Thoughts from the ammo line


Okay. So, when last we left our brave if slightly anxious and forgetful columnist, she had just been stung by a scorpion, had somehow managed to acquire a couple of hours’ sleep, and was taking off by the dawn’s early light for Highway 10 East, hoping to reach Minnesota before it snowed. Remember, kids, it was still only late October. “Winter,” if you check your calendar, officially begins on December 21, some 8 weeks down the icy road, but winter in Minnesota is not bound by anything as silly and arbitrary as a calendar.

Can anything get worse than a trip that begins with a scorpion attack? Hold my beer. You’ve heard the description of an event or project being “snakebit.” Well, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, there was no snake involved, but the scorpion was not a good harbinger.

My intention is always to get through El Paso on either a Saturday or a Sunday. Weekdays, anytime within two hours of what is laughingly called “rush” hour, are out of the question. Going through El Paso – much like Texas itself – you THINK you are done, but there’s always MORE of it. This being a Saturday, I fairly flew through El Paso, sometimes at speeds approaching 40 miles in a single hour! Several feet of road construction had been completed since my last trip through in July.

A couple of hours later found me in Van Horn, Texas, checked into my hotel and enjoying Pecan Crusted Salmon at the lovely restaurant in the El Capitan hotel. So far, so good. The scorpion sting on my forefinger only hurt now when I pressed on it, so, of course, I did that with some regularity. WHY do we do that? “Whoa, this canker sore hurts! Let me stick my tongue in it and see if it still hurts NOW, several minutes later. Yup, still does!”

The next morning at 6:15 when I made a beeline for the Holiday Inn Express Cinnamon Rolls and filled my travel mug with coffee, I was somewhat startled to notice that it was DARK. Yeah, I know, you guys already knew that. But, see, I live in Arizona where we do not participate in Daylight Savings Time because we don’t feel like it. Well, that and the fact that the last thing on God’s Green Earth that Arizona needs from April to November is another hour of blazing sunshine. Also, we are way south in the time zone. When I walk at 6:30 in the morning in Arizona, it is at least partially light, soon to be both light and toasty warm.

Oh well, I thought. It will surely be light soon. Though black as pitch out, I headed for a gas station and then followed the signs “To 10 East.” The sign pointed me to a frontage road with the promise that there would be an entrance to 10 East any minute. And perhaps there was. But I missed it in the dark.

Oh well, I thought again. I bet this frontage road will continue until there’s another entrance down the line. And then I dropped a good 8 inches with a scrapey plop. Uh-oh.

I remembered that our son had a little illustrated book by Shel Silverstein “Where the Sidewalk Ends” but I did not think he had written a companion piece, “Where the Frontage Road Ends.” But end it did.

Ahead of me in my headlights was broken concrete like somebody had taken a jackhammer to it. Behind me was that 8-inch curb-like affair that I probably was not going to get back over in reverse. What to do? I had a blanket, sleeping bag, several loaded weapons, coffee, water, 16 rolls of toilet paper, and enough road snacks to last until Christmas, but the humiliation of being found there was too much to contemplate.

In the darkness, I saw that off to my left there was a flat patch of grass and a gentle slope UP back to a road where semis were zipping by. I assumed that that was Highway 10 East, or for sure some place better than where I was. I waited till I saw no semis in the right hand lane, gunned it and turned my 2012 Hyundai Sonata into an off-road all-terrain vehicle. Sometimes a grrrll has to do what a grrrll has to do.

It worked! Like several mistakes in life, sometimes you can’t go forward and you definitely can’t go backward, so you just have to chart “a whole nother” path, as we say in Minnesota.

I was pretty worried about the undercarriage, but – not to spoil the rest of the story – I have managed to drive it for over a week and hundreds of miles so far with no ill effects.

At one point I thought, “Oh, Lord, I smell gas!” And then I realized – idiot! — that I was in Midland/Odessa where the entire area smells like gas and oil because there are miles and miles and miles and miles of refineries. There are even dozens of those little bobbing donkey wells throughout the farmland and cotton fields.

It was dark until 8:15! I had cleverly left my Garmin in the trunk and was attempting to get to Guthrie, OK from some notes off an Internet map. Eventually, I stopped and fired up my Garmin. When you hear directions like “turn left at the place where the Johnson’s barn burned down last spring,” you know you are in the real boonies. I made that up, of course, but not by much. But Garmin Girl, scoldy “RECALCULATING!” wench that she is, did get me to Hwy 35 North, bless her heart. Once I get to 35N, I can practically drive it in my sleep. Probably have.

I stopped for a break, some great truck stop BBQ, and consulted Accuweather. Planning to overnight in my usual Marriott Courtyard in Ankeny, Iowa, I noticed it predicted up to 4 inches of snow there by afternoon. But nothing for further north. And so, I just kept driving. Seven hundred fifty miles, which I know ain’t nuthin’ to my many trucker fans, but a goodly piece, nonetheless. As I passed Ankeny, there was no snow – of COURSE, there wasn’t! — but you can always count on southern Minnesota. For a nice band of about 50 miles it was dark, windy, and freezing cold with road construction and sleety, horizontal snow coming at me. And then I got through it and had only metro Twin Cities traffic to deal with, surprisingly heavy at 8:30 p.m. on a Monday night. Who ARE all these people, I wondered, and where are they going?

Well, I’m here now having twice daily visits with Daddy at his Assisted Living place. Yesterday we tried compression socks for the swelling in his ankles. I wish I had had video of the two of us trying to get them on him. Laughing that hard is good for you.

Maybe flying isn’t so terrible after all. And I still have to get BACK. Where is St. Christopher when you need him? I heard he got demoted, but then reinstated like the planet Pluto, but Catholic sainthood lore is not really in my wheelhouse. TonyP? JimCR? Bueller? Any random practicing or lapsed but knowledgeable Catholic?