St Louis Arch: Gateway to the West

St. Louis Arch - Gateway to the West

This summer one of my close friends, Tiffany, got married in Columbus, Missouri and asked me to be in her wedding. Another close friend, Diane, who introduced us, was also in the wedding. In the past seven years there have been only three other occasions when all three of us – The Charlie’s Angels – have been in the same place at the same time: New Years 2004 in Fort Worth, Tiffany’s Birthday 2005 in Chicago, and Tiffany’s Bachelorette week at Topsail Beach, NC 2009.

Diane and I were flying into St. Louis on Thursday and driving out to Columbia for the wedding rehearsal and rehearsal dinner that evening – all to begin promptly at 5 o’clock in the evening. Diane and I met up in the airport and got all squared away with the rental car before 10am. We figured we could run some errands in Columbia after lunch when we arrived around noon.

Diane and I left the rental agency – without the silver convertible Volvo, much to the dismay of the cute sales boy – and headed out for the second leg of our trip. We reached the juncture for I-70, hopped on, and didn’t look back.

In heading out of town, we saw the St. Louis Arch up close as the highway goes right by the Riverfront area. Diane and I enjoy each other’s company and often gab endlessly when we’re together for the first few hours, so the time in the car seemed to pass quickly. We spoke with Tiffany on the phone about a half hour into the trip and she asked us to give her a call at Exit 131. Based on where we were, we had a long way to go.

Diane and I passed a lot of farms, a lot of empty fields, and a really huge metallic cross, but didn’t pass any signs indicating how far we were from Columbia. I pulled out a map when the sign for Exit 129 came up and we still hadn’t seen signs for Columbia (Diane made mention of that fact a few times, but I never thought twice about it). I looked at the map (I was in the passenger seat and thus in charge of navigating) and gasped and said, “Diane… I am soooo sorry… We’re going the wrong way.” Mind you, we’ve now driven for over 129 miles since we started in what we now are realizing was a different state when we never should have left it. Diane hit me playfully in the left arm and said, “That’s so funny, girl. You’re kidding, right?” I added seriously that I indeed wasn’t kidding and that we have been going the wrong way for two and a half hours. Now we had to tell Tiffany; she didn’t answer her phone at first, so I left a message for her to call back.

We passed an Arch we never should have, went over the Mississippi River, went into Illinois and never saw the signs indicating such, and and we didn’t realize it until we were a mere 10 miles or so from Indiana. We got off Exit 129 (I’ll never forget that number) and went into a Hardee’s to the bathroom. We opened the bathroom door and asked this unsuspecting woman, “What state are we in?” She looked at us strangely and told us we were in Illinois – we were afraid of that and pretty much were sure of it before asking, but we wanted that suspicion to be validated.

Tiffany called at 12:39pm and by then I had used google maps on my iPhone to figure out about how long it would take us from where-ever in the Middle-of-Nowhere, IL we were to get to Columbia, MO. (Since you’re likely wondering, why I didn’t use the iPhone earlier is explained below.) I told Tiffany, “We’ve got a problem.” She asked, “What,” with a hint of fear and panic in her voice? I explained that we had gone the wrong way. She casually asked, “Oh, where are you?” To which I told her we were about ten miles from Indiana. Well, that didn’t go over too well since she thought we only went the wrong way in Columbia, but it went over much better than I had expected. Apparently, she initially thought that one of us had left our bridesmaid dress at home, so in comparison, being four hours away wasn’t a huge deal. She, somewhat sternly, said, “Just get here by 4:45.” I assured her we would do our best and should be there by at least 4:15 since google maps generally overestimates how long it should take to get somewhere because they assume the speed limit is the travel speed. Little do they know.

Since Diane drove, well, through Illinois, I figured the least I could do is drive us to Columbia. We made good time and by the time we reached the outskirts of St. Louis, we had already shaved 20 minutes off the google maps time. (I kept refreshing the “current location” to “columbia” route to see how the time was coming along.) We got into St. Loius around 3pm and passed the Arch again. Diane saw the arch, now from the passenger seat, and said, “The St. Louis Arch: The Gateway to the West.” I asked her to repeat that and then jokingly added how that tidbit of information would have been useful about five hours before. By that point, we were already laughing about it. Ok, let’s be honest, we were laughing a few minutes after realizing the 129+ mile blunder – what else can you do when you don’t own a time machine or a jet?

In St. Louis there was a bit of traffic to deal with. Thank goodness I learned to drive from my father and spent enough time in California to pick up “weave team” skills. We got through St. Louis and were on our way to Columbia without a hitch. We ended up arriving in Columbia at the Bed and Breakfast by around 4:00 or 4:15. We even had enough time to freshen up and make it to the church just slightly late. And, well, Diane and I made such a HUGE mistake in getting to Columbia that we pretty much guaranteed that the wedding would go smoothly – and with the exception of some woman’s cell phone going off, it was perfect.

How did this all happen? Well, in my mind, Columbia was east of St. Louis. I had spoken with Tiffany on a few occasions when she was heading home from the airport or even Chicago. And for some unknown and idiodic reason, I always pictured her going east. Perhaps it was wishful thinking that she was heading closer to where I was, but wishful isn’t always correct. I generally have a good sense of direction – heck, I navigated my family’s trip across country four times and moved myself to Texas from New York – but this time my internal compass needed some serious recalibration and my confidence got in the way and I didn’t even check the directions closely enough to catch something so simple: Go West.

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