The title? That’s a quote from one of my favorite short stories – “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut” by Stephen King.
Re-reading that story, combined with something I saw at the side of the road brought back a few memories.
It was a pair of tire tracks in the ditch beside the intersection of Old E’town Road and Phillips Lane. Someone did some fancy driving to avoid rear-ending another vehicle.
And that reminded me of my dad.
When I was a kid, we didn’t get out much. A trip to Elizabethtown was rare and required much planning. One day – and I cannot remember the reason – Dad had our family pile into his ’64 Chevy. We made it to the big city without incident, but ran into a small problem on the way back.
In those days, there was no Lincoln Parkway, only the old road. About half way between Hodgenville and E’town, there was an ice cream stand. It later became a used car lot – and after that, I’m not sure.
Anyway, Dad stopped and bought us all milk shakes. This too was a big deal.
We were on our way home, nearing the above-mentioned intersection, when the car ahead of us came to a stop – no brake lights, no turn signal.
Dad was relaxed for once, driving with one hand and holding his milk shake in the other. But his reaction was so fast I barely realized what had happened.
Dad whipped that old Chevy to the right and cut through the ditch, the car veering to its side. He whipped it back around the other car to the left, hit the pavement and kept going.
There was absolute silence in the car. I was waiting for Dad’s always-creative assessment of the situation, but all he said was: “That dude nearly made me spill my milk shake.”
I remember laughing – relieved to be alive and happy that Dad hadn’t spilled the shake on himself or the seat. That would not have been pretty.
You did not spill milk products on the upholstery.
He loved that car. But it wasn’t his favorite. That would have been Number 27.
Dad was a stock car driver. The confidence he showed behind the wheel or under the hood was amazing.
When he was 27, he attended his first race. He said he wouldn’t go back until he had his own car. For the next 20 years or so, he was a regular on the Saturday night circuit — first at the LaRue County Fairgrounds and later at Taylor County Speedway and Glasgow.
I spent a lot of evenings sitting on wooden bleachers watching old 27 – a black and white Camaro with a frayed Rebel flag – whirl around a red dirt track.
The car was off-limits to me. I wanted to ride in it so bad I could taste it – but Dad usually said no. I guess he was afraid I would get hurt – or more likely, afraid I would hurt it.
It was his baby.
Sometimes when Dad was at work, I’d crawl through the window of the car and just look it over. I’d get behind the wheel and pretend. I’d try to figure out how he welded the rollbars and wonder why he took out the backseat.
I’ve always wondered if I could have handled that racecar. Would I be the same person I am now if I could have driven her just once?
Would I be like the woman in “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut?”
In that story, Ophelia Todd is an ordinary housewife with a passion for finding shortcuts. She drives a Mercedes sportster (the narrator, Homer, calls it a “go-devil”) and she learns to take the little car to another realm that exists only in the mind of Mr. King. She became confident, fearless and reckless.
On one of her trips, she runs into a long-fanged creature that attacks the car. Homer warns her to be careful. She tells him to mind his own business.
“It wasn’t anything anyway, Homer, but a jumped-up woodchuck with a little poison in it.”
“But missus,” I says, “where there’s woodchucks there’s bears. And if that’s what the woodchucks look like along your shortcut, what’s going to happen to you if a bear shows up?”
She says, “If things are different along those roads, Homer, maybe I am different, too.”
I’m happy with my Jeep – it’s solid and steady and simple. But I’ll always wonder what it would be like – what I would be like – behind the wheel of that little black and white Camaro.
“All a woman wants is what a man wants – a woman wants to drive.”