Doesn't Ashtabula sound like a Springsteen album, or, like, a good and gritty piece of crime fiction? I came across a few towns like that in my January drive: Escanaba, Michigan, was one. International Falls. Ashtabula. Belfast, New York. Seneca Falls. Brownville Junction. Dolby Pond.
I drove through these places and I swore I'd write stories about them, someday.
I'd wanted to see Ashtabula, Ohio, since I'd seen a picture of Conrail trains shunting coal cars back and forth on the waterfront in a book my parents bought me as a kid.
(This is often how I've decided which places to visit in my life.)
Anyway with Ashtabula and nearby Conneaut, Ohio, square in our sights for the day, we set out from my friend Lynn's house into a sunny, warm morning, with Lucy looking longingly back at the yard she'd barely known and the squirrels she'd barely chased.
I'd decided to avoid the Interstate through Ohio as best as I could, opting to trace the railroad tracks and the Lake Erie shoreline instead, and though the weather and the trains cooperated, heavy construction did not, and we often found ourselves waiting around as the road was reduced to a single lane more than a few times.
By the time we got to Cleveland, the weather had turned, and so had my mood. It was raining, time was wasting, and we still hadn't seen Ashtabula, so we bombed it up the highway until we reached the town, where there was absolutely nothing of note actually happening on the docks.
I imagine January isn't a good time to visit; the St. Lawrence Seaway shuts down for the winter and the boats don't call in the harbour, so the trains likely don't run as much, either. I was happy to see the town, anyway. It was desolate under the grey sky, rusty and stark.
Conneaut was a similar story, except by this point it was raining in earnest, and I was hungry and eying the odometer, figuring we still had plenty of ground to cover. Some days you just don't feel like shooting much, and today was one of those days.
What I did feel like doing, shamefully, was eating Arby's. I don't know why, but as soon as we'd crossed into the States I had it in my mind I was going to eat a couple roast beef sandwiches and some curly fries, and somewhere outside of Erie, Pennsylvania, I did just that.
It was good, I guess?
My eating game was pathetic on this trip.
Anyway it was dark and rainy when I piled back in the car, and I cut off I-90 and pointed the truck due east for a hundred-mile bomb down I-86 to Olean, New York, where I hoped to have a little more luck with the foam the next day.
Turns out Olean is a pretty little town; after the hustle and bustle of northern Ohio, the streets were by and large quiet and quaint and peaceful, which is just what my rattled mind needed after another day on the road.
My friend Alexis had found me a room at the Microtel Inn & Suites, which was probably my second-favourite hotel of the trip, behind only the place in Medicine Hat, and the front desk clerk had recommendations for a good dinner spot where I ate some delicious pasta and drank a local microbrew and it was a lot better than Arby's.
I think Lucy liked the Microtel, too; she sacked out pretty well as soon as we checked into the room.