Hi-diddley-ho, neighborinos! I'm back with a brand-new trip report about our recently-completed 11-day, 9-state, 2341.4-mile road trip through America's Rust Belt. How did we arrive at the decision to make this trip our vacation for the year? <<<insert wavy effects and flashback sounds>>> Dateline: September 2010. We had just returned from a wonderful week at Walt Disney World (you can read about it here), and naturally wanted to start planning our next vacation rather than consider the reality of returning to work, laundry piles, etc. Me: So where should we go next year? DW: Disney World! Me: I agree. Let's start planning. DW: Wait...your parents won't be going with us and paying for the lodging next year. Me: Crap. (thinking) Have we hit the lottery yet? DW: No. Me: Ok, Disney World is out. What else can we do? DW: (thinking) Disneyland? Me: It probably needs to be someplace within driving distance. (snaps fingers) Hey, I have an idea! DW: An idea? What is it? Me: It's a new thought born out of inspiration, but that's not important right now. DW: No, I mean, what's your idea? Me: We could drive out to Chicago and back, doing a big loop to hit various attractions and destinations along the way. We loved Chicago when we were there in 2007. And there are a bunch of DisDads and other friends out that way that we could meet up with, too. DW: (furrows brow) DisDads? Are they your slightly psychotic online buddies in that club? The ones with the illegal logo that always make fun of you on Facebook? Me: Yes. Yes, they are. DW: So you want to drive thousands of miles in the middle of summer cooped up with 3 kids in a minivan going to places we've never been before and hang out with people you've never actually met? What could possibly go wrong? <<<(More wavy effects and end-of-flashback noises)>>> Thus, the 2011 Rust Belt Road Trip was born. Our cast of characters: ME: Mark. Age 37. Native of Delaware (known as a Delaweenie), Philly sports fan, movie buff, Disney geek, and general nerd. DW: Julie. Age 29 (). Native of Pennsylvania. Aspiring photographer, arts-and-crafts lover, World's Greatest Wife And Mother® (totally objective opinion), and maker of Julie's Key Lime Pie Of Awesomeness©. Also nerdy in a cuter way. DD: Sarah. Age 9. Native Delaweenie. Future paleontologist or architect, or perhaps paleo-architect. Also loves movies and National Parks. DS: David. Age 7. Native Delaweenie. Future baseball player, if my steroid guy comes through. Loves sports, sports and anything to do with sports. DS: Scott. Age 5. Native Delaweenie. Future...something. Scotty's kind of unique. May end up a veterinarian, with his love of animals (especially dogs). May end up a late-night-talk-show-host. I dunno. Whatever he does, it'll be entertaining. If you're still reading along, welcome! Also: what's wrong with you? In any case, I assume you're along for the ride, so thanks for being here! Coming Up Next:We travel to Paradise! And then Pittsburgh.