Cincinnati's morning traffic pattern is no different from any other large city. Dive in headfirst or stay out of the way, the choice is yours. Luckily, we have the luxury of exercising the latter. After lingering over coffee and giving the rush-hour loonies time to find their assigned parking stalls, we deem it safe to hit the road. Heading out of town, westbound Highway 52 and Interstate 74 share the same space, but thankfully that doesn't last for long.
Picking up Highway 52 just across the border in Indiana, we find ourselves surrounded by the quiet of the countryside. The scores of cars and trucks plaguing our field of vision just moments ago have vanished into the distance thanks to our lonely highway. The relaxing morning ride along Whitewater River is the perfect tonic to strip away the layer of big city stress. For miles and miles we see nothing but sprawling farms punctuated by an occasional small town. This is the textbook Midwest. The Gold Wing glides along as if on autopilot, effortlessly sucking up the soft hills and long curves without a challenge. Just as the tension needle begins to hover around empty, a fill 'er up appears on the horizon in the form of Indianapolis.
Seemingly without warning, I find the nose of the Honda nudging its way into a city I'm unfamiliar with. This situation is always nerve-wracking and the pell-mell nature of Indy's freeways coupled with hectic traffic sure doesn't help matters. The next thing I know, we're tooling west on Interstate 465, having predictably missed our interchange. We want to be in the city, not riding around it. I peel off at the first available exit and head for the center of town. Luckily, we've stumbled on Meridian Street that, despite feeling endless, does lead us through some of the city's historic areas. Stately brick buildings surrounded by large trees add to the comfortable feeling we're beginning to feel as traffic thins. Once downtown, the lighter than expected traffic makes navigating the big Wing surprisingly easy. The streets are almost empty as we circle around the impressive "Soldiers and Sailors Monument." A column nearly as tall as the Statue of Liberty, it commemorates Indiana soldiers who died in the wars before World War I. Surrounding the monument are four statuary groups "War," "Peace," "The Dying Soldier" and finally, "The Homefront."
Sitting on the steps at the bottom of the monument, we're watching preparations for the weekend's annual Indy 500 parade. Workers are erecting stands and decorating the streets while a few policemen are hanging around watching the scene. With only three days left before the big race, we can only imagine the frenzied nature of activities on tap for the coming weekend.
Speaking of races, we have to worry about our own - against the clock. It's already late afternoon and our goal of reaching Joliet, Illinois, near Chicago could be in jeopardy. That's nearly 180 miles away and dark clouds are beginning to move in.
We dive into the traffic on I-65 toward Chicago. Near Lebanon we ditch the interstate, again feeling that sense of relief at being away from the craziness of the big road. The roads here don't have much to offer in the way of scenery. There's nothing for miles but huge farms and straight roads only occasionally interrupted by a small town. I hate to say it, but from a motorcyclist's perspective, the ride through here is quite boring. Counting down the repetitive miles to Joliet, I can only think of the niceties of a clean hotel room and a good meal. Unfortunately, Joliet doesn't cooperate. The only thing the town has to offer is a huge casino-hotel complex. And the hotel is fully booked.
Being tired, hungry and cold at 9:00pm is not the best formula for more riding, but we have no choice, we must push on. Thankfully, a bright yellow beacon appears in the distance. It says "Super 8" and it has our names written all over it. Luckily, they have a room for us. As we're checking in my wife Sanja suddenly switches from speaking English to her mother tongue, Serbian. As it turns out, she and the girl at the reception desk are natives of Belgrade, the capital of Serbia.
Many interesting stories are learned on the road, and Milena Mijailovic's is no different. In 1999 she left Serbia with her family to escape the bombings by NATO warplanes. She was twelve when she arrived in the U.S. Like so many others, her family came to America hoping for a better life. She tells Sanja that the job at the motel is not meant to be for a lifetime, that she dreams of becoming a beautician and opening her own shop one day. We wish her the best and hope she follows her dreams, despite the homesickness she sometimes feels.