You don't normally think of the engineers who design the interstate system as a knee-slapping, hoot-'n-holler, farcical bunch, but I'm betting they have a lot of laughs.
Consider the following: The oldest daughter and I are in the western suburbs of Chicago with the intention of reaching downtown in rush hour. If we had entered this trip into Mapquest it would have returned a page with driving instructions that said: Stay put.
I am the out-of-town driver today and, since we are battling a massive flow of traffic (approximately 326 lanes inbound), my passenger's job is to help watch for signs.
"We need 290," I say, easing into the flow of traffic. "There's a split up ahead, so help me watch. OK? 290."
"OK," my co-pilot chirps. "We're headed to 90."
"There's a sign!" she shouts. "We're in the wrong lane, we need to get over way over - to the far right!
"What sign?" I snap. "I didn't see a sign."
"Well, it was right back there, and we only have a half mile. Hurry; I think you can make it."
"Are you sure it said 290?"
"Yes, it said to 90!"
We are clinging to the edge of the far left lane. Each and every lane of traffic to the right of us is hurtling along at Mach 2 speed, directly into the blinding glare of the morning sun. They have graciously left a quarter inch of stopping distance between vehicles.
"Hold on," I yell. My co-pilot grips the arm rests and I grip the steering wheel. We swerve, weave and skid sideways across 325 lanes of traffic and bully our way into the far right lane. All in a distance of only 18 inches.
"I didn't see the 290 sign," I wheeze. "I'm glad you spotted it."
I catch my breath and notice a light sweat breaking across my forehead.
"Hey! Wait a minute!" I yell. "This says we're going to 90. We don't want to go to 90. We want 290!"
"I GOT US TO 90!" she yells, clutching the dashboard.
"NO! NOT to 90 290! Give me the map!"
"YOU CAN'T READ THE MAP WHEN YOU'RE DRIVING!" she screams.
"No, but I can HIT you with it!"
"Listen to me 290. Do you understand? 290!"
"Yes, I understand. Do you understand? I got us to 90!"
"No, we don't want to go to 90, we want to go TOOOOO 290."
"Ooooooh," she says. "In that case and you're not going to like this - we need to get back to the far left."
The traffic which was only mildly surly before has now turned ugly. Trucks are pushing little compact cars like crumbs into a dust pan. SUVS have metal spikes poking from their wheels and a granny in a VW bug up ahead just sprayed an oil slick and roofing nails from her rear exhaust. What's more, a sedan just sped by with an artillery gun mounted to the sunroof.
"I'm going for it. HANG ON!"
We careen wildly, lurching ahead of trucks and sliding between mini-vans. We do a 360 and miraculously wind up pointed in the right direction in the far right lane. The 290 lane.
Somewhere,engineers are huddled before an interstate mini-cam having their morning coffee and laughing 'til they snort.