Road Warrior The Fan Heads West On An October Morning, Proudly Taking The Colors 480 Miles Into Indian Territory.

October 13, 1997|By JEAN MARBELLA | JEAN MARBELLA,SUN STAFF

With the Orioles in Cleveland, the weather top-down perfect, the gas cheap, the time now, The Fan's fancy turned to one thing:

Road trip!

Four-hundred eighty miles and 27 McDonald's later, The Fan now has only one thing on her mind:

Southwest Airlines.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. The freedom of the open road, the spontaneity of the moment, the blue highways and the small towns that span the two cities competing for the American League pennant. The Fan felt like a part of history as she headed westward Saturday morning: Without brave explorers such as herself to push the boundaries, there would have been no Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, no Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, no Route 40 linking these two areas.

The Fan followed much of Route 40 for her journey to the American League Championship Series, although in the interest of time and sanity, she slipped onto the interstates that roughly parallel the more scenic if slower historic route.

Rising with the sky still blushed by dawn, The Fan popped the convertible top, taped her Orioles pennant to the radio antenna and accepted the well-wishes of the paperboy who gave her a thumbs-up and an 'O's Number One!" as she hit the road.

Minutes later, though, as the Fan headed up Charles Street downtown, the first ominous sign of the trip appeared: Stopped at the light at Saratoga Street, a man in a Cleveland Indians hat crossed in front of her like a black cat. He smiled a chilly smile at The Fan, who shivered at the spooky sight. Of course, it was also about 50 degrees at the time, but The Fan is getting the heebie-jeebies over the way this series has been going. She hurried on her way.

Turning left on Franklin Street to get onto Route 40, the first leg of the trip took her through the city, then suburbia, into farmland and eventually the mountains of Western Maryland. With the crisp air and occasional trees already changing color, it was autumn at its most enchanting. Only the soundtrack was missing: The radio had fuzzed out; no Gerry Sandusky anywhere, seemingly for the first time this season and postseason, only the occasional religious broadcast or, oddly, sports talk from Chicago.

First stop. Mile 140. Cumberland, Md., where Washington not only slept, but assumed his first military command.

The Fan felt at home here; it's still Orioles country after all. Lots of O's hats and bars -- like one called When Pigs Fly -- that air the games.

Appropriately for The Fan's road trip, Cumberland also turned out to be a transportation hub: The C & O Canal only got this far west, rather than all the way to Ohio as planned, the B & O came through here and the National Road begins here, not in Baltimore, as many believe.

At least that's what Vicki Koch told The Fan. The road, now called alternate U.S. 40, was the first highway built with federal funds, said Koch, a tour guide dressed in period garb. The Baltimore stretch of 40 was actually built with private funds, she said.

The Fan headed back to the highway and into the splendidly forested northwest corner of West Virginia, where the speed limit is a wonderful 70 mph. Passing a hot air balloon festival above Morgantown -- every turn of the winding road revealed ever more of the colorful, pendulous balloons hanging motionless against blue, blue sky -- The Fan turned north on I-79 into Pennsylvania. A radio black hole: an all-polka, all-the-time station was the only one that came through clearly.

Pirates country

Second stop. Mile 275. Washington, Pa., Pittsburgh Pirates territory, which means little interest in the postseason.

College football was on the big screen at Moose Lodge 22, and the anticipation was for Sunday's Steelers-Colts game rather than the Indians-Orioles battle.

Bill Richards, intensely filling out a football pool sheet, and his wife Barbara were at the bar, planning not to watch the baseball game later but to take their sons fishing.

"I used to be a baseball fan, until the strike," Bill said. "Now, it's football, unless they do something like that, too. But I do think the Orioles will win; they play better."

Heartened, The Fan drove on, through the narrow sliver of West Virginia's panhandle and finally into Ohio. She didn't feel so much that she was entering enemy territory as passing through the many states of football. Even high school games were broadcast on the radio and the subject of call-in talk shows. Bel Air, whoever or wherever that is, remained unbeaten after

whupping Indian Valley.

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