Mile Marker 124

Driving down Interstate 90/94, just south of the Columbia/Dane County line is mile marker 124. It's easy to notice because a set of high voltage power lines run almost perpendicular to the highway in that exact spot. I'll be the first to admit that there are certainly more interesting sights to see along the stretch of road. One favorite is the large sign by ABS Global Inc. (Known as the world leader in bovine genetics. In other words, they sell designer moo-sperm.) Prone to change at least once a month, February's stated: "Valentine, I'll love you for heifer and heifer." Gotta love those crazy ABS sign guys. And if you look closely to the west at the exit for Highway V near DeForest, you might just see a pink elephant.

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Anyway, I tend to notice ol' mile marker 124 because it proclaims the date of my birth. January 24th. (No, not 1924. I know you were thinking that.) In fact, looking for 124's and even plain old 24's is a bit of a habit for me. I consider it entertainment on the long haul between Wisconsin and my home state of Pennsylvania. It's something to do when the kids are asleep and I can't find my U2's Greatest Hits CD. But the 124 by the power lines has acquired a special place in my heart. I consider it a confidant of sorts. A friend.

I'm something of a homebody, you see. I like hanging out in my town. I prefer familiar surroundings. (One of the biggest wrenches of my life was that move from Chester County, PA to Columbia County, WI, but sixteen years after the fact, I think I'm almost acclimated.) I don't like driving in cities, even smaller cities like Madison. I hate picking my way through unfamiliar territory. Incidentally, I am pathologically afraid of driving around in parking garages. Don't ask. I have no idea.

The point is, if I'm chugging down the Interstate–to Madison or beyond–there's usually a pretty good reason for it. And thus, 124 isn't just a metal sign in the middle of not-very-much. It's a touchstone.

At that very spot, I've grinned ear to ear, music thumping from abused speakers and the wind at my back in the adrenaline-surging beginning stages of vacations to visit hearth and home, friends and family. (Then Chicago happens, and I'm white-knuckled cringing pretty much until I've left Indiana behind.)

At that very spot, I used to shed tears of despair on the way to, and often from, a meeting with the divorce mediator and yet another ugly scene.

At that very spot, I've nodded to 124 with pride over a new accomplishment and bitten my lip with anxiety over a relationship gone sour. Sometimes I just wave at it with a polite smile. I can share things with 124, you see. It doesn't judge me. It doesn't offer advice. It's just there. As am I, for that brief moment.

Lately, 124 is where I grit my teeth and do a gut check. I resolve to get through this treatment, this test, this appointment, this episode with my sense of humor intact. Hopefully my dignity too, but definitely, please God, my sense of humor. Throughout radiation, I've seen it five days a week, twice a day, to and from. I've come to depend on it. I hang in the right lane just to make sure a tractor trailer doesn't interfere with those small, precious moments of evaluation and even silent prayer.

I like 124. If you're ever driving along that section of the Interstate, look for the power lines. Say hello if you don't feel like a dork doing it. Take a second–maybe two–and think about not only where you are, but who you are today, right now.

I've often mused that if I ever write a memoir, the title ought to be Mile Marker 124.

Of course, I'll have to do something interesting first.

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