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Oliver: Interstate travel drives random thoughts

Last week was the annual road trip to see my mother in Georgia. 

I grew up in McHenry, which cannot even remotely be considered the South, unless you’re in Wisconsin. 

It’s a long story as to how my mother wound up below the Mason-Dixon Line, but it makes for a pleasant change of scenery for someone more accustomed to cornfields and sprawling suburbia than red clay soil and tree-covered mountains.

The miles and miles of interstate between here and there does allow time to collect a few observations from the road. To that end, here are a few things I thought along the way:

• Pounded at the pump: No one in McHenry County needs to be reminded how expensive gasoline is these days. However, we’re not the only ones complaining about what we’re paying at the pump. Of course, those people have no idea how good they have it. Why, my friends in Kentucky were making noise about having to pay … get this … $3.47 a gallon. In northern Georgia where my mother lives, it was $3.54 a gallon. The best price we found was in the middle of nowhere in Tennessee, where the price was $3.14. Yes, more than a dollar less than here. Too bad it’s too far to drive for a fill-up.

• Faraway fandom: Somehow I didn’t take into consideration the Stanley Cup Playoffs when I planned this trip. The cabin we rented had satellite TV, but not the NBC Sports Network. Imagine my disappointment as my beloved Chicago Blackhawks began their second-round series against the Detroit Red Wings on May 15. However, all was not lost. Because the cabin did have Wi-Fi, and we were able to listen to the game on WGN Radio over the Internet. That also came in handy as we drove back from Kentucky on Saturday afternoon as the Hawks played Game 2.

• Only in the South? One of my favorite pastimes on the road is to look for unusual sights, whether it is a giant dragon advertising a fireworks display or a sign at a business with an unfortunate misspelling (marital “aides,” anyone?). Along Interstate 75 near Exit 141 in Tennessee is a juxtaposition of landmarks that provides some interesting social commentary about the South. An enormous white cross rises above the interstate. In its shadow is a large adult bookstore, which seemed to be doing a fair amount of business both times we passed.

• Speaking of crosses: One of the most notable things about the roads in Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia that we traversed was the large number of memorial crosses that seemed to sprout around every turn. Granted, the roads are particularly twisty in parts, which could be the reason, but one also can’t help but wonder whether there is more to it than that, be it speed, weather conditions, animal avoidance or alcohol. 

If nothing else, it was a sober reminder of the inherent dangers of driving no matter where we are. Something to think about as we all hit the road this summer.

Here’s to safe journeys for you and yours this travel season.

• Joan Oliver is the assistant news editor for the Northwest Herald. She can be reached at 815-526-4552 or by email at

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