Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Rt. 280 Doppleganger

"Okay this is more like what I expected Birmingham to look like," Quantum said, as the city hove in sight, a mass of twisting highways, ramps, bridges and huge, ugly high-rises. Rt. 280 portended ill from the beginning. Although a well-tended 4 laner, it was studded with stop lights every quarter mile or so, for miles and miles.

"If this is going to be like that for the whole trip, maybe we should go back to 65." I studied the map. "It's the long way around, but it might be faster in the end, and prevent the radiator from overheating."

Just then, Quantum spotted a sign. "Wait, it said 280 that way!" He hung a quick right, following the sign. Within a few yards we suspected something was wrong. A few yards later, as the road narrowed and twisted ever more, with no signs for 280 in sight, we nade a u-turn and went back the way we'd come. A few minutes later Quantum said, "There it is! 280 East." We took a fast left. This time it took a bit longer to be obvious that we were on the wrong road. It narrowed to barely two lanes and the speed reduced to 45 then 30.

"This is crazy!" I said, "this can't be right. We've got about 140 miles to Colombus. At this rate we'll never get there." I turned on my flashlight and consulted the map again. "We've got to make a right here somwhere. I have no clue. Read me a road sign so I can figure out where we are."

Just then a deer darted from the woods. Quantum slammed the brakes and avoided it.

"It says Shelby Country," Quantum gave me the next few route intersections. All were too small to show up on the state map.

"Just make the next right damnit."

"If I make the next right, it'll be into someone's driveway. WTF? 20 mph?"

"Just make the next right onto a road," I growled. "That'll take us towards 65 somewhere."

We made a right, then came to a wider road and Quantum took a right onto it. No road signs told us what road it was, but it should take us back towards Birmingham and maybe even to a business where we could ask directions. But all the shops - even a gas station - were closed.

"I'm beginning to understand why Bubba hates Birmingham. Can you pull over and let me look at the map?"

"Why can't you look at the map while I'm driving?"

"Because. My glasses suck and the print's tiny and I can't read the map. And every time we hit a bump I lose my place. Will you just pull over?"

"If I do, the truck might overheat," Quantum said.

"How am I supposed to - oh crap!" The flashlight grayed and began to die. A cop sped by, lights flashing. "Maybe we should ask him," I said. "Well, if we take a left it should bring us towards 65."

Quantum made the next left onto a not nearly as wide road. "Rt. 55," he announced. 

"Argh! I can't read the map!" I shook the flashlight. Glancing in the passenger side mirror I noticed a sign that identified the road we'd just come off. "Turn around!"

We made a U-turn and looked at the sign. Rt. 280. The two of us gaped at it.

"It's weird," Quantum said. "There's two kinds of signs for the road. Some of them are white, like that one. And some of them are blue."

"Well just stay on this road. I think this is it."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. Maybe. No. But it's wider than the other route 280." We passed a blue sign. "Wait! Blue signs like that?"


"Shelby County," I read. "Holy shit. THIS is State 280. That disaster back there was COUNTY Rt. 280."

"No! What idiot would name a county road the same as a state road that went right by it?"

"Yeah, cause nobody would ever get confused." I caught the next intersection number and shook the flashlight. It was 11:30 at night. We'd only made it about 20 miles from Birmingham.

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