Saturday, May 11, 2002... Greetings from Janesville, Wisconsin, a dozen miles across the Illinois line, where it was
43 degrees, windy and raining when I checked into the motel. Good
thing the outdoor sightseeing doesn't start until tomorrow
It was sunny this morning as I crossed Ohio, but the sun's wasted on that landscape. There's no scenic way to cross Ohio. Every major route is the same: towns every 10-15 miles, surrounded by trees and separated by farmland. I turned right at Toledo, heading north into Michigan. Monroe, MI should be sacred to couch potatoes across America: not just the world headquarters of La-Z-Boy recliners, but also the home of beefjerkyoutlet.net for the all-important high-fat, high-salt diet.
First stop: the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. For a man who once proclaimed "History is bunk," Henry Ford spent a lot of money preserving, restoring and re-creating it. For Greenfield Village, the other main part of the Museum complex, Ford bought buildings associated with famous people (such as the Wright Brothers' bicycle shop) and reassembled them into an imitation old-time town. I skipped Greenfield Village in favor of the Museum -- specifically, the "Automobile in American Life" exhibit, America's most complete monument to car culture.
The exhibit includes everything from old Howard Johnson's and McDonald's neon signs to restorations of a 1940s diner, a 1930s tourist cabin, a 1960s Holiday Inn motel room, and a classic white, streamlined Texaco station. Old parking meters? A Merritt Parkway toll booth? A See Rock City birdhouse? All present and accounted for.
Then there are the cars. The 15,000,000th Ford, a 1927 Model T that listed for $380, is here. So is a 1931 Bugatti Royale Cabriolet, one of six ever made, that sold for $43,000 Depression dollars. Drag out the raccoon coat and hip flask and cheer on old State U. from your 1923 Stutz Bearcat, or turn heads in a 1929 Packard Speedster Roadster. "Old 999," which under Barney Oldfield's control became the fastest car in America 100 years ago, is here; so is a 1949 VW Beetle, one of the first two imported to the United States. For history, there's a parade of Presidential vehicles, from Teddy Roosevelt's 1902 horse-drawn carriage to Ronald Reagan's official limo...not to mention the car in which John F. Kennedy was killed, which was cleaned and put back in service for another decade. And, of course, there's an Oscar Mayer Weinermobile...
Elsewhere the museum displays all manner of transportation devices and heavy machinery, including locomotives, early planes and enormous turbines. It's a celebration of roughly 75 years of technology, one which could never be duplicated in the modern service economy. "Look! An executed copy of the very first mortgage-backed asset securitization agreement!" just doesn't stir the observer quite like 40 tons of gleaming metal.
The most astonishing sight, though, has nothing to do with cars: it's the chair in which Abraham Lincoln was sitting when assassinated, still stained with his blood. A sign explains that the chair, an extra-large model brought into Lincoln's booth to accommodate him, sat in storage for more than half a century before Ford bought it.
I left the Museum and headed west, past Domino's Farms, which is the pizza company's headquarters, and Madonna University, which is not affiliated with the annoying entertainer. Couldn't resist a stop to check out my old neighborhood in Ann Arbor, where I still recognized about half the stores in the student area, including a video arcade which may still be living off the interest on my expenditures. The law quad looks exactly the same, but my former apartment building is showing its age.
From Ann Arbor, I went to Hell. Hell is about 20 miles from the U of M campus, though during law school it often seemed much closer. In fact, had I known about Hell during my first year, I'd have treated my jackass roommate to a one-way ride rather than tolerate his incessant whining for quiet so he could study in his room for 10 hours/day rather than walk the half-block across the Law Quad to the library. Creationists will be pleased to note that the main route into Hell from the South is called Darwin Road: "To get to Hell, just follow Darwin." This road, incidentally, is paved with regulation asphalt, not with good intentions.
Okay, enough of the bad puns. Hell, Michigan is a real place. It appears on the map, but it's nothing more than a wide spot in the road with two stores and several photo opportunities. Alas, no post office...
I continued west to Lansing, the state capital -- the only capital in the lower 48 states I had never visited. While I'd driven between Ann Arbor and Chicago a dozen times, I always took the direct route rather than detouring half an hour north. The rains came as I left Lansing, and stayed as I looped around the southern shore of Lake Michigan, past Chicago and up towards Wisconsin. Thought about swinging through Milwaukee to invite my friend Bud Selig along, but scrapped the idea upon realizing that he'd probably insist on riding inside the car...
Tomorrow: across southern Wisconsin and Minnesota to Sioux Falls, SD, with a stop at The Most Incredible Place No One In New York Has Ever Heard Of.
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