Some Random Thoughts Along The Highway

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My mother suffered a stroke several days ago so my time for writing has been severely curtailed as of late. As she recovers that time has been spent driving back and forth on a familiar sixty-ish mile stretch of road(s) that I have become quite bored with.

I have always been cursed/blessed with a bit of a wandering mind and it is never more wandery than when I am alone in a car. Sometimes music or a podcast is a nice distraction but other times I relish the quiet and the thoughts that flow from it.

I-65 between Indianapolis and Lafayette, Indiana is a nasty highway. As the main route between Indianapolis and Chicago it is heavily traveled by both trucks and cars and seems to be the location of a never ending series of bad accidents so I try not to let my attention lapse. But there are also some things to ponder on this busy stretch.

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Like the exit where drivers are faced with two signs: Brownsburg to the left, Whitestown to the right. I know for a fact that there are white people in Brownsburg. I wonder if there are any brown people in Whitestown? I would ask but I am yellow.

The billboards can be interesting. I wonder which transportation company was the first to cleverly describe itself as a company “that is going places”? I am sure it was many decades ago. I wonder if an advertising agency actually charged someone for that slogan on a billboard in 2018?

And then there is the billboard covered by a huge picture of a box of donuts. Which is actually spelled doughnuts, if the grammarians are to be listened to. It is cruel to have a billboard displaying a ginormous box of donuts (which look absolutely delicious) when the bakery is nearly a mile from the exit ramp and probably closed even if I were to make the trek. And it is not as though I need them.

I get off onto US 52 at the very first opportunity where the driving is much more calm. The sights along a rural secondary highway are completely different from those along the heavily traveled interstate. For one thing there is no reminder of donuts.

There is, however, a Dairy Queen, which is the one real piece of civilization along this particular highway. There are few places more appealing than a Dairy Queen when you are in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know why I like their chili dogs so much. I am usually able to resist the lure of one of their cones of kind-of-ice-cream dipped into a chocolate that hardens into a shell. But not always.

Several months ago there was a house fire in one of the houses near the highway. I have never suffered through a house fire but know others who have. I have always wondered what caused the fire and if everyone made it out alright. I hope so.

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What is up with the cinder block building with a big sign proclaiming the vending machines inside? There is nothing else around here but farms and I cannot imagine there are many who stop there for snacks. I have always wanted to park and go inside but then I imagine that this might be the modern version of one of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales wherein unsuspecting victims are lured to their doom by the house of candy. Nobody needs a Baby Ruth or Milky Way badly enough to be tossed into some witch’s oven.

Why would anyone in this part of the country name a stream “Little Potato Creek”?

There has been a house that is one of my landmarks. It was sided with those old wood shingles and painted barn red. I always wondered how long the people had lived there because it looked like the kind of place where someone’s grandparents had lived since perhaps 1954. But now it has been freshly sided and painted and I wonder what happened to the folks who used to live there.

Would my life be less complicated if I lived in a house way out here in the country? Probably not.

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The farming heritage of this area is unmistakable and there are still what appear to be many working farms here. There are not nearly as many old wooden barns as there used to be. Every year it seems that another one has burned down or collapsed of its own weight (often aided by a storm). These old structures are completely obsolete for modern agriculture but they are comforting sights to those of us who pass on the highway. I wonder how long until we are down to the last one.

It is funny the way the mind can work. I always scan the horizon for interesting old cars. If possible I like to take pictures of them. About three or four years ago as I was leaving Lafayette on a Sunday evening I was stopped at a red light at Veteran’s Memorial Way, a road that leads from “the country” to Lafayette’s growing industrial area. On that day I saw a dark green Kaiser sedan from the early 1950s glide along the blacktop through the intersection.

This may be the only time I have ever seen a Kaiser under power on the roadway. That car reminded me of my mother because her family bought one like it in 1951, when she was a senior in high school. I ask myself: Why do I look for that car every time I drive through that intersection? Every single time. It will not surprise you that I have never seen it since. But that doesn’t stop me from looking.

Finally, there is one thought that keeps recurring – I hope that the self-driving cars we are now being promised come on a faster timetable than the flying cars that were promised sixty or more years ago. I like to drive but there are times – like now – when I keep running the same boring route over and over. It would be nice to use that time to just sit back and read a book. Or write a better blog post.

32 thoughts on “Some Random Thoughts Along The Highway

  1. I’m sorry to hear of your mom. I hope she recovers fast and well.

    I drive this very route all the time. It helps a lot that Iive right at the Whitestown/Zionsville exit — I can see it from my kitchen window. One hour door to door to see my son at Purdue. US 52 is a gem.

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  2. Jim, I’m hoping for a quick recovery for your mother.

    A related thought – how many towns in rural America have “burg”, “ville”, or “City” in the name? The last one has always dripped of optimism although the odds are usually stacked against it.

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    • Haha, this had never oxcurred to me but you are right! With a few exceptions (Kansas City comes to mind) any locale that names itself Something City – isnt. It’s certainly true around here.

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      • I love the places in America that end with “Center”, my wife’s family comes from nearby Vogel Center in Michigan. Usually these centers aren’t the center of anything at all.

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      • There’s a small town in Washington called La Center. According to the local history website it used to be called Podunk. The old name has a certain charm; the new name is (bilingually) generic.

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  3. Glad to hear that your Mother is doing better. My girlfriend, who moved here from New England suggests that there are far too many towns, rivers and streets in Michigan that are named “Grand” something. I don’t know if the early settlers found everything in the Midwest bigger than they were used to, or if they were trying to convince somebody else that things were bigger.

    This time of year, it is harder to find donuts, as the stores are all full of Paczkis (the Polish, pre-Lent pastries). I do like them, but they’re a little big for breakfast.

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    • She’s right, there is a lot of Grand in Michigan. Not much of it here in your neighbor to the south. Is it because there’s not much to call Grand or because we are more modest? Make your own conclusions.

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  4. Ironically, this is one of my favorite blog postings of yours so far. It could have to do with my similar recent experiences on I85 and I20 from NC to AL, necessitated by a recent death in the family. Being a naturally visual & curious person definitely helps the miles go by a little faster for me..and it sounds like it helps you too. How long has that house been empty? Are there any old cars behind that fence? What did they build in that abandoned factory…and what does it look like inside? I imagine myself living in an old dilapidated warehouse with a bunch of all my cars instead of living in a house….

    Why don’t McDonald’s and Burger King sell hot dogs?

    Perhaps your random thoughts put me more at ease since I struggle with issues of self-worth. Although I cannot opine intelligently about many of the issues you have written about, I can somehow totally relate right this minute and that’s reassuring to me while I’m bludgeoning my way through 2018.

    I appreciate you sharing your random thoughts as you deal with what life is presenting you with right now. I hope your mother rebounds with a quickness.

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    • Oh I know – the strange associations some of us make when we see things, right? And I had never thought about McDonald’s and BK selling hot dogs. It just wouldn’t be right.

      Don’t be hard on yourself, I have always enjoyed reading things you have written, even if just comments on a blog. You have a natural curiosity that resonates with me.

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  5. I’m so sorry to hear about your mom, JP, and wish her a full and fast recovery. But that sad news aside, I thoroughly enjoyed your post — both because I felt like I’d been along with you for the ride, and also because your inner dialog sounds so familiarly like mine. I’ll stay tuned to see if you can get to the bottom of this Brownstown and Whitesburg business (or was it the other way around? does it really matter??). And I will also encourage you to treat yourself to a roadside stop one of these times to investigate those mysterious vending machines and donuts. My best to you and your family …

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    • Thanks for the encouragement. We do have a Brownstown and a Whiteland elsewhere in the state, so perhaps this could be a really big investigation.
      I am thinking I should coordinate a trip with Jim Grey and we can make a deal that one of us goes into the vending place while the other keeps a lookout, ready to call 911 if necessary. Safety in numbers and all that. The donuts and the DQ I can handle on my own.

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  6. Praying for a speedy and full recovery for your mom. As the husband of a stroke patient, I can understand what your family is experiencing.
    Your description of the road reminds me of I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson. Mind-numbing except in the summer, when sudden terrifying dust storms happen. No donut shops either, that I can recall!

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  7. Sorry to hear about your mom, that has got to be tough combined with her other struggles. I hope she is getting good care.
    Since the turn of the year both my parents have had big health issues (Dad knee replacement #2, Mom found out she has stage IV kidney cancer) we thought it was bad when they were both in the hospital, but we just brought Mom home today and us three siblings are doing 24 hour care for the next few weeks between us. 😦

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  8. Jim, I enjoyed your article and have traveled that path many of times myself. We continue to pray for your Mom. I was surprised by your comment at the end of your blog about self-driving cars. I thought that you, being a car guy, would think that the self-driving car would be the Satan of the automotive industry. Self-driving cars would take away so much of the driving experience. Oh well, maybe that is a topic for a future blog.

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    • Thanks Robert. I think my position on self driving cars is completely contradictory. When I feel like driving I want to drive. But when driving becomes a chore (like doing the same old car on the same old route over and over) then I want it done for me. What, you’re telling me I have to choose? 🙂

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  9. Hoping your Mom will return to good health. I lost mine to cancer 12 years ago.

    I know the feeling of seeing an old classic and saying to yourself, “I will get a photo of that car next time.” I saw what must have been an early ’40s car two summers ago out of its storage at a location I pass usually weekly. I didn’t get close enough to even gather the make. Well, that car has not been seen since, but I do watch the property for it in hopefulness it might see the light of day again, if it still lives there.

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    • Thanks Lee. The worst part about that Kaiser is that I actually got a picture. Problem is that I was using an old BlackBerry as an emergency phone and the memory card was no longer in it. The picture is there on the phone but I have never been able to figure out how to get it out.

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    • Well if you decide to take the scenic US 52 detour between Lafayette and Lebanon (even odds due to accidents or construction) you can stop at the vending place and let us all know how it goes. 🙂

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  10. Best wishes for your mom’s recovery. My wife is a physical therapist who works a lot with patients recovering from strokes … the rehab progress can be amazing. Good luck!

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  11. Have lurked here since this blog’s inception. This post hits home with me in so many ways. I, too, get off of the interstate the first chance I get.

    Your comment about the transpo company that’s ‘going places’ brings to mind a common advertising trope that dad always brought up, which is, “Tomorrow’s X, Today,” with a heavy narratorial emphasis on the word “today”. Great minds think alike.

    Wrecks on I-65 have impacted me tangentially in two ways. Back in March of 2016 I was headed home from Crown Point, and wound up several miles north of the bus crash that involved the Griffith basketball team. I had to be re-routed through Rensselaer, which was fine with me since that was my last stop of the day, in order to photograph the Jasper County Courthouse. Still, it was weird to be almost, nearly, ehhh…sort of impacted by something I heard about on the news on that very same drive.

    My second experience on I-65 was even more remote. I was back in my third week at the major student loan servicer where I work, and I’d called someone to set up a payment on their delinquent account. I was tabulating the amount owed when she screamed into the phone. Someone two cars ahead of her had hit a guy that jumped out into the road from the median and she’d slammed on the brakes. She thought the guy who jumped was dead, and a review of the WTHR website on break confirmed it. Definitely hard to resume control of the call, take her information, set a payment up, and remain empathetic to what she’d just seen.

    So, at any rate- I try to drive that stretch as little as possible!

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