Can three senior citizens and a dog survive a trip in a minivan from Ohio to California?
That was the question I was asking before I flew to Cleveland last month to begin a driving adventure from Brunswick, Ohio, to Escondido.
Accompanying me in a Chrysler minivan would be my brother Frank (age 77 and generally confined to a wheel chair) and my sister Joan (I try not to reveal the ages of women in my columns). Also joining us would be Guy, a small bichon frisé dog belonging to Joan and Frank.
In today’s and subsequent columns, I will tell that story and answer (perhaps) the question of survival.
The purpose of our expedition was the move of my brother and sister from the Midwest of cold winters to a place on the West Coast with year-round temperate climate. (“Year-round” rules out Los Banos with its hot summers.)
Escondido is not only more temperate than Los Banos, it’s also 45 minutes from two of my daughters who live in San Diego County.
Just prior to the departure of the minivan from Brunswick, a North American moving van arrived, with three professionals who put my siblings’ possessions in an 18-wheeler headed to California.
At the same time, a United moving van, coming from Bremerton, Wash., was transporting more of my sister Joan’s possessions, which had been in storage for three years, after she moved to Ohio to help my brother cope with a form of ALS (AKA Lou Gehrig’s Disease).
Added then, to the story of cross-country travel will be the adventure of unpacking and finding places for all that stuff in a 950-square-foot Escondido apartment without a garage.
After ten days of helping Frank and Joan pack, we left Brunswick around noon on July 30. Frank was in the front seat. Joan and Guy were in the two back seats.
In the rear of minivan were three suitcases and as much stuff as we could cram for the trip, including Frank’s wheelchair.
Our destination on Interstate 80 was Peru, in central Illinois, 435 miles away. Thanks to the Ohio and Indiana turnpikes, the first five hours of our trip was smooth. The westernmost Ohio turnpike plaza was a pleasant place to stop.
Frank, with some patience, moved from his van seat to his wheel chair without too much trouble. And thanks to handicapped parking and accessible sidewalks and doors, pushing him wasn’t hard.
We were sailing along, getting ready to leave Indiana and enter Illinois near the southernmost tip of Chicago, when a sign said, “Ramp to continue on I-80 closed for construction.” I drove past expecting another sign soon to tell us where the detour was.
The problem was there would be no sign. Soon another sign was saying, “Next exit: downtown Chicago.” That would not be good. Downtown Chicago was not only way out of the way, the road to it would be clogged with rush-hour traffic.
I took the last exit off the tollway before Chicago and headed into a station to get gas and ask directions. We were at the tip of northwest Indiana. I asked several people. They were friendly but couldn’t help me find my way back to I-80.
Finally, after about a half hour, I found one woman who said, “Go back the way you came. Even though the ramp off the northern direction of the tollway was closed, maybe the ramp off the southern direction would be open.”
I decided to follow her directions, proceeding on faith and hope. I traveled about ten miles, paid another toll, and then saw a highway sign – glorious, like one directing us to heavenly Jerusalem – saying, “I-80 West.”
This ramp wasn’t closed. I took it, and we were sailing again (OK, maybe with the late afternoon traffic, “drifting” would be more accurate) along I-80.
We made it to Peru just before dark, found our pet-friendly La Quinta Inn, made it to our rooms, ordered a take-out pizza from a local restaurant, found a convenience store with the beverage the three Spevak senior citizen siblings needed and collapsed for the night.
In subsequent columns I will continue the trip through Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and, ultimately, Escondido.