Onto Kalamazoo

Chicago is a little over 500 miles from Toronto, via Detroit. My original plan had been to break the journey with a stop-over in either Detroit or Ann Arbor – both cities in Lonely Planet’s Rockin’ the Midwest trip – Detroit is after all Rock City, at least according to Kiss.

Coming into Detroit, I must have taken a wrong turn. I got myself on to a minor one-way street with no signage as to where I was heading. Block after block the houses became more and more run down – many becoming derelict. I felt very conspicuous – everyone turning to look at me as I rode past or stopped at traffic lights. I’m sure 99.9% of those folks were upstanding, friendly people, but I was feeling less and less comfortable, especially when I had to stop at traffic lights. It was time to get the hell out of Dodge – or at least Detroit. I managed to loop around and approximately retrace my steps on a parallel street. As soon as I saw the entry ramp for the I-94, I took it.

Ann Arbor is a big university town about 50 miles west of Detroit – home to the University of Michigan. I pulled into town around 4pm. It was obvious something was happening here – State Street was closed off and the side streets were full of cars. It looked as if some enterprising individuals were selling parking spaces on their drives. I pulled up as close as I could get to the action. I ended up being in front of what was almost certainly a fraternity house – a group of young guys were sitting outside drinking beer and listening to pop-punk with a couple of Greek letters displayed above the door to the big old house. Further on down the street, a group of girls were sitting in bikinis on folding chairs in a paddling pool. A sign in front of the them declared “You Honk! We Drink!”

I made my way on to the closed off State Street. The street had been turned into a huge street fair – covered in stalls selling crafts and refreshments. The whole event looked pretty big and I doubted I’d get a room in town that night for a reasonable price. I think it would have been a fun night in town, but I was still feeling jet-lagged and a bed in a few hours was what I needed more than a wild night. Jeez, I must be getting old!

After soaking up the atmosphere a little longer, I made my way back to the Trooper wondering whether I would be able to make it all the way to Chicago that evening. Riding out of town I honked and the girls raised their glasses and drank!

Now I was in the States, one of my first objectives was to get myself online – if nothing else Google maps was going to be extremely useful. I thought I had this base covered before I left the UK. My good friend Saurabh had offered to exchange a Motorola Xoom tablet he no longer wanted for a Sonisphere ticket I had spare. It seemed an ideal way to keep me online whilst traveling as the small tablet size would save on precious luggage space.

Saurabh, like Max, has a heart of gold and is generous to a fault. In his own way, he is also a party animal – he can be found in Lulus late most nights. I feel real fortunate that my best friends are such generous, fun-loving people. I just wish Saurabh would pick a better venue.

Saurabh and I had been trying to arrange the exchange of the Xoom since we got back from Sonisphere, but everytime we’d managed to meet up beer was involved and thoughts of exchanging the tablet evaporated.

We finally managed to hand-over the day before my departure. I hadn’t had a chance to try the new toy before I set off for Glasgow airport. I tried putting a quick update on the blog from the airport hotel before I left the country, not knowing when I would next be able to get online. In writing those few paragraphs, I nearly throw the thing out the window. Cool it may be, but it’s still an overgrown bloody phone and trying to type on it’s imprecise touchscreen was driving me to distraction. Sorry Saurabh, the Xoom didn’t go out the window in Glasgow but it would have somewhere along the trip. It went back to Edinburgh with Doreen and I needed to find a notebook PC with a real keyboard to get online. Finding that was my next objective.

Riding along the I-94, I came across the town of Jackson and decided to drop in for a visit, hoping to find a shop selling computers. Downtown Jackson turned out to be a rather quiet affair. I may have been better trying to find an out-of-town mall – but downtown did have a pawnbroker which a sign outside proclaiming it bought and sold computers amongst other things. Worth a look I thought. I picked out the smallest specimen they had and managed to talk the price down from $300 to $270. Score.

All I needed now was a hotel with Wi-Fi. I left Jackson shortly before 6pm. It was still a long ride to Chicago. I doubted I’d make it all the way but I’d see how far I could get.

I made it as far as Kalamazoo – the name appealed and I’d ridden around 500 miles since getting off the plane, so it had been a fair day’s ride. After a day’s riding, I like few things more than a cold beer. I checked into the first hotel I could find and asked for directions to the nearest place serving food and beer. Old Burdicks is was – a sports bar next to an (ice) hockey stadium. They served a good selection of proper beer – I was happy. And my first meal in America? It had to be a burger! And damn it was good.

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