cleaner and debris free – we’ve noticed a difference in the past few years Not all budgets. Some people’s attitudes and what is acceptable?
    Geese are so calm and do pick the oddest spot – they are trying to discourage one pair from nesting near a busy road – OK it’s safe, now, but the little ducklings might wander (Look – there’s prime duck real estate a few yards away in the park..move, please?)
    Always enjoy seeing what you’re up to!

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    • I’ve never understood the American Girl phenomenon. Maybe because it postdates my childhood. But the uber commercialization of childhood since the 1960s or 1970s is not a good thing. And neither is the lack of responsibility and respect for others and the environment that’s gotten worse since then, too. (Really, I’m not an old crank!)

      Canada Geese never stuck around northern climes until maybe the 1980s? Is it all the borrow ponds that go hand-in-hand with new construction that turned the tide? Now they won’t budge unless a major snowfall covers their food supply. And even then, they only go as far south as necessary. Once things melt, back they come with their over-sized droppings.

      I think my mom was lucky a few years back when it was only a pair of mallards that nested in her front yard (blocks away from any water) and not geese!

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  12. Oh, my hometown, how I miss it. Thanks for sharing the photos. Regarding the drive, we drive up there once or twice a year (sometimes three) from Florida. All of my family lives there (well, my parents, my sibling who lives there has little to do with me). I don’t like to fly, and we have no one to watch our dog, so we take him on the drive with us. I’ve seen many a blown tire on the road. I’ve also seen one or two blow in front of me before. Some trucks can keep on driving with all those wheels. They send up a flare of white smoke and then it dissipates. It IS scary though, because the rubber goes flying and can hit other cars. I’ve seen many ghost construction zones too, and have sat in my fair share of traffic jams. I have a little more fear of driving on highways lately because I worry about texters. Our annual trip is usually in September, and we’ve rarely hit bad or cold weather. The month of May has very unpredictable weather. I have a very vivid childhood memory of a 95 degree Mother’s Day BBQ (something big/tragic happened that day and it’s why I remember the heat). Then again, you can get frigid temps like you did, and it can be stormy in May too. Didn’t mean to go on, but like I said, I miss my hometown. So glad you had a pleasant and safe visit, and got to see your niece get married.

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    • Oh, man, texting and driving. I know of people who do it with their young children in the car. How irresponsible can they be? I’m a defensive driver by nature, and it’s gotten more stressful in recent years with the addition of cell phones. So far I haven’t seen a truck driver texting, but if I did, I’d do my best to get as far away as possible as quickly as possible.

      I never went to Chicago much as a kid, or even as an adult when we lived in Illinois. I’ve probably seen more of it since moving to Maryland! Once we figured out we like cities (thanks to DC), we started scheduling Chicago into the trips. And now I have a niece and nephew who live there, so we can have some good visits with them, too.

      Chicago weatherโ€”wait 5 minutes, and it’ll change! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  13. JM, glad you had such a good trip! I was very excited to hear that you and Meghan have been at it again and I was hopeful to see you write, “Will my inner critic let me read Death Out of Time objectively for revisions?” I hope so. If not now, eventually ๐Ÿ™‚ Feel better!

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    • It was a great trip, despite the awful drivers. ๐Ÿ˜‰ It’s baby steps right now with Meghan, but maybe those will lead to bigger ones before long. And that might help quiet the inner critic so I can sit down with Maddie and Jack, too. Fingers crossed! Now for the cold to go away and to get settled back in a routine. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  14. I think it’s best to let aggressive drivers go in front, otherwise they try to push you along which is stressful. I’m glad the wedding went well.
    Now go and talk to Meghan!

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    • It is stressful to have them right on top of the rear bumper. And yet if we reward their aggressive behavior by giving in to it, they’ll never change, even if they’re ticketed a hundred times. I won’t speed up the way they want me to do, and my husband will purposely slow down a bit. I get nervous when he does that!

      Meghan and I have an appointment for a little later this afternoon. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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    • Maybe it’s a miracle there aren’t more accidents on the road…. Sometimes, there’s nothing we can do to prevent it. What can you do if you can’t avoid a shredded tire or debris in the road? I’ve seen workers’ tools, a ladder, and even furniture in the middle of the roads out here. There’s another post in itself!

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  15. I enjoyed your tour of the scenery en route from Chicago to Maryland. Welcome home! South Mountain is impressive to me, but what do I know, I live a few feet below sea level.

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    • I grew up in a town surrounded by flat corn and soybean fields. Absolutely flat. The kind of scenery that can put you to sleep while you’re driving. So the hills and ridges out here impress me, too. But heyโ€”you’ve got skyscrapers rising out of your lowlands. Corn and soybeans can’t compare to that. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Thanks, Kourtney! Just now, I seem to be in a “light” mood for posts. We’ll see if that continues over the summer. But I figure it’s best to go with the Muse’s flow. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  16. I have spent some wonderful time in Chicago freezing my butt off. The city has a great Art Museum–did you ever visit it?
    As for ghost construction sites–yes, what’s up with those?

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    • I have seen the Art Institute, and it is impressive. Of course, I’m also spoiled with easy visits to the National Gallery of Artโ€”free of charge. ๐Ÿ˜‰ One of the many perks of living near DC! So maybe the universe thinks my travels should remind me of how good I have it with location and weather. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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      • Yes, you are lucky to have close access to some of the best museums in the country. Every time I come to DC, I check out one I hadn’t seen previously. in 2011 (last time I was there), I saw the oh-so-very-fun spy museum.

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        • I love the Spy Museum! The Newseum is really good, too, if you haven’t seen it yet. And of course, all the Smithsonians and the National Gallery of Art…. It’s a bit of heaven for someone like me. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  17. Just a comment: I believe that when the 18 wheelers lose 1 tire, they don’t even bother stopping; they may have it looked at when next stopping for diesel.
    Just the way I understand it.
    Scott

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  18. I don’t think that polite drivers slow traffic down–quite the opposite. It’s the drivers who insist on NOT letting faster traffic pass them that clog traffic. Yeah, drivers merging in construction zones is a hassle, but I think in the overall scheme of traffic, it is a minor obstacle.

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    • The more reckless behavior I see on the road, the more I think a “smart system” with automated vehicles is worth serious consideration. Since I’m obviously living in a dream world, until then I’d also like semis to be restricted to a separate lane system where they couldn’t interact with passenger vehicles.

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