US Road Trip Travelog: 7th February 2005

It was only after booking my flight that I noticed it was the morning after the Superbowl. Nice move, that. So I decided to treat myself to a night in a hotel near Manchester Airport so that I could watch the game (and the Premiership football that afternoon) and hopefully still make my flight.

Felt like a masterplan at 3:15 a.m., when the game ended. Did not seem so clever at 6 a.m., when the alarm went off. Still, I made in onto the courtesy bus to the airport. Once at the airport I realised that I hadn't actually needed to get there that early. Previous experiences of Manchester Airport had involved huge queues snaking around the whole terminal for the security checks and everyone shuffling along for hours. This flight, though it was on American Airlines, was with some kind of deal with British Airways where they could use BA's presence at Terminal 3, which is a much smaller terminal than the other two. Apart from BA, Terminal 3 is for domestic flights only. So no big queues for security, and a few pleasant hours trying to stay awake.

AA aeroplane
An airplane at Manchester Airport, this morning.

I did, however, get asked to go to one side for a special American Airlines baggage search. I guess being a male traveling by yourself, and a bit bug-eyed from lack of sleep, that this shouldn't really be a surprise. I'll forgive American Airlines anything, though, because on boarding I found I had a window seat for the nearly-full flight with no-one next to me. Bliss. I don't even mind that the food wasn't fit for pigs, the staff were snotty and the plane was cold the whole way. If I can stretch my legs out on a flight then I'm happy.

Chicagoland, USA! Security checks in the US weren't anything as bad as I'd expected, though I'm fairly sure that my suitcase has been searched again. Not that I care or am surprised - it's full of books, computer bits and (very few) clothes and wasn't churned around too much. The first thing I did on arrival was to go outside for some air, ok for a fag, to find that the weather was exactly the same as Manchester, even down to the drizzle.

On the bus to the Alamo car depot, where they try the usual 'total cover' and 'upgrade for only ...' tricks. But they're not surprised when I refuse, and it's easier to say no than when they do the same tricks in Dixons and get all sulky if you don't fall for it. A bit nervous about driving off, especially as they just point you towards the lot and you choose a car with the keys already in it. No explanation of where the controls are, but on the plus side no spurious vehicle check either. So, out onto the road ...

... in the wrong direction. U-turn and try again. The plan, which is probably a bit ambitious, is to drive from Chicago O'Hare Airport down the Loop (a giant multi-lane expressway - up to six lanes in each direction) around Chicago and down into Decatur in the middle of Illinois. I guessed it would be about 150 miles and, if the plane was on time, I should be able to get around Chicago before rush hour.

Getting around Chicago wasn't too bad, once you get used to the fact that there are no slow, middle and fast lanes in the US. Basically it's a free-for-all, and you and everyone else are free to overtake (undertake?) on either side. Mind you, some people think this is the way it works in the UK. There are other similarities to the UK, as well:

South of Chicago I thought, after a quick look at the map, that I was due to leave at the '267' exit. As it approached and I wasn't even out of Chicago proper another look showed it was actually the '167' exit I needed. Does that mean a hundred junctions away? No, it means that in the US the junctions are measured in miles and not given numbers as in the UK. So I guess that '167' means that it's 167 miles from the start of the I55. Which means I've still a way to go. About a hundred miles, I'd guess.

Chevrolet Cavelier hire car
My lovely Chevrolet Cavalier 'compact' hire car. Not only does it look like no Cavalier I've ever seen, it's 'compact' as in about the same size as a Mondeo. In the background is ,er, fog. You can just about see a truck on the I55.

The increasing fog and rain makes driving a bit more tricky, but the Cavalier is easy to drive and has a good hi-fi. I while away the hours switching between 'classic rock' stations on FM, hearing songs that you just don't hear on the radio in the UK. Examples? Well as you'd expect there's Tom Petty, Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen and Creedence Clearwater Revival. What you may not expect are Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Rolling Stones album tracks. Of course, there's also a fair bit of rubbish as well - I think Sammy Hagar is playing around here next week - but they usually redeem themselves on the next song.

After 200 miles, and following a close thing with pickup truck who almost sideswipes me (not his fault - the fog was pretty bad by now), I finally reach Decatur. There's a whole strip of restaurants, motels, shops, churches etc. on the way into town but the Super 8 Motel is quite easy to find. It looks like a dump but the two black ladies running reception are really friendly and welcoming - though I did promise to arrange a date with Prince Harry for the younger one, so she can have a look around Buckingham Palace, which could be a bit tricky - and the room is big and clean if a bit dated. They direct me to the Krober supermarket ('grocery') over the road for beer and fried chicken legs. Back in the motel and I've got about 35 channels to choose from and after a bit of surfing find some Seinfeld repeats. I've never been a great fan, but given the rubbish alternatives it looks good. As do those chicken legs and that beer. Out of the window it's tipping it down with rain, which I hope won't last til the morning.

US Road Trip Travelog: 8th February 2005 >