Day 2: Dayton to Cedar Rapids

This post was written and dated July 4. It was not published for public consumption until August 2, after we returned home from the trip, so as not to tip off the criminals about our house being empty for a month.

The second day of our Great American Epic Road Trip Adventure began in a somewhat shabby Baymont Inn in Dayton, Ohio.

We couldn’t get Jon Morgan out of bed. So, with a half-hour to go before the end of the hotel’s free breakfast, Bob and I let him know he’d have to join us at breakfast, and walked to the lobby to eat. He joined us shortly, drawn on by the knowledge of those waffles you make yourself by dispensing batter into a cup, pouring it onto the electric waffle maker, turning the whole contraption over, and waiting until it’s baked to a golden brown. I had raisin bran and cinnamon bread. Bob had some of everything.

We were out of the hotel around 10:30 a.m. That may not sound like much of a feat, but we are not packing light on this trip. We’re gone for a month, and are spending time in climates where we can expect temperatures to range from 45 degrees F to 105. We’ll have driving days, city days, wilderness days, and a wedding. In other words, we need a wide variety of clothing. Bob and I will both be working along the way, so we’ll both need our computers, and Jon Morgan has brought his too. Add books, binoculars, food, kitchen supplies (for the days we’re staying in airbnb cottages and cabins), and other assorted stuff, and that rental SUV is definitely earning its keep. Personally, I probably would leave what we don’t need in the car overnight, but Bob is afraid of break-ins, so we’re taking it into the hotel room each night.

In any case, today’s driving was, again, mostly uneventful. There was more road construction today, so there were places where cars were bunched together, though still no massive amounts of traffic, despite the fact that it’s Independence Day. Or maybe because of it.

So far, Iowa has the lowest priced gas we’ve seen, usually in the $4.40s. Until we crossed into Iowa, we were in the $4.90s in Illinois, and the $4.60s to $4.80s in Ohio. The weather was mostly good, but the cloud cover increased as we drove, and thunderstorms — possibly violent ones — were in the forecast. They never happened, at least not where we were. We had a few raindrops. No more.

We had lunch at a Culver’s: hamburger for Bob, veggie burger for me, and grilled cheese sandwich for Jon Morgan. And Bob drove the whole day again. He knows I’m nervous about driving a car that’s so much bigger than our little Prius. Today he said I should wait to drive when we’re on wide, straight roads with little traffic. But I think he just thinks I drive too fast.

At the Mississippi River, we detoured into Bettendorf, Iowa, so Bob could see the site where he lived in a trailer park for a few months in the 1970s and worked at a plant that made bulldozers, while he saved up money to go back to college. His little trailer is long gone, but we did see its approximate location — and some of Bettendorf, which I admit was not impressive, but we did not tour the better parts of town.

This photo taken on the cool bridge crossing the Mississippi River into Bettendorf, Iowa, looks like abstract art.

We arrived at our hotel in Cedar Rapids by about 7 p.m., and were pleasantly surprised by the stylishness and cleanliness of the Tru by Hilton. The decor is a little Mid-Century Modern and a little Industrial. Mostly, I think it’s just cheap to furnish it this way, but meant to look kind of edgy. There’s even a pool table in the lobby, though I doubt we’ll have time to use it. The desk in the room is laughably small. And why can’t hotel rooms put a bedside table on each side of the bed? One person has a place to lay a book and a wristwatch and charge a phone. The person on the other side of the bed is out of luck. Tonight, I’m managing; I pulled over the room’s only chair to fill in for the nonexistent bedside table.

Dinner was something of a fiasco, though it turned out all right. My plan was to walk across the street from the hotel to a couple of strip malls there, and find a restaurant that was open and that looked OK. Our choices seemed to include a Noodles & Co., a Firehouse Subs, an Einstein Bagels, and a few other places. Everything closed at 9, according to the internet. But we were noticing that a lot of places, if they were opened at all today on the Fourth, seemed to be closing early. I was afraid the restaurants that were still open would close at 8. So I was trying to rush my guys out of the hotel room at 7:30, which was easier said than done. I told them why, but they exhibited few signs of urgency.

In the elevator on the way down, they started balking at the idea of walking. Bob wanted to know just how far it was. I said “You can see the Firehouse Sub place from the front door.” Jon Morgan insisted it was a half-mile away and we should drive. Sure enough, you could see it from the door; it was across the street and across part of a parking lot. They both wanted to drive anyway. We never even got to Firehouse. Bob saw Noodles & Co. and wanted to go there. Jon Morgan was reluctant; he didn’t think he could find anything to eat at Noodles & Co., despite the fact that we’ve taken him there before. I think he was probably really holding out for pizza, but the only pizza place around, on the other side of the hotel, was clearly closed for the holiday.

We had 20 minutes before Noodles & Co. would close. Jon Morgan complained that we were railroading him into making a choice. So I told him to suggest somewhere else. He said he didn’t want to go to a chain restaurant. Normally I am the last person to want to go to a chain restaurant. But we were in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in an area none of us knew, late (in Iowa time) on a holiday night, and the few places that had been open all seemed to be about to close or already closed. Jon Morgan suggested somewhere else he found online (pizza, of course) a couple miles away. He wanted to go there. I was skeptical; I just wanted somewhere fast and easy. Bob appeared to be no happier with the idea than I was, but he was unwilling to express an opinion.

So we went to look for Jon Morgan’s Italian restaurant, knowing that if it was not open, it would be too late to go back in time to Noodles & Co., which by now appeared to be the only place of our original choices that was still open.

The Italian restaurant was closed. We drove around some more, hoping to see somewhere that would be a possibility. I suggested we just find a grocery store and buy some stuff to eat cold in the hotel room (no microwave in this one). Jon Morgan suggested we go downtown. Again, I was skeptical; I assumed people would be gathering there for a fireworks display, so crowds, traffic, and parking could be a problem. And there were no guarantees that we could find a restaurant there, either. But nothing else had turned up, so downtown we went.

It was still light as we crossed the bridge into the city. All along the river, hundreds were gathering to watch the fireworks. We steered clear of the crowds and tried to find a restaurant. Our preference would have been for one with outdoor seating, but at this point, we would have gone to whatever we could find, and take the meal back to the hotel room to eat, if necessary.

Downtown Cedar Rapids has plenty of restaurants. But none of them were open. A couple times, we saw one with lights on. One even had a big, lit-up OPEN sign in the window. They were all closed. We had given up and were on our way to search out a grocery store (also mostly closed already, at 8pm on the Fourth of July) and suddenly we saw a place with people sitting at tables outside. It was called the Map Store, which confused us a bit. But it was, indeed, a restaurant. We found parking and arrived a little before closing.

Dinner was quite good, though we had pretty much what we’d had for lunch: hamburger for Bob, veggie burger for me, and grilled cheese sandwich for Jon Morgan. But they were much better quality. Fireworks were going off as we were eating. We could hear them, but we couldn’t see them; some sort of pedestrian bridge stretched overhead, and a few blocks of buildings sat between us and the river. Some obnoxious people on obnoxiously loud ATVs were driving up and down the streets of the city, including the street that ran in front of the restaurant. I asked the waitress if they always did this, and she said she thought it must be an Independence Day thing. But we quite liked the restaurant. The food was good, and the place had a quirkiness that appealed to us.

On the drive back to the hotel, we saw fireworks everywhere. We could watch the ones being set off over the river for all the crowds of people, but we could also glimpse them shooting into the sky and blossoming overhead from all directions. Unlike at home, Cedar Rapids has few restrictions on who can set off fireworks. In fact, it’s nearly midnight now, and I can still hear them outside, quite nearby. I hope I can sleep tonight.

Day Two distance traveled: 502 miles.

Day One: D.C. to Dayton (July 3)

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