I’m not usually much of a casual explorer. I suppose that because I grew up in a bedroom community outside of Washington, D.C., then moved to the north side of Chicago in my teens, and lived overseas for a while in a town just outside of Vienna, Austria, I am, at some level, used to everything being either within walking distance or a mere bus or train ride away. This whole “need a car to get around” thing for the suburbs and rural communities still feels new to me, even after 25 years of it. As a result, I generally don’t just hop in the Buick and cruise around to see what’s what and what’s where, I need a goal or purpose first.
Since we’ve been out here in the sticks, whatever isn’t right downtown is usually at least a 30-minute drive and a seemingly endless series of cornfields away. So, I’ve kind of gotten in the habit of killing two birds with one stone – someone will tell me about a great place to get a bargain on something, and in order to find out more about this area, I’ll also ask for directions and eventually drive there. It didn’t work so well with finding my Mary Kay lady , but I’m still game.
A few summers ago, my husband was visiting a client in a small town north of here and picked up some really spectacular cuts of beef at a butcher shop while he was there. I asked him about them, and he gave me directions. (Note to self: I really need to stop thinking his directions are going to look anything like my expectations.) He told me to drive due north on Route 6 and I couldn’t help but find the town and that the butcher shop was right in the small downtown area, right across from the post office.
A few days later, the kids and I were bored, so I stuffed the two youngest in the car and headed off to buy beef. I drove north on Route 6, admiring lush fields of corn and soybeans, wondering at the different houses, some really nice with neatly trimmed lawns and lovely flowerbeds, and some kind of ratty and rundown. Then I got to a Y-intersection. I didn’t remember anything in my husband’s directions about a Y-intersection. I stopped, even though I didn’t have a stop sign, and eyeballed the road signs. “Rt. 143” said one. “Rt. 52E” said the other. Hmmm, no Route 6, no indications of the town I was heading for either. I went down “Rt. 143” with high hopes.
More cornfields, more soybeans, more ratty farmhouses with pristine barns and silos next to them, a few whiffs of pig farms, and 20 minutes later, I wasn’t anywhere. I was just deeper into the rural Midwest. I drove back to the Y-intersection, made an awkward, if not illegal, turn onto Rt. 52E, and hoped I’d find the town and the butcher shop this time. We passed two of those mysterious industrial outposts, which often make me wonder what the heck they are. I don’t know if you’ve seen them – there’s usually a large metal box, locked, with some commercial piping sticking out from it either along the sides or the top or both, then a 10 ft. high cyclone fence with a locked gate, and a short gravel drive leading from the road to the outpost. I have never seen anyone in one of them, nor any service trucks of any sort, so I have no idea what’s going on back there. For all I know, they could be missile silos. I think they’re a little unnerving.
Anyway, there I was, tooling along as the day got hotter, past missile silos (or whatever), corn and beans, and I was feeling a lot less friendly towards my husband and agriculture, when all of a sudden, a main street appeared. No stop signs or lights, no warning whatsoever. There was just, right on the other side of walls of corn, a well-equipped playground to the west, a short street full of ordinary houses to the east, and ahead of me was a cluster of obvious stores. They were a little run down, too, but I’m OK with that, I think it’s homey.
So, I realized I was finally in Lisbon, which is where I meant to be, and happily proceeded straight ahead, and one block later ran out of town. That felt a little weird, so I drove a bit further and found an elementary school amid corn, and then another one of those alarming missile silos, so I turned around in the gravel drive and went back to what there was of Lisbon. This time, I slowed way down, so I could read the signs.
“CLOSED,” said one, which looked a little like a hairdresser’s. “BAIT, United State Post Office, Ring Bell in Back,” said the sign on a white clapboard house no wider than my Buick is long and which had drooping eaves and rusty gutters. Another shop had “Grandpa’s Workshop,” in multi-colored letters across the window, and “Closed” on the door. And, finally “Bacon” said a sign on the last shop’s door.
“I think we’ve found it, kids,” I said.
“Which one is it,” asked Bunny, “the one that says ‘Bacon’ or ‘Grandpa’s Workshop’?”
“I’m betting on ‘Bacon’,” I replied, ”Let’s pull in and find out.” Which led to the next problem, which was a complete lack of parking spaces. Yep, that’s right, there were no parking spaces, the street just ran right next to the storefronts, so I went and turned down a side street, looking for parking. I found a lot of “NO PARKING” signs instead, drove down more streets, all 4 of them, all filled with “NO PARKING” signs.
“This doesn’t make any sense,” I said, “how come I can’t park anywhere?”
Doodle piped up, “Maybe nobody ever comes here, and the only customers all walk.”
“Nuts,” I replied, “You’re probably right.” So, I drove around some more, trying to find somewhere to legally park. No luck. I gave up and parked in front of the “Bacon” sign, only to find that another, smaller sign on the door listed a bizarre collection of hours when the store was actually open – like Tuesdays from 6pm-8pm, Wednesdays from 9 am to 3 pm, and Saturdays, 7am to 11 am. None of which happened to coincide with the current day of the week, let alone time of day.
“Well, nuts,” I said, “looks like we’re out of luck.”
“No bacon for us,” sang Doodle from the back seat, “let’s go to Grandpa’s Workshop instead and see what they have there.”
“We can’t, “I said, “It’s closed, too. So is everything else.”
“Maybe we could go to the Post Office and Bait shop” said Bunny, “I think I saw a cat in the window!”
“It’s probably after the bait,” I said, thoroughly disgruntled. I stared at the likely butcher shop some more, hoping vaguely that it would magically open and have nice cuts of beef, cheap. A police car, the only other sign of human life in town so far, pulled up beside me. The policeman gestured for me to roll down my window, so I did.
“You cain’t park there,” hollered the cop.
“I can’t park anywhere,” I said, “this whole town is one ‘NO PARKING’ zone,” I hollered back.
The policeman pondered a minute, sticking a piece of chewing gum in his mouth to loosen up his brains or something. “Nope, you cain’t,” he said, “Hadn’t noticed that before. Best move on.”
“Thank you, officer,” I replied politely, as we GRITS do, and turned on the car, backed up and headed for home.
“No bacon, no bacon, nobaconnobaconnobacon,” chanted Doodle as we drove back towards home.
“No ‘Grandpa’s Workshop’ either,” said Bunny wistfully, “I wonder what he had in there.”
I let out a snort of laughter. “You’ll probably have to get your Dad to find out because sure as we’ve got no bacon, I’m not going back to THAT weird little ghost town again,” I said nastily.
“Awwwww, bummer” they replied in unison. “Can we stop and get some chicken nuggets once we find a town again?” asked Doodle.
“OK, I guess we can,” I answered.
In the 10 years since we’ve lived out here, more of my hopeful road trips than not have ended in somewhat similar ways. I keep hoping, though, that at some point I’ll find somewhere where the stores are open at predictable hours, there are live humans wandering around and driving cars and parking in convenient places, and that whatever I went there for will not only be there, but also be on sale.
Meanwhile, I’d better head for the local Jewel. I’ve got kind of a yen for bacon.