Awkward Conversations with Border Agents: A 3,260-mile Great Lakes Road Trip

August 1, 2016 — On Sunday morning, July 31, at 2 am, another grand journey ended at my New Hampshire driveway. All the usual feelings were there: sadness, relief, exhaustion, elation, an ache in my back and a hankering to write it all down mingled with the dread certainty I would never get to it all. On Friday, July 22, we pulled out of that same driveway to smooth our tires out among the Great Lakes. By the end of it all, we wet our fingers in all five Great Lakes, crossed the Canada-U.S. border four times, and logged 3,3260 miles in those nine days. For context, the road trip was almost–rubber on road—twice as long as the Southwest road trip and more than twice as long as the Northwest road trip. It was almost to-the-mile the same distance as the South road trip. And about 800 miles longer than the West Coast road trip.

Throughout the journey, I tried something slightly different on the socials. Instead of random images or My Day in Three Frames, I posted collages to sum up every day save one (the first day was just a mad dash straight from New Hampshire to Buffalo). But I didn’t explain anything about them. This post fixes that.

We had many more adventures than what’s represented here, of course, and if you want even more detail around the oddities of this trip, consider joining the OTIS Club. If you join this week, you’ll have access to issues 8 and 9, which are special road trip editions that detail the days more fully than a handful of collages with captions.

But let’s to get those. Each one is captioned clockwise from the upper right and are not at all in chronological order for that day.

1. We went to Hell, Michigan, and found it extremely Halloween-y. 2. We saw Edison’s last breath—one of the top tier oddities in the country—in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. 3. We marked off our first Great Lake of the trek: Erie. 4. Kennedy’s death limo is also in the Henry Ford Museum. 5. Wayne Gretzky’s name on everything from parkways to bottles of wine is what really convinced us we were in Canada for part of the day.

1. Ah, the sites of a city like Chicago. 2. Sue’s skull at Chicago’s Field Museum, which isn’t on her articulated skeleton in the main foyer because it’s too heavy. 3. Still at the Field Museum, the first live panda to ever come the U.S. got a weird public afterlife. 4. The approximate site of H.H. Holmes’ Murder Castle in Chicago now hosts a U.S. post office. 5. The wonders of Chicago are too widely spaced. 6. Still at the Field Museum, me with the taxidermied form of either my favorite, second-favorite, or third-favorite earth-creature (I’ve never been able to rank them consistently), a Komodo Dragon.

1. I haven’t seen Chuck Dickens’ grave, but I’ve now seen his brother’s in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery. 2. Cracker Barrel is already repping the Halloween. 3. Eternal Silence, the real reason we went to Graceland Cemetery. 4. In Ray Bradbury Park in the author’s hometown of Waukegan, Illinois, is the ravine from The Halloween Tree and Dandelion Wine. 5. There are traces of Ray Bradbury all over Waukegan. 6. We notch another Great Lake: Michigan.

1. In my favorite room of the House of the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin, is a massive whale-creature fighting a kraken. 2. Still in the House of the Rock, my family poses in the Infinity Room, while the woman behind us goes into the light. 3. Still in the House of the Rock, at the world’s largest and most bizarre carousel…that you cannot ride. 4. In Plainfield, Wisconsin, is the final resting place of serial killer/death fetishist Ed Gein, because bad guys still need dirt on their bones. 5. I bought hardware from the Plainfield store where Gein took the victim that convicted him.

1. The Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues at the base of Castle Rock in St. Ignace, Michigan, made me think this site was a Stephen King homage. 2. The bell from the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald hangs mute at the Shipwreck Museum in Whitefish Point, Michigan. 3. I’m always on the lookout for Mac Tonight, and found him on this sign in St. Ignace. 4. Our third lake is Superior. 5. Castle Rock itself.

1. & 2. Dr. Death and Mr. DeLorean are both in White Chapel Memorial Cemetery in Troy, Michigan. 3. The warehouse of Chillermania in Indian River, Michigan, which is adjacent to a bookstore devoted entirely to the work of a local author of spooky kid books. 4. Mackinac Bridge, which is impressive for architectural reasons that I don’t understand. 5. P.T. Barnum’s Cardiff Giant at Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Farmington Hill, Michigan. 6. Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Michigan.

1. Exterior detail of the de-frocked Cathedral of the Transfiguration in Markham, Ontario, that made it into the John Carpenter film, In the Mouth of Madness. 2. & 3. Stopping for Canadian-style snacks. 4. Crossing the Canada border again, headed to Toronto this time. 5. Corey Haim’s grave is visited by many Lost Boys fans. 6. The Black Church from In the Mouth of Madness itself. 7. The Lost Boy himself.

1. The Rising by sculptor Zhang Huan outside the Shangri-La Hotel in Toronto. 2. The R.C. Harris water treatment plan in Toronto, which was used as the asylum in In the Mouth of Madness, as well as in about a dozen other movies and TV shows. 3. The last lake we hit might’ve been my favorite beach of the five: Ontario. 4. Leaving Toronto to head home, we took a wrong exit and ended up heading toward Toronto. 5. In Port Hope, Ontario, where a dim rectangle in the grass is the only evidence of a temporary Paul Bunyan statue erected two weeks previously for the exterior shots of the new IT movie.