Beneath the earth, the burgundy Ford Escort Wagon is reflected in the ceiling tiles of the lighted tunnel, when suddenly the enclosed tube is replaced with the magnificent cityscape of downtown Pittsburgh just after midnight.
Yep. That was what I was doing exactly one week ago (since this post usually goes up at 12:01 a.m.)
The journey to that moment is a story unto itself, which began nearly 24-hours prior…when my two oldest children (girl age 13 and boy age 12) returned (around 1:30 a.m.) from visiting Kings Dominion (for Kingsfest) with our church youth group. I wasn’t up when they arrived, but my wife was there to hear about all the excitement and how my son had finally conquered his fear of roller coasters by mastering the Intimidator’s 305 foot drop! I was off that Friday, because my wife and I were actually going to take a weekend getaway (just us) to Pittsburgh to see ApologetiX record their new album, Soundproof. We were to leave around 11:00 a.m. at the latest.
A few hours later, we hear my son retching in his bathroom. My wife nudges me to check on him. He’s already walking back to his room by the time I get there. “Motion sickness” he says.
Throughout the night he continues to have some episodes, but then around 6:30 a.m. the wailing begins. It’s my daughter. Now she feels like she’s going to throw-up. Unlike my son who can get it out of his system almost immediately, my daughter holds it in for a long while, prolonging her agony. “Food poisoning” – possibly from a Chick-fil-a milkshake while at the park is our conclusion. Of course, just thinking about someone being sick to their stomach generates sympathetic rumblings in your own tummy. “I don’t feel so good,” says my wife.
At this point I’m starting to really get discouraged about our weekend for two. I take the younger four out to gas up the van and get camera batteries just in case we can still go. When I return my wife, who is now resting in bed hoping to feel better, tells me that her Mom is still willing to come up and watch the kids so we can leave. I go out again to gas up the Escort (at a BP where it was a few cents cheaper) and I even do something totally out of character for me…I check the tire pressure: Passenger-front; 32 psi – a little low. Passenger-rear; 25 psi – way low. Driver-front; 22 psi – super low. Driver-rear; 34 psi – perfect. No wonder riding in my car makes everyone sick. I top everything off to an even 34 psi and head home where my wife informs me that she’s just thrown up five times. “Stomach Flu”.
She’s already called her mother and told her not to come, but she still wants me to go. We had already bought our concert tickets and booked a non-refundable hotel stay in Monroeville. I decide to take my eight-year old daughter, because the 10-year old can better help out with the little ones while I’m gone. First, I needed to feed the kids who can still stomach food lunch before I could leave. Meanwhile, the 10-year old is starting to get a little listless. I ask the eight-year old repeatedly if she feels sick in any way and she assures me she’s fine and ready to go. We leave at 12:25 p.m.
About 15-minutes later and approximately 15-miles down Interstate 70 the eight-year old pukes in my car in the backseat. “I’m fine with staying home now, “ she says weakly. After returning home and cleaning the car (lots and lots of peanuts from lunch), I ask my wife if she’s sure she still wants me to go. I’m about ready to give up on the weekend plans anyway. Wonderful woman that she is, she encourages me to take the trip.
So, I’m back on the road around 1:16 p.m. With a four-hour trip that should put me in Wexford, PA around 5:30 p.m, which will give me plenty of time to grab some dinner before the show. When I hit Frederick I see that I-70 is a parking lot ahead of me. Fearing that I could be stuck for hours, I exit onto US 340 and turn around to head up US 15 north toward the Turnpike. Now, I could have taken US 40 out to I-70 further down the road, but for some reason I didn’t want to do that. After all from my recollection the turnpike runs fairly horizontal along the bottom of Pennsylvania, right?
I’m a half-hour north of Gettysburg when I start to get concerned about the signs to Harrisburg. That can’t be right. I pull over and glance at the atlas, discovering that I’m on a course that will take me way out of the way. I head up a smaller road to Carlisle. It’s a beautiful town founded in 1751, but I’m too worried about my timetable to enjoy it much. I finally make it to the Turnpike. When I start seeing signs to Breezewood, I remember that it’s about 2 hours to Pittsburgh from there. Now, that should put me at the concert around 6:45 p.m.!
For the most part the driving was easy, even though I couldn’t stop for food or bathroom breaks. I hit some big thunderstorms just outside of Pittsburgh and my wipers were still on by the time I hit the church parking lot at 7:00 p.m, leaving me only 30 minutes before the scheduled start time. It wasn’t too crowded and I even got a front-row seat.
The concert itself was awesome. They were recording 18 songs (14 new and four older ones with revised lyrics, including parodies of Pink Floyd, Billy Joel, Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead, Neil Young, KISS, etc.). It was acoustic, sounded great, and when they had to go back and replay a part there were plenty of jokes. After the show I delivered some Fantastic Four comics for my friend’s daughter, picked up a tie-dye T-shirt, and chatted until the church kicked out the non-essentials (those not tearing down the equipment) around 11:30 p.m.
I wanted to see downtown, so I got directions and headed south (eating two biscuits I’d packed for the trip), making my way in and out of the Fort Pitt tunnel to see the city lights. Even if my camera had a wider-angle lens (and my hands were free), it still would have been inadequate for capturing the whole view. It reminded me of my old nighttime travels around Atlanta during college spring breaks. Finally, I ended up in my hotel around 12:30 a.m., turning in after catching up on my daily Bible reading.
I was back on the road (sans breakfast) by 7:30 a.m. and made good time to Breezewood and then decided to go home via Gettysburg and route 30. It added an extra hour to the trip, was much more mountainous than I had anticipated, but the scenery was certainly beautiful. (Incidentally, I saw a really strange sign labeled “Artistry in Motion”. I was trying to figure out what it meant when I saw the chrome female silhouette on the side of the all white no-windows structure.)
I arrived home just after lunchtime and my plate was still warm in the refrigerator. Everyone was on the mend (all had succumbed to the stomach flu except for the 21 month old), but it wouldn’t be until the late afternoon when the kids really felt well enough to start arguing with one another again. I was all excited, talking about the songs and the trip, when my wife finally reminded me that she’d just been through a really rough 24-hours, was disappointed that she’d missed the show too, and really didn’t want to hear anything more about it right then.
Now that she’s feeling better, she can at least enjoy the recording I made of the show to tied me over until the CD comes out. So much for our weekend away though.