Squeezing two days worth of travel stories into one post, so hold on to your hats, folks! Our host for the night, a college friend of Paul’s, tells us that people out here – here being Sandusky, Ohio – have “no real urgency”. Seeing as we’ve got to be on the road by 6 AM and I need a good night’s rest to fulfill my driving duties tomorrow, urgency is right now my middle name.
Yesterday saw a mostly non-eventful drive as 20 carried us across the remainder of New York and into Erie, Pennsylvania on the shore of, you guessed it, Lake Erie. The sole highlight was our first foray into nature, as we toured Letchworth State Park, known as the “Grand Canyon of the East”. Braving the rain, we took in the tremendous views of the massive gorge and the roaring falls below.
We spent the night in Erie, another town in the process of being fucked over by GE. Our motel clerk told us they’re about to close down a major factory, to the tune of 3,000 lost jobs. GE of course isn’t the first to abandon Erie, and with the death of industry in the area people have been forced into lower paying service sector jobs, characteristic of a Rust Belt town. But the most telling sign of Erie’s tough times came when we drove through the next morning. Run down buildings lined the city streets and we could even see straight down a major thoroughfare for several blocks – a fleet of green lights was eerily visible as there was no traffic to obstruct our view.
Our next major stop was Cleveland. Much to our surprise, the city is actually on the come up. Talking to one of the curator’s of the Lake View Cemetery, I discovered that the city has become a cultural hub with prospects for a bright future. The lifelong Ohio resident even told me of people who left twenty years ago, have come to visit, and been so impressed that they resolved to return. Of course, we were at Lake View to catch the notables buried there: Elliot Ness (the man who caught Al Capone!); John D. Rockefeller (captain of industry or robber baron? I’ll let you decide.); and James Garfield. While Rockefeller’s plot was marked by an undecorated obelisk, there was a gigantic and ornate monument to James Garfield, which Paul and I both agreed was a bit excessive for a president who didn’t actually do much presidenting.
Cleveland’s comeback was on full display downtown. Deluxe sports stadiums can be found a few blocks from Public Square, the city’s central plaza. The area is open with lots of greenery and flanked on one end by the historic Terminal Tower. Construction started on this elegant skyscraper in 1926, the same year Route 20 was officially commissioned, and upon completion in 1930 the Tower was the fourth tallest building in the world. Now home to a bustling mall and the Cleveland Ritz, the Tower proves that Cleveland has shaken off a good deal of its rust.
Lastly, today featured two stops of the religious variety. Lake View was home to a stately chapel that contained a pair of mosaics that demanded our attention. And during the afternoon we paused our drive in Euclid, Ohio to see the National Shrine and Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. The shrine had all the elements of a pilgrimage site, even maintaining a showcase full of “testimonials of blessings received”. Indeed, the place possessed a palpable aura of good will – which I felt up until the moment I took a tumble turning a corner in front of a sculpture depicting Jesus on the cross. Oh, the irony.