Family on the Cheese Road

,and Adventures in Chicago


In mid-June, Eric, cheesemaker at Monroe Cheese Studio, and number one son, emailed to say he was driving the Maine Cheese Guild‘s entries to the American Cheese Festival in Chicago at the end of July. I”m a sucker for a road trip and had nothing pressing on my plate, so I said, “Why not?” The fact that Carol hates road trips and I hadn”t been on one since ought-four made the decision easy.

The cheese was due in Chicago on a Friday, but the conference didn”t begin until the next Thursday, leaving time to drive the great Midwest to Amy and Gary in West Virginia and pop in to see Carol’s family in Lancaster, Ohio.

The flight and drive to Chicago are chronicled in Eats on the Cheese Road. The Festival of Cheese itself — and what a time it was — is described in Cheese Road.

This piece is about family. I hadn”t seen Amy and Gary since our great Georgia to Maine trip in June, 2001. Since then, they moved from Fairmont to Mannington, bought a house and moved in. I was last in Lancaster in ought-six for my high school reunion and then a month later for the Fairfield County Fair and Carol’s reunion. Since then, Carol’s folks moved from their condo to the Primrose Retirement Community. I looked forward to seeing them in their new habitat.

After, we had four days in Chicago where Eric attended the American Cheese Society conference and I had a chance to unpack, chill out and enjoy the great city as a tourist.



Amy likes stuffed things, Gary likes big thermometers

FRIDAY July 18, 2008
As scheduled, the cheese was delivered on Friday at noon and it was time to get on our way to Amy and Gary’s, the first stop on our between-cheese pleasure trip. I suggested we stop in Indianapolis for the night. Maybe we could get a tour of the new stadium for the Colts that will open this fall. Besides, I”ve never been there — except passing through on US-40 on the way to an OSU v. Illinois football game in 1960.




We got off in Indianapolis on Meridian Street, a very wide street taking us toward a huge pylon commemorating war veterans, which turned out to be at the intersection of Market Street. We drove zigzagy through downtown looking for a) the RCA Dome and b) a hotel. We found the RCA Dome and the new Lucas Oil Stadium behind it (can you say UGLY?) but were unable to get across 5 lanes of traffic to inquire about a tour.It was hot and slow going in Friday rush-hour traffic. (Did I mention that our Cheese Chariot had no air conditioning? Eric said it worked fine in Maine.) We had seen Westin, and were kind of looking for a Ramada or Holiday or something. Mired in gridlock on a corner with the Hilton looming above us, I said, “Eric, I”ve got to get out of this car!” I went in to check availability and rates and left E to negotiate the last hundred feet to the entry drive.


our hotel after the gridlock

The winsome Stephanie at the desk said, “$149 and I”ll up-grade you to a suite.” I went and found Eric, still in traffic, “So pull right in,” I said. We were on the sixteenth floor, overlooking the RCA Dome (sort of), with two queen size beds, and another room with an L-shaped desk, couch and two easy chairs. A big flat screen TV was in each room. Livin” large. And the room had air conditioning, too cold as we entered, but we”d get it right; blessed sweet Jesus cool.

We checked back with Stephanie, who told us we would find plenty of places to eat on the street just outside, Illinois Street. She said she had been to San Francisco recently, and would love to move there. When Eric mentioned the virtues of Maine, she said she couldn”t wait to check it out. Sounded like she really, really wants to get out of Indianapolis.

Outside, the gridlock had dispersed and it was nice as we explored the War Memorial and Market Street, followed by a fine dinner at St. Elmo’s Steak House, a local institution.

I took my morning walk along the Ohio Canal. Can you say hot and humid already at 7am?


Ohio Canal

Driving I-70
Indiana is flat, man, and hot and humid. There was a curve in the road and a bit of a valley when we crossed into Ohio, scant relief. Ohio is flat and hot and humid, as well. The towns we pass by are largely unseen, just an exit sign. Hey, I had some good times in Springfield with Jim Heil. Springfield has personality, but not from I-70.Since we were within sniffing distance of White Castle in Columbus, we stopped for lunch, jumped back on I-70 and headed on east.

Ohio east of Columbus was just as hot and flat and I-70 just as featureless, as Ohio west of Columbus; that is until we got to Zanesville. All of a sudden there was a hill and a curve and another hill and a valley and some scenery and maybe even a breeze. Hot damn.

wv_250_road.jpg wv250_bridge.jpg
We turned south on US-250 at Wheeling and that was as curvy and hilly as one could want, all the way to Mannington, Walnut Street and Amy and Gary. We arrived at 5:30, eight hours from Indianapolis. We sat on the porch — it was hot and humid on the porch, but shady — while Amy and Eric swapped Martha stories.


Amy and Gary’s house, Amy’s car in front

Sunday was the final day of the British Open, on ABC at 10. We had seen none of it and looked forward to tuning in. Amy turned on the TV and what we got was weather. Eric suggested it might be the ‘second feed” from the local ABC station, perhaps somebody was asleep at the switch. After an hour or so of that, we decided to go and check out Morgantown, see the Quad and the home of the Mountaineers. West Virginia University doesn”t really have a Quad, but we did get to the Football Stadium and walked right through an open gate in the surrounding fence. We were on our way to the stadium doors when this nice lady wondered if she could help us. “Yes you can,” I said. “We came all the way from Maine to see your wonderful football stadium. We really want to just stand on the 50 yard line and soak in the glory that is WVU.” She said she was terribly sorry, but there was a memorial service going on, so we could go no further. Nice try.



In town, we found a sports bar and caught the last putt of the British Open. Thrilling.Driving back, we discussed the coolness that would be Vodka Tonics on the porch. Good idea. We stopped at Rite Aid and I picked up a bottle of Vodka and a bottle of tonic. There were signs about not selling liquor on Sunday, but we had seen a guy buying beer, so we ignored the sign. We couldn”t ignore the checkout lady, beer and wine only on Sunday, no vodka. We did buy a bottle of Yellowtail Shiraz for dinner. Set me back $10; the most expensive wine in the store.

Amy thought she might have some vodka at home, and she did, about a tablespoonful. She did find a dusty, unopened bottle of Dewar’s Scotch they received as a gift about a year ago. We sat on the porch with Dewar’s and plenty of ice.




At 4:05 it started pouring rain and stopped abruptly about 6 minutes later. The sun came out and there was a rainbow. Then from 5:45 to 6 we experienced a wicked thunderstorm. I built my porch in Newton just so I could sit and watch thunderstorms. Amy and Gary’s porch is big and deep and we were dry and thrilled by the show of weather.


Amy and Gary have finally found just the right place for them. Amy has a front porch to sit on and holler out to the neighbors, plus plenty of room for her chochke. Gary has his fine garden.


Monday morning, Amy and Gary were off to work before we were up. Our plan was to drive for a while and then stop for some sort of breakfast sandwich. We got through Fairmont and then got on Route 50 bound for Clarksburg and Parkersburg. The road is big and empty and beautiful as it rolls through the short and tall hills of West Virginia. I had always felt West Virginia more rugged than beautiful, but I haven”t been on this road. What we saw of Clarksburg had no attractive food options, nor did Parkersburg.

With no attractive food options, we drove on to Lancaster and settled for the familiar, Bob Evans for lunch.

We arrived at the Hales to find Alan and Roger present, fresh from taking Liz to the hearing aid place. She turned in her hearing aid. Didn”t like it, too hard to use. We sat and talked and sat. Bus and especially Liz seemed genuinely happy to see us. We talked some more and I was shown the Guest Room. The room was small and spare, but nice. Great! I undressed, unpacked and took a shower. Relief.


Primrose Retirement Community


Bus and Liz in their habitat


the guest room

After the obligatory dinner at Texas Roadhouse, and evening chit chat, I was ready to crash. The room had only a straight chair, but it did have a giant flat screen TV. I lay back on the bed and watched ESPN in east coast time until I fell asleep. About 3am, I was awakened by a rippin” thunderstorm, big thunder and lightening. I had a good view from my bed and contemplated going out on the balcony but the rain and wind were blowing something fierce, so I went back to sleep.TUESDAY
Eric and I got our laundry in and went off on an errand for Q-tips and V8 juice. (time killer #1) We took Liz to Jon’s barn so Eric could see if he wanted some boxes of canning jars left from the house (he did, time killer #2). On the way, we passed a really interesting billboard.



face lift – body contouring/tummy tuck – liposuction

breast augmentation – Botox ® cosmetic – Restylane ®/Juvederm ® Obagi Skin Care – Laser Treatments… (sounds scary)

We proceeded to the bank so Liz could get cash for Bus to have handy (time killer #3). We picked up Bus and went to Bob Evans — once again — for lunch. While waiting to be seated, we ran into Trudy, Uncle Shotts” widow. She looks the same and is just as nice as when I last saw her.

We assembled for dinner at Billy Crickets with Bus & Liz, Jon and Michelle and Michelle’s mother Alice and Michelle’s daughter’s kid, Kelton. After, Eric and I explored Primrose. Clustered on the second floor above the Entrance and Dining Room, we visited the Ice Cream Parlor, a screening room with big easy chairs, a library, a bar and a poolroom. Nice places all, and not a single person around. The pool room was first class, just the right size with a regulation pool table with leather pockets, a nice supply of cues, chalk, and the like. It was decorated with Ohio State Buckeye memorabilia, so I felt right at home and we launched into a game of 8-ball. Liz came up to watch and we had a good ol” time. If I lived at Primrose, that’s where I would hang out. I would become a pool shark.

My morning walk took me to the side of Primrose that is the view from the Hale’s living room. On down the road, lots are staked out and freestanding houses are under construction.


We had completed the family part of the trip; Lancaster was in the review mirror and Chicago adventures were on the horizon.

To be continued.


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