On the Road #1: Recharging in the Midwest
Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana...oh my!
Hello devoted readers, I am lovingly writing to you all from my partner’s family home in Southern Indiana. Wind howls outside as some unseasonable thunderstorms roll in. Despite it being February 22, today there is a high north of seventy degrees. My partner’s family dog, an elderly shih tzu, snoozes next to me on the couch. The home is cozy, lived-in and peaceful. Her mom keeps feeding us all chopped up cucumbers with dinner, and they are the best vegetable side I have ever had.
A place that truly feels like home is the best place to rest.
This newsletter includes some select pictures to illustrate key points in our journey, but for a more comprehensive gallery of our trip, check out my Instagram.
Our trip started five days ago, on a Friday morning when we loaded up the car and dropped the bunnies off at the Cottontail Inn. On the way there, I mistakenly ordered our Dunkin Donuts from the store across the street from where I work in New York City and not the tiny gas station one by our house. It’s fine, it’s fine. I am getting a refund, and after the initial embarrassment, it’s become a funny store. We bid our three persnickety rabbits bun voyage and set off on the open road, taking Route 80 clear across Pennsylvania and into Ohio.
Something that struck me most about Pennsylvania (and there’s not much competition. It is, after all, the dullest leg of our trip. Even the mountain views are lackluster without the thick foliage that won’t return for another few month): the signs.
Maybe it was the giddiness of setting out on our journey, but I found this sign warning people of an Audrey II-esque toilet particularly funny.
And then there’s a classic: the elk trail viewing map accessible at the small rest area.
We stopped for lunch at Perkins in Clarion, PA. While Perkins was a pillar of nostalgia from my own youth, Olivia had yet to experience this clean, efficient Bob Evans meets IHop roadside staple, which has sadly disappeared from the roads into Seaside and Asbury Park. She enjoyed a cheap, but filling plate of breakfast food and I got a surprisingly fresh and nutritious crispy chicken hibachi skillet. After some truly quick and polite service, we were back on the road for our destination: a Sheraton in Worthington, Ohio, a northern suburb of Columbus.
On the way there, though, somewhere on I-80 or I-76 (after a while it’s hard to tell), a box fell off an empty, unstable trailer and exploded into paper scraps at full speed on the road. Luckily, the box’s contents, some kind of filter or part for a car or boat, spun off onto the shoulder, but we ran over the box in a moment of panic that in our road-trip haze we giggled about the rest of the night.
We also experienced flurries and snow. And we read Wikipedia articles to keep ourselves entertained and pass the time. A highlight: the entry for Jersey Shore, PA (spoiler: the name has nothing to do with Snooki or the beach).
As a passenger, I enjoyed getting some work done on the drive out, but mostly got some much-needed reading time in. I finished the sapphic Armenian-American romance novel Sorry, Bro by Taleen Voskuni on the drive and adored it.
In Columbus, we checked into our hotel room, which featured the biggest bed I’ve ever seen in any hotel room. The swanky, but modern king suite had reading lights and ample outlets. And the hotel restaurant was tasty and cheap (that spicy chicken quesadilla while watching Jeopardy was a highlight of my trip so far).
After dinner, we headed to our first bookstore stop: The Book Loft of German Village. If you’ve ever been, you know how tiring the maze of rooms could be. If you haven’t, imagine Mary Poppins’ bag as a bookstore set in a picturesque neighborhood of red brick homes and cobblestone streets.
The Book Loft has made a curatorial choice to carry almost everything, and it keeps remarkably current stock. They also had a large LGBTQIA+ fiction section that has expanded threefold since the last time I was at the store in October 2021. We meandered our way through rooms, up and down stairwells and narrow hallways, browsing mostly the food writing, children’s, middle grade and YA, and fiction sections. Olivia got a discount collection of Samantha Irby essays, the first thing she picked up before we even got into the proper store. I bought four books, one of which I have now already read), split between summer-themed middle grade and queer YA.
The next morning, we packed back up and set off for Indianapolis. After a quick stop at Panera (which was blessfully a few dollars cheaper for a combo than its New Jersey counterparts), we made it to the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields. On the way, I read and finished Robin Gow’s debut middle grade Dear Mothman and was so emotional at this beautiful novel-in-verse about monsters, grief, and identity.
Our main purpose for visiting was the Monet and Friends Alive immersive art exhibition in The LUME on the top floor of the museum. What I loved about this was how accessible and personable it made these works to guests by complementing them with augmented visual effects, music and even scent. What I didn’t love was the lack of framing, instead relying on a few slides of very good text before programmed sections of video looking at different themes, motifs, and artists. I think a little more integration could be helpful in framing the overall experience, but this was otherwise the best digital exhibition I have seen in a museum. It was gorgeous and fun, and the macarons and lemonade in the Parisian-themed snack bar in the middle of the space were delightful. We also saw a baby crawl through the space, through projected painted fields by Monet. Adorable.
The rest of the museum surprised me in good ways as well, and we stayed until nearly closing time. We got to see an exhibit of the fashion designs of Stephen Sprouse, who worked closely with contemporary artists like Andy Warhol and Keith Haring. We rated chairs by their inferred comfort level in the design galleries. We dabbled and wandered a bit through the Asian arts gallery. And found some A+ curatorial choices in the limited European Arts galleries. I really enjoyed the choice to show paintings by artists who admired and loved Van Gogh around his own time. In the absence of show-stopper paintings, the Indianapolis Museum of Art chose earnest attempts at interactivity (especially via QR codes) and engaging choices that sparked dialogue and thinking beyond looking. I can’t wait to come back and get a chance to spend more time here.
After our museum trip, we took a quick trip to Indy Reads, a community organizing and literacy space downtown. The free parking was a plus. The neighborhood looked like so much fun. Sadly, I was in intense pain from period cramps and we bailed early to check into our hotel, a Wyndham in Noblesville, another suburb north of the city near Carmel.
For dinner, we had fresh cooked meals at the most hopping restaurant in Noblesville, IN, which we could see out the window of our hotel room: the Aspen Creek Grill. We were fiftieth in line on the waiting list that I joined via Yelp. Bonkers, but the food was delicious (in the mean time I started reading Evan Griffith’s debut middle grade Manatee Summer, which I devoured by the time we left Indianapolis the next day).
Our second day in Indianapolis, Olivia and I went to the Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library. While small, the museum did a great job at highlighting Vonnegut’s quirky personality, a history of his work and the history of both his rejections and challenges to his writing. It was so great to see that the organization is fighting back against censorship and continuing Vonnegut’s legacy as a teacher and opponent to censorship.
Then we took the short trip to the Indianapolis Zoo, where despite it being February we still got to enjoy the dolphin show and Olivia got to see arctic penguins (that swam right under our feet!). We saw a child spook a shark so badly it almost leaped from the touch tank. Children were crying. It was pandemonium! at the zoo. We also saw an orangutan mother playing with her baby, flamingos and macaws screaming at each other, and kangaroos snoozing in the shade.
We then drove the couple of hours and change drive south to Olivia’s family, where we’ve been for the past few days. While I’ve been here, I’ve gotten to see a whole other side to my partner. Snuggling with Leo, her beloved family dog. Staying in her old room, which I’ve only seen on Skype and FaceTime. Having family meals like chicken swiss and garlic spaghetti. Sitting around with her lovely family watching Food Network and the documentary Class Action Park. This has been the real vacation, a chance to slow down and do some work, to get to know her and her family through the everyday. We went to the Mesker Park Zoo, where we saw giraffes, lemurs, ocelots, rhinos, and more). We went to Bluestocking Social and Your Brother’s Bookstore downtown. I got to see part of her high school and meet one of her favorite high school teachers, whose parents live five minutes from where I grew up in New Jersey. I got to meet her childhood best friend and her five-month-old baby. I got to go watch her brother bowl and then we got frozen yogurt on the way home.
I will miss this little corner spot on the couch where I’m writing (sorry, Olivia, for stealing your spot). I will miss Olivia’s mom telling me I can turn on the light, which reminds me so much of my grandma that it hurts. I will miss Leo’s smushed little face. I will even miss the sound of Olivia’s brother playing the same guitar riffs over and over and over from the next room over. I have found a second family and a second home here. I think a little piece of me will stay here for good.
We leave for the ride back to our home tomorrow. I wish we could freeze time for just a little bit longer and stay, but I am grateful for this experience. This was the pause I needed, and I’m so glad I could do this trip with my partner. It has given me so much perspective on the type of balance I want to continue striving towards. I haven’t written as much as I wanted to, but hey, I’m going to dive into a YA idea I have right after I get this out to you all.
I think in my next newsletter I’ll touch a bit more on what I’ve learned on this journey. Right now, it’s all sinking in and I want to savor every last little bit.
Part II to come. Look out for my journey about our return. Subscribe to keep updated.