This Side Up

Best to pause at those churches


“This is scary,” I said to Carol.

She looked at me, questioning.

I looked at my watch again. It was 3 a.m. Friday and precisely as forecast, it started to rain.

How can they get it down to the minute, I wondered? And then it occurred to me, my hopes we weren’t going to get hit with one to three inches of rain and high winds was misplaced.

That cinched it. Besides nothing was to be gained by waiting any longer. The car was packed with the gifts and what I needed to spend the night in upstate New York. I filled the travel mug with coffee and Carol found a plastic plate for the two buttered pieces of toast.

I would have breakfast on the road.

I’ve written about this 240-mile drive to Springfield Center many times. It’s a lot of straight driving beginning with 146 and then transitioning to the Massachusetts Turnpike where the toll gate system has been replaced by overhead gantries, the New York Thruway and then connecting for a final 60 miles on Route 20.

Once at 20, it’s like being home although there’s another hour ahead. Little has changed for as long as I can remember. A few of the once stately barns along the road have simply collapsed over the decades, but by and large it’s the same. Even the giant Elm tree not far from Carlisle still gracefully arches over the highway. There are a few changes between the cornfields and wood lots that line the road between hamlets with small churches and houses built close to the road. The exception is the Dollar General in Esperance.

It was at one of these villages where my father got stopped for speeding on a summer day. As he told the story, there was a considerable amount of traffic. A lot of it was from out of state as families headed to the baseball Mecca of Cooperstown.

My father hadn’t seen any sign of police, but once he got to the edge of town there was a cruiser with a cop standing and waving him to the side of the road. My father took note that few other out of state cars had also been stopped. There were no New York plates among them.

My father was mystified.

“Speeding,” the officer informed him asking for license and registration. My father protested. He had been watching the speedometer.

“Got you on radar,” the officer told him.


Yes, the officer assured him, “it’s in the church.” Then the officer informed him he could pay the fine on the spot or, should he insist, see the justice of the peace. My father was never one to be fleeced; he wanted to see the judge.

The judge turned out to be quite amiable. They chatted about family and the state of the country before getting to the topic of the ticket. The judge was almost apologetic, explaining it had been an exceptionally tough winter and the village had depleted its snow-plowing budget.

Seeing that he often drove the route, my father offered to make a contribution to the town budget. That was acceptable to the judge who dismissed the ticket.

I didn’t imagine I would encounter any radar traps on a rainy and windy night.

I set off hopeful of beating the worst of the storm with the audio book Killers of the Flower Moon, the Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Gramm as my travel companion. The Mass Pike was lined with trucks. Mine was one of the few cars. The rain was intermittent and the wind buffeted the car. It would have been nasty had it been colder.

Snow filled the fields along Route 20 and fog hung in the valleys. I was making good time. Yet I slowed at each village.

I remembered to be careful of those churches.


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