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Cleveland. Ohio

Before I move on to Ohio, I feel that I have to complain. Now THERE is a surprise, I can hear you say! So far on the trip all I have had to do is look on a map to see where I want to go, get on the appropriate road, drive along it, and then get off at my destination. Driving around Illinois, Indiana and Ohio however presents a completely new set of obstacles, known as ‘toll roads’. I can understand people having to pay to go across a bridge in order to help pay for it’s maintenance and so not as to have to drive a long way to circumnavigate whatever it is the bridge crosses, but in the Midwest these tolls seem to be in the strangest places. You’re zooming along the Interstate (although in the Dream Machine it tends to be more ‘trundling’ than ‘zooming’), and all of a sudden you come across a toll booth. Usually the tolls are pretty low, generally less than a dollar, so you pay your money and carry on driving. Then a few miles later you come across another toll booth where you have to pay again. It turns out that the first time you’re paying to get on to the toll road, then the second time you’re paying to exit the toll road. It’s a really weird system, and what I can’t work out is why the toll road, which seems to be exactly the same as the non toll road before and after it, should be any different. On the way into Chicago there is a toll area that must be designed purely to upset motorists. You’re travelling along in one of three lanes, when all of a sudden the road opens up into a piece of tarmac that is approximately twenty lines wide, each with a different toll booth on it. The problem here is that each toll booth only caters for one particular kind of vehicle. Some only take automatic electronic passes. Some only take cash, some are for trucks only, some are for cars only, and some are for trucks with a certain number of axles. And then you get combinations of the different criteria, so among the ‘car only’ lanes, some will be for cars with electronic passes, some will be for cars with the correct change in coins, and some will be for cars without the correct change and without an electronic pass where the driver has a birthday in either May or October or was born in the Chinese year of the snake. There are thousands of vehicles all trying to get trough this awful place, each one trying desperately to move across fifteen lanes to get to the appropriate toll booth, and all of them causing complete chaos. An additional problem is that you are usually surrounded by huge trucks, so you can’t actually see the signs telling you which lane you should be in. I ended up in the ‘truck only, electronic pass, last name beginning with ‘J’ and wearing blue underwear ‘section, and was given a stern telling-off by the person manning the booth when I got there for being in the wrong place. I offered to get out and ask the three thousand or so cars behind me if they would reverse, but she didn’t find this particularly amusing. And once you’re through the tool booth, you experience the joy of these thousands of cars trying to merge from twenty lanes back into three again. Nobody wants to let anyone else in, everybody is quite upset and being delayed for a couple of hours already and then having to pay to drive into the traffic jam, and there are more middle fingers on display than you would have thought possible.
Warwick's Roadtrip Photo Ohio
After finding cheap parking right next to the stadium and spending a few dollars on my cheap seat (there are no ‘prime’, ‘premium’ or ‘premier’ games here to fleece the fan), I thought I would gab a beer and see what the locals had to say about Cleveland. One chap was telling me how both his sisters went to university in Scotland and asked me which part of the north of England that was in (excellent!), while the bloke on the other side of me kept insisting that every one of the opposing players was a ‘sonofabitchassbag’, whatever one of those is. I didn’t really want to ask him to find out!

After the disappointment of the Peoria Chiefs politically correct ‘fire chief’ mascot, it’s very nice to see that such ridiculous lengths haven’t spread everywhere, and the Cleveland Indians mascot is a real Red Indian. Complete with bright red grinning face, a feather in a band around his head, and the magnificent name ‘Chief Wahoo’, his image is on everything to do with Cleveland baseball. Hopefully things will stay that way, because the day that the Cleveland Indian’s mascot changes from Chief Wahoo to a badly paid man in Delhi working twenty hours a day answering call centre questions from a bank’s customer calling from London will be a sad day for the world!

The sense of joviality around the ballpark was heightened by the fact that the Indians have a player on their team called Coco Crisp. I would love to meet his parents. What are his brothers called, Salt & Vinegar and Cheese & Onion?

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo Ohio

During the game, the cheap seats were invaded by armies of bugs. There were millions of these things buzzing around the place, landing in your beer, adding flavour to your hot dog. I asked one chappie if they tend to stay for the whole game, and he told me that they do but only if it’s exciting or if it’s a play-off game. I get the feeling he wasn’t being completely truthful!

I decided that I had suffered enough from these winged irritations (it’s amazing how something so small can be such a huge pain in the arse, much along the same lines as ‘The Krankies’) and headed down to try to sneak into the better seats under the pretence of taking photos. Rather than been turned away faster than an Albanian trying to get into the Channel Tunnel, the usher actually encouraged me to sit in a better seat, and proceeded to chat to me about how his mum had the same camera as me. He was only a teenager so at least that didn’t make me feel too old! I feigned interest in his mum’s camera for a while, but was far too interested in the antics of the members of the hen night party that were staggering around the place to pay too much attention to him.

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo Ohio

When the game finished there was to be a fireworks display, but in order to avoid singeing any of the crowd they had to empty a few areas. This took a while, and to entertain the crowd during the break the Indian’s mascot (disappointingly not an apache on a horse riding around shouting “Whoop, whoop, whoop” and scalping palefaces, but a non-descript purple and yellow ‘thing’) presided over a fan competition where the winner was the one to build the tallest pile of chocolate bars, then took one of the participants and made him fight another mascot, this time some kind of inflatable robot that had the ability to suck it’s head into it’s body. It was all very surreal, and only the fact that beer sales had stopped kept me in my seat (actually somebody else’s seat, buy you know what I mean).

Once the fireworks display got underway it was incredible, one of the best I have ever seen (which is saying a lot considering the Americans will use even the most tenuous excuse to blow something up). It looked really cool with the stadium and the city centre skyline as a backdrop, went on for a long, long time, and scared every domestic pet within a large radius. An excellent evening was rounded off in fine style with a pint in a local bar while a dodgy punk band jumped around and snarled a lot in a very amusing manner.


Akron. Ohio

Akron has two claims to fame: the lesser-known of which is that it is the home of the restaurant that claims to have invented the hamburger (keeping liposuction clinics in business for decades), and the slightly more well-known of which is that Akron is the rubber capital of the world. The fact that Mr. Good Year plonked his factory here a hundred years ago is really the only reason that the city still exists, but now it has a new notoriety attached with it. Making an early morning start I cruised down to the local gas station to fill up. While I was standing there waiting for another $50 to disappear, I noticed that a small puddle was appearing underneath the Dream Machine. This small puddle soon became a large puddle, and then a small lake. After poking around in it for a while it turned out to be the contents of the radiator. Despite my complete lack of mechanical knowledge, even I know that having nothing in the radiator might cause problems a little further down the road if I ignored it, so I parked up and had a look at the engine. It’s not as if I was going to fix anything, but I thought that I should at least give the small crowd that was gathering to see who was flooding the gas station the impression that I know what I was doing. After a couple of shakes of the head and some sharp intakes of breath, I moved it out of the way and called the experts. After about an hour a truck pulls up driven by a dirtier version of Lemmy from Motorhead. I explain to Dirty Lemmy what had happened, and then I started to get worried when he responded with a couple of shakes of the head and some sharp intakes of breath. At this point I was hoping that the rubber capital of the world would have a large stock of radiator hoses! I asked Dirty Lemmy if he could fix the problem, immediately realised that he wasn’t even capable of diagnosing the problem, so changed my approach and asked if it would be possible to drive it a few miles to a garage where I could get it fixed and get on my way. He didn’t think it would be a problem, and said that about five miles down the road there was a garage that would definitely be open (it was Sunday morning). We filled the radiator with water, and Dirty Lemmy went on his way, presumable to smear grease on any parts of his anatomy that he has accidentally spilled water on while he was looking at the radiator.

So off I went, hoping that I would find this garage before the radiator emptied and I was left stranded. Every yard further down the road I went there was another ‘glug’ from the radiator and another ‘pssssssssst’ from the engine as more precious water and steam were deposited onto the road, and the temperature gauge steadily raised another notch. After three miles I spotted the garage on the left and crawled into the parking lot, just as the final ‘glug’ emptied the radiator. Good job it wasn’t five miles then, although this did not prove to be the only inaccuracy in Dirty Lemmy’s story. Right there, on the door of the garage, was “Sunday: Closed”. Bugger!

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo Ohio

Seeing as I was going to be there for a while, I decided to wander into town to watch the local team play. Well, it was less of a ‘wander’ than a ‘hike’, and of course I just love hiking! It wasn’t really a slow hike either, because I found myself wandering through parts of town that I really shouldn’t have been wandering through. I vowed, if I ever made it that far, to buy myself a pair of running shoes when I got to the ballpark to help me with the journey back.

I finally made it downtown in time to watch the Akron Aeros play against the Bowie Baysox. Whether or not they have anything to do with David Bowie, I have no idea. The Aeros were playing in bright purple uniforms and the Baysox in bright orange uniforms, so the game promised to be a bit hard on the eyes. The splash of colour was completed with the Aeros mascot, which was some kind of giant red flying superhero mouse. They did have another mascot, a giant pizza slice, who appeared whenever they were giving away pizza. Surely there must be other jobs that these people could do. Surely they don’t have to lower themselves to this humiliation. Although I suppose that their saving grace is that you never see their face so walking down the street you don’t know who they are. Unless of course they forget to take off their giant red flying superhero mouse cape when they leave the ballpark!

Alternative entertainment during the game was the standard stuff, including a performance of ‘YMCA’ on top of the dugouts, but there was something different: the ‘dizzy race’. They took two teenagers and made them lean over a baseball bat that was placed vertically on the ground. Then they had to spin around it ten times and run twenty yards to a finish line. Hilarious! They had enough trouble counting up to ten by the time they had spun around the bat a few times, and the drunken staggering that took place afterwards, followed by falling over repeatedly and no doubt some vomiting later on, was great entertainment for all the family.

Just down the road from Akron is Canton, home of the NFL football hall of fame. Mildly entertaining, but really only of interest to the ultra-fan who lives and breathes the game, and not worthy of more than a couple of sentences here.


Cincinnati. Ohio

Cruising through Ohio, the enormous billboards by the side of the freeway ask you some important questions. Questions like “If you died today, where would you spend eternity?” Well, I must admit that I had never thought about it, but fortunately the next billboard provides you with the answer: “Hell is real”. Well, now I know! At least it made an educational change from the billboards advertising dirty bookshops and fireworks.

Arriving in Cincinnati I didn’t have time to look around the city or take a detour over the Ohio River and explore Kentucky, but it was also a stinking hot day and I had done far too much wandering recently to be bothered with another metropolis or a collection of redneck horse-worriers. So straight to the ‘Great American Ballpark’ to gab a cooling brew and watch the game. Things started off very well as I approached the ticket window and a chap asked me if I was looking for one ticket. I said I was and he said one of his friends couldn’t make it and here’s a free one. Excellent!

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo Ohio

The ballpark was only built a few years ago, so it has all the modern trappings, concentrating heavily on giving kids plenty to keep them occupied, such as running around bases in the hot sun to tire them out. They also had an electronic simulator where you could be a pitcher throwing at a life-sized computerised batter. It was pretty dull to start with, until one innovative chap realised that he could throw directly at the batter and knock him down without fear of reprisal. a fair sized crowd gathered to watch this chap see how many times he could hit the computerised batter in the face before it got upset, but unfortunately the simulation hadn’t been programmed to fling its bat down, charge the mound and start throwing punches!

The Cincinnati Reds have also got two mascots, one is called ‘Mr. Red’ and has a baseball instead of a head (naturally!), and the other is called ‘Gapper’. It may be entirely coincidental because it’s unlikely that anyone from Cincinnati has heard of Wimbledon Common, but Gapper is a red Womble!

Nothing much really happened during the game, although the ballpark does have a very nice ‘cool zone’, where you can go and stand underneath cool mist for as long as you like. Some of the Oakland Athletics officials were being showed around, presumably to remind them that you’re supposed to be playing baseball in a baseball stadium and not a football stadium, and the chap who gave me the ticket told me that in one game a couple were displayed on the ‘Kiss Cam’ on the main scoreboard where you’re supposed to kiss the person next to you in the crowd. Someone else in the crowd recognised the bloke as a wanted man, called the police, and they arrested him in his seat. Unlucky!

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Enough of my moaning, and on to Cleveland. I approached the city with some trepidation, as all I had heard about it was that it was very rough, and had just been rated as the poorest city in America. I left with a very different impression of the place. I didn’t have much time to explore the city in detail, but the downtown area where the ballpark stands is very pleasant; all nice cafes and bars and not a violent mugger in sight. The Dream Machine was still there after the game, and maybe Cleveland doesn’t really deserve all the bad press it gets. On the way to the game I bought a bag of peanuts from a street vendor, and as I was walking away she said “Thank you mam, oh sorry, sir”. I turned around and laughed, and then there was the strange sight of a little old Mexican lady running up to me laughing, apologising, and giving me a big hug. And all that for a two dollar bag of peanuts!
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