The O Pine
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© 2002 Brian F. Schreurs
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© 2002 Brian F. Schreurs
© 2002 Brian F. Schreurs
Ben was travelling westbound on I-68 with his English sheepdog, Shep, in the passenger seat. They were on their way to visit a friend in Morgantown, West Virginia, when Ben saw motion on the shoulder ahead. It was just as he feared -- a Maryland State Trooper. Ben had his cruise control set to 79 mph, usually enough to avoid attention from law enforcement, but this guy was running a genuine speed trap, radar gun and all.|
The trooper was gesturing wildly. Ben wasn't sure whether the trooper had singled out his '73 Corvette convertible or one of another half-dozen vehicles nearby, but he'd been driving sports cars long enough to have a hunch. Ben did his best to keep a utility truck between his 'Vette and the trooper's line of sight, making it harder for the trooper to get an ID on him. Sure enough, checking his mirrors, Ben caught the trooper stalking back to his car.
Ben could afford a ticket; his license was clean. But it was irritating nonetheless. After all, people wouldn't be speeding so much if Maryland would bring their speed limits in line with the rest of the country. And it was damn aggravating to be singled out all the time, even when he was going with the flow of traffic.
He didn't slow down any, figuring the least he could do was make the trooper work for it. As he crested the next hill, he noted that there still was no Crown Victoria in the rearview mirror -- the interstate was crowded; the trooper must have had some difficulty pulling out.
On the other side of the hill, Ben found an off-ramp to God knew where. Without really thinking about the implications of his actions, he gunned the 'Vette for the exit. As he barrelled into the ramp, at the last second he noted the sign reading "RAMP SPEED 15 MPH" and stood on the binders. The 'Vette scrubbed speed swiftly as Shep scrambled for a foothold. Just as quickly Ben dropped the trans into second gear and punched the gas, hurtling up the ramp that was conveniently hidden from the view of the interstate by a stand of trees.
The ramp turned into a road, and Ben followed it, looking for a side road. He passed one that didn't look too promising, and kept going ahead, around a bend -- a bend that led to a bridge crossing the interstate at the very point where the trooper could be passing below! Ben hit the brakes again and spun the Corvette around, his 327 wailing as he accelerated back to the side road he'd seen before. Shep groaned from the abuse.
It turned out to be a residential street, so Ben brought the Corvette to a modest 20 mph so as to not attract attention. He needed a place to rest. A chance to think! He figured Shep could use a walk, so he searched for a park of some kind.
The residential road wound through the woods for a mile or so, then abruptly ended at an abandoned construction site. Ben neither wanted to be trespassing nor relished the idea of being cornered, so he turned around and went back to a long-disused access road he saw previously. It wasn't a park by any means, but at least it was sheltered. He shut off the 'Vette and grabbed a leash for Shep.
As Ben stepped out of the car, a voice called from across the road.
"What do you want?" it demanded.
Ben looked around, finally spotted the woman in her yard, several hundred yards away.
"I just want to walk my dog!" Ben shouted back. The last thing Ben needed now was suspicious neighbors!
"What are you looking for?" the woman called out again, seemingly not hearing Ben's reply.
Ben walked closer, spread his arms in a sign of conciliation. "I'm travelling, and just looking for a place to walk my dog. If this is private property, I'll leave."
The woman seemed to accept that answer, and gestured toward the construction site. "You can walk your dog all you want over there."
Taking that as the closest thing he was going to get to permission, Ben replied with a thank-you and climbed back into his car. He moved to the construction site, where at least it was private, and leashed up Shep. They took a short walk around the site together, with Ben thinking about the ramifications of his actions.
Ben was still annoyed to be harassed over 79 mph, but at this point the legitimacy of the law was not his main concern: the law was there, and the trooper was certainly prepared to enforce it, right or wrong. In his favor, Ben was fairly certain that the trooper couldn't get his license plate. The Corvette doesn't have a front tag, and there were several cars in the right lane that would have made it very difficult to see the rear tag from the right shoulder. Also, the trooper seemed to be returning to his own car as Ben passed rather than focusing on trying to get a look at the tag. Against him, however, was the grim reality that there weren't likely to be many other emerald green '73 Corvettes on the road that day.
The state trooper was likely doing one of two things: radioing ahead to a partner, who would be waiting for the Corvette on the other side of Cumberland, or trying to run him down -- and when the trooper figures out that the Corvette was no longer on the interstate, he'd likely just set up another speed trap in Frostburg or even closer to the state line, and wait him out. After all, the Corvette has to finish his trip sooner or later, right?
Either way, Ben couldn't go back on the interstate. The game of cat and mouse was on. If Ben lost, he could look forward to having attempted evasion added to his speeding ticket. He loaded Shep back into the car and climbed grimly behind the wheel.
The residential area proved to have no other exit than the road across the interstate. Ben did, however, find a short stretch of road that followed the ridgeline and overlooked the bridge and the other side of the highway. There was a BP gas station on the other side, but no sign of any state police cars. If the trooper had anticipated this move, then he was keeping his patrol car concealed. Facing no other reasonable option, Ben zipped across the bridge, praying that the height and the concrete walls sufficiently concealed his car's profile from below. If he was going to get to Morgantown without using interstates, he was going to need a map of Maryland.
Ben was a little concerned that a side-of-the-highway gas station might have a particularly close relationship with law enforcement -- after all, it was a prime robbery target -- so he parked the Corvette out of view behind a Jeep along the side of the building. He went inside and shuffled through the rather disappointing selection of state maps. But a lousy map was better than no map at all, so he grabbed one and paid in cash.
Out in the parking lot, he planned his route. He figured if he could get to Cumberland through the development behind the gas station, he could get on Route 40 or Route 144 and follow it west to the state line. But the map was nowhere near detailed enough to show him a way through the neighborhood, and besides, the neighborhood on the other side of the bridge had no other exit!
Ben figured he had to at least try, so he eased out of the parking lot and into the neighborhood. Several dead-ends later, he did finally find what appeared to be a secondary throughfare of some kind, and it was headed west. He checked for oncoming traffic.
"Oh, crap," Ben muttered to himself. Not a block away to the west was a state patrol car sitting on the side of the road. For all he knew it could be the same patrol car, and even if it wasn't, the officer might have heard about Ben's Corvette over the radio. Ben smoothly turned east, the opposite of the direction he was trying to go.
Ben sweated bullets while he waited for pusuit. But none came. The trooper had not taken notice of him.
Ben allowed himself to relax a little, and turned down the Black Sabbath CD that had been playing since he left I-68. He wondered if his sanctuary was short-lived; the road he was on was getting narrower and rougher. Roads that led nowhere were commonplace in the Appalachians. From time to time he came to a junction, and he turned whichever direction seemed to be better travelled. None of the roads were marked, so it wasn't long before he had no idea where he was or what direction he was headed, though he was pretty sure he wasn't headed west. The best he dared hoped for was to hit the Potomac River and get over the state line that way.
At least the scenery was pleasant. The hills were dotted with centuries-old farmhouses, and orchards of all varieties filled every valley. Ben dropped the convertible top so that Shep could enjoy the fresh air. Farmers stared at the vintage Corvette passing through their lands, but when Ben waved warmly it was returned with equal warmth. The roads were brutal in the stiffly-sprung sports car; Ben frequently pulled over to make way for trucks better equipped for the terrain.
Long after Ben had given up ever seeing a road with lines on it again, he bumped into civilization. It was Flintsone -- a town sitting right on I-68, twelve miles east of his speed trap! Ben's heart sank. There was no way he could pass through that area twice. But the road he turned west onto was Route 144, so maybe with luck it would go around the danger zone.
As Ben's Corvette ate up the miles, Ben grew uncomfortable with Route 144. It was hugging the interstate -- in fact, it was easily visible from the interstate, and he'd crossed over it twice in the span of just a few miles -- and Ben was concerned that it was leading him straight to the jaws of the bear. Finally, he pulled down a side road a quarter mile and broke out the map.
The map was still fairly unhelpful, but it did show that 144 was going to hug I-68 all the way into Cumberland. He could not stay on this road, that was for sure! He also noted that if he had turned right in Twiggsville, one of several non-towns that he passed through between orchards, he might have had his easy out at the Potomac. But with none of the roads marked, he had no way to know.
It was too far to go back to Twiggsville, so Ben looked north. If he could get across the interstate and head northwest, he'd hit Route 220, and from there he could find a westerly route in Pennsylvania. Ben pulled back on to Route 144, but this time with an eye to head north.
The opportunity soon came, and Ben dashed across I-68 one last time, along Rocky Gap Road. This road, too, quickly degraded to little more than a paved wagon trail, but at least it was peaceful. He motored past family homesteads, many still using barns possibly built by slaves generations ago. Soon enough he came to yet another completely unmarked intersection, and frankly he was not relishing the idea of spending more time totally lost.
The Black Sabbath album was not helping him relax or think calmly anymore. He changed it for a Loreena McKennitt disc and headed north.
As he drove to -- well, wherever the road happened to go; he certainly had no idea -- he wryly thought about his game. It was no cat and mouse chase; no, he was just playing "mouse" when it came right down to it. For all he knew, the cat had given up in boredom and was off chasing other mice with no further thought of the green Corvette mouse from an hour before. But Ben had no way to find out whether the cat was still in the game without giving up his position as the mouse, essentially starting the game over again. If Ben wanted to "win", he had to keep playing mouse regardless of whether anyone was still playing cat. He chuckled at the stupidity of wandering all over the region in fear of a cat that was off writing tickets to people who forget to signal when changing lanes or some other nonsense. Ben wondered if this was really worth getting out of a $250 ticket.
Fortune smiled on Ben, and the road he chose dropped him off at Route 220. He headed north and breathed a sigh of relief when he crossed the Pennsylvania line. But now what? He knew where he was, but not how to get where he was going, and he was again without a map. He also knew that 220 headed northeast, when what he needed now was to head west-southwest. With no other reasonable alternative, and no longer jumping at every sedan that approached, he drove north in search of a rest stop.
Inevitably, a southbound police car caught Ben's eye. He figured the chances of there being an APB for a 79 mph speeding ticket were close to zilch, but that nagging doubt made him hold is breath as the police car zipped by.
Whew. As long as he stayed out of Maryland, he could travel home safely.
When Ben saw Jackie's Store, he figured that was the perfect place to get a new map and figure out where he was going. Inside, a grandmotherly lady saw him wandering around and asked tentatively, "Can I help you?"
"Oh, I'm just looking for a state map is all," Ben replied.
"We've sold out, I'm afraid, but I'll let you look at an atlas if you like," she replied.
Ben agreed and she pulled out one of those atlases that tries to cram each state onto a single page. The map of Pennsylvania didn't seem to include any secondary roads.
"I'm trying to get to Uniontown," Ben fibbed, hoping for directions that would include a route due west rather than south to I-68 or north to the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
The lady recommended going to I-68 and taking Route 40. Drat. Ben pointedly asked about a due-west route, and she said there wasn't one, not one that was faster than heading to I-68 anyway. Ben didn't feel like explaining why that was out of the question. She went over to a trucker for his advice, and meanwhile Ben hurriedly scanned the atlas for a solution of his own. He spotted a possible route.
When the lady returned, she started dictating detailed instructions to Uniontown by way of I-68, courtesy of the trucker. Ben politely mm-hmm'ed as he pretended to write down her instructions; in actuality he was taking note of his own route: north to the Turnpike, east to Route 281, south to Route 711, east to Route 119, south to Morgantown. Easy. When he was done, he thanked her for her help, bought some snacks, and headed north on 220, hoping she wasn't looking out the window when he did so.
Ben had wanted to avoid all interstates, but the Turnpike was okay because they used jersey barriers instead of a median strip. It was quite impossible to get a good look at oncoming traffic, or to turn around and pursue someone even if they did see someone to pursue. As long as he stayed out of trouble on his own side, he'd be fine.
Bedford to Somerset is only one exit, about a half-hour apart. It was a quiet, uneventful ride, and Ben was certain to stay with the truckers. As he paid his toll in Somerset, he asked the clerk where to find Route 281 -- none of the signs for the exit had mentioned it.
"North or south?" asked the clerk.
"Four lights, turn right."
"Thanks!" At the first light, the intersection was covered with signs indicating how to get to a half-dozen major routes, including Route 281. It said turn right. Ben made a snap decision between PennDOT or the fare clerk, and went with PennDOT. He turned right.
Outside of Somerset, Route 281 wound through Pennsylvania's farm country. Rather than orchards, here it was crops and livestock. But people were just as friendly, returning waves as Ben passed through one small town after another. The trip was beautiful, though the sun was setting and Ben was starting to wonder just how long of a trip it was going to be. Route 711 was nowhere to be found, and there were no signs to Uniontown either.
Route 281 was traversing ridges now, high up one side and steep down the other. Ben was taken aback by the grade of many hills, but ate up every minute in his Corvette. Even staying close to the speed limit, this road was fun. And 281 was going west as much as it was going south, so Ben wasn't too worried about finding Route 711 -- he doubted 281 would hit Maryland unless it took a sudden turn east.
The road rather abruptly ended at Route 40. Ben didn't know whatever happened to Route 711; perhaps it was renumbered, or maybe there was no sign for it, but it hardly mattered now. Route 40 went to Uniontown, so he may have wasted a little time, but he was back on course.
Less than a mile later, out of the corner of his eye he caught a flash of a sign that said "Morgantown 32" and pointed left. Ben wasn't sure how that was possible, but accepted that the sign knew what it was talking about and made a fast left to follow the road. In moments he saw another sign that indicated he was on a continuatin of Route 281. So, it was definitely headed southwest then!
Eventually, he was proven right: he crossed the West Virginia line, into Preston County on Route 26. From there he had his bearings. He followed Route 26 to Bruceton Mills, then a back road to Cooper's Rock. He reasoned that the interstate should be pretty safe by this point, well beyond the Maryland state line and 60 miles west of where his adventure started, so he returned to I-68 at last and finished his journey. He marveled with Shep about how exciting life could be when you do stupid things.
Overall, he noted that the alternate route to Morgantown had cost him 80 extra miles and 2.5 extra hours on the road. A cynic might suggest that Ben wasted an afternoon to avoid what amounted to a fairly insignificant traffic citation, but Ben preferred to think of it as paying himself $100 an hour to tour the beautiful Appalachian countryside.