My daughter Shannon and I just spent three days on the road, driving her car back to Minnesota after she spent the summer in Arizona. While Tom hopped on an airplane and flew back to Fargo in three breezy hours, we took three days to cover the same 1,700 miles in Shannon’s little Mazda.
“Do you realize,” I asked her at one point, “that you will have lived in two climates with a 150-degree temperature span this year?”
She thought about that a minute. It was true. Who spends the summer in Arizona and the winter in Minnesota? Who willingly endures two months of plus 100-degree days and then, of his or her own free will, goes back to a land where minus 30-degree days are distinct possibilities?
But Shannon had realized her goal of getting to know her new nephews and niece better. She was the godmother at both of her nephews’ baptisms. And she was able to give the new mothers lots of much-needed support. Mission accomplished. Summer well spent.
But then it was time for the road trip back. Since Tom made the trip out with Shannon in June, it was my turn to ride shotgun. And armed with my road atlas, my Mapquest printouts, and my nearly super-human sense of direction, it was my responsibility to provide navigation for the return trip. (My theory of getting home: take any highway going either east or north. Works every time.)
What we found out on the open road was your Federal Stimulus Dollars at work. I believe the total stimulus bill was $787 billion. After driving from Arizona to Minnesota, Shannon and I are convinced that fully $700 billion of those dollars were used to buy orange highway construction cones, orange detour signs, and orange fencing.
Oklahoma on I-40 may have taken the prize. Instead of counting the number of miles under construction, it was much simpler to count the number of miles that were unimpaired. That would be twelve. Twelve miles of straight, simple, clean, unhampered roadway. The rest of it was decorated with every type of orange signage and orange safety indicator known to man.
Even worse, every construction zone was labeled with reduced speed signs and the warning, “Fines double in work zones.” In Texas, the zealous Texas State Highway Patrol was supremely evident. Maybe Texas spent some of its share of Federal Stimulus Dollars hiring additional law enforcement. They were everywhere—lights flashing, pulling over offending vehicles, collecting double fines on behalf of the fine state of Texas.
Kansas must have done all its road construction last summer. All of its highways were bright, clean, smooth, and well maintained. However, in Kansas, we ran into turnpike tollways. Drop $1.15 at this toll booth—exact change in coins only, please—no bills or pennies. Drop another $1.15 at the next toll both; and finally, pay $1.90 to leave the great state. (Luckily, there was an actual person at that tollbooth who could make change for 2 one-dollar bills. By that time, all of our coinage was exhausted down to the last seat-cushion-crack dime.)
Iowa and South Dakota again made the summer of 2010 the Summer of Road Construction. Orange cones, detours, concrete barriers, creeping along at 45 miles per hour. We marveled at the large machines—one guy would be operating the machine while clusters of three, four, or five other men in orange vests and hard hats stood watching. ‘What exactly,’ we asked each other, ‘are they watching?’ Over and over, the scene replayed along I-40, I-35, I-80, I-29 . . . one guy operating the machine and several others leaning, sweating, scratching, watching.
So the road trip is finally over. It wasn’t like we were Thelma and Louise. Never once did I have to shout, “Driiive, Shannon! Drive! Drive the car! Go! Go! Go go go go go go!” We never hit an orange cone, we never led the Texas State Patrol on a high speed chase, and we never disobeyed a detour sign. We just drove those 1,700 orange-decorated miles until we finally made it home.