I’m writing this with the kids asleep in their beds at the Holiday Inn Express just off I-94 in Chelsea, Michigan, about an hour’s drive west of Detroit. The good news is that tomorrow promises to be a very short day. We should be able to have lunch in Windsor and be home in time for supper. The kids will appreciate that, especially if we offer them pizza. They deserve it, as they’ve been troopers on this trip.

We left Lincoln, Nebraska Friday afternoon for the (comparatively) short run to Des Moines. Michael and Rosemarie welcomed us with open arms again and we stayed the night. We set off later than usual, welcoming Michael’s young cousins from Australia, and only expected to make it to Benton Harbor, if that, tonight.

We’ve come far farther than expected.

We tried to turn in around 8 p.m. in Benton Harbor, Michigan, just across the border from Indiana. Unfortunately, none of the hotels had rooms. The parking lots were packed full. It looked surprisingly busy, and we wondered if there was a game or a tournament in town. It wouldn’t be the first time. I still couldn’t imagine why Mars, Pennsylvania was so full up when we tried to stay.

But there was more to it than that. As we headed east, every hotel — and I mean every hotel — we tried was booked solid. Managers there offered no hope of availability at other local hotels and sent us further east. Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Jackson, it was all the same.

And then I finally asked a manager what the heck was going on.

Turns out, it was all about the million-gallon oil spill on the Kalamazoo River. We were competing with evacuees.

The managers were all very sympathetic. The one who told me about the spill asked me where I was heading. “Detroit-ish”, I said. She nodded. “That’s probably the best direction to head to get away from this. There may be rooms in Ann Arbor.” Fortunately the kids were asleep at the time and thus not cranky as we started pushing midnight as we pushed east. The promised rooms of Ann Arbor turned out to be true. The first place we stopped at was full, but only because of a triple-booked wedding. The manager there pointed us to this hotel across the street, which still had fifteen rooms available.

People were generally cheerful, polite and accommodating. I was reminded of my experience with the Mississauga train derailment of 1979 — not the spectacular fireball that turned night into day — but how orderly everybody was as they headed out of town. Giving people room, knowing everybody else was fighting the same hard battle they were. In moments like these, you know there is still hope for the human race, yet.

If we could get over our dependence on petroleum, of course. First the mega spill in the Gulf of Mexico and now this. 2010 is going to be the Year of Black Crude if we’re not careful. We are way too reliant on this energy source, and the more we exploit it, the more often these sorts of catastrophes will occur. We really have to use this resource more efficiently.

Or, possibly build more emergency shelters.

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