I pounded the steering wheel of the car that my friends called, “the Boat”. I was sitting at the top of a hill at the end of a snow covered lane watching a farmer toss bales of straw out to 3 horses from the back of his pick-up. When I looked up I realized he had stopped breaking bales and tossing them to the horses and he was watching me. The horses were too.
I’d turned up the lane thinking it was one of the roads represented by red lines on the map I was attempting to read. The right red line would get me to the school where my girlfriend Stacey was studying engineering at a University in Redville, Illinois. By the time I realized it wasn’t the right road it had become too narrow to turn around in so I was bound to get to the end and hope to find a spot to turn around in so I didn’t have to try to drive in reverse all the way back down to where I started. Going backwards increased the chance of me going into the deep, snow packed ditches on either side of the narrow lane by about 100%.
The farmer jumped down out of his pick up and walked over to where I sat in the boat.
“You lost?” he asked, as I rolled down the window.
“Um, looks like it. I’m trying to find a road to get me over to Redville.” I started my explanation. “I’m supposed to be meeting someone there about 20 minutes ago and I thought I was taking a short cut.”
“This ain’t a shortcut,” he said, smiling at me. “Just a second and I’ll move my truck and you can pull up and turn around. Then I’ll tell you how to get where you’re headed.” He walked back to his truck shaking his head.
A few minutes later I had the car pointed back down the lane and looked out over the fields of white as far as my eye could see. The brightness was hurting my eyes but it was nothing compared to the knot in my stomach about being late to meet Stacey. The farmer gave me quick, easy to follow directions and I was on my way. I was closer than I thought and I was relieved to know it. The knot loosened a little bit and I just started getting excited about finally seeing Stacey who I prayed had not run off for a quick coffee with some guy she just ran in to because I was late meeting her.
Not too far down the road, across the flat Illinois landscape a ‘ville popped up. Smaller than a city I guess, no longer a town, Redville appeared and I’ll admit it, I almost cried. Not only was I being welcomed by a sign put up by the Rotary Club there were signs up along the road directing me, with arrows, to Redville College. Within a few turns I was at the edge of the campus for the school and trying to figure out where to go. Since I was late our original meeting point wouldn’t work anymore. I had the name of Stacey’s dorm and thought that would be a good place to start. I pulled up next to a giant map of the campus. I found Stacey’s dorm, figure out where I was in relation to it and figured out a route that looked pretty easy for getting from here to there.
In one corner of the parking lot I found the lane that went in the direction I wanted to go and pulled on to it. I passed in between buildings, big drifts on either side of the lane and drover further into the campus, trying to remember the map and the route I’d plotted from it. I came into a big open area with buildings all around me and lanes occasionally splitting off the one I was on at strange angles. I rolled the Boat gently down the lane and tried to spot names on the buildings that surrounded the big, open rectangle I was driving through. And then all at once doors opened and students came pouring out of the buildings and into the lanes. I couldn’t move or I would run over one of the students walking quickly around and past me in every direction.
I saw my chance to get some help so I rolled my window down and asked a passing student if he knew where “Mercy Hall” was. He pointed over to my right and said, “It’s a couple building over behind that row of buildings. Go park in the parking lot down there and then walk up the lane and it will be the second building on your right.”
Relieved and grateful I said, “Thanks, I really appreciate it.” and I started to roll up my window.
“Hey,” he said, “hey man, you do know you’re driving in the Common, right?”
“The common what?”
“THE Common. These are paths for people to walk on, not to drive on.”
“Oh…uh, the snow, I, uh, didn’t, uh…thanks.” I rolled up he window and pulled away, my face a very bright shade of red. I hoped the school was big enough that I wouldn’t run in to him again and none of Stacey’s friends would recognize me as that guy that drove the huge car through the Common.
…to be continued…