US Road Trip 2013: Day 5: From Windmills to Lighthouses

Day 5: Lafayette, Indiana to Flint, Michigan

From Windmills to Lighthouses … (by Chris)


We woke entirely too early on Tuesday morning, managed to drag ourselves out of bed, and apply breakfast. By about 8ish we’d finished breakfast, prepared tea and stuff for lunch, and got everything together and ready to go in record time. We loaded everything onto a luggage cart and the family donkey (ie: me) to get everything out to the car in one go.

On the way out we stopped by the front desk. The checkout bill had been slipped under our door overnight – I didn’t remember that happening on any of our previous trips, so I was slightly confused about that at the time (It is a thing that’s supposed to happen at Holiday Inns and Expresses, the idea being that if everything’s right, the guest needn’t stop by the desk but can just leave when they’re ready, leaving the key in the room. Various properties are better or worse about doing it.) – and the requested discount for the problem with the shower was conspicuous by its absence. SJ asked the desk clerk, the same one who had been on the desk the previous day, about this and he said that it was “Just one of those things that happens,” with an attitude that exuded “I don’t give a shit, go away you’re bothering me” (much like he had the previous day, really, only more pronounced this time). SJ’s reaction to that slightly surprised me: she didn’t press the point, or demand to Speak With Management or anything, the clerk confirmed charging the bill to the card and SJ basically walked out. He’s right, that really was uncharacteristic of me – I generally get irate very quickly at poor service anywhere, since there’s never any excuse for it. I didn’t know at the time but she had A Plan… *bwuahahaha!*

We loaded the car in the cold morning sun. Much like the previous day, it was well below freezing, but unlike that day we couldn’t just pile into the car and go: we had to load it with our suitcases, cooler, food bag, electronics bag, various other bits and pieces, the AirPot with its precious cargo (of tea – Chris needs his tea. We’d decided to buy some sort of thermos in the US and leave it in the car, rather than take up space in the luggage with one that wouldn’t be large enough anyway. We didn’t expect to end up with this sort of thing, but we found it that day at Sam’s – the price was decent, the ease of access good, and it holds plenty, so we went for it.), and finally find seats for Teddy and the few other guys we had brought with us for the trip. We were getting a bit better at slotting everything in already, but it still took time, and we were both greatly relieved to finally get to shut the doors and let the heater do its job.

We got on the road a little after 8:20, heading straight east to get onto I-65 North. Along the way we were almost rear-ended by some idiot in a pickup truck who came up behind the car insanely fast, barely missing us. The horn and SJ’s sign language got something of a workout at this point, but he pulled off before long and I slightly released my deathgrip on the dash…

Just before we got to the interstate we spied a Target, and decided that it was worth trying it to see if they had any bread (I am very picky about bread, especially when in the Land of Sweetened Bread Everywhere) and various other supplies. We didn’t know whether it would be open at this point, as it was only just gone 8:30am, but we pulled up to find that it opened at 8! We found good looking bakery bread, water, more of my much-missed Bolthouse Farms Vanilla Chai, some cheese, and some replacements for depleted snacks and fruit.

It was obviously still really cold outside, so SJ wore her thick coat while we went into Target, but she forgot to take it off before we set off again, and she doesn’t like driving in a coat. We stopped at the first rest area we could – Wolcott Rest Area, about 25 miles up the interstate – so she could take off her coat. I guess I’m being more influenced by the UK than I would like to admit in some cases. The SJ of years past would have just pulled over on the shoulder, especially on that empty stretch of highway, taken her coat off, and then gone on, rather than put up with it for 25 miles. In the UK, it’s illegal to stop on the side of a motorway (which is more or less the equivalent of an interstate, except it seems like motorways are always very, very busy, so instead of these mostly empty interstates in the midwest, think of the ones on the eastern seaboard between, say, Washington and Boston) unless your car breaks. In the US, as far as I know, it’s not – it’s not terribly advisable, and state troopers generally move motorists along if they come along and find them parked on the side of an interstate, but it’s not forbidden. Also, when your car does break, there’s another set of differences: in the US, you’ll see people fixing it themselves to get on their way, if they can (changing tires, etc); in the UK, you won’t – but I don’t know if this is because of the setting or because of a general difference in attitude I’ve noticed of Brits being less keen to work on their cars than Americans. If they’re waiting for a tow, in the UK, the rule is always to vacate the car and get as far away from the traffic as possible – climbing over whatever’s in the way – in case a moving vehicle should come along and hit the stationary vehicle. In the US, we generally sit in the car to wait, assuming that the moving vehicles will continue staying in their lanes instead of being pulled towards the parked car as if there’s suddenly some sort of magnetic force. Funny, this is the one case in UK driving where the official assumption is that the moving vehicles won’t stay in their lane – everything else officially espoused about driving here is based entirely on the assumption that everyone is always exactly where they should be, exactly when they should be there.

On the way there, SJ got me to call Six Continents Guest Relations and hand her the phone, “because managers always go nuts when they get a Guest Relations case,” she said with a rather scary smile. I don’t know all the particulars, but I know: (1) they get charged financially for these, and (2) if they get enough of them, they face losing their flag – they’ll have to rebrand, away from the Six Continents collection (Holiday, Crowne Plaza, Intercontinental, etc). Losing a flag is a HUGE deal in Hotel World, though obviously one complaint will only have minimal effect towards that. The financial charge, though – that’s what I had in my mind when I just paid the bill that morning and left. If I can’t get money out of you one way, I’ll get it another. And doing it this way, I’ll cost you more.

SJ has a Priority Club membership with the Intercontinental Group (it’s just the free membership card they always offer you), something that came in very useful at a few points during the journey. When we were checking into the hotel in Lafayette, the forms showed the address and phone number associated with her membership number, and spaces to correct them if they need updating. They were wrong, so SJ had filled in the correct information as we checked in… except that, when she started talking to the guess relations agent, and he was going through checking her membership information, it turned out that despite having two (very quiet and slow) days to fix the problems, the clerks at the Holiday Inn had done nothing, and her old, incorrect information was still showing on her account! The agent fixed that, and went over the problem we’d had with the hotel and the way they’d handled it, although SJ initially didn’t mention the attitude the clerks had shown. The problem she stressed was the fact that housekeeping should have easily spotted the problem with the shower drain, and either got maintenance to fix it at that point, or the room should not have been rented until it was fixed, especially on a slow night like the Easter night we got there (when the vast majority of the hotel looked empty). Even if housekeeping hadn’t noticed the problem, once it was reported it should have been fixed, or we should have been told there and then that it couldn’t have been: we shouldn’t have been basically lied to about maintenance being involved.

All SJ was after with the complaint was making the hotel go all flaily over being hit with a guest relations case, but the agent said he could give her 4,000 priority club points ((club points can be redeemed for free nights, with 10,000 to 50,000 needed depending on the property. 4,000 is 2/5ths of a free night at a Holiday Inn Express)) as compensation for the aggravation and poor service. He was working away typing, when SJ off-handedly noted that it was the attitude they’d had that annoyed her the most, especially given that she’s worked as a Holiday Inn desk clerk. “You know what, we’ll make it five thousand,” he said. Worked for me! I would’ve been happy if the hotel had given me 10% off the rate – they’d charged me rack rate (full price), after all, so they had plenty of wiggle room. Fifty percent off? That’ll work even better.

Shortly before SJ finished talking to guest relations we pulled into the rest area. We stretched our legs a bit, SJ took off her coat, and we got sorted to head on northwards again. The whole stretch of road around the rest area, and quite some distance away from it, was dotted with wind turbines – Indiana seems to have several areas of substantial wind farming, in addition to normal arable farming!

Wind spinny things!

Wind spinny things!

More spinny things, and apparently they want your pets to play on the highway...

More spinny things, and apparently they want your pets to play on the highway…

North we drove, and ran into all sorts of confusion with Time, or more specifically the fact that, while most of Indiana is now in Eastern Time (although it apparently used to be all in Central Time, years ago…), as you get towards north Indiana and the suburbs of Chicago you find yourself back in Central Time because they want to keep Gary, Indiana and the other suburbs of Chicago in the same timezone as Chicago itself. Which makes sense, I suppose, but does hilarious things when your phone is syncing its time off the local network and you suddenly find it’s an hour earlier than you thought it was, or perhaps not!


Near Gary, Indiana we switched from I-65 North to I-94 East. Except that for a stretch there it’s also I-80 East. Oh, and US-6, too. Have I mentioned that the US road system hates me and wants to drive me mad? What looked on the map like a horrible mess of an interchange actually proved to be relatively simple (it looking a horrible mess wasn’t helped by the scale he was dealing with – looking at either the Rand McNally or the phone didn’t really let him see it as well as you can above), and soon after that I-80 somehow buggered off to pretend that it was the I-90 (because roads of madness) and left us alone on I-94 (and possibly US-6, I’m not entirely sure). It was not the last we would hear of the itinerant I-80, but we will come to that later…. down the road, as you might say.

That slippery slope!

That slippery slope!

I-94 took us through Portage and Chesterton, past the confusingly named Michigan City, Indiana (maybe it used to be in Michigan, but slid down the side of the lake? Or perhaps it is some kind of subtle insult by Indiana to its more northerly neighbour?), and then soon after we passed the state line into Michigan. The welcome centre on I-94 East is the New Buffalo Welcome Center ((New Buffalo Welcome Center was apparently the first ever interstate welcome centre in the USA. They don’t actually make much of that – I can’t remember seeing anything about it there.)), and the first thing we noticed upon pulling into the parking lot there (via a very strange road setup) was the lighthouse right there by the picnic area. Not, apparently, a real lighthouse – the beacon is a relatively low brightness, simple, constant light, rather than a bright rotating beam or flashing light – but it looks really neat and was a suitable introduction to the state that prides itself on having the most operational lighthouses of any US state.

A rather chilly SJ for scale.

A rather chilly SJ for scale.

We went into the welcome centre itself, and while I visited the little programmer’s room, SJ was looking around the various brochures and guides available. When I found her she had accumulated quite a stack, and I asked her how many weeks we were going to be spending in Michigan… for which I got a completely unwarranted tickling!

A small library of touristy literature accumulated, we adjourned to the car and decided that it was time for lunch. We pulled out the cooler and lunch supplies and went to sit at one of the picnic tables. The sun was shining and was actually not too cold now… except that the wind was blowing steadily, and was icy cold and penetrating. While SJ sensibly wore her gloves, I had no truck with such rational behaviour, and we watched my fingers turn an interesting shade of blue as we ate. But at least we didn’t need to worry about refrigerating the cheese!

Around 12:15 we finished our rather hurried lunch, packed everything away, and headed off again along I-94, passing north of another Decatur (with another similarly insanely straight-looking road leading to it…), and past Kalamazoo and Battle Creek before turning onto I-69 North near Marshall to head for Lansing.

At Lansing, we headed towards one of the outlying towns to visit SJ’s brother Robb, his wife, and their children (still carrying the colouring books we’d been asked to deliver by SJ’s parents, too!) We’d originally hoped to get there by 1pm, but it was actually closer to 2:45pm. We’re still not quite sure how it ended up being so much later; some of the difference could be chalked up to rest areas, but I actually suspect that we went through some kind of time warp in north Indiana as a result of the crazy shenanigans with the timezones there.

Us with the kiddos

Us with the kiddos; photo thanks to my sister-in-law Alyssa.

We were greeted by Robb, Alyssa, and their children. Logan, Isaiah, and our only neice, Addy – they were 8, 5, and 3 months old. I hadn’t seen Logan since he was a babe in arms, and I’d never met the other two; Chris had never met any of them. The boys even recognised us, and knew that we were their aunt and uncle – Isaiah asked how long we’d traveled to come see him, and was incredibly touched when we told him that we’d spent one day flying, and four days driving. We visited for several hours, were impressed with how mature, intelligent, and friendly the children were, and caught up on what had been going on in each others’ lives. Robb showed us the office and the furniture he had built for it (I think he built everything but the chairs!), and some of his tools and toys (including his gigantic and rather vicious-looking snow blower, which apparently got a good workout this past winter!) while Alyssa made dinner for us. Dinner was fabulous, naturally; Alyssa’s a stellar cook.

Robb Office 1 Robb Office 2
Photo thanks to my brother Robb.

I had no idea Robb was talented with building things that way – the furniture was brilliant, with lots of well-thought-out touches added that really enhanced usability. He made the trolley above, for example: drawers on both sides, an array of sizes, for holding bits to repair computers. A slide out shelf at the bottom to put a tower, and the whole thing slides under the desk to keep the top clear (well, it was when we visited, anyway), so that if a friend came over with a computer to fix, Robb didn’t suddenly have to clear some desk space to work on it. Another one he made, which I can’t remember so well how it exactly worked, was a drawer that would take another piece of wood that slotted perfectly on top to create more (temporary) desk space when you needed it. The drawer would actually take the pressure of being used as a desk, unlike so many drawers I’ve used in my life that barely take the pressure of being used as a drawer! I blame him for my over-engineered banner I came up with a few months later. 😉

We delivered the colouring books to the nephews, and spent some more time after dinner chatting before we had to set off again at 7pm to head to Aunt Doris’. The visit went really well, and we were sorry to have to go after arriving so much later than we wanted, but we talked about hopefully visiting again later in our time in Michigan, and bade them farewell for the evening.

SJ’s Aunt Doris lives out in the countryside on the far side of Flint, and we were getting quite low on gas, so we stopped to refuel on the way before heading off to look for Aunt Doris’ house. By this point it was after 8:20pm, the sun had set, but thankfully the headlights were working and we got onto the correct road without any problems (they have very helpfully illuminated intersection signs in this part of Michigan. We decided they are a wonderful idea and should be used more widely.) and headed off down it trying to work out where her house was. We eventually got to where we thought it was, but between the fact that neither of us had ever been there, it was dark, the mailboxes were all on one side of the road, and house numbers were hard to see, we found that we were actually on the wrong side of the street. I’d pulled into the long, skinny (my car’s width plus about 2 inches either side) driveway, and stopped a bit of a distance from the house. I saw someone outside sweeping, so I hopped out to ask if I was in the right place. He pointed me across the street, so I got back in and had to reverse out that long, skinny drive – probably about 4 car lengths. Fun! At least we nearly got it right first time, anyway!

Reversing and pulling into the correct drive, we saw Aunt Doris coming out of the house to greet us. Unfortunately, just as SJ got out of the car, she put her foot on the edge of the driveway wrong and slipped and fell! Thankfully, SJ is an expert faller, and she was unhurt (the trick for me is to just let the fall happen – I always sprain my ankle, etc, when I try to catch myself. The damage done from falling is usually negligible – the damage done from trying to catch myself can last months, though. At least this works while I’m young!), but Aunt Doris was very concerned and exclaimed, “Oh, don’t fall, don’t fall! Come over into the porch light and you’ll see why.” It turned out that a few days before, Aunt Doris had slipped and fallen in the house at night, and had cut a big gash on the end of her chin. Her husband Bill later told us that he thought it should have had stitches, but she hadn’t had any. It’d managed to scab over on its own, though.

We left everything in the car, and went in to visit with Aunt Doris and Uncle Bill for a while. They asked us lots of questions – how we met (we told them the long version), what we do, how the trip had gone so far – and much of it was directed at a certain Englishman because Aunt Doris wanted to listen to my accent (this was something of a constant during the Michigan leg of the trip, with various female kin of SJ’s wanting to hear me talk…) Somewhere between 9:30pm and 10pm, Aunt Doris and Uncle Bill went to bed, and we started to unload the car into the guest room we’d be in for the next three nights.

We unpacked just what we needed, showered, and got ready for bed. Aunt Doris had told us that she usually gets up at 4:30am or 5am, to which both SJ and I made less than enthusiastic faces. Even though she assured us that we didn’t have to get up then, we did set the alarm for 7am so we’d be up earlier rather than later, and SJ prefers to try to sync our schedule closer to our host’s if possible (SJ originally asked for 6:30am, but we were entirely too tired for that). And we collapsed into exhaustion again – amazing how tiring it is just sitting — in a smooth-riding car!

One thought on “US Road Trip 2013: Day 5: From Windmills to Lighthouses

  1. SJ and Chris,
    So glad the car problem is fixed by now. Sounds like a nice drive (except for Chicago area) up to Robb & Alyssa’s.

    Glad you used some of your hotel experience to get back at the poor customer service you received at the hotel in Indiana. Hopefully, but I doubt it, the front desk manager and/or the GM learned it would have been better to properly handle your request on the spot.

    Regarding your comment about Robb over-engineering the drawer cart, he comes by it quite honestly – I learned it from Grampy Slocombe and he learned it from me, so it is quite natural that you did the same on your banner this year.

    Sounds like you had a good initial visit with Aunt Doris and Uncle Bill, yes in the dark their house can be hard to find – not many lights out there. But I know you slept well after that day. I’m really enjoying your posts about your trip and the pictures are outstanding! Keep up the great work.
    Love, Dad

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