Sometimes there’s something soothing about motoring along a very familiar stretch of expressway, subliminally absorbing the features of the subtly changing landscape and the many communities along the way.
Before even joining Interstate 77, I begin my journey southbound along a stretch of I-271 through Oakwood, then Northfield, approaching the split that will take me up and over in a sweeping curve onto State Route 8 south toward Akron, Ohio. A large railway switching yard and the big-box glut of Macedonia shrink in my rear-view mirror as the newly constructed lanes slide beneath me. Opposite, the morning-rush commute coming into Cleveland sparkles into the far distance.
The intersection with Interstate 80: The Ohio Turnpike looms, and I forego heading west toward Toledo or east toward Youngstown. My sights are set on Marietta, Ohio, several hours before me, on the banks of the Ohio River. Moving past Bath and Hudson and Peninsula, I wave to the sprawling Adesa Auto Auction and the directional signs to Blossom Music Center (summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra). Seasons Road, Steels Corners Road, Graham Road, Silver Lake and the Interchez headquarters zip past.
I now note Silver Lake (and its companion, Crystal Lake) and Stow and Munroe Falls (and beyond, Kent, site of the infamous student killings on campus, 1970). Coming up is Cuyahoga Falls, with its scenic falls, and cute downtown festivity area, home to summer weekend chopper-fests, libations and live music. I decline the turn-off for Akron’s noteworthy Stan Hywet Hall, slide through Tallmadge, and cross the Valley Bridge heading into Akron.
After a nod to Akron’s downtown skyline to my right, I begin to course through the clustered exits of the city proper: Canal Park, Akron University, Lovers’ Lane, Firestone Park. Running east-west, State Route 224 crosses my path, taking others to Barberton or Mogadore or Waterloo or Wadsworth or Lakemore or Canfield. But I now join Interstate 77 proper as it merges in on me from the right. I am now south of the Portage Lakes and the King’s Carpet of Georgia outlet, as I come upon the fast-food-and-retail smear that is Arlington Road. Soon I cross East Turkeyfoot Lake Road (Yes, a lake shaped somewhat like the footprint of a wild turkey lies less than a mile off-road.
Streaking past Camping World and the Massillon cutoff and the multitude of metal boxes of the General RV lot, I push on southward toward the stunted light towers signifying the proximity of Akron Canton Airport. Fannie Mae chocolates drifts by, then Timken’s massive facility, then the Faith & Family ministry housed in a sprawling former manufactory of some sort. Such endearingly named streets as Shuffel and Applegrove and Orion and Whipple and Everhard and Mega call out to me. And now through my windshield I view The Strip — an extremely long string of big box stores, fast food outlets, cinema, restaurants and teeming vehicles all gaily colored and spread panoramically along the right-of-way for easy viewing. Meanwhile, the more traditional shopping offerings of Belden Village Mall lie just an exit ahead.
Interstate 77 has, for a distance, become the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway. (Farther south by an hour or two, it will morph into the Korean War Veterans Memorial Highway.) I pass the Avondale Arboretum and Spiker Park, then approach Malone Parkway. Malone University and the University of Mount Union are both nearby. To the left is a thin winding rivulet that will twist and turn for miles before joining the main bulk of the Tuscarawas River.