I used to listen to a program on National Public Radio called “This I Believe.”  If it were still being produced, I might offer to write and read something for the program. It might go something like this.

Stress can change one’s personality. It can transform a reasonably decent person into a monster. For that reason, alone, I believe low-dose marijuana should be legal and its use encouraged before embarking on travel in areas in which heavy traffic and the resulting stress is likely. I believe marijuana—or Xanax, Librium, Valium, Ativan, or a similar alternative—might save lives and/or mental health if used judiciously before engaging in high-stress driving experiences. This I believe.

And there you are. That, among other things, is what is on my mind this morning.


If yesterday’s traffic and toll-roads are indicative of modern technology, I want to spend the remainder of my days as a Luddite. I left Madison, Wisconsin behind yesterday morning, bypassing opportunities for the excitement and enjoyment of the very attractive city in favor of pursuing the objective seeking new adventures by heading south, then east. I tried to avoid the misery of Chicago traffic by swooping around west and south of Chicago to Kankakee, then sneaking back up I-57 to I-80, where I could zip eastward. Kankakee, as you might recall, was prominently featured in the lyrics of a song (City of New Orleans) written by Steve Goodman and made famous when sung by Arlo Guthrie (and others).  Before we got to Kankakee, a café in a small town, Streator, looked sufficiently “homey” to merit a stop for lunch; my assessment: meh. The back roads to Kankakee were fine. But I-57 was crowded, under the perpetual construction I remember from my time living in Chicago in the mid to late 1980s, and thoroughly unpleasant. And I-80 was beyond horrible—overwhelmingly bad to the twelfth power—from the moment I approached that evil toll road until maybe 15 miles after I merged onto it. The traffic crept along at 2-3 MPH (when it was moving at all), except when bastards darted in and out of traffic, and frequently slowed to a standstill.

I am of the opinion that the beasts who drive without consideration of the people around them deserve to be be euthanized—by drowning in gasoline heated to a point just shy of combustion. And then, unlike the Illinois turnpike (I-90 & I-39) which apparently will bill me for tolls, the Indiana turnpike (I-80 & I-94) requires travelers to stop and manually punch a button to get a ticket, then feed the ticket to a machine and pay with either cash or credit card…except the tickets and the payment machines are badly outdated and exceedingly difficult to use. After battling with the horrors of incredibly user-unfriendly road design, dealing with technology that was outdated by 2001 was almost too much for me. Yesterday, if I had been given access to a mid-level nuclear device, I might have reduced southern Illinois and most of Indiana to nuclear ash. Instead, I blew a few gaskets inside my brain and promised myself I would never travel by car in or around southern Illinois and any of Indiana ever again once I leave this part of the country.

After checking in to a motel and getting an early dinner, my mind went into overdrive, seeking routes for today and the days ahead that might keep me distant from interactions with humans and their technological mistakes. I doubt I was successful. But I vow never again, after this trip, to drive I-80 and I-94 and, if I can avoid it, I-90.


This morning, I explored the process and cost of obtaining an E-Z Pass toll-tag. Not that I plan to travel on toll-roads in each of these states, but if I were to get an E-Z Pass I could use it in Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Islands, Virginia, and West Virginia. I may find a CVS pharmacy where I can buy one this morning before I get back on the toll-road; it could measurably improve my state of mind and my life. It’s early yet. CVS pharmacies probably do not open until 9 or later. I have time. I can wait, if it will help me retrieve my sanity. Alternatively, I could opt to add time to my drive and avoid toll-roads entirely. That might be an intelligent option. We shall see.


When the mechanics of a journey become sufficiently troublesome as to cause angst to bubble up and spew like red-hot magma, perhaps it’s a signal to stop and smell the roses. Except South Bend, Indiana, where I am this morning, may not be suited to growing roses. Instead, I think kudzu and poison ivy probably thrive here. But that thought  may be based entirely on the level of stress I felt yesterday as I left the tollway in search of a place to stay for the night. So, taking a break, here, from the journey may not be only inappropriate, it might cause welts, blisters, and a nasty rash that could last anywhere from hours to weeks. A more suitable respite might be found in a cabin on the shores of a quiet little lake, where egrets and herons wade near the shore. A place where fishing would yield a fresh-water catch that would be the star of many lovely meals. Alas, I do not know of such a quiet, private lake where I would be permitted, much less encouraged, to stay to allow my anxieties to settle into serenity. But here I am  in South Bend, home to the University of Notre Dame. Perhaps I’ll just sit and contemplate the vagaries of life on the road and hope for a well-spring of gentle tranquility. There. That should do it.


I will be slow to leap into this day. I will take my time and make the experience my friend.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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