I should know better. Rumors can spread quickly, especially in a small town. When I hear the same one often enough, it’s easy to believe it’s true. For instance, for two weeks I’d been hearing U.S. Highway 59 would be closing along with the Amelia Earhart Bridge. This past Monday a friend told me it would officially close sometime that afternoon. Someone in town told him today was the day, so of course I believed it.
The bridge closure was an immediate red flag because a friend of mine, and her seven children, were already driving up to Atchison from St. Louis. This was her way into Atchison, and like me, directions are not her strong point. I began to panic for her.
I quickly asked my husband and friends for a different route. She was still over 100 miles out, so we had plenty of time. Everyone told me to send her through Leavenworth. Of course I couldn’t even tell her how to get there. Between the two of us, it was the blind leading the blind. Nonetheless, I was determined to help her.
I got directions from my friend, the same one who informed me about the bridge closure. Sadly, listening to directions is one thing, understanding them is another. I knew I was in trouble when he got to the part about taking U.S. 70/73. He referred to it as “the last free exit.” I thought, “what in the world does ‘free exit’ mean?” It sounded important. Did it mean the other exits charge people to leave the highway? Was it a toll road? And what about “last?” Did “last” mean if she missed it, she’d just keep driving and driving until she got to Nebraska? Of course, I didn’t clarify. How could I? I’ve been driving for over 25 years. I should already know this term. Regardless, I just went ahead and sent the directions to my friend and decided to include the very important words, “last free exit.” I’d let her figure it out.
No doubt, she called back almost immediately and asked what the heck “free exit” meant. (Thank God I wasn’t the only one who was clueless.) I laughed and told her I didn’t know and couldn’t ask because my friend was somewhere working on his farm. I didn’t want to bother him, so I advised her to just ignore that part of the directions and I prayed it didn’t matter. My best advice was for her to pull over and change her GPS to a Leavenworth destination, like the U.S. Penitentiary. Who could miss that landmark? And if she arrived really late into town, she could see how pretty the federal prison looks when it’s lit up at night.
It was now getting late and I hadn’t heard from her in a while. I began to worry since she’d left her house mid-day and the trip should have only taken five hours. One delay was stopping for a quick potty break for the kids. There is nothing quick about stopping at a gas station with any number of children. Therefore, seven children plus one mom equaled a forty-five minute stop.
Finally, three texts, four phone calls and one “free exit” later, she had arrived safe and sound. I was completely relieved. The next morning while in town I decided to stop by the river. As I watched the water cruise down at a rapid pace, something caught my eye. I saw cars cruising across the bridge! Oops. Apparently the rumor was incorrect. Or maybe it closed and reopened. I have no idea. At least now my friend knows an alternate route to my house and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t want to kill me.