Friday, May 10, 2002... Greetings from Austintown, Ohio, just across the Pennsylvania line. Yes, it's time for a fourth year of "News from the Road," my regular E-mail travelogue. Since the last installment, my finest accomplishment has been a column about baseball Commissioner Bud Selig that struck close enough to home that he actually tracked me down to harangue me for 40 minutes about my "factual errors."

This year's trips were supposed to take me up and down the West Coast on old US 99 and US 101. That was the plan until late February, when my back decided it didn't want to bend any more. For the better part of a week, it took me 15 minutes to put on shoes and socks, and for the next I was walking so stiffly that senior citizens were whizzing by me on the sidewalk. Suddenly two six-hour transcontinental flights seemed like A Very Bad Idea Indeed.

So instead this spring's trip is an actual "road" trip, with no air travel on either end. I left work early today and drove the first 400 miles of westbound I-80. (Ten years ago this spring I drove all of I-80, New York to San Francisco, in 2-1/2 days...but you can read about that here.) I'll spend most of the trip in the Upper Midwest -- Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Dakotas -- visiting classic roadside attractions and photographing an awful lot of World's Largest Concrete Animals.

One thing I've learned from working on the Web site is that scanning photos into digital form takes forever, so I've talked myself into believing that using a digital camera to duplicate dozens or hundreds of images I already have will actually save me almost as much time as I'm spending to duplicate them. I've also upgraded to an Olympus C-2100 Ultra Zoom digital camera, with a 10X optical zoom lens equivalent to a 38-380MM zoom for an SLR and electronic image stabilization to keep those long telephoto shots from looking like a 3D movie still without the special glasses.

And I'm traveling in a new car, too. When my '89 Mazda topped 250,000 miles (the distance from the earth to the moon...), I decided it was time to stop tempting fate. I'm now driving a silver VW New Beetle. The VW brings back memories, since 20 years ago I was driving the red VW Beetle my mother had used as a "station car" for a dozen years. By the time I inherited it, every bumper and fender had been banged to hell by parking lot attendants, but it still ran perfectly. During college it made regular Friday runs to the local market, often carrying five people and all their groceries. We were smaller then...

New 2001 Beetle at Roadside America, Shartlesville, PA
Anyhow, the real trip starts tomorrow. Today's drive doesn't count; the most interesting thing I've seen in the past eight hours was on the motel TV, an impromptu romantic embrace between Gillian Anderson and David Letterman. Now I'll have that image running through my head all night...

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