I’ve driven the some 260 plus mile stretch of Interstate Highway 64 between
St. Louis, Missouri, my birthplace, and ,
my home for the last thirty years, hundreds of times. Louisville Kentucky
That stretch of interstate’s not a very interesting road: straight and flat for the most part with few stops along the way. Sometimes there’s flooding along the sides of the road, in
Indiana and ,
sometimes there’s construction on the road. I’ve run into some major storms
while driving that stretch. But it’s always been just a means to an end,
getting from one city to the other. Illinois
The people in the car and the purpose of the trip vary. Holidays and special occasions: the car laden down like Santa’s sleigh with Christmas presents, our two sons when they were young and a big collie dog.
Traveling to my parents’ and my in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversaries, which as coincidence would have it, were the exact same date. To accommodate our attending both, my in-laws had a lunch-time celebration; my parents an evening event.
I remember that trip because we were in a particular hurry; my husband got a speeding ticket. Our parents who were retired and relatively healthy at the time would have told us to take our time. I could almost hear my Dad, “Better to arrive in one piece and late than get in an accident.” I have to admit we haven’t always heeded the advice to take our time.
We’ve driven that interstate in sickness and health: hurry-up trips when a parent or a relative was sick or had died. Depending on who was doing the driving we often compared our drive times, my husband’s always the shortest. When I drove alone it added fifteen to thirty minutes to the time, either because of extra stops or a lighter foot. Music, audio books or games, depending on our moods and who was in the car he
to pass the miles.
Many of the
trips were over the last decade of my and my husband’s parents’ lives. Stress
and worry were a constant on those drives as we often were racing to a hospital
or rehab center because of the latest chapter in a string of difficult times.
So many trips that only a few of those drives do I remember specifically. St. Louis
The reason for one drive on that same stretch of I-64 was to return from a weekend get-together with two best friends from high school. We get together at least once a year, sometimes in fun locations, such as a five-day trip to
But many times our get togethers are just a quick add-on to a trip to our
hometown to see family and friends. Asheville, North Carolina
Our friendships, originating when we entered an all-girl high school at ages thirteen and fourteen, have lasted now fifty years. Like traveling that interstate, our friendships have been in good times and bad. We’ve been in each other weddings, celebrated the births of our children, and for two of us, our grandchildren. We’ve shared the difficulties and joys of raising children, working in jobs we loved or hated, going back to graduate and law school. More recently, we’ve laughed together over the indignities of age. We have seen some husbands come and go, and have shared our sorrows with the passing of all of our parents. This trip, time and money led us to decide on a short trip to our hometown.
After a fun weekend and saying goodbye to my friends, I headed home on Monday morning, spurred to get an early start by my husband who had been watching the weather. He often checks the weather radar even if we are just crossing the street to walk the dog in the park on a cloudy day, frequently saving us from being caught in a sudden downpour. He advised I should leave early to avoid a line of severe weather coming in from the north, predicted to arrive in
at 5 PM eastern. With the early start I thought I was on track to beat the
storm by a couple of hours. Louisville
Stopping at a rest area in
Illinois I saw a text from my husband updating me that
the storm now had changed paths and likely would intersect I-64 right after
by early afternoon. My thoughtful husband suggested I stop in Evansville, Indiana for a couple of hours to let the
storm pass. Evansville
My husband and I had stopped at that exit just two weeks befoe with a packed lunch for me and to buy McDonalds’ happy meals for our grandkids. That trip with our two grandchildren in the back seat had been an unqualified delight. We went to a Cardinal baseball game, explored the twelve story playground that is the
and ate genuine frozen custard from Ted Drewes, coincidentally my very first employer.
Giggles and “stump the grandparents” on a Presidential 20 Questions game passed
the time on the drives there and back. City Museum
Making fun of people who are gluten free is almost a national pastime now. It was a running joke in
on the comedy
bus tour my friends from high school and I took last year. Tom Waits, George
Clooney and David Letterman championed “Free the Glutens” on one of Letterman’s
last Tonight Show appearances. Articles abound with reasonable arguments that,
except for the small percentage of the population with celiac disease, most
people do not benefit from avoiding gluten. Asheville
All of that is fine, except for those of us who do have celiac or gluten intolerance. Even a tiny crumb of bread or cross-contamination with a wheat product makes me sick for days. There currently is no medication to he
lp the gastro-intestinal discomfort and flu-like
symptoms that result from a mistake at a restaurant. For that reason, I avoid most
fast food restaurants and those without a gluten-free menu.
As a result, on long car trips, airplanes and at airports, concerts and stadiums, to name just a few gluten-free-hostile venues, I often find myself painfully hungry if I don’t bring my own food or if the venue does not permit outside food.
I wasn’t looking forward to prolonging my stop in
this time, knowing all of the usual restaurants we had tried involved fast food
and the only likely gluten-free option would be a drink. Nevertheless, I
reflected that sitting with a bottle of water at a rest stop is better than
trying to drive through a severe storm. Evansville
I recalled another trip home from
unexpected storm caught me in blowing, blinding rain where I was afraid to pull
off the road but also afraid to continue on. Eventually, I was able to follow the
taillights of a large truck and pull off at this same St. Louis exit, hunkering down, along with a
lot of 18-wheelers at an abandoned service station, as golf-ball-sized hail
pelted the overhang. Evansville
I didn’t want to repeat that experience so I pulled off at the exit. Since wasting time was the point of my stop, I drove a half mile past McDonalds, Arby’s and the service stations. I had seen a new sign for a Denny’s and could not recall seeing that restaurant at this location.
Finally, I spotted what looked like a 1950’s-era, silver diner, tucked near one of the motels, barely visible from the road. I figured it would be more pleasant to drink an ice tea and sit at a table, even if I was hungry, than to sit in my car and wait for the storm to pass.
Stepping out of my fourteen-year old, boxy
that no one would mistake for a time-traveling DeLorean, I nevertheless felt a
bit like Marty McFly as I walked into a diner that looked like it had been
transported from an earlier era. Toyota
The diner oozed the same old-fashioned charm on the inside as on the outside. A friendly waitress seated me and provided a menu, at which I barely glanced. After ordering ice tea, I asked the waitress if they had anything gluten free. To my surprise she pointed out the menu was color coded and clearly marked for guests with food allergies.
I thought the diner must be from “Back to the Future 4”, the yet-to-be-made sequel where the past combined the best of the old and the new, including foods labeled for people like me with food allergies. All gluten-free choices were clearly marked. In addition to salads and entrée choices, sandwiches could be ordered on gluten-free bread. Breakfast, including gluten-free pancakes, was served all day. This was Nirvana for someone with celiac disease. I confidently chose a gluten-free salad, with grilled chicken. A meal that easily would satisfy for the long stop as well as the rest of the drive home.
Before leaving I asked the waitress when this Denny’s diner had opened. I expected it had been recently. She said she’d worked there for the last fifteen years. Apparently, we had just never ventured more than a mile off the interstate.
After a long-ish lunch break I called to check in with my husband of 43 years. I was beginning to think of him as my “personal weather man”. He said the storm had passed, the highway beyond
should be clear sailing. He also suggested
I take my time and travel safely. Strange words from one who in past years had
often wondered why it took me longer to make the drive. Evansville
Driving home I thought back to one other
Louisville to trip. Ten years ago, on the day my
Dad died, I quickly threw a few things in a suitcase and headed to St. Louis late in the
afternoon, a time I had never made the drive. My husband and sons would join me
the next day. I cried a little as I drove, but kept on that straight stretch of
highway without stop until I could see the St. Louis St. Louis
skyline from .
A sight I’d never seen before: a gorgeous sunset, framed by the Gateway Arch,
hit me like a blow to the chest. My tears stopped and I smiled. I could almost
hear my Dad say, “Stop and look at that amazing view.” Illinois
This trip to
and back to see my “besties” was not
life changing. Nor was my short detour and stop at the Denny’s silver diner at
the St. Louis
exit. Though failing to heed the changing weather and getting caught in a bad
storm could have been. Evansville
I did almost hear my Dad’s voice again as I thought about the silver linings on this trip that will keep it in my memory as one of the memorable
Louisville to trips. I’ve
come to treasure the value of family and good friends, reliance on my husband
with his thoughtful concern, and I also found a great new stopping point for
lunch where I can safely eat along a commonly-traveled road. How many more silver
linings could I want? St. Louis