This week’s Red Writing Hood assignment is to write – fiction or non-fiction – about a time when you took a detour. Where had you intended to go and where did you end up?
Um, just to clarify – I went with fiction. I’m not used to having readers who don’t know me IRL. Sorry!
I am driving north on 35W, like every night. It’s a pretty dismal stretch of road. On the left, an office complex for a medical device company, the windows of which sometimes glow weird colors like orange or green, I assume from the mad scientists exposing each other to radioactive spiders. On the right, a godforsaken mini-mall. A dirty red and white sign faces the highway, declaring “RED GINGER GRAND OPENING!” The Red Ginger has been grandly opening for at least three years.
It’s rush hour, but by the time I get to my exit, a lot of the downtown commuter congestion has already been shaken off. No trouble at all, to get where I am going. Like every day, I eye the left two lanes, the ones that lead “TO DULUTH.” Nothing standing in my way there, either.
I’ll never do it. Today, like always, I will exit and park at yet another massive office complex (except this one doesn’t emit any kind of light at all). I will cast the briefest of glances toward the sunset, sigh, and go inside.
“RIGHT LANE ENDS. MERGE LEFT.” God, if only I had the courage.
Too late. I’ve reached the top of the exit. Right, right again, almost there. And then, instead of that last left, I am u-turning, hurtling back at the entrance ramp like my V6 lives in a Camaro and not a minivan.
I ought to have staged this better; a moment like this should have the perfect soundtrack, and the top down. Nate’s at home, probably putting the kids to bed, I’ve just told my manager I have the stomach flu, and I am doing what, exactly? I settle for windows open, and West Side Story on the iPod. A lot of noise is all that’s called for, anyway; thoughtless, careless noise that I can sing along to.
At the edge of the exurbs, the speed limits increase to 70. I conduct a silent, furious debate with myself, then set the cruise control at 75.
I reach Hinckley, where an LED display blinks that Grand Casino is offering a surf-and-turf special, and an older, peeling billboard gently reminds me that Tobies Restaurant is only a mile away. Should I stop, gamble away the forty dollars in my purse or eat a caramel roll the size of a dinner plate? How do I go about this, this … escape … exactly?
Duluth it is, simply because I didn’t make up my mind in time to exit. I’ve had to roll the windows up against the chilly wind, but my Broadway collection has yet to give out. I’ve just allowed myself an encore performance of “Defying Gravity” when I see the first view this city presents to visitors from the south: an ugly hodgepodge of rail yards, industrial smokestacks, and the faintest suggestion of Lake Superior, at present simply a deeper darkness on the eastern horizon.
I seem to have run out of signs. I muddle my way down to Canal Park and drive around until I find an open coffee place. I stare into my cup, wondering what good this has done. This place doesn’t even have a view of the lake; I might as well be at home.
But I am not, and for another 3 hours and 24 minutes, nobody in the world knows where I am.