When I was a child, we would go to Florida once or twice a year to visit the Woodby side of our family who all lived in Fort Myers. Interstate 75 was not completed and we would be driving on two lane roads all through Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia. It takes longer to drive on two lane roads but there are also benefits.
One thing I don’t like about the Interstate system is no matter where you are, when you exit, it looks like where you’ve been. If I get off I 75 in Gaylord, Michigan, or Cincinnati, Ohio, or Lexington, Kentucky, or Valdosta, Georgia, or Tampa, Florda, I will find, McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, etc. You might ask, “What’s wrong with that?” Nothing, really. It makes people feel safe because they know what they’re going to order before they walk in the door. And yet, for that very reason, Everything is wrong with this picture.
In 1957, when we got off the Interstate, just north of Cincinnati, the adventure would begin. In the 1950s there were not a lot of restaurant or motel chains around. However, there were a lot of mom-and-pop restaurants, motels, and grocery stores. The really cool thing was, you couldn’t be sure what was inside until you got there.
I recall one evening, we were travelling though Tennessee, and the road went up the side of a mountain. You could look out the window and see the drop off, four feet from the side of the road. It was narrow, curvy, and felt dangerous as hell. My older sister, Carol, sat on the floor, (If you can’t see it, it can’t hurt you,) and said, “I am smiling, I wanna die with a smile on my face.” And then a thick fog rolled in. You could almost see the hood ornament on the front of the car. Mom said, “Keith, pull over until the fog lifts.” My dad was one who never allowed the weather to dictate what he did, said, “We will stop when we see a motel and not before.” We continued down the dark, foggy, road, that seemed to always be going up, up, up, around one curve after another. It felt like a few hours later, but it might have only been ten or twenty minutes, that we saw the lights of a motel and dad pulled in. Of course, that didn’t mean we would spend the night there. First, mom and dad would go into the office, get the key, and inspect the room. The room had to be clean, free of bullet holes, bugs, or other vermin. It was always a much more desirable room if there were extra boxes of tissue or toilet paper that you could take with you the next day when you left. If everything looked good, us kids could go inside.
Mom returned to the car with a big smile. The room had passed the test. Dad jumped in and quickly moved the car, backing in front of the door of our room for the night. (In the 50s almost, all motels had outside doors that you would park in front of.)
The next morning, I walked out into the parking lot and looked down the road. The motel was placed right in the middle of a curve and the trees blocked the view. The motel had a name like, Cliffside Motel and it was a single-story building with ten rooms There was no pool and free breakfasts were unheard of. The sign advertised things like, Television, air-conditioning, phone, and vibrating beds!!
Finding a good restaurant was always a part of the adventure. However, it’s the terrible restaurants and the ones with interesting, funny and friendly staff that you’ll remember forever.
Like the store front restaurant in Georgia, where we ordered a bowl of vegetable soup. It looked absolutely wonderful. Sadly, the cook’s secret ingredient was vinegar and that was about all you could taste.
Or the shapely, cute and friendly waitress, in Florida, who couldn’t believe all four of us kids ordered French toast. She spoke, with the sweetest southern accent you’ve ever heard,
“Now, I don’t wanna git y’alls orders wrong,” pointing her pencil at each of us in turn said, “Y’all got French toast?”
Carol said, “Yes ma’am.”
“That’s one French toast.”
“ And, what about you, darlin?. Y’all want French toast?”
Sharon said, “Yep.”
“That’s two French toasteses.”
Pointing her pencil at Debbie, she said, “How about you Sweetheart, French toast?
Debbie said, very quietly, “Yes.”
“That’s Three French Toastesses.”
And pointing her pencil at me she asked, “Did Y’all want French Toast too?”
“That makes four French toastesses.”
It was at a Hole in the wall, Mexican Restaurant that I had my first Taco. I don’t know what spices she used, it wasn’t just hot, but gave the meat a flavor that was out of this world. I wanted to get it again and again.
There was a seafood restaurant in Florida, that had huge piles of peel-and-eat shrimp, on ice and you could have as much as you wanted. I’d never had peel and eat shrimp before, only deep fried. I thought it was great!! My sister, Carol, asked me, “What do you think about the shrimp?”
“It’s great, “ I answered, “But it takes a lot of chewing to get the shells down.”
“Very funny, Woodby,” she said, “That’s why they’re called PEEL and Eat.”
Think of the adventures you’ve had, the wonderful people you’ve met, and the delicious food and drink you have partaken of. I’ll bet, the vast majority of these encounters were not at exit 236.
I love day trips and new food, people and places, which is one reason that we’re going off the interstate and on to the two-lane back roads. Life is passing me by so quickly that I decided to stop rushing down the expressways and start meandering down that Long and winding road.
In the Mirriam-Webster Thesaurus, we read, ”Some common synonyms of meander are ramble, roam, rove, traipse, and wander. While all of these words mean “to go about from place to place usually without a plan or definite purpose,” Meander implies a winding or intricate course suggestive of aimless or listless wandering.” That sounds really good to me!
The second reason, for my desire to meander is that Parkinson’s is causing me to lose much of my abilities where driving is concerned. Yes, I passed the driving test last year. That was in spite of the fact that my reaction time is really good for someone who is eighty-five years old. I will let you know if I pass this year.
Tuesday, October 25 –Meandering home from Peoria.
Harriet and I spent the weekend in Peoria with our daughter Michelle and her family. Because the weather forecast called for massive rainstorms on Tuesday, we decided to leave on Monday.
We had already decided to meander our way home down route 24, which would take us all the way to Interstate 69 just south of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
We pulled out of Michelle’s driveway around 11:30 in the morning. We wanted to find a good mom and pop restaurant for lunch in el Paso. We made a few jokes about a good Tex-Mex place, but since we hadn’t eaten in any restaurant in el Paso, we really had no idea where to go.
Traffic was light, it was windy, but cloudy, a beautiful day for our first shot at meandering. Farmers were in the field hurring to get the corn harvested before Tuesdays rains.
It wasn’t long until we were in el Paso there seemed to be a lot of restaurants to choose from. The first rule was, No Chain Restaurants were allowed. Harriet was driving and she asked, “Any ideas where I should go?” Just then the two pickup trucks in front of us made a left turn. ”Follow those trucks, I’ll bet they’re going to lunch.” I said.
The trucks made a right on Front Street, did a quick U-turn and stopped in front of Topsy’s Bar & Grill. The men quickly went inside
“What do you think?” I asked. “Does a burger and a beer sound good?”
“They might, but let’s check out the menu first.” Harriet said.
We walked in the door and there was a chalkboard with the Special of the Day written on it. Corn beef and Cabbage dinner, $8.00.
“That sounds great.” Harriet said, pointing to the sign.
We were soon seated, and we both ordered the corn beef and cabbage with an Arnold Palmer.
Everything was cooked to perfection, and they didn’t skimp on portions. I asked Harriet, “Is it St. Patrick’s Day?” Such great food at such a modest price, I felt like dancing an Irish Jig.
Not only was the food good but the people were friendly. The waitress was personable, and the owner stopped by for a little conversation.
After lunch I drove, and Harriet napped. I planned on driving to Monticello, Indiana which, I figured, was about two hours. We were probably thirty minutes from Monticello when Harriet began asking me, “Are you tired?” I found out later that this is code for, “You’re driving like a drunkard. Pull the car over and let me drive!!”
I responded with, “I feel great!” which is code for, “Get off my back Jack! As far as I can tell, I’m doing alright.”
About that same time, some guy in a white Taurus began acting strange, He would speed up and tailgate me, and then slow down and fall back. I now think he was writing down information to call the police.
For some reason, I did not stop in Monticello and have Harriet drive. My thinking was, we’re really close to Dunkirk, where the road becomes a four lane. I might as well drive until then. The guy in the white Taurus went a different direction and I was feeling great.
Somewhere between Monticello and Dunkirk we came upon a sign, in the middle of the road, which read, DETOUR, BRIDGE OUT AHEAD. The detour went straight north to 116 and then east to Royal Center. From there we turned south on 35 until it connected with 24. This detour probably added thirty minutes to our drive. But, we were meandering after all.
Just before we turned east on 116 some lady in a tan Fusion began tailgating me. Her behavior was the same as the man in the Taurus. Speed up tailgate, then slow down and fall back. I slowed down so she would pass but when I slowed down, she did too.
The thing is, I know I am not a good driver. Unless I really focus on the road, I will drive like I’ve just left my favorite Bar. I have blamed the car for things that are my problem. For example, I am always angry at the cruse control, it never stays where I set it and just shuts itself off. I’ve come to realize that my fingers are doing things that I am not aware of.
I also have trouble with the gas pedal, in that either it doesn’t respond at all or it goes like a bat out of hell. The truth is, the problem with both things is Parkinson’s not mechanical. Last week, I was going to Wal Mart, which is about four miles from my house. The speed limit on Oakwood, by the cemetery, is 45 MPH, and I was going around 30. I attempted to apply light pressure to the gas pedal, but the car didn’t respond. Give it a more gas! I pushed harder on the pedal and the car came to a complete stop. I had been pushing on the brake pedal.
We finally came to the four lane and there was also a truck stop, a perfect place to stop.
We left the gas station, Harriet was driving, and I noticed two police cars pull into the station as we were pulling out. I told Harriet, “You’re lucky you got away before those cops caught you. After all, they’re looking for you.” Ha, Ha, funny guy. Harriet turned back on to 24 and had not gone a hundred yards when both the police cars turned on their red and blue flashing lights. It seems that people had been calling the police about this guy in the gray Town and Country, with Michigan plates, who was driving recklessly. I explained that I had Parkinson’s and probably should have stopped driving sooner. He could see that Harriet was now behind the wheel and after making sure we were not Bonny and Clyde types, let us go. Before letting us go he gave us this advice, “You need to stop driving when you, or someone else in the car realizes that you’re weaving. You really need to take a road test to see if you should be driving at all.”
I am scheduled to take a driving test in January, which is one year from the last test. This gives me two months to work on my driving skills. Honestly, I will stop driving if I cannot improve. Better safe than sorry.
Harriet was amazed that she didn’t get a ticket. She said, “That’s the first time a cop has pulled me over and didn’t give me a ticket.”
She continued on 24 until she came to I 69 north. We stopped for dinner at the Texas Roadhouse. We have eaten at this chain in a number of different states and have never had a bad meal. We both ordered New York Strip steaks, Baked potatoes and salad.
The drive from Fort Wayne, Indiana to Adrian was uneventful and we arrived around ten thirty.
We have discussed the trip, and, apart from the cops pulling us over, we both enjoy meandering. We have also come to the conclusion that if I need to stop driving, Harriet must say, something like, “My turn to drive. You’re weaving like someone who has just polished off a fifth of Jack Daniels.”
I have two months to either get my act together or stop driving all together. I will keep you informed about how it is going.
Please continue to pray for us and be sure we are praying for you.