Friday, May 18, 2007

City Mouse, Country Mouse

So lately I've been called several times (once or twice in this blog, but mostly in real life) a sheltered "city girl" or just a "city girl." I found this slightly mystifying because -- hello! -- I'm a sheltered SUBURBAN girl. People who grow up actually in Chicago aren't sheltered. We reserve the North Shore suburbs for that.

But I think that in the same way Chicagoans call everything south of I-80 "Downstate" and vaguely consider it all farmland, those of you south of I-80 seem to call everything north of it "Chicago" or "the city" and vaguely consider it all to be urban. So I think this is why I keep getting accused of being a city girl. (Although it's particularly jarring coming from those of you who have lived within Peoria city limits your entire lives and yet somehow consider yourselves country mice.)

As these things go, however, I'm more of a city mouse than a country mouse. I'm comfortable whipping around downtown Chicago and tackling the Tri-State at speeds I shan't admit to in print. But country roads scare the CRAP out of me.

A few weeks ago I took the Princeville-Jubilee Road -- which is a vast improvement in road naming over the last place I lived, Durham, N.C., where they only name roads based on where they're GOING, not where they're coming from, with the result that there were no fewer than five roads in Durham named "Chapel Hill" -- Road! Street! Boulevard! (As one of my law professors said, "It's like they went drilling for words and came up dry.") The roads all also CHANGE NAMES based a) on which direction you're going and b) on how close you are to a particular terminus. For example, if you're on a state highway that runs from Wake Forest to Durham, it'll be called "Wake Forest Road" until you're halfway to Wake Forest, at which point it becomes "Durham Road." Or sometimes northbound is called one thing and southbound another.

The other thing that drove me absolutely nuts about driving in North Carolina was this: If you're getting on 474 and it's telling you you're going east towards PLACE, the place 474 tells you is INDIANAPOLIS. Not Marquette Heights. A very large city everyone has heard of that exists on your mental map of the U.S. so you know exactly which way you're heading even though 474 doesn't go all the way there, just dumps you back on a different road to get there. When you get on I-55 in Chicago, it tells you you're headed for ST. LOUIS, not Kankakee or Pontiac or Chenoa; not even Bloomington-Normal. (There's one spot way up north on I-55 that lets you know if you choose to go south, you're heading for New Orleans, which is possibly a tiny bit excessive.)

When you get on I-40 in North Carolina -- and recall that I-40 is a major interstate that runs from Wilmington, N.C., to Barstow, Calif., -- it offers you options of heading towards places like Mebane (not pronounced like it's spelled), Yadkinville, and Statesville. (Yadkinville is not actually even on I-40, although they make very nice wine there.) North Carolinians -- or at least its highway signers -- exist under the delusion that everyone in the country using this major national interstate has heard of these tiny little towns and is capable of navigating by them.

Anyway, the point of this story was that I was on the Princeville-Jubilee Road, gripping my steering wheel in terror, because where I grew up, roads like that are posted with a speed limit of 30, not FIFTY-FIVE MILES PER HOUR. To add to that, there's never any shoulder to speak of on these country roads, which always have fairly narrow lanes, and there's always a big gaping drainage ditch on the side waiting to eat my car. About half the time the road is so steeply angled for runoff that I feel like I'm in one of those old "need your V-8?" commercials. And those of you who grew up driving country roads are MIGHTY CAVALIER about that double yellow line in the middle that's meant to keep you OUT OF MY LANE and prevent head-on collisions at 55 mph in the middle of nowhere where it'd take the ambulance a really long time to get there.

Friends who cower in fear when we hit 294 or dive into the urban Chicago expressways mock me the entire time we're on country roads. They also constantly goad me to pass, which is something I almost NEVER do on a two-lane highway (which drives my husband crazy). I'm perfectly happy to chug along at 10 miles below the speed limit on a two-lane road stuck behind some slowpoke to avoid having to pass. I hate passing. It's unnatural to drive the wrong way in the other lane with people headed towards you at a high rate of speed. People don't do things like that on purpose. People do that when they're drunk and get on the interstate the wrong way. I have to be stuck behind a combine going 20 mph for a good three miles before I'll give up and pass it, and even then the adrenaline rush lasts me the rest of the day.

4 comments:

ilsateredbird said...

Eyebrows,
Couldn't agree more about NC. You must have traveled around a lot knowing the proper pronunciation of Mebane.
Cary is the one that slays me. There is not a straight road in town and the names seem to change every three blocks. Then they have the sign ordinances you can drive by something three times and never see it because of the trees.

I f you can make it around RDU Peoria should be a snap. Other than your previous mention of our directions by places that used to be there. Yesterday I gave somebody directions to the Art Guild telling them to go down Adams and turn right between the Model Paint and Cohen's.

Anonymous said...

I hope there's no sign on I-55 for Kankakee. Kankakee is on I-57

b said...

People wonder why I drive a high horsepower V-8 with racing brakes.
Two lane roads and passing:
No problem.
Hills and passing:
No problem
Brakes that don't fade: No Problem

Gas, Tires, and Oil: Problem

anon e. mouse said...

anonymous - I don't care WHO you are...that there is funny!

B - I suspect you are missing an intial there. Could I have a "J" please, Vanna?

And Eyebrows - that sense of vertigo on those angled blacktops tend to go away a bit when you drive a 4WD pickup. I'd be willing to lend you mine (that is if you've had a recent tentanus shot - it's a bit dirty)