Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Vacation

It was the way vacations are really supposed to be, I guess.

We travelled over 1,600 miles through five states in 11 days and crossed four rivers in full flood. We saw palm trees in balmy Shreveport, La., and I shoveled snow in shivering northern Illinois. We were stuck in Interstate 55 just south of St. Louis for five hours because of the rising Meramec River and we watched a DVD on New Year's Eve at my house while the burning oak logs in the fire place provided a stress-free ambience. We tried on glasses at a Memphis optometrist's business and we bought a nasty chocolate fried pie at a central Arkansas convenience store that I feared would be robbed while we were there.

And, we even played an inning of APBA baseball.

Yes, it was a perfect vacation and it solidified my notion that my Illinois girl — the woman that frequent readers of this blog thing have met over the past few months — is probably the best person I've ever known. If you can sit in a car inching along an interstate for five hours while cement mixers and police cars sped by in emergency lanes without either going crazy, leaving the car or beating me senseless, you may be as close to perfect as you can be.

After I visited my Illinois girl twice since late September, we decided she should come down to see me in my own element. So, on Dec. 30, as I wrote about the flooding Mississippi River at the newspaper where I work, she boarded a train from her home and headed to a town near me. Unfortunately, because of the flooding of which I scribed in the paper, the train could only make it to St. Louis. Further south the train tracks were underwater, making rail travel impossible. I headed to the Gateway train station in downtown St. Louis to pick her up that evening.

And we began the adventure.

Traffic stalled on I-55
On the return trip home from the station, we became stuck in stalled traffic in the southbound lane of I-55 10 miles south of St. Louis due to the rising waters. Authorities funneled five lanes of traffic down to one lane that was yet to be encroached by the flood. We inched about 2 miles in those five hours, and watched as at least 12 cement mixers roared past us to supposedly build emergency levees and helicopters hovered overhead. It was like being in some Irwin Allen disaster movie, but at no time did my Illinois girl lose her patience. Instead, she joked about it all and looked beautiful despite having not slept for nearly 24 hours.Officials finally shut the roadway down and turned us around. We crossed the Meramec in Arnold, Mo., just before the bridge there was closed and we eventually made it to my home at about 6 a.m.

A day later, we hit the road again, heading to Shreveport to pick up an antique bookcase she left when she lived there three decades ago.

Fish at Bass Pro, Memphis
And then, three days later, we drove to Memphis and got an appointment with the eye doctor. We later went to the Bass Pro shop in the former Memphis Pyramid, looked at huge catfish and other things in tanks and ate in a restaurant.

There was some slow time where we weren't in the car for hours. One day, I showed my Illinois girl how to play the APBA baseball that indirectly led us to getting together. (See ) I let her roll an inning of a 1991 replay game between Philadelphia and New York. She seemed vaguely interested in the mechanics of the game, but it may only have been because we are still in the early, polite stages of this.

Still, she is a sports fan and the interest in the game may have been honest. Later, after the vacation, she called me up to ask about former Cubs' outfielder Andre Dawson and his odd batting stance and if Atlanta burned out pitcher Greg Maddux' arm before he returned to the Cubs in 2004. I know. Cool, ain't it?

Originally, our plan was for her to take the train back from a nearby town. The flooding kept the trains from running there for several days. But, rather than have a tearful departure at the St. Louis train station, we decided to drive back to my Illinois girl's town 554 miles away where we spent three more days together.

In all, it was the longest vacation I ever had. It was also the most adventurous, the most rewarding, the most fun thing I had done in decades. I was later teased by a friend when I told him how I even enjoyed going to Wal-Mart with my Illinois girl because we could turn it into a bonding, fun experience. Guys don't normally talk like that, I guess. Supposedly, when the guys gather, we're all supposed to banter about clubbing buffalo on the plains while wearing loin cloths and not share memories about buying lotions and makeup.

The APBA replay was far away those several days, but like always, it still was waiting for whenever I returned. I've been on the 1991 baseball replay for about six months and have only rolled 210 games so far. It's the slowest progress I've ever made in a replay, but I've made much more progress in another realm.

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