Baseball Fever - Catch
Wednesday, June 13, 2001
Lexington, VA to Cambridge, OH - 321 miles
It's 9:00 PM. The 1992 light blue, wood-paneled Plymouth Grand
Voyager backs confidently down the driveway and out onto the streets of
Lexington, Virginia. Engine purring, the majestic chariot sets a
westward course, and the journey begins.
A Plymouth Grand
Voyager similar in appearance to our mighty stallion
This photograph has been released into the public domain
We soon hit I-64, headed out
of the beautiful Shenendoah Valley toward the twilight sky dimly
illuminating the Blue Ridge Mountains. It's not long before we
cross into West Virginia, where, courtesy of what seems like hundreds
of billboards dotting the roadside, we quickly learn that we are only
one short hour away from "Tamarack, the Best of West Virginia."
While West Virginia is the butt of innumerable derogatory jokes, it is
actually quite a beautiful state. Nicknamed the "Mountain State,"
the landscape certainly does not disappoint. The New River Gorge
is one of the most scenically spectacular areas of the eastern United
States, and few places on Earth compare to the West Virginia mountains
in the fall. With this knowledge in hand, as well as a healthy
sense of skepticism about any attraction that requires ubiquitous
roadside advertisements to pull in visitors, we are hardly surprised
when arrive at Tamarack and discover that "The Best of West Virginia"
is a bit of an overstatement. It bills itself as a showcase for
local mountain crafts and artwork, but, from outside the locked doors
at least, Tamarack appears to be more of a haven for chintzy souvenirs
and people from the Interstate who have to pee. To make matters
worse, an unnaturally large moth attacks Rob, intent on eating him
alive, and only after a considerable struggle is he able to free
himself from the clutches of the flying beast. Fortunately, as
mentioned above, Tamarack does have toilet facilities, so we are able
to salvage something useful from the stop.
We strike out once again on I-64 west, heading deeper into the heart of
West Virginia. The night is calm and clear, and traffic is
exceptionally light. Excellent traveling conditions, no doubt,
but the dearth of other vehicles and their illuminating headlights
makes it difficult to perceive our surroundings. Suddenly the
minivan experiences a thundering jolt. Wondering what on Earth
just happened, Rob pulls onto the shoulder. It turns out that a
dog was hit earlier in the night, and has yet to be removed from the
highway. The Grand Voyager, in its infinite kindness and mercy,
must have just been ensuring that the erstwhile canine was completely
out of its suffering. We inspect the van for damage, find none,
and head on to Charleston.
Tolls are a thorn in the side of any long-distance traveler.
While it hardly seems unfair to extract some payment for the many
external costs imposed by driving, this argument goes right out the
window once you get behind the wheel of a vehicle. There is a
certain inescapable sinking feeling that sets in when you approach a
toll booth, one that has driven countless travelers to seek slower
alternate routes just to avoid paying a couple bucks or less. We
certainly share this bitter distaste for tolls, but understand their
purpose in our relatively low-tax society, where they provide a way to
pay for roads or structures that require greater amounts of funding
than is typically available. Examples of legitimate tolls include
bridges spanning long expanses of water and roads that are maintained
at a higher level than normal and provide a comfortable, expeditious
journey in comparison to other roads in the region. When we pay
$2.50 for the privilege of driving, as we do on the West Virginia
Turnpike between Beckley and Charleston, we expect roads that don't
look like Dresden in 1945, and speed limits higher than 55 mph.
Our prize for taking the toll road is access to the capital city of
Charleston, which smells as if every house has been turned into a
wastewater treatment plant and filled with decomposing corpses.
Street in downtown Charleston, WV
photograph has been released into the public domain
Fleeing the stench, we bid adieu to I-64 and continue north on I-77,
toward the eventual goal of Cleveland, Ohio, home of the Indians and
Game 1 of our tour. This portion of the trip is pretty
uneventful, so we have time to reflect on our surroundings as we whiz
north toward the Ohio border. It becomes obvious to us that what
is truly the "Best of West Virginia" is not Tamarack, nor is it the
beautiful mountains or rivers. Rather, it is Tudor's Biscuit
World, proudly located on every other street corner throughout the
state. We had never heard of this franchise before entering WV,
but they seem to be everywhere here.
Just shy of 2:00 AM, we stop at the Ohio Welcome Center in order to
celebrate our arrival in a new state. We make a quick pit stop,
and Matt pilfers the lobby of all its brochures, hoping to find an
advertisement for a campground or a cheap hotel.
A bit over half an hour later, we roll into the parking lot of the
Budget Inn in Cambridge, OH. We ask how much a room is, and the
clerk gruffly replies, "45 dollars." This is a bit more than were
hoping to pay, so we consider going to the next hotel in search of a
better rate. But first we ask if there is a AAA discount.
"Seventeen," comes the reply in a thickly accented voice. Whether
this means a seventeen-dollar total or just a seventeen-dollar discount
is unclear, but it sounds like a good bargain either way. We hand
the clerk a credit card and he comes back soon after with a receipt for
us to sign. A quick glance at the receipt reveals that we are
being charged the original rate of $45. We start to argue with
the clerk about this, but he informs us that he had said "same thing,"
not "seventeen," when asked about the discount. Feeling
exhausted, and with a long day of traveling ahead, we bite the bullet
and pay the full fare.
There is nothing notable about our room, outside of the gloomy sense of
mediocrity that it exudes. Like most roadside motels, or at least
those with "Budget" in their names, this is a place in which no one
takes any pride, and it is maintained with the bare minimum level of
effort. As long as it's not so dirty as to scare off its core
customer group, namely people who want to pay a relatively small amount
of money to sleep on a bed and hopefully not contract a disease from
the shower, what's the point in trying any harder?