Life On The Highway
Surprising and sometimes unwanted visitors are not uncommon.
illustration by jane sanders
One Saturday morning last winter, my husband and I noticed a truck parked in our driveway out close to the highway. This did not seem strange. Between customers picking up hay, a family who lives at the back of our property and family members camping or hunting on the farm, there always seems to be somebody coming or going around here. At that moment, in fact, there happened to be a customer at the barn loading hay onto his trailer. We surmised that perhaps he had brought help – help who arrived in a separate vehicle and then left their vehicle parked at the entrance to the farm for some particular reason. We thought nothing more about it.
A few minutes later, I hopped into my car to run to a neighbor’s house up the road. As I drove around to the front of the house and then slowly maneuvered past the truck, which was still in the driveway, I caught something startling out of the corner of my eye. There was a man slumped over the steering wheel.
Clearly, this was no hay customer. For one freaky moment, I wasn’t sure if he was dead or asleep. I stopped, got out, tapped on his window and called out to the man. I tapped and called for a minute or two before getting a response. Finally he stirred just enough to lift his head groggily (without acknowledging me at all) and to pass out again. It became apparent he was drunk and most likely had been there all night. (Thinking back on it later, my husband did remember the dogs having a barking fit sometimes during the wee hours. However, anyone who has outdoor dogs in the country knows that that is perfectly ordinary and 99 percent of the time the source of the commotion is nothing more than a possum.)
I considered calling the police – ordinarily I feel no compunction whatsoever about reporting drunk drivers – but in the end we let the guy sleep it off. I figured that at least he’d had the presence of mind or decency to get off the road, (although, needless to say, never getting on the road in the first place would have been the far more decent decision). After a few hours, I heard the truck crank up and drive away.
Just another weird chapter out of Our Life on The Highway.
Of all the ways my life is different since I left my city life for the farm, having a major state highway in my front yard is one I cannot fail to mention.
Before my life as a farmer’s wife, I passed my days in cozy neighborhoods, predictable subdivisions, bustling apartment complexes. There, I was cloistered from the ebb and flow of the great big world out there, not perched all alone and exposed to the unwashed masses as they drove past my front door by the hundreds or thousands each day. Some are neighbors. Many more are just passing through. And you never know what the open road will deliver to your door.
Many times, like the drunk in the driveway, the highway brings unwanted surprises. One night several years ago when our boys were small and I was the only person in the family still awake, watching TV in an otherwise completely dark house, somebody knocked on our front door at midnight. You have to understand that nobody who knows us ever knocks on our front door. If someone knocks on our front door, I am automatically on alert because I know it is a stranger.
To take it a step further, let’s also say that when you live on a barren stretch of highway (with only a couple of other houses even visible from where you live), and you hear a knock on the front door that nobody ever uses at midnight, and you haven’t seen or heard a car drive up, you will immediately be as wide awake as you have ever been.
My heart was pounding when I went to wake Harvey up. As it turned out, the visitors were only a young couple who had run out of gas and meant us no harm. Harvey helped them and sent them on their way, but not before I had multiple panic attacks about a stranger knocking on our darkened front door at midnight or about my foolishly brave and kind husband disappearing into the darkness for 10 minutes going to fetch our can of spare gas. I still fuss at him about that.
Naturally, we also have a front row seat for quite a few wrecks and blowouts, along with the damaged fences to prove it. Fortunately, none of the crashes in front of our house have been serious. That’s amazing considering we live on a long, flat straightaway where everyone floors it trying to get around the slowpoke they’ve been tailgating for the last five miles. That’s one reason I can’t make up my mind to cut down the two poorly-placed live oaks in our front yard even though they will eventually block out all my beloved morning sun: I figure they might make a good safety barricade if an 18-wheeler ever flies off the road.
We never know when the next highway apocalypse is coming. One sunny afternoon a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina, when everyone in south Louisiana was getting ready for Hurricane Rita, we were watching the weather with a visitor in our living room in the front of the house. As were chatting, I thought I heard a soft, strange “poof” out front. Finally, I got up and peeked out the front door. There, in front of our house, parked on the shoulder of the road, was an old camper engulfed in a fireball. I kid you not – it looked like something out of a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. The owners were desperately trying to unhook it from their truck. No one got hurt, but the camper was toast. I doubt you get that kind of excitement on a cul-de-sac.
Yet, there are some positives to living on a major rural thoroughfare. Like the strategic location: If you ever have a yard sale or peddle horse hay or watermelons or U-pick turnip greens, you are almost guaranteed to get noticed by at least a few of the hordes driving past every day. I believe that is how we first attracted the attention of our two most famous hay customers – or, more accurately, only two famous hay customers: a TV fish and game personality and a retired football player whose life story is one of ESPN’s most popular “30 for 30” sports biographies.
Having a celebrity in da house – or da barn – from time to time certainly makes farm life a little livelier.
Once, we heard a rumor that Kevin Costner had a horse farm not too farm from here. For the longest time, I amused myself with fantasies of walking outside to greet a customer and finding a superstar in my driveway. Sadly, we never confirmed the rumor, and he never made an appearance.
Still, if Kev ever needs collard greens or some good hay – or just a place to sleep it off – we’ll be here for him.