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Road's scholar.

When traveling by automobile, my wife and I share the driving. I operate the steering wheel, and she tells me when to turn it and in which direction,

The authority for her decisions varies between intuition and an outdated road map. For accuracy, there's very little difference.

Take the time we were making our annual winter pilgrimage to the warmth of Florida sunshine from the chilly climes of Indiana. Traveling by night, I at the wheel, she, exhausted from giving directions, lying on the back seat. We had no more than crossed the state line into Georgia than she rose out of a sound sleep and said, "Turn here!"

Programmed as I am to following orders, I turned there. Along about dawn I came to a road sign that read "Toledo 187 Miles."

As for the road map, thanks to its faded lines, I was recently directed to take a road that, only ten miles farther on, petered out in a cornfield somewhere west of Otisville, Michigan. But that's only the beginning, folks, only the beginning. Take the no small concern of where and when to stop. Once the car gets up its momentum, I'm for keeping my foot in the carburetor, as they say at the Indy 500. My dear wife, on the other hand, is inclined to yell "Stop! " even if the poor car has yet to arrive at the driving gear from our last stop. Let her spot a flea market, a garage sale, or a roadside stand, and just forget gas consumption, forget wear and tear on the brake lining and on the driver's equilibrium-it's screeching halt time again.

Usually she is content just to squeeze the peaches or compare other people's junk with our junk back home. But one year on our return trip from Florida she did buy something. A concrete birdbath. Took three men and a boy to wrestle 60 percent of it into the car trunk. And I drove from just south of Cave City, Kentucky, to Indianapolis with the front wheels barely touching the pavement. My abdomen still bears stretch marks from having to unload the thing all by myself, dear wife being occupied in showing me where to put it.

Our travels are further enlivened by controversy over the air conditioner. Dear wife has this theory: If you've got it, use it, or what good is it? I'm of the old school that says if you've got it, save it, in case the car should catch on fire and you have to use it. My dear wife, you see, couldn't care less that the air conditioner cuts gas mileage by some five miles per gallon. I have yet to see her leap out at a service station brandishing her billfold. If she leaps out at all it's to go to the restroom-and maybe come back with a can of Dr. Pepper. A mile or so down road, the thought may cross her mind: Perhaps he would like a snort. Why no, why would a man who has driven 200 miles in a car with the air conditioner off want a cold drink? Just licking the sweat off the outside of the can would be plenty, thank you. If you wanted some, why didn't you buy some? " she will inevitably ask. Because I was trying to save money by pumping our own gas," I will respond. Which brings us back to the air-conditioning contest.

"But I'm in the sun," she argues, mopping her brow with a towel she always keeps handy.

"So stick your mildewed road map in the window," I suggest. But will she do it? Of course not. She might miss a flea market, a garage sale, or a roadside stand. She prefers to begin swabbing the back of her neck and trying to wring out the towel. At which I break down and give her a few miles of bi-level.

When such occurrences occur over a number of trips, a man can still retain his normal good nature. But when they all come together on a single outing, as they recently did on our return to Freedom (Indiana) from our vacation at Sages Lake (Michigan)-well, let's just say I haven't been quite right since.

What got us started off nicely on the wrong foot was the choice of roads. I was for taking the direct route, superhighway 69. Her argument was, we had come up 69 before and it was so monotonous-meaning no flea markets, no garage sales, no roadside stands. She was for going via Lake Wawasee, 25 miles directly out of the way. Why? Because we had been residents of Indiana for 35 years and had never seen the state's largest lake. She made it sound as if we'd spit on the flag or tossed mom's apple pie to the swine.

"From the lake, we can take either 13 or 33 south," she said, studying her mildewed map. "Route 33 is an artery; route 13 is a vein."

"Whadaya mean, a vein?" I naively inquired, taking a firmer grip on the wheel.

"Red roads are arteries," she explained, "and blue roads are veins."

Would you believe it, folks? For all of my years I never knew that.

Our first real skirmish waited until I was about to turn off artery 6 onto artery 13. My dear wife, you see, has reached that age when she has begun to mumble. I can hear as well as I ever did, but constant use during our marriage has weakened her voice box. "Turn left," I thought I heard her mumble. Left?" I asked. Right," she said. So I turned right. And drove at least a mile, while she enjoyed every minute of it, before she got around to informing me that she had said to turn left. Eventually we reached the lake, and because I always brake for girls in eye-patch bikinis, we were running late by the time I had stopped to let the last covey cross the road in front of us. Then I had no more than revved the car up to 55 than dear wife looked up from her map and delivered another muddled line. "Turn left right here," she said. Before I could collect my witswhat was left of them by this time-I had turned into a driveway and the owner was coming out of his house to see what we wanted. Luckily, he was selling handcrafted hamster cages. To save my dear wife embarrassment, I backed out with an $18.95 hamster cage adorning the back seat. "I meant left at the next corner, of course," she said huffily and didn't speak to me again until we hit the detour. It was the best part of the trip. Had I been single or divorced, or if wife and I had taken separate vacations (now that's an idea), I wouldn't have taken the detour. If "Local Traffic Only" could get through, surely a car from Freedom could get through. "The detour is a tarred road," dear wife pointed out. I had to open my big mouth and asked how she knew that. "Because it's a black road on the map," she explained. "Black roads are always blacktop." I was certainly learning a lot this late in life. It wasn't until the black road had grass growing between the tracks that I suggested maybe the map maker should have used green ink. "As long as we are going south, it doesn't matter," came the curt reply. A few miles farther down this lane, I had the pleasure of pointing to a sign that indicated we were going west, not south. "Well, the sign is wrong," she stated, beginning to mop her brow. One can only guess at the thousands who have been misled by that sign. Along about sunset, back on artery 13, 1 had no more than gotten the car up to basic 55 than I risked passing a roadside stand without stopping. Even got a half mile beyond before she said, "They were selling blueberries." Automatically my foot went from the accelerator to the brake pedal. I managed to turn around at the next driveway before the owner could come out. He was selling guinea pigs. "Sorry, the people just leaving took the last of the blueberries," the stand man explained. Had I stopped in the first place, it went without saying ... but dear wife said it. And said it. And said it. And so that I would remember the next time, she filled all available space, including the hamster cage, with sweet cherries.

As soon as we were on speaking terms again, I was informed that we could return to aorta highway 69 either at Pendleton or at Fishers. Preferring Fishers, I said Pendleton. She thought Fishers was better. So I gave in. From there, it was only 70 miles to Freedom and home-sweat-home.

Coming up the driveway (and I'm not making this up), the car, after 1,500 miles with no problem, began making such a clatter that I thought we wouldn't make it. When we did, I found the tailpipe loose from the muffler and dragging on the ground.

And you know, folks, somehow I couldn't blame it. A
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Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1990
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