Skip to main content


Topics/tags: Autobiographical

Thursday, I drove from Grinnell to Cleveland. Well, to West Lake, a suburb outside of Cleveland. It’s about 600 miles. When I arrived, my odometer had achieved a geometric series.

An odometer that reads 124816

Friday, after packing the minivan full of stuff, I drove back to Grinnell [1]. It felt somehow comforting and familiar.

When I was a young man [2] in college, I regularly drove long distances. My most typical trip was from Chicago, where I went to school, back to Boston [3], where my mother lived, or from Boston to Chicago. I made those trips a few times each year. Michelle and I continued to make them after we were married. I still recall one year when we were going through Cleveland at about 1am, there was lake effect snow, about a foot on the highway, and we weren’t sure whether any neighborhood was safe to get off, so we continued to drive at about five miles per hour.

When I got the first job at Dartmouth [4], I was a bit older. So, while my custom had been non-stop trips from the Midwest to the East coast, I planned to stop when I got tired. On that trip, I never found that I got tired enough to stop.

I’m now much older. I don’t think I could do another trip that’s essentially eighteen hours of non-stop driving. But it’s nice to know that I can still drive half that when I need to, even when there’s blowing snow in Indiana and heavy winds through Illinois.

The highway has changed a bit. Speed limits are much higher [5]. There’s now a magic FastPass device that you can put in your car which means you don’t need to stop to get tickets on toll roads and, at some tolling places, you can just drive straight through. My ancient minivan is not nearly as much fun to drive as either the Celica or the Grand Cherokee. I now listen to NPR rather than whatever random station I can find or to cassette tapes. I also find I appreciate silence in the car more [6].

Nonetheless, as I said, it seems somehow comforting and familiar. And, somewhere in the back of my head, a little voice still knew that the last exit on the Indiana Toll Road is near mile marker 156 [7].

[1] More accurately, Michelle drove the first 120 miles or so and I drove the remaining 480 miles.

[2] Whenever I start that sentence, my brain keeps hearing Pete Seeger singing When I was a young man, never been kissed, I got to thinking over what I had missed.

[3] More accurately, Newton, exit 17 on the Mass Pike.

[4] My first job at Dartmouth was in spring 1993. I was to teach one course. The amount I was paid for that course remains at the high end of what Grinnell pays people teaching a single course, and Grinnell is generous compared to most institutions. Dartmouth was clearly desperate, or at least Donald Johnson, who hired me, was good at negotiating with the Dean.

[5] I’m pretty sure that we had a nationwide 55 mph speed limit when I was in my early twenties. Or at least the states east of Illinois had that limit. Nebraska was probably higher, but I don’t drive through Nebraska.

[6] Yes, Michelle and I also talk. But there are times she sits back and reads or naps.

[7] Or something close to that. It may be that the exit is 157 and Ohio is 159.

Version 1.0 of 2018-11-10.