The short, but long way, home

Sunday voices: Ruminations

In his later years, before he stopped driving altogether, my dad would ask me to drive him to Erie if he needed to go there. “I ain’t drivin’ in the big city no more,” he’d say.

Well, let me tell you about driving in the “big city,” of which Erie is not one.

I just completed a 1,900-mile round trip to the upper Midwest. If you’re traveling to Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, or the Dakotas, there is no way to bypass Chicago; that is, unless you want to go hundreds of miles out of your way by dropping south, or driving through Canada. It is shorter, mileage-wise, to drive through the downtown interstates of Chicago, but you are certainly taking your life in your hands. By choice I drive on Interstates 80 and 90 on the south side of Chicago, thereby passing the bulk of the traffic. This doesn’t mean I-80 is traffic free, only that the stop-and-go traffic is of shorter duration. But not this trip.

On my way back home, driving alone I might add, I blithely drove alone on the water-soaked, river-overflowing farmlands of Illinois, until I reached the outskirts of Chicago, roughly 50 miles of suburban sprawl before reaching the city limits.

Traffic slowed, then traffic stopped. The interstate was mostly choked with truck traffic, an occasional car wedged between semi-tractor/trailers. For 30 miles we stopped, inched forward at 5 or 6 mph, and then stopped some more. At one point we actually reached 20 mph. I foolishly thought we’d reached the end of whatever the holdup was.

For four and a half hours I stayed in my lane, inching along with the rest of the commercial traffic.

A very courteous truck driver motioned me to merge into his lane in front of him, which I did, although I couldn’t see that his lane was any better than the one I had been occupying — until we reached the snarl causing all this time and gasoline wasting day.

With no advance warning, four lanes of Chicago traffic was shuttled off into a one lane entrance ramp onto I-57 because of a multi-car accident on the highway. There I was, on my way to Memphis with no idea how to get back onto I-80. There were no detour signs, no highway patrolmen to point the way.

Old-fashioned paper-folding maps are, regrettably, a thing of the past. Not having one in my car, I resorted to the GPS on my phone to try to figure out how best to reenter the interstate system without having to actually go to Memphis; although the idea did briefly appeal to me. The drawback to GPS maps is that you don’t get the full picture of where you are compared to where you want to be.

I got a lovely view of the south suburbs of Chicago, traveling through several of them on my trek. Eventually I was back on my chosen highway, going my chosen direction, but well behind schedule. In fact, I couldn’t continue on.

Five days of early rising for fun activities with my family members, (more on that in another column) and nine hours of driving, including the four and half hour stint through Chicago, took its toll. I stopped at an Indiana motel at 6 p.m., went to sleep until 3:30 a.m. and then continued on my way home.

As much as I enjoy my children, there’s no place like home.

Robyn Near is a Ripley resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com