Tuesday, March 24, 2009

An old familiar road

Yesterday I drove, with the girls and the dog, to my parents' house in rural Dent County, Missouri. There are two ways to get there once you leave Interstate 44--the hilly, winding, curvy way (72) OR the hilly-er, winding-er, and curvy-er way(68). We usually go 72, as someone in our family has motion issues with cars, crests, and curves. But since that particular someone was not with us this trip, and it was good weather, and it was still daylight, I took 68.

I used to take 68 every time. When I made this trip home from college. When I went back to St. Louis for things after graduating while I was living in town nearby. When I would come back here to visit after moving back to St. Louis. Highway 68 was the route for me.

You see, I'm a driving enthusiast. I love to drive. I especially love to drive good cars, powerful cars, cars with tight sport suspension, cars that respond when you ask alot of them. There has been a passion for cars in me for quite a while. Back in junior high/high school in southern Illinois, we lived on the highway going into town from the bigger town 17 miles away. Everyone passed our house several times a week. I would sit out in the front yard on a swing and just watch people. I knew everyone in town by their vehicle. Make, model, year, and usually the license plate number, as well. Of course, it helped that at the time, 80% of Illinois had vanity plates, so they were much easier to remember. I could name a make and model by the headlights at night. Pretty crazy, but it's true. In college, friends thought that it was humorous that I got Road & Track, Motor Trend, Corvette Weekly, and Autoweek delivered to my tiny college mailbox.

But I even enjoy driving cars that have to try a bit harder sometimes. While I was reading my auto magazines in college, I was driving a little, tiny, white 1989 Ford Festiva. (It was 1991, not so bad.) Not exactly a sports or muscle car. But in defense of that little car, it could get up and go if you knew how to drive it. And I did. It was a five-speed manual, and I knew how to use all five gears to their max. When I went to college in St. Louis, we lived in Kentucky, and the Festiva did great on those trips back and forth. It was a great car for college, got excellent gas mileage, and it made more than a few long trips to road games for soccer and basketball, piled with my friends. A couple cars later, I had another small five-speed, a Mitsubishi this time, and it was not bad to drive either. There was not the spunk under the hood like the Festiva had, but it wasn't too bad.

On those trips home through the years, once "home" became south central Missouri, I chose 68 every time. It was just fun, kind of like a 27-mile roller coaster. It didn't take long to learn exactly where to gain speed and where to slow down. The curves and hills aren't marked with warning signs because there are just too many. It's all either a curve or a hill or a curve on a hill. For people that don't know the road, it can be less fun, I suppose. But when you know the road well, you also know just where to floor that gas pedal and fly by the out-of-towners in the tiny spaces where the yellow line is broken instead of solid. Ah, good times.

Now when we travel, we take 72. This has been the case since I met my husband 11 1/2 years ago. He simply cannot stomach 68. And that's ok. Highway 72 is a bit straighter, it has been redone and actually levelled out quite a bit from what it used to be. It's a good road, and I'm happy to use it. But this time, as I came to the exit for Highway 68, just a few miles before Highway 72, I had a decision to make. Which way should I go? Go for the old, fun way or the straighter, sensible way? The girls were asleep, so I decided on a whim to get off at 68.

As I got through St. James and made it out into the open road again, I thought about how 68 is about as curvy as the numbers in its name--there is not hardly a straight portion. And as I drove, I started remembering.
  • I thought of the tornado that tore through the St. James Golf Course years ago and cut across 68.
  • There was the little dip in the road where Dad hit a dog with the church van when we were headed up to St. Louis on a trip. I was so sick to my stomach. It came out of nowhere, and there is no way to see ahead on that road. Poor dog. Makes me feel ill even now.
  • One time I was headed home from school, driving faster than I should have been, as I did far too often. I came into a little stretch that is straight for a short while but has many of what I call "ribbon hills," one big hill after another, like a still shot of a flowing ribbon. I decided it was a good time to pass the slow poke in front of me, and I dashed out. I didn't quite make it back into the lane in time and the oncoming flatbed pick-up truck swerved to avoid me. I darted back into my lane as I saw him spin around in my rearview mirror. The big cooler and other items on his bed went flying, but he remained on the road and didn't collide with anything or anyone. I didn't stop to help him pick up his things. Of course, I should have stopped, but I was 19, unwise, and suddenly scared. I just went straight home, thankful that it wasn't worse.
  • I remember the time that my brother and I were returning from a Cardinals baseball game. It was very late at night, maybe early morning, and we headed down 68. We came to a place where just ahead I could see headlights that seemed to be too far left of me to be on the road. I slowed and remember well a very strange chill that came over me. I came almost to a stop as we got closer, looking at a pick-up truck that was off the road on the other side and had obviously not purposely parked there. The headlights were on, but the passenger door was hanging open. I didn't see anyone, Jody and I discussed it briefly, and I started to pull over to that side of the road, near the truck, to see if anyone needed help. At the last minute, we decided we wouldn't be much help and that we would be better as two teenagers to head home and call for help. I did that, called the sherriff's department, reported the accident, and left my name if they needed anything else. I found out the next day that the driver had been drunk and had hit a utility pole. He had been found dead in the tall grass right where I started to pull over to stop. I was thankful that we had not been sooner to get down that stretch of road for the fear of how much he crossed the center line before going off the road, and I was creeped out that I could have had a grisly finding if we'd stopped. To this day, I still look along that stretch to find the "new" utility pole, from almost 16 years ago, that was put up when the area was repaired.
  • Then there's the brick columns that flank a long driveway to somewhere. A family friend, who would later be my boss for a short time, had a drinking problem and had run off the road into one of those columns. His children were with him, and for some reason that I can't quite remember, I went with my dad out to the crash site to be with the kids while things got cleared up and bring them home. That was a turning point for our friend. He got his act together, and, last I heard, was still sober.
  • At the end of the 27-mile roller coaster, there's the house where a family from our church used to live. They had two teenage girls that I had in class at school. One of the girls played on the high school football team for a while. It was a big deal. I have no idea what happened to that family, but I think of it when I drive by that house.

It's funny how things come back to me after a long period of living in the corners of my mind. I don't know why these little memories still come to the front when I drive curvy Highway 68. But as I drove it yesterday, enjoying how the car I love so much handled the terrain, I found it very...I don't know... comforting, I guess, that Highway 68 and I have this history. Be it good or bad, I know the road well. And I still love to drive it.


  1. I got car sick just reading this entry.

  2. This is an excellent post and an excellent bit of writing. Just right for a "Get to know Missouri" magazine. Loved it.

  3. OH. I love revisiting old places, esp if I haven't been there in a long time.
    What interesting memories that came flooding back for you :)

  4. I seriously thinkyou have missed your calling as a writer:)

  5. You ARE a great writer, RK. And you haven't missed your calling. ;)

    I know that feeling well for different familiar roads. Well put!

  6. I was never one who liked driving, and I still don't. We are taking a road trip in July down to Florida, but I guarantee my hubby will drive most if not all of it!

    You can really tell these were some fond memories for you! So when is the next road trip?

  7. wonderful Randa! I enjoy your writing! love, Aunt V


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