If there’s a more difficult city to navigate than beautiful Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, then I don’t want to experience it. The geography of the metropolis—thousands of undulating hills and valleys wrapped around the three major rivers that cut through it and ultimately converge in its center—create of necessity a swirling morass of roads, streets, and avenues whose desultory paths can vex even the most experienced traveler.
The place has over 400 bridges, for Pete’s sake. (I remember years ago, well before the advent of mapquest or Garmins , when my Uncle Jan tried to give me directions from his house in the Wilkinsburg borough to my Uncle Harold’s house in Fox Chapel. Jan, by any measure a brilliant man, finally gave up in frustration. “I can drive you there, but there’s no way I can describe this to you properly,” he confessed. “If you can make it with the directions I’m giving you, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.”). I’ve visited many times over the years because of the family connections alluded to above and a star-crossed love affair with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and have reached a pleasant internal state with regard to getting around “the burgh”: I don’t boast about my now healthy batting average moving from point A to point B of the city—that’s a surefire invitation for humiliation or worse (“pride goeth before a fall”, after all)—and I always reserve for myself a mulligan or two during any junket there.
Darke County, on the other hand, is completely different. It is dominated by farms and flat-lands, with a few gentle hills tossed in for good measure. There are no large rivers bifurcating our roads, no cloverleaf on and off ramps, no mountainous terrain affecting the direction of its thoroughfares. Yes, it’s true that some roads are designated by their endpoints (Greenville-Nashville, Children’s Home-Bradford, Horatio-Harris Creek) and that some of those termini no longer exist. Even so, until recently getting around Darke, Miami, and Preble Counties or from Greenville, say, to Troy or Tipp City, has been elementary to the point of being mindless.
No longer. I’ve tried for the past month or so to get to work in Dayton in a semi-sensible, timely fashion and can’t do it. I’ve attempted six different routes, and on each one I encountered a now ubiquitous source of agitation: “Construction Zone for next X Days; Detour Here” or a reasonable facsimile thereof. On one particularly ill-fated commute I tried to improvise and found myself behind a tractor on a country road, unable to turn around or pass, and added an especially frustrating, potty-mouthed 20 minutes to my excursion. On returning from a vacation to Brown County, Indiana, the family and I were forced to take a circuitous course from Richmond, Indiana, to New Madison. I couldn’t possibly repeat it and actually found it kind of fun until my bladder began to protest vociferously. Darned enlarged prostate! But I digress.
I’m curious which brainiacs at the Ohio Department of Transportation decided to undertake umpteen projects in our region at the same time and why. Was there some sort of funding explosion they enjoyed and simply decided go nuts with (“shovel ready”!?) road/bridge improvements everywhere in the Buckeye State? Had they simply neglected us for far too long and discovered all these jobs were at an emergency stage? Or is something else afoot?
During our meandering from Richmond to New Madison I was reminded of a Twilight Zone episode in which a young married couple wake up in a strange house, still dressed in the clothes they wore to a party they attended the night before. Both have only the haziest memories about what transpired, are confused about their whereabouts, and ultimately discover there’s no way out due to the machinations of an unseen alien force. (Trivia alert: the episode—“Stopover in a Quiet Town”—was written by Earl Hamner, of “The Waltons” fame).
Well, I knew (kind of) where I was and hadn’t completely lost my short term memory, but I did experience a similar “I’m never getting out of here” anxiety the protagonists in that episode suffered. I’m not blaming aliens, however. I sense a more home-grown conspiracy. Oh, sure, the good folks at the Chamber of Commerce and the Darke County Visitor’s Bureau have been especially busy lately, what with Annie Oakley Days and the Gathering at the Garst in the rearview mirror and the Darke County Fair on the near horizon, but as both a father and a former litigator I turn often to the maxim of Cassius: Cui bono? Who stands to benefit? Plus, I could swear I spotted a “Detour” sign recently in the back seat of Deanna York’s SUV.
Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at email@example.com. Viewpoints expressed in these opinion pieces are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.