Road Trip Time

This article has been re-published. Original publish date was September 13th, 2015.


After spending too many frustrating days and a few tortuous nights in airport terminals, I always look forward to an occasional summer road trip. I load up the car with snacks, pick out my favorite music, thumb through a dog-earned atlas, and hit the road. I always have a destination in mind, but I try to avoid any deadlines. Or, if I can’t, I at least give myself an extra day or two along the way.

But even then we all spend too many hours zipping along an interstate highway at seventy-five miles an hour, doing nothing and seeing nothing other than reading a blur of billboards for truck stops and tourist traps. And so not long ago, as I was driving along Interstate 74, I reached down and unplugged my GPS, flipped on my turn signal, and took the next exit, vowing not to get back on an interstate highway the rest of the day.

As expected, I began having to slow down every five miles or so for each small town, their spacing originally determined by the distance a farmer could travel in a horse-drawn buckboard, buy supplies, and still get back home before dark. I grew up in one of these small towns on the Illinois prairie, a town like those described by Garrison Keillor, who once said, “Our town was so small you didn’t need to use your turn signal, ’cause everybody already knew where you were going.”

On this trip I discovered yet another definition of a small town, that being one where you often find a morning traffic jam in front of the post office — of just riding lawn mowers.

It was in one of these small towns that I nearly caused an accident, as I need a bumper sticker that warns, “I Brake For Lemonade Stands.” In truth, I don’t like lemonade, but I can still recall one of my early entrepreneurial adventures attempting to sell lemonade on the sidewalk in front of my childhood home. Like so many others, it was a bust.

On this day the lemonade stand was being managed by two young girls, with their mother carefully monitoring any activity from the shade of a nearby front porch. A waxy Dixie cup of the sweet sticky concoction cost seventy-five cents, so I gave the girls a five-dollar bill and told them I didn’t need any change. As I drove away, I watched in my rear view mirror as they were jumping up and down, as excited as a pair of lottery winners, and caught a smiling wave from the nearby front porch. My hope, of course, is that with some early encouragement, these young lemonade stand operators will be successful at whatever they next attempt.

The entrepreneurial spirit knew no age limit on this particular day, as a few small towns later I pulled into the weedy, gravel parking lot of an antiques shop owned and operated by a man my own age. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, which is the best way to shop, for then you can’t be disappointed, but I did pick up a cute 1920s Roseville cream and sugar set (pictured) for a twenty dollar bill. I don’t use either cream or sugar in my coffee, but who can pass up cute?

Just as my father would, I struck up a conversation with the owner, and within a few minutes discovered that Stan and I had graduated from Western Illinois University the same year. When Stan retired, he opened an antiques shop on the state highway, but had just recently hit upon a new sideline. As he explained, at a local auction he wanted to buy a yearbook from his local high school. The auctioneer sold the entire stack at so much apiece, take as many as you like. When the bidding started and stopped with Stan’s bid of one dollar, he decided to take all forty-three yearbooks. Back at his shop, Stan pulled out the one he wanted, then decided to put the rest on eBay: starting bid of $19.99 — or Buy-It-Now for $9.99.

Within a week, he had sold them all.

So now Stan picks up high school yearbooks at yard sales, auctions, and other shops, then sells them on eBay, some days making more, he chuckled, that he does selling antiques.

Until next Monday,

Put some gravel in your travel.



This article has been edited to reflect the correct spelling of Garrison Keillor’s last name and to add a new cover photo. 

Cover Photo courtesy of: Designed by Freepik