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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Long Distance Driving

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,



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I have just returned from a long road trip from Oklahoma to Central Wisconsin and back. I wouldn't call the drives exactly "solo." I was accompanied on the trip north by a sweet stray dog I picked up a few weeks ago going to a good Wisconsin home; and going back south, by a stray kitten I acquired up north, knowing he'd never survive the winter outdoors up there at his tender age. He came back with me to a good home with my neighbor in Oklahoma. These travel companions made the trip much more bearable, but of course, neither of them could relieve me of any driving duties.

So I had 12 hours to my first stop headed north to drop off the dog, and 13.5 hours of driving on the trip back with the baby tiger to think, while still giving most of my attention to the remarkably bad car and pickup drivers who frequent the interstates.

I do a quite a few of these solo drives, and I have learned to equip myself with things to make the trip more bearable. There is not much to be done about the fact that I dislike driving, and hate to sit still. Frequent breaks would help with the inactivity, but that lengthens the drive time-wise, and being sleepy behind the wheel is too risky.

Some of my coping mechanisms are unsweetened ice tea and lots of water. I can get a bad case of "get-there-itis" once I start, and drinking a lot helps force me to halt more frequently. After 17 l/2 years of living in Oklahoma, I have every restroom on this trip scoped out; there are many on the "unacceptable to Janie" list, but I know the ones I can count on to be clean. I also always have a little thermos of coffee for my normal 2 p.m. coffee break.

I pack my own lunch. This has two goals �� avoiding nasty, unhealthy "road" foods, and reducing the "wait" time you often encounter at fast food stops. Standing in a fast food restaurant twiddling my thumbs waiting drives me crazy, when I know I want to reach my destination before dark, and the deer get active. Food choices �� not messy, easy to eat, healthy. Apples, cheese cubes, nuts and my favorite reduced-fat Triscuts.

I love listening to National Public Radio. I always learn something, usually something unexpected, and it's a nice break from music. I do listen to a lot of music but enjoy the always thought-provoking format of NPR.

I dress for comfort, not style. And I always endeavor to get a really good night's sleep the night before, with an early as possible start. I'm a morning person, and not at my most alert and safest at 7 p.m.

One interesting thing I noticed on the interstate brought back a memory from a long time ago. The interstate has "stacked" speed signs, with a normal speed limit, and a second one below it that is "minimum speed." Normally that's around 40, and it's intended to reduce the risk of "overtaking" faster traffic accidents. But something about the stacked signs made me remember that when I started to drive in the 70's Wisconsin highways had stacked signs too �� "day" and "night" speed limits. Normally night limits were 5 to 10 miles per hour less. That seems quaint now but it really does make sense from a safety standpoint, and try as I might I don't remember when those went away. Perhaps the belief is the road engineering and the car headlights are better now. If anyone remembers when that happened, I'd love to know. But at my age, I enforce a "night limit" on myself, not needing a sign to remind me to slow down.

These long drives make me appreciate our over-the-road truck drivers. They are on the roads in all weather, at all hours of the day and night, holidays and all other times. They are bringing us, at a fair price, all the goods we buy at nearly any store. Without them, our costs would be much higher, and the "always in stock" expectation we have of stores would be impossible. Imagine shipping everything by boat or train �� or even worse, by air. Costs and delivery times would skyrocket, and prices and availability would be a lot different from what we enjoy now. I nearly always find these professional drivers to be courteous and careful, and after sitting in a car for 12 hours, I have great respect for them. Being a truck driver would probably be the worst choice of profession in the world for me. I am always impressed when I see a driver with a proud notation on his or her cab "Million safe mile driver." I know they deal with the same phone-obsessed driving menaces I meet �� and because driving any vehicle a million miles is a vision of hell for me.

I am probably too old to be able to enjoy the driverless cars that will be coming someday. But when I am pounding down the interstate, it is nice to dream of my car handling that chore all by itself, while I read a book or take a nap. Bring it on!

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.


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