It’s All Relative

Recently, I made a trip back to the mid-west to spend some time with the relatives and enjoy a special occasion. But this post isn’t about my family – this is a travel blog, not Facebook. It was the journey…

I admit it. I knew up front the first stage of the trip was going to be grueling. Anytime you schedule yourself into a red-eye flight it’s going to make for a long day and night. But it’s the little things that change a trip from ho-hum to oy vey.

Like who was the wise guy that scheduled a 12:30 AM flight to Chicago after a four-hour evening seminar? Yep, yours truly. I attended a class on how to do CPR and use an AED, combined with administering emergency Oxygen for SCUBA diving injuries just before the flight. Then it was get home and catch a shuttle to the airport.

Except the shuttle didn’t show.

Our driver, given the options of dragging us to the airport or having a nice little snooze chose the later, an inconvenient fact discovered by my impatient wife who gave him a call when he didn’t brighten our street with his headlights at the appointed time.

Setting panic aside, plan B; drive to the airport and use long-term parking. What’s a few extra bucks among friends? The ploy was successful, we made our flight.

I understand there is a new requirement for flight attendant qualifications. They now need to wield an upsized shoehorn to squeeze passengers into what passes for economy seats.

They, however, are saints compared to the sadists who designed those seats. Their idea of comfort is a seat that forces you to sit bolt upright, with no lumbar support for the lower back. This, combined with the claustrophobic space you’ve had your legs welded into provides a frightening level of discomfort in which to attempt a red-eye snooze.

Interesting how this coincides with a vigorous upsell for better seats.  All strictly legal, of course. (They really are better seats. I got bumped into one on the return; I could have been a basketball player and still had leg room. And unlike economy, you could recline those seats back without mashing the face of passenger behind you into something only a bulldog could love.)

Despite the less than blissful bed I was hoping for at least some shut eye, as the 4-hour flight would be followed by a 5-hour drive to western Wisconsin. But mother nature was in on the prank.

Much of flight was a cross between driving down a washboard dirt road and a continuous 4-hour earthquake, 7.8 on the Richter scale. Try sleeping through that. Maybe it was good they welded me to the seat, bouncing into the aisle would have been undignified.

In due time we landed in Chicago, and with bleary eyes made our way to the car rental agency. We had some luck there, we scored a nice little Mazda 3; sporty, nice color, great mileage. Of course, when it came time to show my license when exiting the lot it came up missing.  In my mental fog I’d stuffed it into a hidden cranny in my wallet – it took a dump and search to find it.

Ah Chicago, land of toll roads. Don’t miss a turn, or you’ll empty the piggy bank in a hurry getting back on track. I didn’t know it was possible to pay four tolls in 10 minutes. (Either that or Google Maps was in on the prank too.) Between that and the congestion, it’s a place I’ll avoid in the future if possible.

Once out of the Chicago area the 5-hour drive to Wisconson was bucolic. People think Oregon is green, Wisconsin was an ocean of it. Thick deciduous forests, reminiscent of the black forest in southern Germany, but with hills rather than mountains. Corn and soybean fields added a manicured look to the landscape. It was quite picturesque when the light was right.

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Think Green

Driving tip for those with little sleep: it may not be a good idea to have a solid breakfast. Once digestion sets in it accentuates the groggy. It does help to have a spouse along to keep you alert.

At long last we arrived at our hotel parking lot in the Wisconsin boondocks. Not 30 seconds later my sister and her husband arrived too, completing their own cross-country driving trek from Colorado. What are the odds? Maybe I should have paid more attention to those high school math problems.

And so part one of family visits began, climaxed by a nephew’s wedding.

As grueling as the trip was, it helps to keep it in perspective. Consider the same trip 100 years earlier, or even 150 years earlier. Compared to that, this trip was the height of convenience and luxury.

It’s all relative.

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24 thoughts on “It’s All Relative

    1. I just read your post on that trip – nice piece. Another interesting parallel: after the goings on in western Wisconsin we drove to Michigan to see my wife’s sister, and got to “enjoy” Chicago’s traffic and tolls again on the way, along with those lovely Michigan roads.

      I don’t think I’ve ever driven more than about 12 hours straight. 18 hours is pretty hard core.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. 100 years ago I expect you’d have gone by train – and had a decent night’s sleep, even if the trip did take longer! Seriously, how can anyone sleep in aircraft economy seats? I’ve never managed it. I simply get to my destination in an even worse snarling-growling-desperate for coffee condition than usual.

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  2. I’m kind of jealous that you were on my Chicago-area roads; sometimes I’m so homesick I even miss the traffic and the tolls! (The former, by the way, is nothing compared with the horrors of DC traffic, in my opinion, and with my I-PASS I zip right through those tolls.) The flight sounds awful, but I love those drives in the countryside. I hope the family stuff was fun!

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    1. It was my first time in Chicago, and I’ve never been to DC. I guess there’s a reason I’ve avoided the bigger cities. But home is home. Do you have family in Chicago? My family visit was good, we’re one of those lucky families that get along well, even if we don’t see each other very often. I could bore you with a bunch of family pictures if you like… 😋

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      1. I am not from Chicago and have no family there, but we lived there for 25 years and raised our kids there, so it really is “home.” We lived outside the city in a peaceful little village that was still only an 18-minute train ride into the loop in Chicago – the best of both worlds. I’m glad your visit was good – our family gets along well, too, and is scattered all over the country, so we travel a fair amount just to see each other! Although I’d be happy to view your happy family, I am content with your farm scenes! 🙂

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  3. You’re right, it is all relative! Which is something I need to remember when flying in those horrible economy seats. The only thing that makes them worse is sitting directly in front of a screaming, kicking toddler, and directly behind someone who reclines the whole trip. Been there, done that!
    A very funny post on the joys of modern travel, and a timely reminder that it was once even worse.
    Thanks!

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    1. I was spared the joys of a screaming toddler this trip, but yes, been there, done that. But those seats are borderline extortion, especially as upsell versions actually have more leg room than most people really need.

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  4. Last year I drove through Chicago on the way to visit family and I vowed from that time forward NEVER to pass through that city behind a steering wheel, again. It felt like several lifetimes to get from one side of town to the other. And you’re so right about the tolls, lol! I have no issues with them per se except there are so many that all of the stopping-and-starting gets comical after a while (to this motorist). Finally, I found myself wanting to put the car in park and strike up a conversation with the toll-takers about how their lives were going.

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    1. For future reference I think a strategy might be using the non-cash lanes, make a note of the toll station number as you go zipping by, and pay them off on-line later. I think they give you a week, but you have to know the station numbers – just entering your license plate to pay a toll isn’t supported.

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  5. About 20 years ago, we lived in Chicago and drove up into Wisconsin for a vacation. You are right– so green and beautiful! I know the trip was grueling, but I hope the destination and the time with family made it all worthwhile. And, yes, I’m sure our ancestors would scoff at our idea of a “grueling” trip. I grumbled while making a transatlantic flight last month, but then thought of my German ancestor who made a transatlantic journey a couple of hundred years ago, only to end up shipwrecked . . . I’ll spare you the long drawn out details, but suddenly my tiny seat and pack of stale pretzels didn’t seem like such a bad fate!

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    1. Wow, shipwrecked? And my pretzels weren’t even stale!

      It was a good family visit. I hadn’t seen most of them for 4 years, and for some others it had been 11 years. Then we drove 500 miles to Michigan and saw some of my wife’s family too!

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  6. Ah, the mighty tolls of Chicago-land. Last time we headed that way, our exit (before the tollway) was closed. No warning, no sign, just closed. So was the next one on the tollway. And the next one. And the next. After paying a few tolls, I asked one of the toll-takers when the next available exit to get OFF the tollway would be.

    Twenty miles.

    I wasn’t happy at the time, but what can you do except laugh, try to enjoy the time with the wife, and not fret about it. It can’t always go right!

    I hope you enjoyed your visit to the midwest!

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  7. Pingback: Lansing – Plying Through Life

    1. Even on a flight that isn’t testing the suspension of my spine I’m doing well if I can sleep 25% of the time. I look at other passengers and wonder if they’re faking it too.

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