I missed a music gig today. The day started out a bit weird and then got stranger. I was supposed to play fiddle with my band Ralugerri at a park right behind the Clarence Cannon dam, which impounds Mark Twain Lake.
We were supposed to start our gig at 1:00 PM; I left Quincy at noon, thinking I’d get there on time. I must confess that I’m often late and get lost easily. (Could there be a connection? I’m just kidding…)
I consulted Google Maps before I left; it looked easy, head out on I-36 and turn south on Rt. J.
I was cruising westwards on I-36 and there was someone right behind me who wouldn’t pass me, the car just tailed me closely. I just hate that and I pulled off to the shoulder and consulted a map, a mere pretense to let the annoying car pass me. Then a Missouri State Patrol car pulled in behind me, lights flashing and siren blaring. Oh, no, I wasn’t happy about this development.
The officer approached me; I rolled my window down and talked with the man.
“Having problems?”, the thirty-something patrolman, who had a brownish crew-cut, asked me.
“I’m lookin’ for Rt. J; is it before Monroe City or after it?”
“Oh, buddy, you’re gonna have a rough time, I can just tell! Rt. J is closed down cuz they’re building a new bridge over the Salt River. There’s a shortcut you can take on gravel roads, but you’d get lost. It’s just a maze of gravel roads back in there.”
A prophetic statement!
“So is there a detour? Is it well-marked?”
“Well, yeah, there’s a detour, but it takes you forty miles out of your way. You’re gonna be late!” I had told him about the music gig.
I got to the park; I had stopped in Perry, MO to make sure I was on the right track. A woman at a convenience store told me, “I’ve been hearing people bitchin’ about that detour all day!”
Once at the park I found that the band had played without me and had already left. I talked with a guy and told him that I needed to get back to Quincy –“What’s the shortest route, since Route J is closed?”
The guy told me, “The funny thing about this is, is that the bridge is done; they could have opened it yesterday.”
I said, “What the hell? You’d think these state agency people would coordinate! There’s an Army Corp Of Engineer’s-sponsored festival goin’ on and they shut down the only access road?!”
“Well, state employees are only human, after all.”
The guy said, “There’s a truck driver in the kitchen who knows these roads around here better than I do; he’s the one wearing a black vest.”
I walked into the kitchen and saw the man in the vest. I introduced myself; the elderly guy in the black vest said, “The quickest way is by the back gravel roads, but you’d probably get lost –it’s just a maze of gravel roads.” The man gave me directions using only paved roads.
The directions were complex and confusing, so I stopped at a gas station before I got more lost, just for confirmation. There were a couple of old guys sitting at a round table, watching me query the pretty female clerk.
The woman said, “Look, here’s a map I drew. You don’t mind driving on gravel roads, do ya?”
“No, I’m used to driving on gravel — but I just wanta get home.”
I set off and couldn’t find Oakwood Lane, the first turn-off. I got to where barriers had been set up, where Rt. J had been closed; it was gray and drizzly and visibility was poor. I did find Oakwood Lane after I had turned around and cruised slowly back.
The map the clerk had given me told me to turn off Oakwood onto Apple Lane and follow it until I hit Hereford Lane, where I was supposed to turn right. I followed Apple Lane until it ended at a river access lot, a place where boaters and fisher-folk could access the Salt River. My map evidently was flawed.
I imagined a scene back at the convenience store, after I’d driven away:
“Damn, Mary, did you give that poor lost guy one of those fake maps of yours, the ones which have imaginary roads and such?”
‘Yeah, I did! What of it?”
“Mary, you have a mean streak a mile wide!”
Mary smiled wickedly and said, “Yeah, you’re right!”
Well, I was well and truly lost by then. I picked a gravel road and took off down it, hoping that I would eventually return to civilization. I needed to talk to a local, someone who could direct me and give me good directions. I saw a house with vehicles parked out front and pulled into the driveway.
I walked up the sidewalk to the front door. Oh, it was weird; I felt like I had walked into the opening scene of a bad slasher flick. The two side-light windows next to the door were shattered. There was a bad smell coming from inside –I’ve smelled this complex amalgam of odors before — generally it results from insufficient cleaning, with discarded morsels of food rotting beneath couches and chairs. Then I noticed a steel file-cabinet drawer sitting askew in the front yard; it looked like it was caked with old vomit. I half-expected a lunatic to come running from the house brandishing a blood-caked ax.
I left — I was just thoroughly creeped out.
So I drove off in a random direction, glad to get away from that place. I saw a brown car approaching me and I beckoned. The car backed up; so did I until our windows were aligned.
There was an old guy driving the car; he had a bushy white mustache.
‘Looks like you’re lost!”, he said.
“Yeah, seriously! How do I get to I-36? I’m wantin’ to get back to Quincy.”
“Oh, you’re more-or-less headin’ the right way. Keep followin’ this road until ya get to Hereford [he pronounced it “hurfurd] and take a right. You’ll get to Rt. J just north of where they have it blocked off, cuz of that bridge replacement.”
“Thanks, man!” I was so glad that he hadn’t given me that classic answer from the old “Arkansas Traveler” vaudeville skit:
A man was lost while motoring through Arkansas. He saw an old codger with a long white beard sitting on his front porch in a rocking chair, contentedly smoking a corn-cob pipe.
“Hi! How do I get to Little Rock from here?”
“Really, you can’t get there from here!”
I finally made it home; I felt like I’d been through the looking glass and back! Sometimes it occurs to me that my life is a bit too colorful…