Last week I was in a mood for a road trip. A day vacation motivated by the ol' Lewis and Clark spirit had been lurking within my soul for months. In the past I had toured Mt. Airy to see Andy Griffith's boyhood stomping grounds. This time, I motored over to Lexington, the home of VMI and Washington And Lee University. As impressed as I was with the history of the area, I felt a strong compulsion for further exploration. As I considered the many sights and traditions of the town, I came away with a keener understanding of that internal drive which had compelled my visit.
I was hungry.
The restaurant I sought won't be disclosed here, but let me tell you the hamburgers are the absolute best. In fact, I'd had a hankering for one for some thirty years. Now, when I first learned that it was still in operation, I felt drawn to connect with my youth. There would be something special about going back to a more carefree time for an afternoon. Or so I thought.
Lexington is a small town. Aside from two schools, three antique shops, and five one-way streets, there isn't much there. That's why I became frustrated when, after asking directions to the restaurant four times and ending up in parts of the state no one has seen since 1972, I realized the sun was literally setting on my opportunity to revisit my past. First, there was the issue of "just follow Route 11", which led me directly to the largest corn field I have ever seen. What originally seemed like a premature dusk turned out to be Jerry's cash crop which we'll all be eating in September.
Then there was the issue of directions. "Turn right at the co-op" led to someone's front yard -and all the antique cars decorating it in an apparent attempt to bait the EPA into an argument. I like 1971 Road Runners too, but less so when they're reduced to excuses for tetanus shots. Exchanging concerned glances with the property owner as I used his driveway as an impromptu roundabout, I headed back to the most recent familiar landmark.
I'll say this about the North Gate at VMI: it becomes increasingly familiar after you pass it four times trying to relocate your bearings. No problem. I would simply exit and head south.
Uh-huh. Leaving the North Gate, you must first battle your way onto the highway heading north from a semi-blind on-ramp. In short, it's a gamble. When one gets to a cluster of buildings, one stops to ask for directions. Thus informed, one then reverses course, looking for the Pizza Hut sign which will be seen just in time to miss the exit which enjoys the anonymity provided by a lack of any "turn here, Rob" kinds of signs.
Having travelled several miles south again, I finally located another driveway -perfect for turning around and heading back for the exit ramp which was now on the other side of the road, thereby necessitating an illegal U-turn. Ah, but then I saw the restaurant sign -the grail- which I had been searching for since 1980.
Slowly ascending the peak into the parking lot so as to savor the moment, I saw the old, but familiar, sign which is now a symbol of my youth. I was almost ready to cry. I was experiencing an epiphany. My search was at an end.
The restaurant was ... closed. Turns out that the whole staff was on vacation. I was going to need a road trip the following week.
That always works up an appetite.