Prologue

 

    

 

 

 

    

Day 1

Having packed up my car, OGB (Old Gray Bastard), the night before, I was all ready to head out Monday morning, June 19th.  I waited until 10am though for the traffic on the beltway outside D.C. to calm down a little, especially since I would be traveling on I-270, or “The Highway of Death” as I liked to call it.  It seemed like every morning the radio brought news of an accident on I-270.  It wouldn’t be a weekday morning without one.

At 10am, I donned the Cincinnati Bengals shirt that I had reserved for this day since I would be traveling to Ohio and went down to Dunlop Street where my parents got a couple of photos with me and OGB.  I popped in the first Dylan tape with his first known recording, “When I Got Trouble” from 1959 that a friend recorded in a hotel in Minneapolis.  (It can be found on the Columbia Bootleg Series, Volume 7.)  And just to explain the Dylan thing; I'm a total Bob Dylan fanatic and have everything he's officially put out since his debut album in 1961.  Since I have most of his albums on tape as well, I figured I'd try an experiment and see what it would be like to listen to his entire catalogue in chronological order, also watching to see how far across the country I could get before the tape player issued the sounds of the end of his last album, "Love and Theft."  Yes, I know I'm a geek and that I have a problem; a Bob problem, but what other artist has a catalogue that possibly stretch across the country while also embodying America and American culture so succinctly?  Yeah, exactly.  So if you don't like his Bobness, just skip my Dylan ramblings and enjoy the ride anyways.

Once I got past The Highway of Death, it was pretty straightforward; nine hours in the car weaving through the mountains of Western Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, until I-??? hits Ohio and the land flattens out and eventually offers up corn fields and farm land about an hour west of Columbus.  This is where I navigated my way through some very small two-lane roads that eventually lead to a small sign that could barely be seen from the road even with my glasses on.  It was Roettger Road in Botkins, OH, where I would be staying with Mary Ann, the mother of my brother-in-law, Gabe.

As my tires ground to a halt on the one-lane, partially gravel road, Dylan was singing “Silver Dagger” with Joan Baez from the 1964 Carnegie Hall concert.  (Columbia Bootleg Series, Volume 6)  This was after his eponymous first album had been unsuccessful, his second, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan had exploded on the New York folk scene with the apocalyptic “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and his third, “The Times They Are A-Changin’” had catapulted him to such fame that at 22??? he was regarded as the voice of his generation.  “Another Side of Bob Dylan” followed and dealt less with overt politics but more the politics of love and relationships.  The 1964 concert features a few songs from what would be his next and most controversial album.

So Mary Ann gave me a tour of her and her husband, Kim’s fantastic new house, which was really impressive.  Unfortunately, Kim wouldn’t be able to be there as he had a conference to go to in Las Vegas.  Most impressive for me was of course the fact that Kim had hooked up a flat screen TV to the wall of the kitchen that swivels to accommodate your view, just like in a bar.  I felt at home, especially since the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals was about to begin.  I had not broached this subject with Mary Ann in our e-mail correspondence since I really didn’t think it was going to go seven games, and I didn’t want to say, “Yeah, I’ll stop at your house for the night but we have to watch hockey.”  Luckily, my sister, Val, being the good Canadian girl that she is, had called ahead and warned her that the game was going to be on and Mary Ann was fine with watching it.  So she cooked up some delicious salmon on the grill and I had a few beers while watching Edmonton lose to Carolina.  The Stanley Cup, at least for one more year, remains outside of its natural home in Canada.  One day, it will return to the Great White North!  But enough about Canada, this is an American adventure!

Day 2

Pulling away from Kim and Mary Ann’s house, Bob and Joan were singing “With God on Our Side” from the 1964 concert and I was wearing my red Wayne Rooney t-shirt as England would be taking on Sweden in World Cup Group play at 2pm.  I had to make it to Michigan City, Indiana by then.  I could not get a decently priced room in Chicago so I figured I’d get as close as possible to Chicago without actually staying in Gary, Indiana (known as the city in which Michael Jackson grew up, as well as perennially finishing in the top ten cities with the highest murders per capita in the U.S.)

The drive was pretty uneventful, the Indiana landscape fairly flat, but the sun was shining and the breeze felt as I drove the five hours to Michigan City.  Bob released, “Bringing it All Back Home” a half-electric, half-acoustic album ending with the acidic “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” that some have said was meant for the folk fans that would be angered by the rock half of the album.  He also released, “Highway 61 Revisited” with his most famous song, “Like a Rolling Stone”.  By the time I pulled into the thoroughly non-descript parking lot of the thoroughly non-descript Super 8 of Michigan City, Indiana, Bob was playing a demo for “Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat” for his forthcoming double LP.

I parked the car, got my room, dumped my bags and played Frogger with the traffic on US 421 N/Franklin Street, in order to reach the Damon’s Grill on the other side as the hands of my watch lined up at 2pm.

I was only an hour east of Chicago, but at a chain restaurant on the side of the highway, at 2pm on a Tuesday afternoon, the last thing anyone there was thinking about was a soccer game between England and Sweden.  I asked if they could put it on and they looked at me as if I had five heads.  This would be the first of many such looks I would get on this trip.

Finally the bartender figured it out and I ordered a 5-cheese grilled sandwich with tomatoes and bacon.  Ahh, a heart attack on a plate!  Little did I know at this point that things would get greasier, heavier and much worse for the coronaries in the days and weeks to come.

A guy from Belgium came in to watch the game and we talked soccer and beer.  The bartender professed to not knowing much about the World Cup so we just talked beer, of which he was very knowledgeable.

After a brief, post-lunch nap, I headed to the Texas Roadhouse next to the Super 8 and ordered a Chimichanga, which was the size of a small child.  I ate about a third of it before I gave up, and drank beer before retiring for the night.  Tomorrow, I would start Route 66.