Thursday, November 06, 2014

COLUMN: Aimless Drives 1

I love summer in the Quad Cities... but the thing I love most of all is getting in a car and driving as far away from them as I can.

Nothing beats a good aimless drive. All it takes is a full tank of gas and a fully stocked iPod and I'm the happiest of campers. Just point me towards the nearest country road, destination be damned -- if you know where you're going, that means you have an aim and it's no longer an aim-LESS drive. The fun isn't getting there, it's IN the getting there, and it's even more fun if you have absolutely no idea where "there" even is. The only rule? The GPS stays OFF, only to be used in the most dire of emergencies.

While solo voyages can definitely be recharging, having a friend along for the ride is vital. That's where Jason comes in. For over 20 years, we've terrorized the back roads of the Midwest. We first met in college and bonded over our shared love of gravel terrain and the moderate sense of adventure one achieves when you have absolutely no idea where you are. Through thick and thin, he remains my best friend and co-pilot. We are the Lewis & Clark of the Illinois/Iowa rural road system.

Too bad, then, that 2014 has been the worst year for aimless driving since the State of Illinois was foolish enough to hand me a license.

It started on SUCH a good note, too. Just as cold weather was erupting last fall, I took the plunge and bought a new car. For the first time in a half decade, I now own an automobile that I feel safe taking to parts unknown without the nagging fear of suffering a catastrophic breakdown while in "Deliverance" country.

I was all set for a carefree 2014 of roadtrips aplenty. But then in January, I took another plunge -- this one on a rogue patch of ice in my back yard. I ended up with a cast on my ankle and my butt on a couch for the remainder of the winter. For a while there, the only thing I could drive around aimlessly was a knee scooter to my kitchen and back for icepacks. Even though the cast came off in early spring, it's been only recently that I've found myself able to sit in a car for long stretches without my ankle flaring up.

As summer kicked off, I finally started feeling like myself again -- in just enough time for Jason to wipe out and break his collarbone. Apparently the revised list for aimless driving essentials should be a full tank of gas, a full iPod, AND a full bottle of calcium supplements, as 2014 has rapidly become The Year of the Broken Bones. Without a co-pilot and navigator at the ready, the thought of roadtripping lost its luster, and we now find ourselves on the verge of autumn with shockingly few escape attempts under my belt.

That said, there have been a few note-worthy voyages to reflect on.

The first was short yet bountiful. After an uncommonly stress-filled day at the office, I had just picked up the new girlfriend from downtown Davenport for what I hoped would be a relaxing dinner. Davenport had other plans. I instinctively headed for the Centennial Bridge and then remembered it was closed. I turned towards the Arsenal and of course the span was open. I drove to one of my favorite Davenport restaurants and it was shuttered. Clearly a conspiracy was afoot. I turned left and the road turned right. I turned right and the road was barricaded. Left was right, right was wrong, up was down, and I suddenly found myself in dire need of escape and serenity. Eventually, we decided dinner could wait, pointed the car towards the nearest cornfield, and crossed our fingers that we'd end up somewhere fun.

Somewhere turned out to be Cable, Illinois -- a town not exactly synonymous with fun. Ending up in Cable takes skill in and of itself, because one has to look pretty hard to even FIND Cable in the first place. I've only ever made it there by accident. No main roads lead to Cable. Cable is a town that doesn't want to be found, and its few residents prefer things that way. Weirder yet, I just happen to know a couple of those residents.

Harry Cleaveland and his wife Kaycee live on the outskirts of Cable. The Cleavelands run Harry Bees Honey, the best local honey you'll ever taste -- and you should totally take my word on that even though I'm allergic to honey and can't eat it. But it sure LOOKS pretty good. Harry and Kaycee are awesome, and their weird crazy neighborhood is a menagerie of llamas, bees, three legged dogs, and roughly 5% of America's feral cat population.

More importantly, it is also the home of one Augustus Cleaveland, Harry and Kaycee's 1 year old -- who is inarguably the cutest baby on the planet. If you have a baby and you think it's cuter than Gus, you are wrong. When compared to Baby Gus, your baby is hopelessly butt-ugly. Gus' cuteness knows no limit. It's probably a good thing that they live way out in cable, because if they released Baby Gus unto an unsuspecting populace, millions could die from toxic cuteness overload.

Strangely, though, toxic cuteness overload is JUST the remedy for a stress-filled day. For the next half hour, I let Gus show me his favorite new game, a complex and sophisticated endeavor called Hand-You-A-Pen-Then-You-Hand-It-Back-To-Me. The rules seemed fairly straight-forward: First you hand Gus a pen. He smiles. Then he hands you back the pen. He smiles again. Then you hand the pen back to Gus. He smiles again. Then he hands you... well, you get the basic idea. The winner is EVERYONE because it's adorable.

What I didn't mention is that the entire time we were fawning over Gus, two sad-eyed mewling kitties were skitching up my leg, desperate for attention.

"Every visitor gets to take home 1-3 cats as a parting gift!" Harry encouraged.

The worst part is that in this nirvana of cuteness, I actually considered it for a second. Then I considered throwing the cats into the air as a distraction while we stole off into the night with Baby Gus. But as my girlfriend pointed out, even cute things poop, and my two cats provide plenty of that nonsense as is. So we left empty-handed yet full-hearted, safe in the knowledge that there's no day bad enough that can't be fixed by kittens crawling up your legs while babies hand you pens.

It may have been short, but it was the perfect waste of both time and gas that I needed. And it was only the first successful escape of the season. Where else would we head? More tales of adventure next week.

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