Thursday, November 06, 2014

COLUMN: Aimless Drives 2

Ye gods. It feels like summer's just gotten underway and it's already time to start looking back at it with fondness. I don't know who pushed the fast forward button, but I'm not a fan. Worst of all, my opportunities to flee the Quad Cities on epic summer roadtrips turned out to be few and far between in 2014.

To me, nothing says summer quite like shirking all responsibilities and heading into parts unknown with absolutely no agenda, planning, or forethought. But there wasn't much shirking to be had this summer, and it was mostly because of my empty passenger seat. A good roadtrip calls for a good co-pilot, and my friend Jason is the best in the business. Together, we've spent decades combing the back roads and cornfields of the Midwest looking for adventure (or, more usually, looking at cornfields and wondering where the adventure is.)

But just as this summer was starting to kick into gear, Jason went out for a bike ride and ended up breaking his collarbone. For him, it was a summer of pain management and couch dwelling. For me, it put my chances of any good road trips in serious jeopardy. With no other recourse, there was only one thing I could do: find a girl foolish enough to date me. Clearly, she had no idea what she was in for.

The new girlfriend and I recently found ourselves with a couple hours to kill on a Sunday afternoon, so I suggested we take a quick country drive. Now, when I said we had a couple hours, that's exactly what we had: two hours. She had a slew of errands to accomplish later that day, and I had... well, okay, I had nothing to do. But what happened next I simply can't explain.

We headed out east on a back road and before too long found ourselves in Geneseo. Now, this is nothing against all of you lovely Geneseoans who read our paper, and I love you all dearly... but your city hates me. Every time I visit, there's roughly a 60% chance that I end up getting stopped by your police. When I was a college freshman, one of my very first aimless drives found me insanely lost and driving circles in Geneseo at 2 a.m. desperately looking for the interstate home. I ended up getting pulled over for "acting suspicious" that night, when in truth all I wanted was to find my way back to Rock Island and my comfy dorm bed.

I don't know if my plate got tagged in their system as "suspicious 2 a.m. guy" or something, but ever since that night, if I'm in Geneseo and pass a cop, I either get pulled over or followed closely out of town. I guess that's what happens when you're a sketchy, ne'er-do-well bad element troublemaker such as myself.

So if I ever accidentally find myself in Geneseo, my usual goal is to find myself out of Geneseo as quickly as possible. Which we did, by continuing east. The two of us got to talking, having a few laughs, and the car just kept going east. I may have been behind the wheel, but that didn't mean I had any real vested interest in where exactly the car was taking us. At least not until my girlfriend said, "Ooh, it's getting late, we'd better get back." And I had to be the one to tell her that we were about five minutes away from the western suburbs of Chicago. Whoops.

This was not good. No errands would be run this night. Even if I found a main road home, we were still looking at about a two hour return voyage. Only one thing could overcome the disgusted glare I was getting from the passenger seat. Only one place could allow me to save face and not be the jerk who stole Sunday. And as I rounded the corner trying to navigate the abyss of the western suburbs, I found it.

"Surprise!" I said. "I took you to IKEA!"

Ikea is heaven -- if your idea of heaven is mid-priced minimalist Scandinavian furniture and home accessories in a building roughly the size of four Wal-Marts combined. The big-box-store-hating small business crusader in me knows that I'm supposed to detest Ikea, but I just can't. Ikea is magic.

"Hi!" said the greeter with Christmas morning levels of enthusiasm. "Welcome to Ikea! Can I get you a bag?"

Then you're torn loose into the giant showroom, where every item for sale has its own charming Swedish name. It's Kivik the sofa next to its good friend Poang the footstool. And look over there, it's Datid the self-cleaning oven, hanging out with Knyck the napkin holder. Everything's affordable, decent quality, and comes in tiny boxes with assembly manuals full of cartoons of chubby little smiling Swedes. While you're there, you can stop for a dinner of Swedish meatballs, and on your way out, you can buy frozen herring and all the fifty-cent hot dogs you can eat. I've honestly taken worse vacations than Ikea daytrips. It may have been 10 p.m. by the time we got home, but the memories are forever -- just ask Chosigt, my new ice cream scoop.

The world righted itself two weeks later, when my best friend finally felt good enough for an escape. I wish I had the room to tell you all about it, but suffice to say that in true Shane & Jason fashion, a simple country drive ended up involving an art show, a castle, the Red Baron Stearman Squadron, funnel cakes the size of Texas, and perhaps the creepiest backwoods gravel road we've ever discovered (and if you don't believe, head to Mercer County and find 300th Street.)

There might not have been many escapes this summer, but the ones that happened were pretty great. I'm just not ready for it to end. There's not a single bone in my body that yearns for cold and snow and ice and figuring out where my long-sleeved shirts are in the back of my closet. If it HAS to be autumn already, let's hope it sticks around for a long and mild while.

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