I hate driving on the interstate. I avoid it all costs.
It’s the reason my wife and I haven’t visited such exotic places as St. Louis or Chicago — that is, without the help of mass transportation or, you know, someone else driving.
And yes, my wife is up to the task, but if we’re the only two in a car, I need to be behind the wheel. We all have our idiosyncrasies, and she’s OK with it. Besides, she prefers me driving in heavy traffic. She isn’t exactly a fan.
That being said, our anniversary trips so far in the nearly three years we’ve been married have been to Des Moines. Dare to dream, right?!
Listen, the Iowa capital’s traffic is bad enough, so I know I couldn’t handle the likes of the Windy City, or the Twin Cities, for that matter.
Just yesterday, my wife and I returned from Council Bluffs to see a concert featuring two of our favorite musical acts.
Before leaving, I pulled up the life-saving Google Maps, and according to the app, the cross-state trip was taking us through Des Moines.
But we still had miles and miles and hours before that was going to be an issue, so I calmed down for a bit.
Sooner than I would like, my heart began to race as those miles and miles and hours evaporated, and we came upon the rolling hills near Southeast Polk High School.
I knew what was coming.
Just for funsies, I tapped my Fitbit until it showed my heart rate. At rest, it sits in the upper 40s to lower 50s.
But now? It was in the 90s.
Somehow, I had to calm down. Somehow, I had to get it together. Interstate 235 West beckoned.
I turned onto the on-ramp, and I felt like I was climbing the initial sky-high hill of a death-defying roller coaster, of which I’m also petrified, by the way.
This trip, however, would prove to be a breeze as I simply had to follow the road until it became I-80 West.
I’ve never been more happy to be back on two lanes, even if it was the United States’ version of the Autobahn.
We arrived safely to our eventual destination, and it was worth it. The concert was amazing.
But after a night spent in a Council Bluffs hotel, we had another cross-state journey ahead of us. And another trek through Des Moines.
After the easy initial drive-through, I headed into the return trip with some confidence. Perhaps even a measure of cockiness.
“I can handle this,” I told myself. “And lookie there, the traffic isn’t bad at all.”
That self-assuredness didn’t last, however, as said traffic started to get a bit too heavy for my liking.
I had an exit I needed to make in about two miles, and as the distance decreased, traffic increased. I could sense Google lady’s disappointment with each passing instruction.
With all the poise of an introvert making small talk with a complete stranger, I made the necessary moves and left the interstate.
Meanwhile, my wife sat in the passenger seat oblivious to my internal torture, her attention kept by her latest literary find.
To be fair, she knows the focus I need when dealing with freeways.
But this realization didn’t come easy. She had a nasty habit of pointing out various places or things as I drove 60 mph in wall-to-wall traffic, four lanes wide.
“I didn’t know this town had a Chili’s.”
“Not now, dear,” I would say through clenched teeth. “I’m kinda busy.”
It takes all the faculties I can muster to simply put up the facade of having it together while dealing with such stress.
Personally, I admire those who can handle big-city rush hours with ease.
On the way to and from a Chicago Cubs game this past August — by bus, of course — I marveled at those who ate as they drove, who carried on conversations with their passengers. And some were even messing with their cellphones.
While distracted driving is, of course, dangerous, it showed the drivers’ confidence.
“No biggie,” their actions seemed to say.
But, chances are, they either grew up with the traffic, and it’s become second nature, or they simply got used to it.
As for me, I grew up in southeast Iowa, and my career hasn’t taken me outside the state. For nearly two years, I lived and worked about an hour’s drive from Des Moines, but I never made the trip until some time later.
In a way, I feel a bit hamstrung by my inexperience, like I’m missing out on something.
And I’m reminded when we make our yearly visit to Des Moines.
Which reminds me, I better ready myself now. November is only a few months away.
Oh boy, there goes the heart rate.