Road Trip #6 – Horror Hotel

I think anyone undertaking a road trip has to have a few horrible accommodation experiences just to generate good anecdotes and make one more appreciative for basic motels.

Back in 2001, when touring New York, New England and South-Eastern Canada, Mr Pict and I had a run of cruddy hotel experiences, things like cigarette burns in bedlinen and mouldy sealant around showers.  So when we turned up at our hotel in Nova Scotia and discovered the room reeked of smoke – and both being non-smokers – we decided to cancel our booking and find an alternative.  That proved to be pretty challenging, however, and we ended up at a motel we now refer to as the Werewolf Motel.  We gave it that moniker because of the deep grooves running down the door of our room that looked ever so much like gigantic claw marks.  More terrifying, however, was the fact that the manager was sitting in his office in his yellowed underpants and vest (singlet) with his stained and moth-bitten laundry hanging above his head.  We spent the entire night expecting to either hear a howl or be devoured by bed bugs.

On this road trip, our kids got to have their first – but probably not last – horrible hotel experience.  Our stop for the night was Toledo, chosen only because it was a convenient place to stop on that day’s journey.  Photos on the website had been taken from convenient angles to not reveal how utterly dilapidated the hotel was.  As we pulled up, our stomachs sank.  The surrounding street were rough as a badger’s butt and as we entered the hotel car park we could see mattresses and chairs piled up outside some of the rooms.  The place was really run down and falling to pieces.  Then we saw the yellow police tape across one patio door.  Gulp.

It was pretty late in the evening and finding accommodation for six of us was going to be problematic so we decided just to treat it as an adventure for the night and stick with it.  As we walked along the dank and dim corridor towards our suite, our youngest son asked, “Is this a haunted house?”  The corridor was eerily reminiscent of the Overlook Hotel.


Our room was actually OK.  It was dated and very battered around the edges, the decor was very tired, but it was spacious and the beds were comfy – which was pretty critical.  Nevertheless, my 9 year old refused to open any cupboard doors in the kitchenette in case he found a severed head.  What the hotel did have going for it, as far as the kids were concerned, was a large thermal heated swimming pool but I don’t think even that mitigated against the fear of disease or death.


Toledo was clearly a place struggling to recover from the collapse of traditional industries and deep recession.  Every street we drove through suggested depression and hopelessness.  It was apparent that the hotel we were staying at was not being used by tourists very much but was instead catering to people living there paycheck to paycheck.  It was all really sad and I actually felt guilty being in that context as a tourist on vacation.

We did not want to hang around the hotel so we decided to go out and see a movie.  My kids have never been to a proper drive-in cinema so we headed to the Sundance Kid Drive In at a place called Oregon.  Disappointingly there was no raked parking so we had to reorganise all of the seating so that everyone could get a decent though imperfect view of the screen.  The sound quality through the radio was fantastic though.  We saw the new version of ‘Ghostbusters’ which I found entertaining and, not being much of a fan of the original, actually enjoyed the new version more.

Despite an almost full moon, a rattling and rasping AC unit, and our imaginations running wild, we all managed to get a decent sleep.  We survived the Horror Hotel.


Road Trip #5 – Lake Erie & Marblehead Lighthouse

After spending a big chunk of the day in the dark vaults of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we all needed some fresh air and to burn off some energy.  We were driving from Cleveland to Toledo so decided to take a more coastal route.  Skirting the shore of Lake Erie, we decided to pull over and go for a paddle and swim.  The beach we chose was called Lakeview and was somewhere in Lorain County.

This was mine and the kids’ first experience of any of the Great Lakes.  I had obviously read about how huge they were and looked at them on maps but in the same way I could not truly appreciate the scale of the Grand Canyon until I saw it for myself I could not appreciate the vastness of the Great Lakes until I was standing on the shore looking at them.  Had I not known any better, I could have sworn I was standing on the edge of a sea.  In fact, I kept tripping up over my words and referring to the lake as the sea.  It even had waves.  Fresh water but with waves.


Mr Pict and I chose just to paddle but the boys changed into their beach clobber and dived straight into the water.  I do love that we have reached the stage in our parenting careers where all of our children can swim so that we can keep an eye on them, of course, but also relax when around water and not have to hover over them.  The area they were allowed to swim in was actually very shallow so even the 7 year old with his short legs could still touch the bottom on his tip toes towards the outer edge of the swim area.  The kids had a whale of a time playing in the water and on the sand but their excitement peaked when they found a dead fish floating in the water.  That was when I remembered the warning of the Lorax.  It had seemingly come to pass that Lake Erie was too polluted for the fish.  Maybe it was time to get the kids out of the water before they sprouted extra eyeballs.







We drove along the coastal road through some moribund places and some charming towns like Vermilion and then at Sandusky Mr Pict and I decided to take a detour onto the Marblehead peninsula to the north so that I could see a lake lighthouse.  Mr Pict and the kids do not find lighthouses interesting but I have a mild obsession with them (one that could become a major obsession if I didn’t keep it at bay) so Mr Pict was happy to both undertake the detour and distract the kids so that they were not aware that we had gone off the road to Toledo.

The Marblehead Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in continuous use on the American side of the Great Lakes.  There are a lot of clauses in that sentence but basically I felt it was important for me to visit the lighthouse.  In operation since 1822, the lighthouse has been operated by 15 lighthouse keepers, including two women, and transitioned from whale oil to kerosene to electricity.  It would have been very interesting to see inside.  Sadly, however, it was closed on the day of our visit so I could not go into the lighthouse, just circle around its exterior.  My two youngest sons accompanied me and enjoyed playing on the rocks and clambering over huge chunks of driftwood.  We also witnessed a couple marrying on the shore, my kids no doubt appearing in the background of their wedding photos, and found the skeleton of a bird.  Such is life.




Road Trip #4 – Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

When we shared our summer plans with people and they knew we would be travelling through Cleveland, almost everyone mentioned that we had to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because of our 9 year old.  Our 9 year old has been learning to play electric guitar for the last year but even more so he is really into listening to music.  His favourites include Elvis, AC/DC, the Beastie Boys, and his absolute and most favourite, Jimi Hendrix.  His taste in music is pretty mature for a 9 year old and very eclectic.  We, therefore, made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a priority largely for him.


This was actually going to be one of the most expensive things we shelled out for on the trip but as luck would have it we got in for free (excepting the $9 parking charge).  Whereas the RNC had scuppered our plans for Cleveland the previous day, here the disruption was to our benefit as the Hall of Fame was not charging an entry fee while it was simultaneously being used as a secondary stage for the RNC events.  Bargain!  I wondered if the free entry might mean the place was thronging with people but it seemed the prospect of rubbing shoulders with prominent Republicans had kept most people away.  It was actually fairly quiet and actually the disruption was minimal, with just a few areas roped off for the events – and my 7 year old tried to gatecrash a luncheon because he liked the look of their sandwiches.

We all really enjoyed the bottom floor of the Hall which I would imagine is the bulk of their collection, a permanent display of costumes, instruments, videos, recordings, and ephemera associated with a wide variety of musical stars.  My little guitar player loved seeing so many guitars, including some that were battered and bashed from so much use.  He also enjoyed seeing the different designs of guitars, from a Cheap Trick five headed guitar, like a hydra, to Steve Miller’s fire dragon painted guitar, to multiple guitars that had belonged to John Lennon.

There was a section with lots of screens for listening to music and learning about influences, how each musician or group took those influences and combined them and synthesised them into their own distinct style.  It reminded me of a documentary Mr Pict used to watch called something along the lines of Rock Family Trees, demonstrating the connections between each group and musical genre.  My youngest loved being able to use the touch screens and listen to music and my 9 year old was completely absorbed.  He is pretty nerdy about his music so he loved learning about all the connections and the cross-pollination.


Another big hit with the kids was the Elvis section.  Mr Pict and I have been to Elvis’ birthplace in Tupelo and to his Graceland home but this was the first time our little Elvis fans had seen an exhibition of Elvis items.  They loved seeing his glitzy costumes, especially his gold suit, and they were surprised by how slim he had been.  We also saw his motorised tricycle – far cooler than I made it sound because it was Elvis’ after all – and his double-headed guitar.  A huge wall of screens was playing a video of Elvis performing ‘Suspicious Minds’, my favourite Elvis performance.


I enjoyed seeing all of the costumes on display.  Highlights included Johnny Cash’s boots, Diana Ross’ willowy frock, Stevie Nicks’ floaty goth dress, Sid Vicious; and buckle strapped boots.  Mr Pict liked seeing Slash’s converse and top hat.  The kids had a chortle at James Brown’s sex machine jumpsuit and my 9 year old loved seeing Angus Young’s school uniform outfit. There was in fact a whole section devoted just to showcasing costumes, mostly flamboyant ones: shiny Beyonce outfits, a Steve Tyler outfit that looked like fancy pink pyjamas, Run DMC’s Adidas sneakers and glasses, glistening sequined dresses of The Supremes, a peacock embroidered Beach Boys suit, lots of bonkers Mick Jagger outfits, elaborate Bowie costumes, and iconic costumes worn by Michael Jackson.  Our 9 year old was especially chuffed to see one of Jackson’s sparkly gloves.  All the boys were excited to see the goggles and rubber gloves worn by the Beastie Boys for their ‘Intergalactic’ video as that is one of their favourites.




The collection of Beatles memorabilia was impressive.  There were musical instruments galore, including a set of Ringo’s drums, lots of outfits, but also things like John Lennon’s green card and a pair of his round framed spectacles.  The section my 9 year old loved the most, however, was that devoted to Jimi Hendrix.  He is obsessed with Hendrix so when he walked into that area and spotted Hendrix’s sofa it was as if he had just encountered some sort of mystical relic.  His eyes were wide and his mouth agape at each display case.  There were costumes and guitars galore.  He also loved seeing the handwritten lyrics for ‘Purple Haze’ and a collection of Hendrix’s childhood drawings.




Other highlights of the Hall included Kurt Cobain’s guitar, Elvis’ army uniform, Bob Dylan’s harmonica, Lady Gaga’s taxidermied meat dress, Village People costumes, Pink Floyd Wall props, a piano and recording booth from Sun Studio, and a prototype Les Paul electric guitar that looked like it was made from parts of railway track.


The basement level of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was definitely the best part and the area that most engaged and enthralled the kids.  They were flagging in terms of energy and interest by the time we were moving on to other areas of the Hall so we had to just flit through those.  Those areas were also the ones subject to the most disruption, with news crews setting up their recording equipment in front of some exhibits.  We could not be disgruntled or disappointed, however, since the basement level had been so incredible plus free entry meant it could not fail to be fantastic value for money.



Road Trip #3 – Cuyahoga National Park & Lake View Cemetery

Having started off the second day of our road trip in Evans City Cemetery, we began the afternoon by crossing the border from Pennsylvania into Ohio.  Ohio was not only the second state of our travels but was also my 26th state visited.  As I am sure I have shared before, I have a rule for claiming states in that I have to do two of three things in that state in order to be able to “bag” it: pee, eat, sleep.  I have been stuck on 25 states – the halfway mark – since 2002 since every state I have visited since then was one I had already claimed.  I had, however, never been to Ohio before so I was pleased to snag a new state and shift off the halfway mark on just the second day of our road trip.

First stop was Cuyahoga National Park, which is Ohio’s only National Park.  We stopped in at the Boston Store to get our National Parks passport stamped.  Now the park’s visitor centre, it was once a store (as in warehouse rather than shop) with boarding rooms for workers and dates from the 1830s.

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The park is essentially a large recreation area with a focus on the history of the Ohio and Erie Canal, which runs through the land.  We, therefore, popped over but not into the Canal Exploration Center which sits on the bank of the canal at a point where there is a lock.  My oldest son and I went to have a brief wander while the other three continued filming their zombie movie under the supervision of Mr Pict.  In addition to us having lived beside the Crinan Canal for over ten years, my in-laws owned a canal boat for a decade, so there was really nothing new or diverting to see at least with that particular stretch of canal.  To be honest I was much more engaged in watching the insect life in the adjacent meadows, including some glorious dragonflies.



We did not malinger very long in Cuyahoga National Park because we had plans for Cleveland.  Alas, so did the Republican Party since, of course, the Republican National Committee was being held in Cleveland that very week.  Our plans were, therefore, thwarted since the entire city centre was on lockdown for security reasons.  I, however, was able to quickly come up with an alternative plan – another cemetery.  We began the day with one cemetery so why not bookend with another?

The cemetery in question was Lake View Cemetery, an absolutely massive cemetery dating from the 1860s and containing over a hundred thousand graves.  With a site that vast, we had to give our visit some focus so we decided to concentrate on searching for some “celebrity internments”.   Mr Pict and I noted that this cemetery was much busier, seemingly much more popular, than any other cemetery we have visited in the past – and we have visited loads.  Then we observed that almost all of the other visitors were staring at their phone screens.  The penny dropped: people were playing Pokemon Go and were searching for animated characters throughout the cemetery grounds.  Funny.  It made it quite a different experience than our usual explorations in cemeteries.



Most prominent among these was President James Garfield.  I am pretty sure Garfield is not one of the first names anyone thinks of when asked to name a US president.  However, because he likes to be obscure, my 10 year old had elected to present a research paper on Garfield when studying presidents in second grade.  He, therefore, was pretty chuffed to be getting to visit Garfield.  Garfield is, in fact, probably most notable precisely because of his death, having been assassinated.  He died, after suffering for several weeks, just 200 days into his presidency.  He was also notable for being an authentic “log cabin president” having had a very humble start in life.  The monument is an imposing building not too far into the cemetery.  A rotunda just inside the door contains a statue of the president.  We then descended into the crypt where we viewed the coffins of the president and his wife, Lucretia.  We then ascended a spiral staircase to an exterior balcony that afforded us wonderful views over the cemetery and to the skyscrapers of Cleveland’s city centre.





A mere hop, skip and a jump away, we found the obelisk marking the grave of billionaire oil tycoon John D Rockefeller and, on the way to it, I passed the grave of a man who had been born in Inverness, a fellow Scot.  We also saw the graves of Eliot Ness – and someone had plonked a bottle of beer beside it – and graphic novelist Harvey Pekar which was studded with pens.  Having just finished reading Bill Bryson’s book about the summer of 1927, I was eager to find the graves of railrood tycoon brothers Oris and Mantis Van Sweringen and US Ambassador to France Myron Herrick (fantastic names all).  I was also very keen to locate the grave of Charles Chesnutt, one of my favourite American authors, but between the sweltering heat and the tired children, I had to abandon my quest.

A favourite grave, however, was that of an individual named Haserot (who a bit of googling tells me was a big deal in canned foods).  The grave is marked by an arresting sculpture of an angel with spread wings, hands resting on an upside down torch to symbolise a life that has been extinguished.  The sculpture is quite spectacular enough but what adds to its charm is that the bronze has discoloured so much over time that the angel appears to be weeping black tears.  It really is very striking.  It was also a great way to end our explorations of the cemetery.



Our rest for the night was in a motel in a town in Cleveland’s orbit.  Booking non-chain accommodation can always be a bit of a lottery.  As we pulled up and noticed that this was one of those motels where the room doors open up onto the road, the kids started muttering about being terrorised and murdered in their sleep despite having never seen Psycho or any other slasher movie.  We parents were more concerned about the fact it was right on top of a building site and the car park was strewn with loads of beat up vans and utility vehicles.  Our rooms – we needed two – were very basic, spartan even, but were clean and tidy and the beds were adequately comfy.  Asbolutely no frills but that reflected the budget price.  The kids, however, did enjoy the outdoor pool and the fact that the motel was next door to a 7-11.  Despite having lived in America for almost three years, this was the first time they had ever been to a 7-11.  They each picked a gigantic slurpee.  I guess that was another American cultural institution checked off the list.