I Miss Wisconsin
The Journey Begins
At Gen Con ’03, I rolled out of bed and drove 10 minutes to the Circle Center Parking lot and walked via the hamster tubes to the Indiana Convention Center. Now, I’ve been going to the ICC since it opened in I972. But something was definitely amiss. I mean I saw all my friends and I hung out with my Gen Con LLC buds. I even partied, as usual, like a maniac, but something was missing; something I could not place at first. When I thought about it, I realized it was the trip itself that I missed! That pilgrimage from Indianapolis to Milwaukee that I had planned for myself and companions since 1984 had become an integral part of the Gen Con experience for me. The sites, the smells, yes, even the toll stops. I’ve missed these things enough that I sometimes go up to Milwaukee just to hang out.
For me and my traveling companions, I always had the trip planned out to the minute. No detail was too small, including the cost of fuel, housing, and tolls. Not to mention which route, stops, food, and other diversions would we have along the way!
First, we would gather and leave at 0 dark thirty on the Wednesday of the show. Most times our party would include Space Dog Zot, Jeff the Enchanter, Rob, Jeff’s evil twin, and sometimes Neil (Jeff’s Son), the cabin boy. We would drive up I-65 from Indianapolis to the Merrillville exit at highway 51, and stop for gas. Why there? Well, that Amoco was the last regular gas station before we hit the Tri-State and Oasis gas prices. It was also a good time to hit the men’s room; I told you I planned every last detail!
After that it was on the road to the Tri-State. We would always take the Tri-state because it always seems less congested than driving thru Chicago. We would tune in to WBBM “Traffic and Weather on the 8”s” to hear the latest traffic. We then would merge on to 80/94 and enjoy the little death ride of the Frank Borman freeway. After passing the Lincoln Oasis, we would come to what we called the Charlton Heston Memorial Hole. Now, we called this huge quarry, near Harvey, Illinois, the Charlton Heston Memorial hole because it reminded us of all the movies in which Charlton Heston was in a quarry, like Ben Hur, and in The Agony and the Ecstasy. I mean it’s a huge hole; maybe some of you have seen it?
We would drive past thousands of little homes and toll stops on the way, but one of my favorite places to stop was at one of those rest stops called “The Oasis”. Now, I’ve only seen them around Chicagoland, but what they are is a building that stretches over the highway, with entrances on each side of the road. Each side has a gas station, with shops and fast food in the building over the highway. Very cool to be sitting eating your lunch as cars whiz beneath you! Unfortunately, since you are on a restricted highway, the fuel prices are pretty steep, but where else are you going to buy gas? But, they always have a good assortment of fast food places, and for us, it was a chance to pick up some warm cookies with barely any slowdown.
Just before the turn to go around O’Hare, there are a couple of interesting things. Of course you pass over Chicago’s shipping canals, and sometimes get to see some lake traffic, but my landmark is the Tower that Time Forgot. You see, there is this 15-20 story office building in middle of a run down office park on the east side of the Tri-state. I was told by a traveling companion that it had been at first a hotel, and that he had in fact and one time gone to a gaming convention in it. Over the years it went from that, to condos, to a retirement community. Just another landmark letting me know I was one step closer to Gen Con!
Next before the turn was the HUGE revolving Mars Bar. Sadly, it had suffered the torments of time and had stopped turning. I always loved driving around O’Hare. I love airplanes, airports, and flying, so seeing all those planes coming in was a treat for me. Once we got past the Edens, the traffic thinned out, and we passed a dozen or so Corporation headquarters and aging office parks.
Until we got close to the border, we mostly saw Chicago northern suburbs with huge concrete sound barriers and huge water tanks. Just before Six Flags and Gurnee Mills, we would pass Lamb’s Farms, which has the feel of an old fashion petting zoo and amusement park. Nothing hair raising, but just good old fun (and not a bad place to LARP either!).
From a distance, we could see the towering steel structures of Six Flags of Chicago. As was our tradition, we would make roller coaster noises as we passed, and someone would always make barfing noises as we finished passing the park. It was interesting to see what they had added since the last time we passed by, but some big old truck would usually get in the way and block our view.
As we passed Gurnee Mills and made that long sweeping S turn, I could feel the temperature turn. It was sort of like walking into a dairy case. You could literally smell cheese and beer as we crossed the border. As we would pass one of the many, er, “adult” outlets, we would recite the words on the Wisconsin welcome sign:
“Wisconsin Welcomes You, Business, Industry, and Recreation”.
And of course, we would shout the word “CHEESE”! Thus, the hicks from Indiana would enter the Dairy State. As we passed the “Fuel Tanker Inspection” area hoping to see the Exxon Valdez , we knew there would be Beer, Cheese, and games in store for us in the near future
Next Time: Southeastern Wisconsin Thrills, and the Miller Brewery Tour. Yes our journey concludes.