Getting lost and missing Austin

Published 10:42 am Wednesday, November 5, 2008

“Anyone who takes himself too seriously always runs the risk of looking ridiculous; anyone who can consistently laugh at himself does not.” —Vaclav Havel

Last Friday I got to drive to Eau Clair, Wis. to get Casey, our son, who is a student there. It was one of the beautiful days with the sun shining bright and feeling more like a summer day than a fall day. Casey had asked for some winter items from home and a ride to the cities, to Dinkytown.

Casey had explained how to get to his place once I got there. This was part of the trip that worried me. Of course operating without a cell phone didn’t help matters.

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The ride from Wabasha to Eau Clair is a nice drive for a two-lane road, a nice two-lane road. A well taken care of two-lane road. One not adorned with road sign distractions.

County workers were busy tarring the roads operating out of a small vehicle, then covering the tarring with a flimsy kind of white tape. It looked like a simple process. There was a big yellow road sign saying “single lane ahead.” A vehicle at each end of the “job” was moving the signs ahead after the taping was complete.

For entertainment beyond the simplicity of the countryside, the roadwork and the small communities I passed through, Bob Dylan was performing his Tell Tail Signs. He sat in his disk jacket on the seat beside me until I got off the freeway. I was crossing the Mississippi at Lake City when I played side one. The first song was Mississippi. However in the song he is talking about the state, “where he had stayed in Mississippi a day too long.”

Finally I came to the left turn leading into Eau Clair. Casey had directed me to turn left at the stoplight and follow that road until I came to West Grand. This was about 11:40 a.m. There was a barrier that I thought kept me from turning left, so I went straight and discovered I couldn’t turn left again. But I did anyway and came back to the light, turned right and drove until I came to a gas station. After “bath-rooming” I asked the clerk how to get to West Grand. She said, “That’s downtown, just go down the hill here and you will see the sign and turn right.”

It was now rush hour as I drove down the hill looking for the sign for West Grand and then pretty soon I was driving up the hill and appearing to be moving away from downtown, so I went into another gas station wondering how I can call Casey on his cell-phone if I needed to. I knew how to call him from Austin, but wasn’t sure how to call him from Eau Clair. The attendant there had me turn around and go to the second light and turn left and that would be West Grand. He talked about a sign being there.

There wasn’t.

I got on a street at one of the lights busy with traffic and pulled off to park in front of a store selling imports. Now I’m wondering who will be helping me with directions? Will it be someone I might not be able to understand? The young gentleman I asked said he could help me in a minute.

Two minutes later he asked which way was I facing? I pointed to the car in front of the store.

“You’ll turn right at the light.”

“What light?” I ask.

“Right there,” he said pointing out the window. “Then it curves to the left, and you are on Grand. Follow that until you come to a school on your left and the Half Moon on your right. Is that what your looking for?

“I think so,” I responded.

It’s 12:15 p.m. now as I try to climbed back in the car without getting run over. And sure enough the right lane curves around to the right, then back to the left. I’m still looking for signs, street signs, and suddenly I’m missing Minnesota. Or I’m at least missing Austin, where every intersection tells the street or avenue or drive or place that once totally confused me when Austin switched to them when I was delivering food from Bob’s Drive-In back in the good old days with the dawning of the sixties.

Soon I was in the apartment parking lot. By 12:50 p.m., we were on our way to Dinkytown with Casey driving.