Indiana to R.I. Roadtrip (via Buffalo)

Two for the prices of one this time out, folks.

We start with the road trip. The M.O. was to fly to Indiana to help the oldest move from her current residence to a different one where she’ll live when school starts in August and then drive back in her car to Rhode Island. The previous two return trips by car, about 975 Mapquest miles from Point A (W. Lafayette) to Point B (and across all of Pennsylvania via the hated I-80), were pretty much Rhode Island or bust affairs with no sightseeing to be had. This time out, I wanted a little “color” in my trip. Fly at the crack of dawn on a Saturday to Indianapolis. Old friends we hadn’t seen stopped by the evening before and the price was paid on the flight to Indy. Anyway, time heals, as they say. Land in Indy, get picked off and it’s off to W.L. with the plan breakfast and/or lunch at the legendary hometown dine , Triple XXX. First off, there’s nothing dirty about the joint. It’s road food eats in it’s most basic form. It’s the place that many a Purdue pigskin great filled the belly (and most all the greats have a sandwich or something to their names to prove it. 100% sirloin chopped beef is the forte’. The first thing that caught my eye was a dude next to us with a plate of eggs, biscuits, home fries, the aforementioned 100% chopped sirloin, and an irresistible white mass/gravy over it all. The Drew Brees (as in Purdue QB great and NFL star) Special!! Even though cholesterol is in the 200 – 230 range, the smoke ’em while ya got ’em mindset prevailed. Greasy and good, it lived up to the billing, at least while I was devouring it. It got burnt off soon after moving the kid’s belongings from one abode to another. A cool thing about traveling the country, especially if you’re a craft suds lover like me, is checking out the regional delicacies. W.L. packies offered up plenty, but my leanings are towards the offerings of Bell’s of Oberlin, Michigan. On this trip, the porter and newly released summer brew were just fine. By the way, West Lafayette has an excellent record store called Vonns. As good as any place around, if you ask me, plus they sell books, comics, beads, and have a cool selection of DVDs for rent. Pickups on this trip – a Lee Hazelwood reissue, Memphis pop/punker Jay Reatard’s debut single for Matador, and something that eludes me. Another okay joint is J&L Records for used stuff. Somebody must’ve unloaded a C&W LP collection from someone who died as I grabbed three old Starday LPs in pristine condition. (While Starday released some fine hillbilly stuff, it’s the killer album jackets that cinch it!). Indiana, from what I hear, is not known for food and coming from New York, I avoid pizza. During the day, a place in an indistinguishable strip mall called Monical’s pizza caught my eye. Having not had a slice in weeks and with some strange curiosity creeping in, we gave it a shot. Turns out it is an Illinois pizza staple founded in 1959 and now has locations throughout Ill & Indiana. We went for the thin crust and to be honest (and I’m pretty unforgiving about mediocre pizza), it was pretty good. At this point, it’s thumbs up.

Back to R.I. on Sunday morning. Heading the Mapquest route, it’s 960 or so miles of bordedom with the lowlight the trek on I-80 across the entirety of PA only to be rewarded when you get out with having to deal with NYC flow soon after. This time around, it was time for something different, namely the “Northern” route hooking up with I-90 in Northern Ohio and taking it all the way up far Western New York to Buffalo and then East across the state to Albany & Mass Pike until vectoring off at Springfield down to Hartford and on Route 2 to 395 to 138 to home. Be forewarned, this route was tolls galore, but we had an EZPass and never had a clue what the tolls were (and still awaiting the bill). Nonetheless, this route proved more relaxing with much less truck traffic and definitely more scenic and most importantly, fun. The day was a beauty, cool, sunny & clear. Dug the breeze through Cleveland. Looks like an old school city where I’d like to plant it for a weekend and check out the music & chow. I-90 up through Western PA and NY was a revelation. To the left most of the way was the mighty Lake Erie which could double as the ocean while to the right was vineyard after vineyard. Caught an NPR station out of Erie, PA on which a guy was touting all the great things happening in Erie. Always heard it was depressed, but he made it sounds like there’s promise on the horizon thanks to some artsy shakers & movers. Might be worth a visit. Anyway, the real driver for the “via Buffalo” trip was a roast beef joint I had caught on some Food Channel show in recent years. Schwabls was the name of the place and West Seneca the location. Just off I-90 before Buffalo, we found it with little trouble. It lived up to the roast beef billing. Cool, vintage neon signage adorns the front. We headed in and the 1st thing you encounter is the bar and to its far left the carving station where a dude in all white butcher duds is making art. Matter of fact, all of the service staff are in old school white uniforms with the waitresses almost passing for nurses after a few Gennys. Speaking of Genny’s, we are in N.Y. state and Genny is the State beer, or at least it once was the king. We order up a couple of roast beef sandwich dinners each served on Kummelbeck rolls. They live up to the billing. This place is so old school, sort of like the old Giro’s in Peace Dale (Oh yeah, it closed.).

Fully full and lots of daylight left, I had had Niagara Falls on my mind since whenever. Never been there, but it’s one of those places I figured I needed to see, especially being a N.Y. native. We cruised through Buffalo and I didn’t realize that NF is still a bit of a drive Northeast of Buffalo. With the gas gauge dangerously close to “E”, we persevered and got to the park. Holy smokes was it spectacular. Water, water, water, water. I’m thinking it was a good time of year, too, what with the Spring meltdown in progress and all and all the waterways chock full of the H2O. Leah & I were impressed, to say the least. Interestingly, it was quite the international crowd with we Caucasians most definitely in the minority. No matter, we snapped lots of pictures for folks visiting. If you remember, we were on “E” on the gas front, so we headed to downtown Niagara Falls, NY in search of petro. Simply put, it wasn’t easy to find it. I’ve hard horror stories about depressed cities like Flint, MI and all, but here’s thinking NF, NY is right there. Let’s just say that life in NF does not seem like a good one. After mucho driving around, we found a joint selling the gas. Not a pretty place, but little did we care. $10 worth and out of there. Lights out was 25 miles west of Buffalo in Batavia.

Day 3 was fairly uneventful, however, we did make a lunch stop at Heid’s in Liverpool, NY for some of there legendary wieners. I’m a big Fool’s Paradise ( fan and just a few weeks before my trip, Rex had talked about hot dogs at Heid’s. Those kinds of things always seem to stick in my craw. Anyway, the dogs are white ones and plenty tasty. The counter dudes are not all too friendly. Regular’s joint, obviously. Still, if you’re heading to Syracuse or somewhere in West N.Y., jump off at the Liverpool exit and relish.

What with bellies full of the good stuff, we cruised our way home!