World Enough and Time: On the road again

Bill Hagen
Contributing writer
On the road in the Shenandoah Valley

Yes, people are out and about. On a trip mainly on I-40 to Virginia Beach, traffic seems to be back to usual—more intense in population centers and the East Coast. There don’t seem to be more crazies: only encountered a couple of 90+mph speedsters, weaving their way in and out of lines of traffic.

I know I frustrated some folks who were right on my rear bumper when I wouldn’t do over 80 while passing in the left lane.

And, once again, I must say that travel would be much easier and safer if the interstate—especially from Little Rock east—had three lanes all the way, with trucks confined to the two right lanes. Either that, or leave it the way it is—congested—and improve the rail system enough to convert people back to passenger trains.

Not much state police presence, except in Tennessee. Most unusual traffic pullover I saw was a van that dared to drive the HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane with only one occupant. On the other hand, I didn’t see any of the super-speeders pulled over. Virginia was trying to control drivers with an electric sign: “Driving Fast and Furious? Don’t be Ludicrous.”

Of course, the major bottleneck in driving east on I-40 is Memphis. With the I-40 bridge closed for repairs, it took over an hour to get around the city. On the return trip, it took about half that time. When I reached the Arkansas side, I noticed a solid line of eastbound traffic that must have stretched over five miles, waiting to move onto the remaining bridge.

Worthwhile stop at the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center near Abington

You had a lot of rain here while I was getting burned at the beach. On the road, I didn’t encounter much that was severe, except when I was approaching the coast on US58. One of those intense wind and rain squalls, where you think about pulling off or following the tail lights of a big truck. You watched the splash of cars ahead of you to anticipate where hydroplaning might occur. But the driving rain did wash away most of the bugs I had accumulated on the trip out. Made room for the bugs I would accumulate on the way back.

Speaking of bugs, there were no massed cicadas that I could hear in southern Virginia. Had my new hearing aids in and at one point, I thought I picked up their sound, but it turned out the aids were simply enhancing the tinnitus noise I usually hear.

From eastern Tennessee on, tall trees and mountains close in on the road. With all the overhang, I can just imagine the mess an ice storm like the one we had, would create. Very pretty beds of day lilies along the interstates in North Carolina.

No one seems to be wearing masks, even in places (like here) where two out of three people have not been vaccinated. Luckily, I wasn’t traveling deeper South, to Louisiana or Alabama, predicted to become centers of new outbreaks, due to the large numbers of unvaccinated folks.

I’d had a somewhat testy exchange with an anti-vax relative before the family gathering at the beach; neither of us brought up the subject. He has health issues that prevent his getting vaccinated, but he’s imposed his attitude on his wife, which troubles me. The blind leading the obedient.

Shell stations in parts of Tennessee seem to have the gas pump screens tuned to a news channel, so I wasn’t entirely ignorant of breaking news. But it was certainly nice not to feel I had to check the morning news to see what our Commander-in-Chief had tweeted while the rest of us slept.

At the beach with family

Don’t expect the same level of service in the motels you visit. Of the four I stayed in, two did not offer breakfast and one only offered a takeout bag. All of them seem to have trouble hiring enough staff.

In an upscale hotel on the beach in Virginia, housekeeping did not visit my and others’ rooms during our four-day visit. A lack of enough towels and light bulbs (?) led to visits to the front desk. The same restaurant staff seemed to be on duty from early morning until late at night. Hope they get overtime.

As for the missing light bulbs, someone said hotel guests were taking them. Did the scarcities of COVID turn us into petty thieves?

On the other hand, a bad year for the motels might make some more willing to discount. I showed my triple-A card to the clerk in Roanoke, and he said he thought he could find me a better discount. Sure enough, he was able to cut 20% off the list price. While I like for its efficiency in locating and booking hotels, you can sometimes get a lower rate by negotiating directly.

Trip highlights? Family at the beach, the beach, the beach; a distillery tour, and tasting; in Nashville, the Parthenon replica and the American Pickers store; seeing the campuses of Davidson College (alma mater) and William and Mary; and the varied landscape of four states.

A distillery tour

But driving back into Oklahoma felt good. The sky opens up so you can see what weather you are speeding toward. The smooth pavement and mowed shoulders at the border create a good first impression. And here comes Sallisaw, the first Braum’s, where I can get a lime freeze and whatever else might go with it.

Arriving in Shawnee felt very good. Since the house and cat were my mainstays during most of 2020, I stayed a whole day inside the house after unpacking. Felt natural.

Home is never the same, it seems. Grass needs mowing; cat must’ve lived in my favorite chair, covering the seat with white hair; since the rains washed away the poison I sprayed at their outside approaches, the ants were back; I picked up my electric toothbrush and a tiny spider skittered away, its web-home destroyed by my improvident needs.

But some things remain the same. After I refreshed the bird bath with dehumidifier water, my favorite hawk showed up to bathe; so did three Jays, who made repeated swoops at him. He would not be moved, until he was ready.

I know how he feels.

Visiting Athena in Nashville

Bill Hagen is a retired OBU professor. He lives in Shawnee with his cat. Contact him at