Sometimes just getting into a car and driving, solo or with comrades, destination unknown, is the best cure for summer boredom and hometown complacency.
Whether diligently planned or spur-of-the-moment, the proverbial road trip often provides stimuli for personal evolution and is consistently examined in numerous cultural subtexts, music and film for examples. The road trip is also a healthy and often necessary break in routine. It can be as stimulating or mundane of a break as the traveler wishes, as the success and outcome of a road trip hinges only on both the imagination of the driver and occupants and the ability of all to budget for gas, unexpected vehicle repairs, and snackies.
It’s About the Journey, not the Destination
Our starting point is Canton, Ohio. “Where are we going?” asks an occupant. “I’m not sure, but we’ll know it when we get there,” says the driver. This is the inside joke, the opening dialogue to all our road trips – as doors close, snack wrappers are broken, the ignition key turned, windows rolled down, and roads traveled. Truly, there are clichés for every occasion and being clichés by definition, they can be altered to fit an individual’s subjective and ever-changing mood; moreover, they can have multiple interpretations. Journey versus destination, for example – a road trip can be about both, either, or neither. The road trip in question I had taken just a few weeks ago was for several reasons: boredom, to cure a bad mood, to make a road trip fun and relevant again, hunger of varying degrees, writing inspiration, and simple curiosity. My traveling companions and I budgeted for a little over two tanks of gas, a credit card for emergency purposes, and snacks from home for sharing. Although breaks at rest stops and travel plazas were encouraged, we wanted to drive and see as much as we could see before returning home and to routine. We also let loved ones know when we were leaving and an approximate time frame for our return.
Route 30 – Mystical Conduit and The Beginning of Any Great Ohio Road Trip
With a little help and pre-arrangement from Google Maps, our road trip is ready to begin and our first step is to begin cruising east on Route 30. Route 30 was the simple and unanimous group choice to begin the trip, as there is seemingly something mysterious, edgy, vast, and investigation-worthy about this stretch of back road. We’re also a neo-Luddite group in that we refuse to use more modern technology such as a GPS. We simply want to be surprised when we get where we’re going and Route 30 is safe without being boring, yet dangerous without being too unpredictable or volatile. Furthermore, just in case any of those cultural examinations we’ve watched of the more horrific variety have even an iota of truth to them, all occupants still have adequate towing coverage and cell phone service on Route 30 in case of car trouble. Our first stop, after we have driven through Pittsburgh (additional consensus from all occupants indicates Pittsburgh to be one of the most dazzling cities to view at twilight) and both ogled and scribbled in journals noteworthy monuments along the way for future road trip consideration, is Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum. Again, general consensus dictates that elephants are important enough to warrant a stop and the giant elephant on Route 30 pointing away from the actual entrance to Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum is indeed a signal to halt. Couples are stopping for family photo opportunities with the elephant, so we wait until later to do the same.
Entrance to Museum in Rear – and Actually, the Museum Has Burned Down
Admittedly, it took me a few minutes to locate the entrance, which appeared to be in the front but is in reality located in the back. Turn down the road with the elephant in order to find the easiest way in to what remains of the museum. Park alongside the lot away from the trailer that displays candy and fudge fit for kingdoms. Although the original museum is no more, soot-covered remnants of the events remained for sale, and we picked up an adorable music box that sold for triple digits in a shop in Sedona, AZ. Of course, I purchased it not only to have two of the same adorable music box, but also as a tangible reminder of the road trip and to give what cash I could to the owners in hopes they could one day fully rebuild. And apparently they have – seven months from the date of the fire, July 5th, 2010, almost a year to the date of this article, the museum has opened its doors to the public and offers a truly amazing and versatile array of gifts, candies, fudge varieties, and nuts. It’s worth the drive for the museum, even though original intention was to see Gettysburg, PA – which we did a brief drive through, gawk around type of visit, approximately another 20 minutes from Orrtanna, but the museum was the real highlight of this leg of the road trip.
As a side note, an independent film entitled Route 30 has been released about the highway, and presumably the fictional lives it has touched, and features Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum in its original, pre-immolation glory. Moundsville, West Virginia’s Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold We head west on our journey, presumably toward home, but certainly not quite ready to go home. The trip to Orrtanna was both rewarding and strangely exhausting, so we cruised slowly, almost aimlessly. During crooning musical montages and intimate, revelatory conversation, that will be remembered fondly as melodious and poignant, small signs inform us we will soon be upon Moundsville, West Virginia’s Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold. It sounds intriguing, to say the least, so we agree to drive in and down, endlessly spiraling and twisting to the Palace of Gold. Even after visiting the Palace and paying for a $8.00/per person for a tour, I still have very little idea what it was I saw. Beautiful, scenic grounds surrounded by the majestic beauty of the Appalachian Mountains, yet with almost carnival-like creations of deities, gods, and icons of worship dotting the landscape. Lodging appeared available, alongside an award-winning rose garden, as well as a temple. The internet provided the answers I needed: the Palace of Gold is a New Vrindaban Community, founded in 1968 by Srila Prabhupada’s tribute to Krishna Consciousness and his vision of an ideal society.
Whether or not that was actually achieved, we were not there long enough to assess, but the grounds and Palace were peaceful and still, almost sentinel-like and awaiting more visitors. This second leg of the trip is also highly recommended, although I suggest reviewing the website before the adventure to gain more insight into what you’ll see on your visit. Switching Drivers Leads the Road Trip to the New Baltimore Cemetery It may sound rather morbid, but the cemetery was another gorgeous stop on the road trip adventure. Unplanned and mesmerizing in its simplicity, the cemetery appeared to be not completely forgotten but still rather off-the-radar and not a frequent tourist attraction. A quick walk around the cemetery, founded in 1847 according to the sign, took all of 15 minutes. Quiet and fraught with an indescribable tension, we left some of the more melancholy and overturned headstones behind.
We dared not even investigate the half-hidden storage shed in the back of the cemetery, nor did we idle too long or too close to the inexplicable deep tunnels near trees and headstones, perhaps made by animal inhabitants. Or, so we hoped. Side note: Further internet investigation shows the New Baltimore Cemetery to be popular on a geocaching website. Hunger Leads Us Closer to Home – and to Akron, Ohio Favorite Luigi’s Restaurant Our hunger for new experiences and new horizons sated for the time being, our literal hunger for real food, other than our plethora of snacks, crept upon us quickly and luckily for us, waited 20 minutes from Canton home base at Luigi’s Restaurant in Akron, Ohio. Located away from heavy Main St. traffic, and near rocker Chrissie Hynde’s restaurant Vegiterranean, Luigi’s is hands down, one of the best Italian restaurants in the NE Ohio area, favored by locals, tourists, law enforcement, the arts and epicurean community, and myself for over 20 years. In my youth, Luigi’s had great food as it does now, of course, but then (as I do now, truthfully) I visit the restaurant to see the puppet band. Snag a table near the entrance (or if packed, as Luigi’s frequently is, grab a table anywhere you can) and gather quarters for the jukebox.
The puppet band (really the “Chicago Band Box”) has performed for over 50 years – and now above the restaurant entrance performs in conjunction with the jukebox. I find this absolutely riveting entertainment and have dragged countless comrades to Luigi’s over the years for the atmosphere, cuisine, and musical puppets. Home is Where the Heart is, but Wandering is Still Good for the Soul Any tried and true testament of faithful wisdom will work at the end of a successful road trip. And what defines a successful road trip? Perhaps uncomplicated fun, the illusory freedom of the open road alongside trusted chums, meaningful rapport, and the simple weekend city break from hometown choreography. For others, the successful road trip was defined by the experience itself, remaining fiscally responsible and open-minded, as well as cheerful about returning home and optimistically wistful about the next road trip.
Luigi’s Restaurant is located at 105 N. Main St. Akron, OH 44308, (330) 253-2999 New Baltimore Cemetery is located off Route 44, on Pontius St NE, near the Dale Walborn Reservoir Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold is approximately 30 minutes from Wheeling, West VA at: RD 1 NBU# 24, Moundsville, WV 6041, (304) 843-1812, Lodging: (304) 843-1600 x111 Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum is located at: 6019 Chambersburg Rd., Orrtanna, PA 17353 (717) 352-3792 Also recommended: Hanoverton Curio Shop: 30067 Canal Street, Hanoverton, OH 44423 (330) 223-3009 Rpute 30 leads to: Idlewild Park and Storybook Forest – 2582 U.S. 30, Ligonier, PA 15658 (724) 238-3666 This article is dedicated in memory to Benjamin A. Stokes: 1982-2006