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Road Trip, pt 1

Unemployed as I am, I have a certain freedom of movement.

Simply put, I have no where I have to be at any given time, so I can be everywhere eventually.

With this in mind I decided to got for a drive. I had plans to be in Florida for a spring training trip the second weekend in March, but jumped the gun slightly on that by taking off on the previous Monday. This I did for two reasons; One: I had absolutely no desire to stay cooped up int he small western Indiana town that had seen me get laid off twice by the same company in the span of 11 months. And two: Why not?

So Monday at noon I got up, checked my email, made some coffee, and cleaned up a little around the apartment. At this point I have no idea when I will be back in Indiana so being greeted by rotten milk upon my return is something I want to avoid.
By 3 p.m. I was out the door, cramming my laptop bag, a Nike bag with as many clothes as will fit, a smaller backpack for the side trip to spring training and a suit in the trunk of my 2008 Sebring convertable.

I should probably explain about the suit. You see though being totally depressed and pessimistic by my job prospects at the moment, I still feel like there is that one-in-a-million chance that I will be in Florida and will get a call from a prospective employer asking if I can be in Georgia, say, tomorrow. I’d rather not drive all the way back to Indiana for a change of clothes.
I start my journey south by going west. I head down US 136 about 20 miles to US 41. I chose 41 for a reason. When I went to college, 41 was the highway that went through town. At my first job in the journalism business, 41 was the road I took many times. The northern reaches of that road are ones I have gotten to know, from Copper Harbor to Green Bay. This trip is about discovering the southern reaches of that same road.

For the first hundred miles or so, I am re-tracing steps I have already taken. Last summer I drove the same route down 41 to Terre Haute one weekend when I was bored. After twisting through Indiana farm country on the highway running more or less pararell to the state line with Illinois for two hours, I pass the Starbucks where I stopped for coffee and turned around on the previous voyage. I pass under the I-70 overpass and into unchartered territory.

The journey takes me through towns with names I reconigize from the state basketball scores sent down by the Associated Press each Friday. Farmersburg, oh, there that is, I thought that was somewhere north of Lafayette.

All in all this leg goes well. Not too much farming machinery slowing me down, one semi truck that didn’t seem to realize it was more than safe to pull out in front of the car that was still a half mile away, but other than that I roll in Vincennes with no incident. After a quick meal I negotiate the jog of 41 and continue south toward the Ohio River.

When I cross it, it seems a bit off. The “Welcome to Kentucky” sign is well before the bridge in a flat area filled with reeds. Perhaps Kentucky claimed some extra territory.

By this point the sun is going down and my choice of taking the scenic route becoes suspect because when it is dark out there is less to see.

US 41 in Kentucky is hills and various small towns whose names are forgotten before I’ve left them behind. I suddenly become aware of two things, one: there is a railroad to my right. I notice this quite suddenly when I blow through a small town and past a cross street and in my periferal vision see flashing lights of a crossing. This panicks me a bit. Tracks that start on one side of you do not always stay on that side and if I get stuck at a train crossing I’m liable to peel off and take some back road and then who knows where I’ll end up.

The second thing I become aware of is that on the other side of me seems to be an interstate highway. Up to this point I had not so much as looked at a map. I was vaguely aware that US 41 runs into Florida at some point and US 41 is the road that I’m on, so good enough. This highway startles me so I look at the map function on my phone only to find that it claims to be I-69. I hadn’t realized they stretched the thing down that far.

In Hopkinsville, KY comes a hickup. US 41 veers wildly through town and one turn is not marked. Ending up in a quiet residential neighborhood, I check my phone and find 41 two blocks to my left, running paralell to me. I jog over two blocks and turn on 41 only to find a sign that says “Alternate 41.” I have no idea what this means or where this goes and I’m too busy driving through the dark south of Hopkinsville to scroll a map on my phone from Kentucky clear down to Florida.

So off into the inky blackness on Alt 41 I go, traipsing through small Kentucky towns and into Tennesee. Stopping for a shake at McDonalds I check the map to see what’s what. US 41, Alt 41 and I-24 all run vaguely southeast at various angles toward Nashville. I consider hopping on 24 to take the interstate, but stick to my guns of following 41.

I come into Nashville from atop a hill, the entire city open in front of me, the state capitol brightly lit. As I get into the center of the city I run into my second problem in as many states. Alt 41 makes a right turn and afterwards is sent down a ramp to the left. I don’t see the ramp in time and end up on some side street. I try making a couple left turns to hit 41, but Nashville’s streets do not conform to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and its love of grid patterns and I am thrust westawrd away from downtown.

I pull a U-ey and hit downtown again, thinking I can hit 41 somewhere, but I just end up on I-65 somehow.
Eventually I find my way back to 41 and continue south.

Passing through Nashville takes me past cop after cop. It is about 11 p.m. Local time and everything downtown is in full swing. If you have never been to Nashville, it’s worth the trip. The entire main drag is lined with bars with a constant stream of live music. If you don’t like the band that’s playing just head next door or across the street and you’re bound to find a band you’ll like.

This time however I’m just passing through. I head down to Shelbyville and after making several Simpsons jokes in my head, I turn off 41 (deliberately this time) and onto 231. My thinking was this- 41 meanders through Chatanooga and then down into Atlanta and Atlanta is always hell to get through.

So I bypass it all by taking US 231 down to Huntsville, AL and then hopping on 65 again.

Here is where I make a brutal mistake. I assume that there will be some kind of interstate running diagnally from Montgomery to Macon, allowing my to connect with I-75 for the final push into Florida without the mess of going through Atlanta.
There is no such road.

Failing that I figure 65 will run more or less straight south hitting the pan-handle and I can hop on I-10.
It doesn’t go due south. After Montgomery it veers off to the west in order to hit Mobile.

So in Greenville, AL I once again leave the interstate and take Alabama-10 back to US 231 so I can cross into Florida and cut off a corner.

It is after dawn when I stop for gas in Dothan, AL and all over the radio dial are the morning shows. You have a slew of conservative talk options where men with vague southern accents totally misrepresent my political leanings in a condesending way. Then there was a totally unrelated conservative who tried to make a point about bald eagles and protecting kids that got toally muddled. Then there was the crew discussing sitcoms where one guy who said he really liked “Big Bang Theory” (despite saying the word “dork” in such a way as to imply he doesn’t so much like the sort of people that show is based on). He dismissed all other sitcoms claiming they “are all about the S-word.” He did not eloborate. He also dismissed “Two Broke Girls” claiming it’s about two women sleeping their way through New York. Sorry, Max and Caroline may joke about it but other than Caroline’s one night stand in episode 18, how much slutting around has there really been? This radio guy is clearly delusional.

Day two of my journey continues as I cross the border into Florida and hop on I-10 for the trip east. I forget just how big this state is sometimes.

By 10 a.m. I find myself at a Starbucks in Lake City, the town best known for being where I-10 and I-75 meet. Also UF was there at one point but they moved it. This is my one chance to charge my phone with by this point had been used in two lengthy phone conversations and as an iPod for hours on end. The battery was in the red during the night while I was in Alabama. I charge it for a few minutes while I sip my mocha and eat my croissant.

Leaving Starbucks I morph into Florida mode. When I left Indiana it was 35 degrees and I was wearing my winter jacket and a sweatshirt. The jacket came off in Tennesee because it was warm enough in the car, but it was still 37 outside most of the night. Along I-10 I notice the thermometer on my dashboard creep up into the 70’s. Florida weather. I change into a t-shit and the top comes down on the car.

After a brief jaunt down I-75 results in me scatering the wrapper of every fast food meal I’ve had in the past month onto the highway, I pull over at a rest stop. I change into shorts and sandals for the first time in months, spread on some sunscreen, and shove everything that will fit into the trunk so that it won’t fly away.

This is cathartic. As I continue down I-75 and turn onto the Florida turnpike I am reminded why I loved this state. When I worked in Jacksonville I would have some very stress-filled days putting up with broken equipment and an asshole boss. But the shift would end, the top would come down on the car and by the time I had crossed the ditch on Beach Blvd, the stress was gone. There is nothing better for the soul than owning a convertable in Florida.

I continue down the turnpike in the afternoon, grabbing a quick nap in a service plaza parking lot south of Orlando- only half hour of sleep I’ve had, and continue on. The ocean is ahead of me and a jaunt down I-95 through Miami.

When I get to Ft. Lauderdale I begin to make plans for the night. My vague plan had been to head to Key West, based solely on the fact that I had lived in Florida for two years and never went there so why the hell not. I call several hotels which are all booked and finally find one that can fit me in, but I have to pay $295 a night. Eeesh.

I head over the causeway. It’s dark by this point and somewhat eerie that I’m driving on a thin strip of land with the wide expanse of salt water on either side. I pass through several towns that look to be based solely on selling kitch and cruise the 127 miles (yes, that’s how long the Keys are) all the way to Key West and to my hotel where I find out why I had so much trouble finding a room.

Spring Break, baby!

Tomorrow may be trouble.


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