By Wendy Hodge
Is it just me, or was Opelika’s road crew working on MLK by the old cemetery for a hundred years or what?? The first time I saw the orange cones and blocked intersection, I was on my way to work. “They’re changing my road… that’s just kinda rude,” I thought as I took the detour and assumed things would be back to normal soon. The next day, I forgot about the construction. Drove right up to it before I remembered. “Oh, yeah…,” I sighed. Now this part is hard to admit: THREE MONTHS LATER, I was still making my morning drive and forgetting about the blasted detour. Am I the only one who did this? I fear I may be.
But I know there are plenty of us who, to some extent, drive on auto pilot from time to time. We arrive at home and honestly don’t recall having driven the last couple of miles. That’s the thing about routine. It dulls the senses.
There’s a friend of mine who lives in the Blue Ridge mountains who was kind enough to invite me for a visit a while back. The first time I stepped onto his back porch, I stopped dead in my tracks. A field of the most vibrant purple flowers started almost at my feet and stopped in the distance at the base of a mountain draped in mist. The wind bent the flowers like waves in a purple sea. The music of a creek flowing close by made it just about perfect. Breathtaking.
My friend walked up behind me and saw me rooted to the spot.
“What?” he asked.
“This… All this…,” I answered, mesmerized by the misty purple vision.
Then he shrugged. Shrugged! A masterpiece like that, right outside his door, and he didn’t even see it. Routine does that – makes the stunning ordinary.
So… back to the road work – they finally did finish the project, and that morning I headed for work, crossed the tracks, and there it was – a roundabout. Opelika has a roundabout… how metropolitan and fancy. “What a classy way to get from one side of the road to the other,” I said to myself, as I blew through a yield sign, got flipped off by a Bama fan in a Bronco, and wound up driving back in the exact same direction I just came from.
“Hmmmm…. This is gonna be interesting.”
Glad to say, I’ve mastered the roundabout. And I drive it every day and things move along just fine.
That road makes me sad now. It just doesn’t feel right. Remember how, if the light was green, you could crest the hill by the cemetery and catch a little air? I’ve spent many moments stopped at that light, staring at the graveyard, trying to imagine all those stories gone silent. And now, I’ll never drive that exact road again.
Change – it’s tough. I’m not a fan.
If I step back and look at the last year of my life, it’s surrounded by orange cones, blinking lights, and barricades. Detours I have never imagined popped up out of nowhere and changed everything. One great big cosmic roundabout brought me back to the same house on the same street where I grew up. In fact, I found myself, for a while, in the very same room where I spent my teenage years planning my escape from Hall Avenue.
Don’t get me wrong – my childhood was happy, and my family is the best – but the world is wide, and I couldn’t wait to find my way in it.
And I did. But my story, and I’m guessing yours too, doesn’t run in a straight line. Detours and roundabouts – they’re everywhere.
When it was time, once again, to leave Hall Avenue and go down a new road, I was on my own. Google is my best resource, so I typed in my search – “Help I Need To Move And I Am A Single Woman Who Doesn’t Know What She Is Doing But Is Trying To Be Optimistic And Upbeat.”
My search yielded several suicide hotline sites and an ad for truck rentals at Home Depot.
Home Depot it is!
After scheduling a truck rental online, I showed up at the Equipment Rental desk and said, “I’m here to pick up a Penske.”
The college-aged guy working that day looked at me and said, “Wow.”
I blinked at him and said, “Excuse me?”
“You just don’t look like the Penske type.”
“Thank you?” I asked.
“Yeah. You look like a mom/grandma.” (He actually said the word ‘slash.’)
I signed papers stating I was basically taking my life in my own hands by agreeing to drive such a complicated and expensive hunk of metal.
Then I was taken to the parking lot. There it sat – huge, yellow, and as foreign to me as roundabouts once were.
“You should probably go real slow and don’t turn much. She makes wide turns,” college guy advised.
I hoisted myself into the driver’s seat, took a deep breath, and started her up.
Sure, I went slow at first, and I held my breath during that first right turn, but by the end of the day I was a Penske pro. Visions of becoming a long-haul truck driver and burning up the miles started swirling in my head. Then I heard my own voice laughing at me. “Remember the roundabout, girl? This is YOU you’re talking about.”
Right. My single Penske day was enough trucking for me.
Now that boxes are unpacked, and I’m back to driving a Toyota, my life looks different. Is it what I expected? No. Not in a million years. But it’s MINE. And it’s lovely.
I’ve continued to truly see things (though clearly not always while I’m driving). I pause to marvel at the miraculous gift that is the big blue sky… and clouds!… don’t get me started on clouds. A friend once said, “If a cloud passed over O Town, Wendy took a picture of it.” And I probably did.
Look and see: Opelika itself is a lovely blanket spread out on the Alabama ground. Hear the music of the voices and laughter as you walk the downtown sidewalks…. Feel the spray of the water from the fountain, dyed blue or pink or green…. Watch the flag snapping in the wind above city hall…. And that ever present train whistle which is the soundtrack to our town.
Bless the detours and roudabouts. Bless the relentless change. Look at all the familiar wonders they’ve taught me to truly see.