This is actually a two part story. It begins with a friend of mine in Jacksonville, FL, who had commissioned me to pick up an antique Wurlitzer jukebox he had bought in Peoria, and to deliver it to him on our vacation. He would pay for the trip down. We were going to continue from there up to Charlotte, NC, to visit a friend, and then on to Jamestown, NY, for a week with family before returning home.
As we planned the trip, we considered routes to travel, having been down I-65/I-24 several times. We decided to try I-57/I-24 since we had never seen southern Illinois, and I wanted to see the Ohio River (which I had crossed in several places upstream over the years) near its junction with the Mississippi and at nearly its widest point.
As we concluded the planning, we committed to a number of appointments and visits with our friends in Jacksonville and Charlotte and our family in Jamestown, all of which depended on us being in Jacksonville on Sunday night. Since it's an easy two day trip, we planned on leaving Saturday morning.
I figured that we could easily be out of there by 0700…or maybe 0800…but perhaps if something unforeseen ocurred, 0900…but 1000 at the latest…however, in no case later than 1100…although even if we really miscalculated, positively by noon…
The record is now murky as to what caused all of this delay, and I don't come off too well in the telling, but SWMBO insists it was necessary to do laundry, vacuuming, sheet changing, floor scrubbing, and sundry other household chores before we left for two weeks. I, on the other hand, failed to understand that activity for which there is no immediate benefit.
In any event, off we went, and as the sun set somewhere around Effingham, I closed the book on any possibilty of seeing southern Illinois on this trip (remember, one of the raisons d'etre for taking I-57). As it happened, there turned out to be a significant series of thunderstorms that rolled through the Midwest that evening that year (1980, I think; it was a remarkable meteorological event), and I did in fact, get to see some of southern Illinois, although in a colorless, stroboscopic fashion.
Now, as I mentioned in Family Story #2, SWMBO has lost some vision capability at night over the years, and doesn't feel comfortable driving after dark. She also is nervous in rain, and doesn't like two lane roads, a combination of the three, of course, is usually cause for stopping. So, after repeatedly turning down offers of relief at the wheel, I relented somewhere south of Marion, and she took the wheel.
A small bit of background is necessary here. In some previous years SWMBO had offered me driving relief a couple of times and shortly thereafter in each case, some event ocurred (a tunnel, one time; sudden and significant terrain change, another) that terminated my respite after only about ten minutes. I routinely turned down subsequent relief opportunities by saying I couldn't stand the ten minute rest.
So, no sooner did she start driving than a light rain began to fall, but she was determined to give me a break. In fact, she was downright obstinate in that regard given the history, and as a result of about six hours of chip shots I had fired at her about our late departure.
Less than five minutes later a sign appeared alongside the Interstate that said:
I suggested she let me take over again, but she was obdurate at this point, and insisted she was going to give me my break. We exited I-57, followed the detour signs, and about a mile later, entering Brookport, I saw a sign that said:
I tried to insist then that she pull over because I knew she would not be happy on whatever bridge we encountered, but she was quite insistent (and a less charitible spouse would say nasty) that she would continue driving. I have since come to learn that she did not see the sign.
Let me recap briefly; it is about 2300, it is darker than the inside of a hat, we're in rural southern Illinois, on a two lane road, in the rain, in an area we've never been before, and SWMBO is driving a large Ford Econoline van in conditions she is most uncomfortable with.
All of a sudden, we rounded a corner, went up a small incline and found ourselves sitting in the one southbound lane of a very long, narrow bridge, with a steady stream of northbound traffic. She froze.
Fortunately she was able to keep her foot on the gas while I grabbed the wheel from the passenger's seat and steered nearly a mile over that bridge from the right seat. I didn't see a bit of the Ohio River.
The story has a more or less happy ending. We got into a motel beyond Paducah around midnight, and made an early departure the next morning after some minor skirmishes with insects in the motel room. We had a pleasant day of driving, and we did make it to Jacksonville by Sunday night. We got the Wurlitzer delivered, and had quite the enjoyable vacation from that point.
But it's a great family story.
12 years later our daughter enrolled at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, and making the frequent drive down I-57 over the ensuing four years, we had plenty of opportunity to see what we had missed south of Effingham. Turns out that night in the lightning might have been the better view.
Last updated: 27 January 2009