On Friday, I was due to head home to Chicago from Louisville. I was anxious to get home after a long week, but wasn’t looking forward to the trip. I thought of the drive up I-65 through Indianapolis and pondered to myself, How boring. Flat terrain, farm fields on all sides, semi-trucks crowding cars off the road. I don’t want to spend five to six hours dealing with that. I have a better idea. As usual, my better ideas don’t always turn out like I plan. I tried Google Map and found an alternate route, and what I saw made me smile. If I took I-64 west and got off on highway 150, I could take that road all the way to Vincennes and from there it would be U.S. 41 to Chicago. This particular route would add about 42 miles and one hour to my trip, but the scenery would be well worth it. And besides, I would get to drive through French Lick, Indiana, the home of Larry Bird.
As I left I-64 and turned onto 150, I was happy. After passing through the small town of Galena, the terrain turned to hilly, and forests adorned both sides of the road. I was in my element now. Another reason for taking the road less traveled, besides the scenery, was the hope that my cell phone coverage would be out of range and I wouldn’t be bothered with e-mails and phone calls on my trip back. It had been a stressful week.
I was sailing along just fine when I came to French Lick. I decided to stop in the local Huck’s and purchase a 32oz. Raspberry Iced Tea fountain drink for 89 cents. When I got to the counter to pay, I noticed that the counter girl had some extravagantly adorned fingernails and I said to her, “Nice fingernails. How long did that take you?” She was nice and replied, “About an hour and a half.” Based on her reaction to my question, I think she was quite proud of her fingernail painting and felt the time invested well worth it. It turns out that her fingernails were the highlight of my stop in French Lick. I didn’t see Larry Bird anywhere.
When I got back to the car to continue my trip, the phone rang and then a few e-mail pings. After taking care of those issues, Julie called. Finally I was able to put all the distractions to the side and continue my journey. Traveling west, I remained on highway 150, just like the map said. About fifteen minutes later I noticed the signs on the side of the road indicating that I was traveling on highway 56. For a minute I thought that maybe highway 56 might be running congruent with highway 150. I continued on, but rather than see a sign for highway 150, I saw another one indicating I was still on highway 56. I came to the brilliant conclusion that I was lost. Somehow I had been distracted. Was it the phone calls for work, the e-mails, or was it Julie’s call? Could it have been the counter girl at Huck’s with the fancy fingernails? Whatever the reason, I needed to regroup and get my bearings.
Knowing that my GPS wasn’t going to do me any good down in this neighborhood, I had to find a place to stop. I eventually found a side road, pulled over, and retrieved my road atlas from the trunk. Looking closely at the map I noticed that although both highways were heading west, 56 traveled to the southwest and 150 was heading northwest. The farther I drove down this road, the farther away from my destination I went. By this time, going back to French Lick was out of the question. I had to get back to 150, and going north was the only way to get there. There was a road heading north a few miles from where I stood, but I noticed it didn’t have a number. An unnamed and unidentified road; this should be fun.
I finally came upon the unidentified road and turned north. It was paved but, unlike the other two-lane roads, there weren’t any markings for the center lines or shoulders. The road had also narrowed. It’s been said that I drive “fast”, but I prefer to call it driving “quick”. On this narrow road with hills and hairpin curves, I took it as a challenge to see how quick I could get back to the highway; regardless of the warning signs telling me to drive 25 miles per hour. I pretended I was driving a road race in my Indy car.
As I sailed over the numerous dips in the road, it took me back to my teenage days in my hometown of Carthage, Mo. If you drive east out-of-town on Fairview Avenue, you eventually come to a stretch of highway that has narrow shoulders and repeated peaks and valleys where the road follows the contours of the hilly terrain. As teenagers, we were known to engage in activities that most people would consider dangerous, but that we considered fun. There is a particular stretch of the road we referred to as “The Roller Coaster” and when we came upon it, we accelerated to speeds of seventy or eighty miles per hour, which caused the automobile to nearly leave the highway at the tops of each hill. On the other side of the hills came the steep valleys, and at those speeds, going from hill to valley caused something to happen in our stomachs that was reminiscent of the roller coaster rides at Six Flags. The danger part? Entering the road all along the Roller Coaster, were driveways and side roads. If a car or person happened to pull out onto the road while we flew over the hills, it’s doubtful we could have slowed enough to prevent disaster. But who worries about those kinds of things at age sixteen?
The memories of the Fairview Roller Coaster were fresh in my mind when I noticed a series of hills and valleys appearing up ahead on the road I was now travelling. As I had so many times those forty years ago, I accelerated to speeds that this particular road wasn’t designed for (nor was my car). I was once again flying up and down the highway; the potential danger all too real; with my stomach ending up somewhere in the vicinity of my throat. The main difference between today and back then was that this time my conscience, and fear of a speeding ticket, got the better of me. After a few thrills, I slowed down to a fairly normal rate of speed and decided to play it safe. After about twenty miles of beautiful scenery and treacherous hills and curves, I was back on Highway 150, but about an hour behind schedule.
The remainder of the trip was mostly uneventful, but I did learn a few things. I discovered that the Shopko Hometown store in Loogootee would be closing soon. Near the town of Montgomery, I noticed that on Tuesday’s, the special at Red Bone’s included tacos and $2 beer. West of Loogootee and south of Odon I saw a young boy wearing a light blue shirt with suspenders holding up his pants. For some reason I had thoughts of the Amish. For good reason. After seeing the boy in suspenders, I noticed a store selling Amish cabinets and then passed a Mennonite church. I thought, Was the boy in suspenders Amish or Mennonite? I was already an hour behind schedule, so I didn’t take the time to stop and ask him.
At one point before reaching the town of Washington, I realized why most people travel the interstate highway system and why they were designed in the first place. I got stuck in a line of traffic behind a trio of overfull dump trucks and due to the terrain, I couldn’t pass. For the remaining miles before getting back to a four lane road, I actually began to miss I-65.