Welcome to the highway

Kristine Gill

Have you seen the construction on Interstate 271? Man, it is ridiculous. It’s insane. It really messes with my daily routine and typical morning commute that I think little of because I am so accustomed to driving via highway to desired far-away locations on a regular basis.

I take that back. I’m not sure if the construction on I-271 North is that ridiculous. For all I know, that stretch of the highway has been under construction since its conception. I don’t know much about the highway, but I’m learning. I’m learning because I’ve had to use it to drive places a lot recently.

I realize that sounds dumb. Everyone drives on the highway. Everyone knows how to merge and keep left and take an exit. But until a few weeks ago, I had only mastered a five-mile strip of the highway that connects my house to the Old Navy and the pet store.

I have an internship in Akron for the summer. The first night I stayed up late to MapQuest it. My mom had me take my sister with me while I drove 15 minutes through our city to find some highway nearby that I had heard of and whose existence I was vaguely aware of, but whose actual location was more than fuzzy in my mind. With the help of my sister, Magellan, I located the rumored highway.

I found the highway. I woke up the next morning and got ready for my first day.

But every time I merge onto the highway, I feel as if I’m walking into a room with a bunch of strangers who all know each other but couldn’t care less about me. I feel as if I have to prove myself. I don’t like the look of the green car next to me and the sport utility vehicle behind me is definitely angry at me. I might not be able to see the driver’s face, but I am positive that he does not like that I just merged in front of him and am maintaining proper speed.

Even so, I like the drive. I like guaranteeing myself a solid hour of singing aloud to Taylor Swift or Missy Higgins without the fear of criticism from other passengers for my musical tastes. No one yells at me when I answer my phone or put on another coat of ChapStick in the rearview mirror.

I almost died last week, though. I was driving in the left lane on I-271 South (maybe you’ve heard of it) when a silver SUV on my right started swerving right at me. If not for my cat-like reflexes, someone would have had to peel me off the road. But I managed to dodge the vehicle, and as I did so a shocking choice expletive beginning with an “f” and ending in “er” issued from my mouth. I was quite surprised by my word choice, not because it wasn’t fitting, but because even in the heat of the moment, I was able to identify the man in that silver SUV based on this tiny behavior. So while I continued south on I-271, I marveled at my ability to avoid disaster and articulate such a claim.

I think about cops pulling me over all the time and wonder what they’d say if I told them I was new to the area and flashed my MapQuest printouts. I wonder if they’d look closely at the dates and see that I’d mapped out my route home from Akron about a month ago and am not, therefore, “new” to the area. I wonder if they’d buy my excuse at being a paranoid driver. That much is true.

My senior project caused similar grief. I remember driving to my senior project, about 25 minutes from my home, for the first time the night before my first day at the end of high school. I had to find the highway and was terrified to drive that short stretch. Driving past that old exit now makes me feel stupid. That’s where I spent hours converting polka music from vinyl to MP3s in real time. I can think of few genres of music that I would hate to listen to in real time more than polka.

But those days have passed and now I’m looking at a brighter future. Learning to navigate a few more highways is the first step in navigating America and then the rest of the world and its neighboring planets. At this rate, I’ll be working for MapQuest in a few decades. And there’s got to be some sort of scholarship money for the first student to map another planet.

Kristine Gill is a junior newspaper journalism major and columnist for the Summer Kent Stater. Contact her for directions from Kent to Mentor at [email protected].