Cross-country road trip lessons and observations

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I think I have now more or less recovered from the Curious Capitalist family’s 11-day cross country road trip—although I still weigh about 10 pounds more than when we left. We traveled from the San Francisco Bay area to New York, stopping along the way for visits with family and friends in Lake City, Colo.; the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa; Madison, Wisc.; and West Lafayette, Ind. Here are a few of the extremely important lessons and observations I will be taking from this experience.

1. Driving all day makes you fat. Well, maybe that alone doesn’t do it, but driving all day and subsisting on food from roadside restaurants, plus beef jerky and sunflower seeds and a bag of Doritos, makes you fat. If you’re traveling with a copy of Jane and Michael Stern’s Roadfood in the vehicle, you can add another 5 pounds right there—consisting mostly of pie.

2. SUVs aren’t much fun to drive. We rented from Hertz, which doesn’t do station wagons and isn’t real big on minivans either. We figured “Toyota RAV4 or similar” was our best option. The Toyota RAV4 may well be great, but “or similar” was disappointing. We started with a Mercury Mariner that wobbled a lot at high speeds and when braking. I figured this might be the product of out-of-balance tires, so I took the Mariner to the Hertz at the Quad Cities International Airport for a trade-in. What I got in return was a Hyundai Santa Fe, which was slightly less wobbly, but not as nicely appointed as the Mariner. My main complaint is that it’s just no fun to go around curves in an SUV. Too much fear of toppling.

4. The miniature golf course in Lake City, Colo., closes for the season in mid-August. This is just plain wrong.

5. There is something called the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee.

6. Eastern Kansas is breathtakingly beautiful. At least, it was when we drove along its byways (headed northeast from Abilene toward the Nebraska border) one Saturday morning. This was partly because we’d spent the previous week traversing far more arid terrain, meaning that its green fields and many trees were novelties. But I think it was more than that—rolling hills, well-kempt little towns, antique-car shows.

7. There are a lot of gigantic new power-generating windmills in the Midwest. And, given how many giant blades we saw being transported along the highways, lots more to come.

8. East-central Illinois is depressing. Driving east from Bloomington, Ill., it was flat, flat, flat, with nothing but corn and soybeans (and a few big new windmills) as far as our eyes could see. And no vegetable stands! Within a few miles after we’d crossed into Indiana we started seeing lots more trees and, before long, a roadside table with tomatoes and about 10 different varieties of peppers (and a coffee can in which to leave money). Much better. There is, however, a high school in east-central Illinois where the sports teams are called the Cornjerkers. So that redeems the area at least partially.

9. A section of Interstate 65 in Indianapolis is named after Babyface.

10. The songs in heaviest rotation on the iPod in the car were Ingrid Michaelson’s “The Chain” and Regina Spektor’s “Folding Chair.” This was mostly the result of requests from Curious Capitalist Jr. But they weren’t bad requests.