My Lewis Carroll Day

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…

Larry

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2 Comments

Filed under Essays and Articles, General and Local, Music

2 responses to “My Lewis Carroll Day

  1. Joan

    Although it probably was not a great experience for you, it’s a great story Larry. Well, perhaps you are prone to get lost easily, but that fault is more than made up by the fact that you have to be the one man on the planet who will actually stop and ask for directions. đŸ™‚

  2. Thanks, Joan! Yeah, it was a stressful experience, but it was also grist for my writing mill.

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