Thursday, August 11, 2011

Welcome to Possum Dance

Approximately 216 miles after we started, we had our fill of the Federal Interstate HIghway System. Now, this in itself is no surprise, nor any kind of a record. As many readers know, I'd just as soon skip the big roads altogether, unless I'm evacuating after a nuclear attack or moving troops to defend against an invading foreign army. Those were, after all, the original reasons for the cross-country road system designed back in the days of the Eisenhower administration.
The only reason we were heading east on I-74 in the first place was that we were in a bit of a hurry to get back to our part-time home in North Carolina. Son Colin and his crew were heading that way from Minnesota, so we were anxious to get there and spend as much time as possible with both of our sons and their families. I had talked my spouse/co-pilot/commander-in-chief into letting me take the slightly longer "southern route," which travels down through Kentucky and Tennessee before crossing the Appalachians near the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but that minor concession to sightseeing was it.
"I want to get there," she said.
And so did I.
216 miles later, though, we realized a mid-day start was apt to cause us to hit Indianapolis during rush hour, which is no real picnic anytime, and even worst during the annual summertime construction season.
"Let's cut south sooner," she said, after a long, hard look at a map.
I, of course, was quick to agree with a plan--and route--that might take me closer to the downtown squares, small-town parks and mom-and-pop hotdog stands that make off-the-beaten-track travel so rewarding. And while I didn't get an onion-coated chili dog out of the deal, I did enjoy that portion of the ride.
Especially the names.
The tradition of town names in America is a mixed and fancy one. Many--especially out east, I think--are named after historical events or famous people. "Washington," in fact, remains the number one town name in the U.S. But, as you get further into the midsection of the country, those names seem to take on a slightly more quirky, more localized kind of tone.
"Who do you think names these places," I said, right after we had driven past the town of Raccoon, which is just a few miles west of the delightfully named Roachdale.
Now, before it sounds like I'm making fun of these colorful monickers, let me remind you that I hail from Galva, a town that first thanked and honored the nearby Bishop Hill Swedes by letting them name the place, then promptly dissed them by immediately refusing to spell or pronounce it correctly (the original name, Gavle, is pronounced "ya-vlay.") Kewanee is, according to legend, named after a wild chicken, while Lafayette (my favorite) was reputedly named after a guy named Lafe Dunbar, not the French-born Revolutionary War hero.
Our journey continued through Brick Chapel, which has one, and Carp, where there is nary a lake, pond or fish-bearing river in sight. We didn't see Cataract, though we came close, and I was forcefully prevented from detouring through Hindustan (yes, Hindustan, Indiana) a name which continues to haunt and mystify me, though I can find no online information on it other than its spot on the map.
"Really," I said. "How do they come up with these names?"
Just then, we came to a slightly wider spot in the road, where an oncoming Chevy pickup and a couple of extra houses prompted me to slow down a bit.
Just ahead, an opossum waddled out from the underbrush. The unlovely little critter must have been a more highly evolved member of his breed, because instead of simply standing still and waiting to be squished, he jittered his way into a little back-and-forth jig that neatly avoided the tires of the oncoming truck.
More than anything, it looked like young Mr. Possum was dancing the cha-cha, a sight that we both appreciated as I slowed to a stop to let him pass.
"That's how," she said. "Welcome. Welcome to Possum Dance."

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