Sam Burnham, Curator
We’ve got a new sailor in our family, effective last Friday. So prudence required a trip to watch the Pass-In-Review ceremony, the official graduation of US Navy boot camp. Between school schedules, work schedules, travel schedules, TSA regulations, checked baggage restrictions, and the need to carry our favorite exile as much South with as absolutely possible, a decision was made.
We needed a pack mule.
That meant the ladies would fly in with their carry on bags and establish a base camp. The guys would load the required sundries into the trusty pickup, close the bed cover and hit the road. Sounds easy enough.
From our home base we chose the route that carried us over Lookout Mountain, into Alabama, back into Dade County (Free State of Dade) and then back into Tennessee at the disputed area between the enforced state line and the true boundary at the 35th parallel. This entirely cut out the Chattanooga evening rush hour. Like Bandit Darville some 56 years before us, we hit Monteagle in a drivin’ rain but we made it up and over without major incident. The rain continued through Nashville, Bowling Green, and Louisville.
The next incident is a little more controversial. While placing blame with neither the driver nor the navigator, I’ll say a wrong turn was made. We wound up on a surface street in downtown Indianapolis. It was snowing. We encountered one other car. It’s 2 am. Again, it was snowing. Somehow in an abandoned city we still wound up sitting at every red light on N. West St. Did I mention it was snowing? Besides that one other misguided soul the only humans we encountered were trucks with the Indiana DOT patrolling I-65 for snow and ice.
After thus event we began to reason with ourselves. “It’s only this far to our destination, it’s already this late, it doesn’t make much sense to stop for the night at this point...” so we rambled on.
Between Lafayette and Remington we found ourselves immersed in a sea of synchronized red warning lights atop what appeared to be small radio towers. The lights would slowly appear and then fade away in perfect unison. What in the world was going on? As the mystery grew so did the sea of lights, laid out in rows, fade in, fade out, repeat. There was a conspiracy theory proposed from the back seat - something about nuclear missile deployment and detection. But that guy is predisposed to comical conspiracy theories and fatigue and was setting in. Our ability to reason was compromised, albeit just slightly at this point. The more scientific of the two back there finally caught a glimpse in the darkness. Wind turbines. Hundreds of them.
Then the craziest part.
Somewhere between Gary, Indiana and Chicago, we wound up on another surface street. The truck’s GPS kept spitting out directions but they were to a road that doesn’t exist yet. Then it picked up a new path. I was checking it against Google Maps on my phone. The area was a strange mesh of heavy industry and light residential. The entire scene was a combination of Fitzgerald’s Valley of Ashes and the Emelio Estevez/Dennis Leary thriller Judgement Night. As I followed on my map, the road the GPS had us take just wasn’t there. “Yes, keep following,” I said, “this is right. We’re good.” But I was lying. I knew in my heart that this was it. We were lost in a pile of petroleum storage, steel mills, and rough neighborhoods. We were all going to see Jesus. Whether it was an avoidable industrial incident or one of those famous Chicago shootings, this was the end. We passed a “No Thru Traffic” sign and I took a deep breath as we approached a dirt berm at the road’s dead end - emphasis on ‘dead.’ Then, out of nowhere, an on ramp appeared in our headlights just to the right, we took it and boom, we were on I-90.
They say it’s always darkest right before the dawn. Our most dire moment came at about 4 am on a Thursday. We’d all been up around 22-24 hours, give or take. But we lived. The sun rose on the frozen landscape and we lived to see it. And I’ve never been more happy to have been wrong.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire