Wisconsin 2012

Wisconsin Vacation Log 2012
Nothing says vacation like approximately 18 hours on the road between two days. Image Credit: Mike Rana

August 9th is when the adventure would begin.

I will admit that the impetus for me to consider going out there was to help a bunch of folks I’d gotten to know celebrate the re-election of their governor, but the purpose evolved:

  • I had never driven any further west than Pennsylvania.
  • I had never done a long-distance, two-day drive by myself.
  • I was able to fund this trip on funds from exclusively my own savings.
  • Being a road geek, I had the opportunity to film and take pictures of highways that I’ve never seen before.
  • I was traveling for the first time into a different time zone by car.
  • I would be vacationing in an area that has a different culture and way of living than New England.

This would also be the first trip that I didn’t plan out stops, where I would stay in the middle, but I did have a hotel booked at destination.  I was working part-time at QCC, my pay rate was $10/hr, and when classes weren’t in session, I wasn’t required to be in.

Day 1

Highways brings me a joy that I rarely open up about. My mind generally tends to be happier about things than my back does.  Regardless, this type of road trip isn’t something I get to do all that often.

Some notes from the drive:

  • I spent about one-third of the drive in rain.  I actually had to pull over a few times because the rain was diminishing my visibility and making it impossible for others to see me, even though I had my headlights on and was driving responsibly.
  • I’m sure they do it for good reason, but who was the genius within the PADOT to put mile markers ever tenth of a mile on I-84?
  • Pennsylvania freeways were a testing ground for what would be a new font on highway signage across the country.
  • When I jumped on I-80 in PA at exit 275, I could swear that for 200 miles that there was no police presence or patrol.  It wasn’t until I started approaching its terminus that I started seeing state police.  Considering the rural nature of that part of PA, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise; less people equals the reduced need for continuous patrols.
  • Outside of the Maine Turnpike, and outside of New England, freeways are signed with exits by distance traveled from the state border, versus in a numerical and sequential order.

As I merged from I-84 to I-81, it was strange to see an triple-digit exit when for the majority of my freeway driving, there was never a need to see an exit beyond 70.

What followed was the longest portion of this drive:  I-80 westbound through rural Pennsylvania.  With the mileage-based signage, and as I made my way further west, it functioned as a light at the end of the tunnel.

Upon arriving at the Hampton Inn, I looked ahead to discover that it was seven hours to the Motel6 in Waukesha. That’s about half the amount of driving I did today, not including meeting up with some people along the way. Assuming I don’t get clobbered by traffic or inundated with rain, all should go well!

Day 2

My awakening thoughts as I started my day were the realization that I’d driven a little over 1,000 miles, solo.  The average motorist will stop every couple of hours to stretch their legs and for restroom breaks, but not me.

Driving the remainder of the Ohio Turnpike and crossing through Indiana proved to be rather interesting, both for driving and filming – it rained to degrees of drizzling to a mist.  Unlike Massachusetts and Connecticut, fireworks are legal for sale and use in Ohio.  The vast majority of the Ohio Turnpike is also lined by cornfields.  Once I passed through Ohio and traversed the Indiana Turnpike for the first time, not only did the weather clear up, but I saw a number of other firsts:

  • The entirety of the Turnpike was 70MPH for noncommercial drivers, and 65 for everyone else.
  • While the signage applies mostly to trucks, Indiana state law requires that the slower drivers yield the left lane to faster drivers.
  • While it was visible in Ohio, I saw more billboards for truck stops, bed and breakfast locations, and much like Ohio, fireworks billboards were prominent.

There was also something weird about crossing into another time zone while on this trip.  While I’ve done my fair share of traveling, and have crossed timezones, driving through one was strange to me.

Illinois proved interesting:  My AAA directions took me I-294 around Chicago.  I don’t know what made me think it wouldn’t be busy, but it reminded me of the Long Island Expressway.  Of course, none of the signs had exit numbers, so I could barely follow my paper map.  While it may seen menial, changing time zones threw me off a bit.  When I stopped in Illinois for a final leg stretch, I changed my car clock and my cellphone adjusted automatically.

When I stopped at the truck stop near the Indiana border to grab some food and stretch, I learned through talking to my dad that the political motivations had improved when I learned that Paul Ryan had been chosen as Mitt Romney’s running mate.  I knew that Romney was scheduled to make a campaign stop, but this information had sweetened the deal for me.

As the signs on I-94 took me closer to Wisconsin, I could feel the excitement building.

As I crossed the border into Wisconsin, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was ‘coming home’ FROM a long vacation in Massachusetts.  As the drive continued, I was noting the town names and it was reminding me of all the towns in geotags on my friends’ Facebook posts.  It had then occurred to me that I had chosen a decent location to stay.  Now, I will admit that the “HWY” notation will probably screw me up a bit (apparently local routes are referenced as highways and interstates are referenced as freeways), but by the time I get myself lost asking for directions, it won’t matter.

I would say that I made pretty good time:  I started in Ohio at 9:30AM, and crossed the Wisconsin border at 4:14PM.  I think Google Maps had the drive at just over seven hours.

I had originally booked my reservation with the Super8 motel chain because it was inexpensive and I didn’t figure that I would need much in the line of amenities.  If I’m staying at a hotel that I’m paying for, the only major requirements I have are WiFi, cellphone service, and helpful people at the front desk.

To start with, I nearly missed the entrance to the building because it was clandestine.  When I went in to claim my room, there wasn’t much in the line of a reception area – it nearly reminded me of that of a place that would repair your car.  I have to give the clerk on duty some credit, she handled herself very well, and she was very courteous to me in spite of the problems I found.  After checking in, I was advised to use a separate side entrance, since my room was closer in distance from that entrance.  I also found it amusing that I was not required to show my ID to claim the room.

I parked at the side entrance as indicated, proceeded to use my card key to gain entrance, which failed.  Looking at the mechanism, every light was lit up, which to me, indicated that there was a problem.  Seeing one other exit, I walked over to it and was able to gain entrance. I found my room in a hallway that to many would seem claustrophobic and very dimly lit.

When I found my room, I entered and was rather shocked:  The room had two lamps:  One by the bed and one on the little desk near the guestbook. The TV looked like something from the early 90s, and aside of the power cord, had only coaxial input going into it.  The carpet looked like it hadn’t been cleaned or replaced in a long time.  To add insult to injury, I had one bar of cell service, and I had a hell of a time accessing the WiFi.

I stepped outside to call my parents and let them know I’d landed, my dad asked me where I was staying and how things were.  I was reluctant to admit it, but I was describing the room, and my tone of voice started to reek of disapproval.  For me, I had a hard time admitting that it wasn’t going to work.  My parents picked up on my distress rather quickly, and offered their assistance.  My dad and I were doing the back-and-forth over my reluctance to leave the Super8 because of the price, but my dad had made many solid points about the element of comfort and the element of safety since I was going to be here for a whole week.

To be honest, hindsight being 20/20, I’m glad he stepped in when he did.  After fifteen minutes on the phone, my parents were able to secure a room at the Ambassador Hotel in Milwaukee.

I returned to the main entrance to cancel my reservation.  Her composure, while professional, was rather depressing, which made me wonder if this was a frequent occurrence.  Since I hadn’t even unloaded my luggage into the room, getting the room cancelled wasn’t a problem.

With that, I headed back out to my car and headed for this new hotel.

After circling around Milwaukee construction for about ten minutes looking for the place (Google Maps was failing me because of a ton of redirection), I finally found the place.  Parking wasn’t all that great, but I found a spot.

I enter the front area, which wasn’t all that elaborate, but a much better setup, and attempted to check-in.  Gave the clerk my ID and mentioned that I had a reservation made within the last 30 minutes; she couldn’t find it in the system.

After asking if I was checked into the “Inn” or the “hotel,” I must have been checked into the hotel not knowing the difference.  Back to the car to drive across the street and into their lot.

Upon entering, I could immediately tell that this hotel was not $45/night.

We’ve all had that moment where we’ve entered a venue and felt like they didn’t belong – that was me at this moment.  Employees dressed in suits, a greeter offering to help me unload my luggage, and a lobby that looked like something out of Pretty Woman.

I approached the desk and initiated check-in.  As the clerk began to speak to me, I noted her distinct Wisconsin accent, as I replied in my half-faded Massachusetts accent.  She found my reservation promptly and provided me a room key, followed by asking me if I wanted bellhop service.  I declined since I typically handle my own bags.

Just based on the lobby of the place, I was pretty sure that this would work.

I unloaded my car and headed up the elevator to my floor.

I find my room: #407.  To say that this place was ‘classy’ is an understatement:

On my left was a large desk, complete with a lamp, two drawers, and a guestbook.  On its right was a vanity sink, a $6 bottle of Fiji Water, a hairdryer, and an electronic fridge stocked with drinks that when removed are charged to the room.

The room boasted a 37″ flat-panel TV, complete with an A/V system for laptops. It also had a single USB port for device charging, and Bluetooth for streaming audio.

Aside of my bed, I had a standard sized nightstand and lamp.

Bathroom was pretty standard, even for a room like this, though its appearance made the upscale nature of the hotel more evident.

The only problem I faced:  I couldn’t turn any lights on.  A quick phone call to the front desk revealed a “master switch” that I had passed by on the way in.  I had never seen a master switch located in plain sight like that, but I had also never seen an electronic fridge such that this room had.

After unpacking the cart and bringing it back down, I called my dad to let him know that this room was good and to thank him for his help.  After the phone call ended, I sat down at the desk and it finally psychologically hit me that I had made it to Wisconsin was looking forward to the next five days.

To borrow a quote from my own status post:

“I know that hotel staff is supposed to be accommodating so that you have a good stay, but I’ve just experienced a level of cordiality that I’ve never experienced before.”

I’m here another six days, we’ll see just how good they are as time goes on.

Day 3

I started the day by making my presence known, and having people ask me if I intended to attend the Romney/Ryan rally.  It had to be have been the first time I’d been invited to something and even had people offering transportation.

After realizing that Milwaukee’s grid system was setup like New York City, and finding out by driving to the hotel that the roads were an atrocity, it nearly demotivated me from wanting to go out and explore.  After all, I could spend hours doing that and burning gas.  At $3.89/gallon and I still have to drive home at the end of this, I abandoned exploration.

After asking around, I’d heard about two malls:  Mayfair Mall and Southridge Mall, so I decided to check them out and see how much different they were compared to what’s in New England.

For what it’s worth:  I’m not much of a mall rat, but I enjoy walking through them and seeing what stores are in them, taking some pictures, and noting the layout.  I rarely go into stores unless I know I won’t be approached, or if it’s a store that I like.  I’m not now, nor was I ever in the target demographic of many stores either then or now; the closest I might come is either the Apple store, or Things Remembered.

The Mayfair Mall’s layout reminds me of the Solomon Pond Mall, but store quantity of the Natick Mall.  This was also the first time since my vacation in South Carolina, that I noticed a “No Weapons allowed” sign on an entrance door.  Welcome to the Midwest, where such the culture is amenable to armed citizens.

Southridge Mall had a different setup than I’d seen before.  It had many of the same stores as Mayfair, just laid out different, and if I remember correctly, it didn’t have an Apple store, where Mayfair did.

While at Mayfair, I strolled into the Apple Store to demo the iPad and Macbook Air.  Playing around with the iPad showed me improvement over time; speed, improved touch response, lighter, and it seemed to be a bit smaller.  Combine it with the upcoming iOS 6.0, and it had made leaps and bounds since its predecessor, the iPad first-generation.

The new Macbook Air was also improved:  It had professional grade-specifications for those that are doing studio work, 4GB RAM with a Core I5 processor, and it lacked an optical drive for burning to disc, though the 13″ screen appealed to me.  The lightweight nature of it would it very easy to transport without being bulky,  WiFi is now standard along with multiple USB 3.0 ports.  Where just about everything software based for the Mac is now available through download through the App Store, it makes for a very appealing decision.

They’re both malls that I would consider returning to if I needed to purchase something that I couldn’t get online.

Looking at the time, one friend had agreed to pick me up at the hotel to bring me to the rally.  She ended up being the first Wisconsinite I’d meet during this trip.

As we chatted on our way, the Wisconsin accent was soothing to me.  When I’d mentioned that this would be my first political event, she mentioned that she doesn’t attend many herself, but mostly out of support for friends.  She was a big supporter of the two candidates and looked forward to voting for them.

Upon arrival, it was interested to note how many people’s vehicles were expressive with bumper stickers.  There were a handful of Romney/Ryan stickers, some prominent NRA clings to the back of pickup trucks, and given that this state was just recent from the recall, there was a preponderance of “We Still Stand With Scott Walker” stickers.

Since I’d never been to a political rally, I wasn’t aware of how security was done.  Looking back on it, it wasn’t much different than going through TSA.  I suppose because of the Midwest culture, there was a large “No Firearms/Weapons allowed.”  I pointed the sign out to my friend, who just replied “Yeah, but there’s always someone who manages to get one through.”

After being cleared by Secret Service, we strolled through the Expo Center grounds, and after finding an open gate, we walked through casually.

All of the requisite local and national media were present as well as requisite online media coverage, bloggers, and journalists.  There were many times where I had to watch around me as they had a camera recording B-Roll – I could have sworn I was in their way.  In fact, as more camera crews started crowding in, the more we wondered if this was a specific area that we weren’t supposed to have accessed.

The phones started ringing as my friend started hearing from several of her friends.  When she informed her friend that I was with her, I was given the phone, to be greeted by an exuberant-sounding woman who only said, “Welcome to Wisconsin!”

I learned that we were in an area normally setup for press, media, and Republican invite-only people.  When I asked how long I’d been a Republican, I only answered, “I just registered in the last year.”  Either way, it was clear that she couldn’t get to us.

I was also offered an invitation to Buffalo Wild Wings (BWW), which I accepted.

At that point, my friend’s battery died.  It was also around this time that the rally began, followed by the crowd piling forward.  I was able to dig up CSPAN’s coverage of the rally for those interested in reliving it.

The fun part was leaving the rally; us and hundreds more.  As the rally progressed, there were plans to meet up for drinks afterwards; it’s amazing what technology has enabled people to accomplish.  During departure, I also was finally able to meet Ed, who I began interacting with through his Founders Intent group.  We shook hands briefly and with the crowd working against us, I mentioned I would be meeting others at BWW.

Short of the fact that the City of Waukesha’s street signs are very dimly lit at night, making navigation to the restaurant more difficult.  My friend’s phone had died earlier, and mine was down to a paltry level, but with just enough juice that we arrived.  I met probably fifteen people at this restaurant – a bit overwhelming, but I suppose I’d been chatting with most of these people for over a year, it was an easier transition.  I was impressed that the waitress spotted me rather quickly and made sure I had a beverage.  What was a little uncomfortable for me, but I think I’ve just learned to deal with, is somebody taking me around a table introducing me around; potentially to people I had seen online, but have never spoken to.

Aside of chatting with others, I also had the opportunity to chat with Ed more about Founders Intent, to learn that he always carries a pocket constitution with him, and that he’d been looking forward to meeting up.

After the restaurant broke up, Ed offered me a ride home after conversation geared to my car being back at my hotel.  We chatted about his history in politics, and his involvement in the Republican Party.  It would also be my first time meeting an activist with connections within both Wisconsin, but also through campaigns he’d worked with.

Overall things went rather well, and I was starting to notice the ‘midwestern hospitality’ that I’d heard so much about.

Day 4

I wouldn’t call myself a devout fan of professional sports, even though I was a fair-weather fan of both the Boston Redsox and the New England Patriots for a few years.  I would say that this day’s event would have occurred even if I was in New York City and could get a tour of Yankee Stadium.

One of the things I wanted to do during my vacation was visit and tour Lambeau Field, the home of the Green Bay Packers.  There were two tours to choose from: The standard one-hour tour, which essentially takes you out to the field, takes you around the stadium, and through some of the offices.  Then, there’s the Legendary Tour which takes you through all of the administrative offices, onto the field, through the tunnel, and gives you access to the executive suites.  I’d left the hotel around 11AM with a two-hour commute up I-43.

Upon arrival, I learned that there were multiple ways to get in, but the main gates were the most effective.  When you enter through the main doors, you are greeted by a massive atrium, decorated as any stadium would be.  I headed over to tours and purchased my ticket.  I ended up with a ticket for the tour, a ticket for the Hall of Fame, an interactive card for Curly’s Pub, and a seat cushion with the “G” on the front.

While waiting, I decided to grab lunch at Curly’s.  In doing so, I had a chat with a gentleman who gave me some recommendations on some local places to visit – another example of people in the midwest just striking up random conversation.  The bartender learning that I was not from Wisconsin, tried to lure me in with cheese curds, a Wisconsin delicacy.  When I declined, he tried to sweeten the deal by making them complimentary, but I wouldn’t budge.

The tour was phenomenal and was made possible by a passionate tour guide who threw some humor into the mix, and shared a a great back story, including sharing the story of how the Chicago Bears’ founder saved the Packers from demise.  The tour wasn’t called ‘Legendary’ for nothing.  Our tour guide covered just about every square foot of the stadium, including back offices, broadcast booths, VIP seating, and special rooms reserved for season ticket holders.  In the course of this tour, I saw some parts of Lambeau that I will likely never see again.  It was there I also learned that unlike other sports teams, the Packers are the only team whose fanbase are the owners, and that the only way to acquire season passes is to inherit them, or marry into a Packer family.  As of 2016, there were more than 66,000 people on the waiting list.

Many of us had our pictures taken, standing on the outer part of the field.

After the tour, I checked out the Hall of Fame:  A devoted Green Bay Packer fan could spend hours in there learning all there is to know about the team and what it has accomplished.  Considering that I was only really interested out of curiosity, I took numerous pictures and a few videos, but didn’t stay much longer than thirty minutes.  When you realize that it was a two-hour drive going to the stadium, a two-hour tour, and a two-hour drive back – it really ‘was’ my day.  The remaining part of the day was spent trying to figure out my plans for tomorrow, as well as checking out the lounge and bar area of the hotel.

Day 5

If there’s one thing I enjoy doing when I go on vacation, it’s miniature golf.  Granted, mini-golf is mini-golf no matter where you are, but there’s something about the uniqueness of what one course brings that other ones at home don’t.

My day started in the usual fashion:  Checking Facebook and Twitter to see what’s new and give people an idea of what I will be doing for the day.  When I looked back on my Lambeau Field post from the previous day, it reminded of the fact that to Wisconsin, the Packers are their state religion.

Since I had to make a point to get out of the room in order for room service to clean it, I’d found four courses within the area that I was staying.  My intention was to visit one course, find somewhere to have lunch, go to a second course, and ultimately be back in time to be picked up to attend a party for Eric Hovde supporters.

The first course I checked out was Gastreau’s Golf Center in Oak Creek.  Gastreau’s combines a driving range with a small mini-golf course.  Despite my golf score at the end, the golf course in physical layout wasn’t immensely challenging.  When I arrived, there was nobody else playing on the mini-golf, but one person hitting balls.

Just after I added up my score card, I was getting hungry and wanted some lunch.  I also knew that I’d been eager to try Chick-Fil-A since anyone I’ve asked about them has raved overwhelmingly about the food and the service.  According to a friend that commented on my Facebook check-in to Gastreau’s, it was in the Regency Mall in Racine.

Whether I flew to Wisconsin or drove out here, one of the things I was began to enjoy about having a car to drive, was the exploration.  It happens to be that in order to get from Oak Creek to Racine was one long main road, giving me an opportunity to see another part of Wisconsin that I probably drove by on the way up while entering the state for the first time.

I get to the Regency Mall, do a check-in, and head in the entrance.  Lo-and-behold, what’s the first thing I see when I walk in?  That’s right, Chick-Fil-A.  Come on folks, I came to see this mall and eat there; so I decided to walk around first.

The mall’s layout reminds me of the Auburn Mall.  If I had any brains to me, I would not have been fiddling around with my phone while walking through the mall.  Not only had I forgotten how outgoing and friendly Wisconsinites were, I was getting ’10-footed’ by just about every technology person at their kiosk trying to sell me some kind of accessory for my phone.

There weren’t as many stores in this one as there had been in the previous two that I’d visited, but it still wasn’t a horribly done-up mall.  I was starting to notice that many stores in the malls out here were geared towards that younger and teenage crowd.  If there are two stores that I hadn’t seen out here, were JCPenney and Macy’s; not sure if it’s a regional thing, or The Boston Store is what they have.

When I dined at Chick-Fil-A, I realized that their model of customer service should be duplicated to every business around the country.  Friendly service, attentive employees, and a solid product.  While I ate, as if I were in a restaurant, I was approached by one of the associates to ask if I wanted a drink refill.  To date, I’ve eaten in a number of their locations and I haven’t had a bad experience to date.

After leaving Regency, I decided to go visit another mini-golf course named Prairieville Park in Waukesha.  As much as I had been enjoying the accuracy of Google Maps, the rampant construction around Waukesha was making my head hurt.  I had a half-tank of gas and didn’t feel like burning much more of it just driving in circles like a lost tourist, so I decided to head back to the hotel room.

Heading back to the hotel, I ended up experiencing the “red light at an on ramp” phenomenon.  For those who aren’t familiar with the concept:  You’re approaching the on-ramp for an interstate, only to find a traffic light halfway between the turn to get onto the highway and the merging point itself.  I’m not sure if it’s run by sensors or it’s on a timed frequency, but when there’s major traffic congestion, the idea is to hold people at the light until there’s less congestion, so that merging isn’t so difficult.  One would think it would be based on a timer, since I think the only times I ever saw the light go red, was during peak traffic hours.  As someone not used to seeing it, it’s not a half-bad idea, but it would take time to get used to.

After returning to the hotel room and logged into Facebook from my laptop, I noticed I was getting numerous invites to different ‘victory parties’ for the candidates that WI residents were voting for.  I’d only chosen to go to the one for Eric Hovde because he was the only candidate I had seen video segments from.  The one I chose to go with, was recommended by Ed, who I was also trying to learn more about politics from.

The night finished up with a TGI Friday’s run and me staying up late chatting with a friend back home.

Day 6

Before leaving for Wisconsin, I’d learned that the Harley Davidson (HD) museum was located in Milwaukee.  Despite not being a rider myself, nor the owner of any Harley products, I figured tours would be a good idea.  Being that one of the tours takes you into the powertrain assembly factory, I figured this would be as good a time as any to check it out.

Prior to going to Milwaukee, I had already known a few things about the company:  Their products are all made in America, many of their workers are riders themselves, so it helps with quality control, and that people who own Harley’s tend to be very proud of what they own and are not afraid to flaunt it.

Construction in Milwaukee made finding the museum a challenge, for something that Google Maps put ten minutes from the hotel.  Why I didn’t think to take a cab or the hotel shuttle, is beyond me.

Since I’d gotten there thirty minutes early, I decided to tour the museum myself, taking many pictures while doing so.  Among things on display at the museum were:

  • An ‘live’ view of the very first HD product ever designed (a motorcycle without breaks).
  • A display of the actual ledger used by the company’s board of directors when the company first formed.
  • The bikes that were manufactured for and designed specifically for military use.
  • The bikes that were manufactured for police and other law enforcement to use.
  • Various replicas of the fuel tanks that have been installed into the different models of bikes.
  • A showing of the engines that were in previous models, including how they operate and what the different models sound like.
  • Specially designed bikes for celebrities over time.
  • The only boat in the museum (HD purchased the boat’s manufacturer for the concept of plexiglass).
  • A replica of Evel Knievel’s bike.

While I had toured the entire museum before the guided tour began, I wanted to see what the guide brought to the table. Among the things I learned from him were:

  • HD faced bankruptcy and was forced to sell the company to another to remain in business.
  • HD is a publicly traded company.
  • HD’s biggest charity is Muscular Dystrophy.
  • As part of the defense contract to manufacture bikes for the military, HD trained military technicians how to service their bikes. Once the war was done, many of those technicians would take the excess bikes that they could get their hands on, strip them of their military appearance and performance, and would gain themselves a refurbished bike.

The tour guide also took us to the section of the museum where they do the restoration, cleaning, and inspecting of all artifacts and bikes that come through as donations.  We also had the opportunity to see where the photography, videography, and any other marketing materials for HD products going into a magazine took place.

After the informative tour, I decided it was time to check out the Dodge County Fair that I was given a ticket to.  When you combine the people at the front gate not having knowledge of my ticket being with them, and county roads not being labeled so that I know which gate I’m supposed to enter, getting in had never been so hard.  Though, if only they’d asked me what my name was, they could have avoided some frustration.

I can honestly that I enjoyed the fair and did a fair amount of walking around before ending up at the booth of the friend gave me an entrance ticket.  Ted Nugent graced the fair with a concert.  Concert-volume sound bothers me, so I hung back.  As with every other meet that occurred during this vacation, as I met with one friend, they introduce me to many more.  It was at that point I realized how much of an impact all of these people I’d met had on me.  I think it was also starting to hit me that I had made a lasting impression on the people that I had been chatting with on Facebook for well over a year.

As I was driving back to my hotel room, I was running some numbers:

  • I’d had five people ask me when I intend to relocate to Wisconsin.
  • Three of those people I met, gave me decent career advice.
  • Everyone welcomed me with open arms; even better, nobody made me feel uncomfortable.
  • When making my departing posts, everyone (including people I didn’t get to meet) was quick to show how much they wanted me to come back out.

It was also at that point that I realized that leaving Wisconsin was going to be harder than I suspected.  If the bar had been open after midnight, I would have stopped down for a drink in an attempt to clear my head.

Day 7

Departure-eve was dedicated to two things:  Packing for tomorrow’s departure and touring the Harley-Davidson factory guided by one of their people.  To avoid getting lost again, and since I wasn’t going anywhere else after the tour, I decided to use the shuttle. The tour consisted of:

  • A short bus ride to their factory on Pilgrim Road.
  • A 90-minute guided walking tour of their factory sans photography.
  • The opportunity to buy a T-shirt from their vending machine.
  • Supplemental information from yesterday’s tour.

The way this guide ran it was to start with the smaller parts contained within the powertrain of a Harley-Davidson motorcyle.  As the tour continued, the guide led us around the factory in such a sequence that by the end of the tour, we were shown step-by-step how the powertrain is assembled, ending with showing us what the actual unit looks like once assembled.

As the tour was on the factory floor during a shift, photography or use of a mobile device within was prohibited, and safety practices had to be followed. As I toured the factory, I learned the following:

  • There are two unions that represent the company.
  • 75% of the workers in the building are riders.
  • The company has an informal dress-down policy for their corporate employees.
  • There is no standardized uniform as to promote creativity and allow people to express themselves.
  • The factory is run 24/7.
  • The majority of the crew in the factory have been there for 30 years+, promoting a sense of family and encouraging teamwork.
  • Because of the intricate work in assembling a powertrain, each process is dependent on another process.  Should anything go wrong in the process, there is always someone to help correct the problem.

By the end of it all, we received a pin for taking the tour, a small temporary tattoo, and a sample specification sheet from a random part that they make. I’d returned shortly after 4:30PM, grabbed some food at the hotel’s bar, packed my stuff, and turned in early.

Day 8

The day started at 6AM.  I had packed the majority of what I intended to pack during the previous night, so the remainder was toiletries, my noise machine, and any technology that had been out and charging.  It’s an understatement to say that I was not looking forward to leaving, but it’s also safe to say that I knew that I would be returning at some point in the future.  I showered, did final checks, did my best to reset the room back to what it was when I arrived, went down to the lobby to get a cart to haul my stuff, and checked out.

I didn’t realize how difficult leaving Milwaukee was going to be until I started driving.  While I was on the shuttle heading for the HD museum for the factory tour, the driver gave me advice on which roads to take.  While I loved his advice and they would normally have worked, the construction made life harder.  One of the roads he suggested had barricades up and forced a detour.  Even Google Maps was having a hard time finding a way to get me to I-94.  When you realize that many streets in Milwaukee are one-way streets and taking the wrong one can lead you almost anywhere, I had to pull over on a few occasions to get my bearings.

Thirty minutes later, I was on I-94 heading east towards Chicago.

Getting out of Wisconsin was relatively easy:  Just follow I-94 until you cross into Illinois.  Once you get into Illinois, and you get past the point where I-94 turns into I-294, the fun begins:  Six lanes of traffic on both sides, each lane packed, and you need to have at least a decent idea of where you’re going.  I was not using Google Maps, as I was recording with that device, but I just knew I needed to head east.  As I started to get closer to leaving the Illinois Tollway, I started seeing I-94 “Local” versus I-94 “Express”.   You’d think that with some of the knowledge of the roads that I have, I would have known the difference?  Not-so-much.  I never actually left I-94, but it hadn’t occurred to me that the Express route would have just taken me directly through instead of dealing with the ‘local exits.’   On the bright side, I did get to see the exit for U.S. Cellular Field.

After I exited the Tollway and crossed into Indiana, I remember thinking to myself “I think I’ve experienced the worst traffic at this point in my traveling days.”  Now, I’ve never driven through San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, or Miami, but I can only imagine what they are like.  I suppose it also didn’t help that it was 9AM on a Friday morning and people are heading for work, or heading out for the day.

Once you enter Indiana, it was essentially ‘head east’ until Ohio.  I was tempted to head north on one interstate into Michigan, just to add it to the places that I’ve driven through; ultimately, it would have just added more time to my trip.

I had also debated trying to find somewhere to stay in Ohio for the night, but realized that it was barely the middle of the afternoon, and I still had New York to drive through, so I kept on driving.  I didn’t make my second stop of the trip until Mentor, at the AMPM for gas, bathroom, and stretching.  An hour later, I was back on the road.

The distance between Mentor and the Pennsylvania border was relatively short once I finally exited off I-80 onto I-90.  The drive from Pennsylvania into New York was just under an hour, running into a lot of construction along the way.  Once I crossed into New York and saw the “400 miles until NYC” sign, I knew that this was the longest part of the drive.

Anyone who has ever driven the entire stretch of I-90 in New York knows that it’s not a short drive – roughly 6 hours.  Unlike the I-80 stretch in Pennsylvania, the exits are signed sequentially instead of by mileage, with mile markers being the only indication of how close you are to the Massachusetts border. It wasn’t until I passed Buffalo, that I realized I needed to call it quits for Day 8 at a Comfort Inn.

Day 9

Since I would be arriving at my destination same-day and there was no time in which I have to arrive, I decided to sleep until 8AM, eat some breakfast, and head out.  Breakfast was halfway decent – choices ranged from waffles, eggs, cereal, muffins, bagels – about the same that you’d find in most hotel breakfasts.

I was also determined to make it home without stopping for anything short of an emergency.

I had an interesting transition once I hit Albany, going from the long and almost sparse traffic of I-90, to the tollbooth entering Albany.  It was like traffic had just come from every which way possible and nobody had a clue whether they had an EZ-Pass transponder or not.  In this day and age, you’d think that more people would have converted to using an transponder just to avoid having to deal with cash tolls or tickets.

It was nice approaching Massachusetts on I-90 from westbound, giving me a new view of I-90 that I hadn’t known about.  Once I crossed into Massachusetts, I knew I had about two hours left on the trip.  I knew I had enough gas to get home based on mileage, and despite the fact that I could have stopped to stretch, I’m one of those types that would rather just keep on trucking and keep momentum going.  I was also reminded why I always wanted the toll booths on the Massachusetts Turnpike taken down.  If you take the state at its word, they were supposed to take down the tollbooths after the Massachusetts Turnpike was paid off.  Since FAST LANE was renamed to EZ-Pass, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (MTA) was disbanded, and its employees were transferred into a division of the DOT, it just hasn’t been the same.

On a brighter note of things:  The Massachusetts Turnpike is one the best maintained road in the state, so I can’t trash them too much, but I have days where I’d prefer that the tolls be removed and the gas tax pay for the maintenance and repairs.

There is nothing scarier than thinking you’re going to be pulled over.  In Massachusetts, like many other states, there exists the “Move Over Law.”  If you see a public safety vehicle pulled over to the side of the road, you’re required where possible to move over one lane.  Well, as luck would have it, I drove right by a state officer’s car while he was doing radar.  I put on my blinker to show that I had every intention of moving over, but it was impossible to do so safely.  As I was passing by him, he motioned putting his radar back in his car and he pulled out.  I let up on the gas on the off-chance I was his target.  His lights lit up and he darted into the far-left lane; within roughly twenty seconds, he had a violator pulled over for speeding.

I ran into more traffic congestion exiting onto I-495 heading north – again more people not remembering whether or not they have a transponder.  I don’t know what the ratio of people who have transponders to the folks that pay cash are, but I get the feeling that more people have transponders, and have just forgotten how to pay attention.

Upon arrival at my parents house, I was greeted by two signs ‘Welcome Home Waldo’ and ‘Home of Waldo’ on my bedroom door.