Perhaps this is only because I'm an inlander, but I can feel when a great lake is nearby. My bones hum. There is something about the way the land slopes toward the horizon that mutely screams LAKE LAKE, BIG LAKE, BIG BIG LAKE NEARBY. But I'm a Great Lakes boy, born and bred, and so it's possible that a desert boy, or a river boy, or a mountain boy could drive all along the shore of Lake Erie without once knowing it's there, as if he were in a coma or sedate upon a heavy-duty prescription drug such as Xanax. Whatever gets you through the hard times, buddy, but the lake is a really big deal. It's great. I'm glad I got off the interstate to hunt it down.
The door to my Motel 6 room is wide open, and beyond the parking lot, which is hemmed by some ugly trees, I can see the bright red sign of the Texas Roadhouse. I'm gonna go there as soon as I finish writing. I need some food. And I figure that since I'll be in Texas next week, it wouldn't hurt to have a sneak peak now. But the lake. I drove west down Pennsylvania state road number 5, looking for some sign that would point me to a place where the public could access the lake. Most of the lake frontage is private property, but it's not all fancy millionaire homes. For every nice home, I saw at least two crummy, lakefront apartment complexes. I was really starting to like this part of the world. It seemed affordable. I was nearing Erie, PA. When I found the sign I was looking for, I hung a right and headed north toward the shore.
The woman pictured right was really suspicious of me when I got out of my car, taking pictures with both my camera and my phone. The man at the end of the boat launch, sort of just to the right of that sign, turned out to be her boyfriend or husband—I didn't ask—and he was surf casting for who knows what. Perch? Perch are good eating. I took a walk along the beach and collected one stone, a round and smooth grey stone that the waves of lake Erie had made that way over the course of who-knows how many years. Getting off the interstate and finding the lake was the best thing I did all day, but it also cost me an hour and change. The New York State through-way took my money and gave me little in return, but my detour through Erie PA was worth the hour it cost me.
Before setting out, I hung this ristra of home grown hot peppers from my rear-view mirror to act as a spiritual talisman for the road ahead of me. Before I left Erie, I stopped at a gas station to pee one more time. A woman was pumping gas. The interstate was nearby; the lake was behind me now; there was sprawl all around us. She had a crucifix hanging from her mirror. Some people hang a scented pine tree, some a crucifix, and some a strand of home grown chilies. The numbers on her gas ticker were probably rolling up. I related to that. In the past 24 hours, I'd pumped $100 bucks of gas myself. But there was a moment there when I felt connected to her, even at a distance and through my insect-splattered windshield. She had a talisman strung from her mirror and so did I. What difference did it make that mine was chilies and hers was church? We were both going somewhere. She was probably on her way home after a long day at work, and I was on my way to this motel on the outskirts of Cleveland. We were both people at a gas station in Erie, PA. The interstate was a giant hog that had been splayed into a rope of moving. I ate grapes off the back fence of the Pennsylvania Welcome Center this afternoon.