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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

Big Country Little Car Tour II, Day 1: Brooklyn NY to Akron OH

Submitted by on July 26, 2011 – 8:45 AM17 Comments

It took an hour just to get out of the state of New York. Not far into Pennsylvania, I ran into the drenching rain we'd waited on for days back home. Visibility dropped to 20 feet and I had to tailgate a semi just to see in front of me. That went on intermittently through the top of the Appalachians, white-knuckle downpour driving, alternating with hill views set off by eye-level clouds, and the occasional copse that disappeared into itself four trees deep. I had to force my eyes back to the road and not stare too long into the treeline, "lovely, dark and deep." What's back in there? Stills and bones; rusty ribs and missing girls.

As I dropped down towards Ohio, the sun returned — a different sun from the one I've hidden from in New York for the last week. I remembered the summer of '91 and the last stop on any one of my pool-testing routes, how harmless the sun felt on the drive home with the work done — sweet, even. A Coke tasted the best at that time of the day, the time when the sun came at you as a friend, from the side, no heat, just a nudge. I used to put my Sambas on top of the cooler and drive barefoot. "That's not legal," Smitty used to say, "and if we get pulled over I'm-a tell 'em I told you." "And I'm-a tell 'em," I used to say back, "that my actual dad has dark hair and doesn't hog the whole soft pretzel."

Into Akron, "the Rubber City," and its hotel ghetto. Louisville has a layout like that, all the hotels clumped together next to a restaurant park of Bennigan'ses and Burger Kings and whatever imitation Italian is going on. My Radisson is next to a property called Le Crystal Pointe, an assemblage of depressingly anonymous late-'80s commercial property architectural fillips that brings to mind the wedding photos used in true-crime books.

The Radisson itself has its best years in the rearview; I've now stumbled over the loose lino tile in the elevator three times. The bedside clock has no power cord. And if the Radisson doesn't want to have a restaurant, it doesn't have to have a restaurant, but…it has a restaurant, with tables and the allegation of room service and everything, so it needs to…have the restaurant. The microwaved samoha I had for dinner seemed well-intentioned, but maybe have one other non-lamb thing on the menu? And maybe prepare it fresh, and not in the microwave, which I could hear dinging and which sogged out the whole dish?

I fared better (literally) at the ballpark, with a Miller Lite and peanuts. The Aeros have a nice little outfit down there; I sat and watched helicopters taking off and landing from the roof of the hospital. The Thunder, in town from Trenton, played patiently around the Christmas in July promotion and various sumo-outfit bat races and whatnot. The college kids working the game discussed their hangovers the way you discuss family members. Santas gathered behind home plate.

Akron has an odd atmosphere; it feels empty. Not a lot of people around, the ones I see not going anyplace in particular. I've also noticed strange style mash-ups, violent collisions of NASCAR and hip-hop which left no survivors. Many many ill-advised cornrows.

Next stop: Milwaukee WI.

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  • Chris says:

    Roadtripping to minor-league ballgames. Oh, I long to do that again soon. I'm consulting child experts to determine the age at which Marlo can handle at least four nights straight of games without throwing a fit. I think I have about a three month window in the nest three years.

  • Matt says:

    Sars, I sent you an email about Thursday evening, and my cell is the same if you somehow still have that on your phone…

  • Stanley says:

    "Akron has an odd atmosphere; it feels empty. Not a lot of people around, the ones I see not going anyplace in particular."

    This completely reminds me that a couple weeks ago I did a little drive through the small Midwestern city where my parents grew up and where we spent every summer when I was a kid, and I had the same feeling. It was oppressive: a dusty, dying feeling, weed-cracked sidewalks, a kid meandering aimlessly under a beating summer sun. I was left feeling empty and depressed. I chalked it up in part to the heat, but in part to the dwindling nature of some of these midsized cities. Definitely the kind of place where the downtown is empty, but Big Box Land near the highway is thrumming. The main employer in town is the hospital. Like I said: oppressively depressing. Just felt like a town dying. So, awesome! Check it out! Mason City, Iowa! River City! Home of the guy who wrote the Music Man! The kids will love it!

    Rambling over: have a good trip!

  • Rachel says:

    Akron *is* empty. It has steadily lost population in the urban center every year for something like two decades. There are a couple of good places to eat around there, and I'm sad you missed them (Crave and that veggie place of Chrissie Hynde's), but when U of Akron isn't in session, downtown = ghost town. You'd have done better to head down I-76 for 15 minutes to stay in Kent. ;)

  • Liz says:

    I can't help but think you were in the wrong part of town.
    My sister lives there and loves it (well, as much as any Pittsburgh girl can love living THAT close to Cleveland, but…).
    Darn it, it's too late for breakfast, but there's this fabulous brunch cafe on the outskirts that has the best french toast.
    And a microbrewery one small town over that I can't remember the name of. sigh. Better food can be found, I swear.

  • JAnie says:



    I hope you enjoy it. Try the art museum.

  • amanda says:

    So you should definitely swing through Cincinnati…not saying you'll see fewer ill-advised cornrows, but I'll buy you a drink!

  • ferretrick says:

    I'll join you and Amanda.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Seattle waits with bated breath…

    I know, it's probably too far out of your way, but if you have the time, let us NW TNrs know! Just think of novelty cloud cover, showers, and chill you could be enjoying!

  • Rachel (another one) says:

    Wish I'd seen that you were planning to hit Akron- the city itself is pretty dead right now(as previously noted, school's out at the moment), but there were definitely better options for both accommodations and foodstuffs.
    Liz, if you'll share I would love the names of the brunch place and the microbrewery (or town, I can't quite tell from your comment which it is that you can't remember)- I'm always interested in french toast and beer. Possibly TOO interested…
    Anyway. Sars, if you find yourself back in Akron, we can clearly offer some more appealing places to check out.

  • Leah says:

    On your way into Milwaukee you should swing by one of the many cheese emporiums. Most would say the Mars Cheese Castle but I prefer Tim & Tom's Cheese shop in Kenosha. It's located in the Rustic Dairyland Antique Mall and is possibly my favoritest place ever that is 40 minutes away from Chicago.

    Mars may have size on it's side but Tim & Tom have a lot of old junk.

  • Driver B says:

    I was *just* there for work! (Sort of. I flew in and out of Akron, but drove to Louisville, OH to visit a summer program for 2nd graders). I was only there overnight really, but I wish I had known about the french toast mentioned above. :) Instead I saw that the Pro Football Hall of Fame was on my way back to the airport when I had time to kill, so I did enjoy perusing the artifacts and making my husband thoroughly jealous. Thanks Ohio!

  • Liz says:

    @anotherRachel: I can't remember either at the moment, and my sister is on a 30-hour ER shift. I've texted, and expect to hear back soon, but it might not be till Thursday, depending on what time she has to be back at work.

  • Liz says:

    @another Rachel: Okay, report is in. The french toast was at Hudson on the Green in Hudson. And what I thought was a microbrewery just had a billion beers, and is called Lockview. I drank something from Great Lakes, I think. I'm beginning to think my brain is fried or something…

  • darkBlue says:

    Akron is the first stop on my way from NJ to IA. With a cat. In 90 degree weather. Yeah, this is gonna be fun.

  • Kat from Jersey says:

    Minor league baseball rocks! We catch a Somerset Patriots game whenever we can. So much less expensive and crowded. Anyway, I hope you rooted for The Thunder!

  • Rachel (another one) says:

    @Liz – Eh, fried brains happen. Thanks for the report back!
    If it helps you access additional french-toast goodness, there's a new location of Hudson's Restaurant in Fairlawn(I used to work in a building that shared a wall with the original Hudson's, and was deeply sad when I changed jobs to a West Akron office- and then lo and behold, they opened a location in the plaza with Chipotle.)
    Also, their French Chicken Sandwich is a thing of joy and amazement.

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