Like many stretches of interstate highway, the 150-mile strip between Birmingham, Alabama and the Tennessee State line isn’t particularly remarkable. It passes by several small towns and through rural North Alabama reaching towards the Music City. It’s a piece of highway I have driven many times and as such have reached the point where I don’t “see” most of the sights along the way. Routine and boredom have long since replaced any sense of “hey, look at that.” Recently, however, I was reminded that new adventures often come not so far off the beaten path when the good people from the Alabama Department of Transportation insisted “Road Closed Ahead” insisting I leave I-65 at Exit 328.
A yellow sign flashing its message to “Exit Here” is something I generally meet with frustration. My plans do not include sightseeing. I am on a schedule. Yet on this departure the 40-minute detour seemed less an imposition and more opportunity. On reflection, it seemed a great lesson for facing the detours and roadblocks of life and business. My ride through Sommerville and Priceville, Alabama reminded me to welcome uncertainty, that the people your “ride” with are more important than how fast you reach your destination, and the importance of preparation.
To welcome uncertainty is to recognize my sphere of concern is far greater than my sphere of control and that frustration is often the result of my perspective about road blocks, detours, and obstacles. My first sight of the detour of Northbound traffic came while I was headed Southbound. I saw the traffic being guided from the highway. In my mind it would all be cleared before my return North later in the day. Yet somehow the State Troopers and construction crews didn’t get the word. When I saw the signs I was tempted to become impatient, growl, even whine. Yet, I didn’t. I simply pulled my F-150 into the exit lane and waited. And waited. Somehow I released my temptation to find another way around the traffic. I felt no compulsion to ease into the oncoming traffic lanes and “see” what was ahead of me. (Well, only once.) I simply took in the sights. I had no paper map, no GPS, and apparently, along this stretch of rural Alabama, the good people at ATT don’t think 4, or even 3, “G” is all that important. No Google Maps.
As my bride and I rode along County Roads 26 and 67 we gave up control of our circumstances, recognizing there was little we could do to change things. Several hundred cars lined up just South of Sommerville to turn North at a 4-Way Stop sign. We looked at the variety of homes along the way, some large, some small, some “Mini Estate” pristine, and the others with the obligatory décor of rural Alabama e.g. “Role Tide” signs and old pick up trucks. Lord, I love the South. We chatted about nothing of great substance, solved none of the world’s problems. We just enjoyed the ride. Without expressing it, I realized how much I enjoyed the simple pleasure of time with my best friend. I laughed when she playfully shook her phone trying to active the internet connection, reminding me Andy Griffith in “No Time for Sargeants” when he suggested a radio could be fixed if you “spit in the back and give it a whomp!” Life and business are so much more fulfilling when you share the ride with the right people.
Our only anxiety along the rode arose from some sense we could have prepared a little better. At 6’7” and 245 pounds, it’s important for me to eat. Frequently. We had no snacks in the car and no hopes of stopping to find anything. And driving a truck that gets only about 17 miles per gallon, I shouldn’t risk the bell reminding me that there is only “22 miles ‘til empty” when I have no idea how far out of the way my detour will take me. A paper atlas or map would have been useful. Perhaps it would have provided some comfort. So next trip, I will fill up, pack a few snacks, and have purchased a map. They will go in the truck with the flashlight and jumper cables. We will be little better prepared the next time.
In the end, the trip will be something I hope my wife and I both remember. I hope it will be one of those rocking porch memories that only the two us will “get.” For the future, I’m hopeful it serves as a reminder that detours aren’t always what they seem. Sometimes they are meant to give us a little time to reflect and enjoy the ride. Sometimes they are there to teach us what is important and to enjoy the journey.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little journey with me and it may somehow inspire you to make sure you’re riding well prepared and with the right people…and maybe even realize the road is never really “closed ahead.”
Keep the faith.