"You're taking what route?"
"Oh, we're just going up through Chicago and then cutting down to Los Angeles from there."
"Jas. You do know where Chicago is?"
"Do you know what you just said?"
"No, really though, do you know what you just said?"
My parents had a right to be skeptical. In the fifth grade geography bee, I lost in the first round after I said that Myanmar was in Belize. As I took my place in the loser's pit, I not so silently cursed the student who went on to get the far superior question about which country had a higher suicide rate, Japan or Indonesia.
"We're just going up to Chicago for a few days to visit with some friends."
"When were you going to tell me this?"
"Mom, I told you a few days ago."
"Did you really?"
I wanted to hit up Chicago for a couple of reasons. First, my driving buddy and I both had good friends that lived in the city who would be down to hang out and almost certainly let us crash with them for free. Second, I had been wanting to see Chicago ever since I dated this kid who used to live in a Chicago based religious commune (read: cult) called Jesus People USA. Lovingly referred to by residents as Japooza because of the acronym JPUSA, Jesus People USA had been my favorite go-to Google search whenever I had exhausted all other internet destinations.
As someone who never drove west of Louisiana or north of Tennessee on my own, I glanced at the estimated 15 hour drive and thought, "Eh. Whatever."
"Whatever?" my father replied, "How many miles does the white car have on it?"
"Um. It's about to hit two hundred thousand."
"And you want to drive this car across the country?"
"Oh, hell," my father muttered, turning to leave and grab a beer from the fridge.
"Well, wait just a second," my mom said, after some thought, "What about Gramma's car? The green car only has about sixty-five thousand miles on it."
The white car, a 2002 Chevy Malibu, had been mine since eleventh grade. Well loved and well worn, it bore all of the signatures of my youth: a sticker that said, 'I give evolution two opposable thumbs up," an Aquabats decal, a Weezer sticker, and a couple of in-your-face gay pride bumper stickers. That car was my middle finger on wheels. Seventeen hours later my grandmother signed a paper saying that it was now her middle finger on wheels, effectively making her the biggest badass that the Rainbow Run Nursing Home had ever seen. Armed with a 2000 Century Buick (named Betty after my grandmother), all of our belongings, and a burning desire to see some of the tackiest roadside traps we could find, James and I set off for Chicago.
We made it out of Georgia and into Tennessee. We drove right by Chattanooga and into Kentucky, which was surprisingly full of amazing things like a magic mountain amusement park and mammoth cave. I wanted to stop and see if I could find a mammoth tusk at the gift shop or a shrunken mammoth trunk on a keychain, but we were on too tight of a schedule. We couldn't even find time to stop at Dinosaur World, a collection of over 150 life sized, plastic predators.
At some point we crossed into Indiana. Let me show you a picture that sums up the entire drive through Indiana:
We finally crossed into Illinois and saw the first of what would turn out to be countless giant, white windmills. I really wanted to stop the car and listen to the massive blades swoosh and cut through the air. I imagined that it would sound like what the nine year old version of myself envisioned a portal to another dimension sounding like.
"Say that there were small carriages on the end of each blade. Like little cabs on a super fast amusement park ride. If you stuck a human on the ends of a massive windmill blade going around at full speed, do you think they would live? Or do you think they would die?"
"Well, I think that-"
"Because I think they'd totally die."
Not too long after the Don Quixote experience came the tolls that alerted us to the fact that either a) Chicago was not as far away as we had been led to believe of b) we were going an average of 20 miles over the speed limit at any given time.
Regardless, we made it to Chicago in record time - and in one piece, too.