Saturday Wifey and I trekked down to Corvallis for the Civil War between the Ducks and Beavers. The weather was great for a December afternoon, the company was good, the food plentiful, and the game went roughly as expected.
The drive home was anything but.
After grabbing a creme de menthe mocha from The Beanery to keep me awake - we got up at 6:30 to head down early for the 12:30 kickoff - we got in the car to head home. Our normal route is to get to 99E from the north end of campus, head up the rural highway to Highway 22 where we cut over to Salem, and then get on I-5 to head back to Portland. (By the way, this mocha was atrocious. Normally their drinks are pretty decent, but I'd avoid this one.)
As 99E approaches the small town of Monmouth (home of Western Oregon University) there is always a backup because there are a couple traffic lights, lights that have no concept of the fact thousands of cars are about to come through town in the span of an hour. Having heard there was an accident just east of the 99E/Highway 22 intersection backing up traffic, we planned to cut over east just before the town and drive through the small town of Independence.
Everything was going well. Traffic was moving along at a nice 60 miles an hour, but then just south of Monmouth we hit a dead stop. We were also just a few hundred feet short of Stapleton Road, the one we planned to turn east on to head into Independence and then up to Highway 22.
Normally this would be no big deal. We would wait the time for a light to change or two, the line of cars would move, and then we'd turn right and hit the gas. The unfortunate problem here is there was a car in the ditch between us and Stapleton, and another car blocking traffic. Apparently a car from Stapleton no longer wanted to wait for a break in the continuous post-game traffic pilgrimaging back north to Portland and decided to go anyway.
That was a poor decision. The gap they thought existed did not. The end result is that pilgrimage was now stopped dead. I think we were about seventh or eighth in line when the first fire truck arrived. This was quickly joined by an ambulance, multiple police cars, and another fire truck. Traffic coming south was being diverted off before the accident, so literally no one was getting through.
After sitting there another ten minutes or so, we decided to try something else. I flipped a U-turn, following a couple other cars, and headed south. About a mile away there was a road off to the left, headed east and ostensibly towards the same road leading to Independence. Other cars turned here, so I decided to follow.
About three hundred feet down the road it became all gravel. Seriously? Gravel? No warning? Awesome.
At least there wasn't a dead-end sign.
We followed this road, in the dark in an area where the concept of street lights doesn't exist, past several farms, twisting and turning along with their borders. I'm sure the people living in these houses had no clue why their sleepy little gravel road had suddenly become a thoroughfare, but at least there were no potholes.
And thankfully, eventually, this road did in fact lead to an intersection with the road leading into Independence - it just would have been nice to have some kind of warning, you know?
At this point I thought were home free. We'd head into the town, stop at the three-way stop in the heart of the old downtown, then hit the gas and speed out to Highway 22 and on our way home.
But that would be too easy.
As we drove into town I saw more flashing lights just past the three-way stop. And about two blocks before we reached the intersection traffic stopped moving. We sat there for a couple minutes, listening to occasional screams of the police siren, thinking to ourselves how this drive had become a serious logistical nightmare. Independence is laid out on a grid scheme, so I figured I could follow the string of cars and turn left, head up a block, turn right, go past whatever the disturbance was, and then finally get a move on.
So we tried.
We turned left, headed up a block and turned right, kitty corner from the town's cinema. This street has railroad tracks inserted into the asphalt, of which I have no idea if they are still used or not. What I can tell you is the quality of the paved road was much worse than the gravel one I'd spent way too much time on just a short time earlier.
Ahead was a stop sign. The road we would have to cross leads all the way back to Monmouth and is another common artery north after a football game (accident in Monmouth or not), so traffic was heavy. At the same time, for some inexplicable reason we stopped moving again. And not just us sitting at the stop sign, but traffic in all directions.
What the hell now?
The next thing we saw I can only describe as the most fucking ridiculous sight I have ever seen.
Keep in mind the setting here. It's a small town, it's Saturday about 5:30pm, it's dark. It's early December, so that means temperatures in the thirties. The town is experiencing high traffic levels - much, much higher than normal - due to the postgame traffic of Civil War, which shouldn't be a surprise because 90% of the attendees of Oregon and Oregon State football games live in the Portland area.
Apparently none of that matters in Independence.
In Independence, this is when some organization - could be the town itself, not sure - decides it's a good time to plan a Christmas parade.
As we sat at this stop sign, a golf cart came around the corner from the direction of the three-way stop, led by a police car with flashing lights. This was followed by a four-wheeler pulling a basket on wheels, and inside this basket was a Charlie Brown-quality Christmas tree. The tree was decorated with lights and tinsel, all seven branches of it. Next came another police officer, this time on a motorcycle, also decorated for the holidays. A couple younger boys followed with a banner with the name of their Boy Scout group on it.
I'm flabbergasted. First the entire setting seems a little surreal. Second, the timing of it is plain horrible. Third, Misaki would like us to come home and let her out from her crate, where she stayed while we drove two hours each way for a four-hour football game.
Then traffic starts moving a little bit. Apparently the streets are not actually blocked off, but because the parade is moving at will and cutting in front of all the traffic from Monmouth, we can sneak off to the right and go towards Salem. Mind you, this is also parallel to the parade moving the opposite direction. This involves driving two blocks through the downtown section of Independence, so I turn right to get this over with.
And I'm stunned again. The road is lined on either side with what can only be residents of Independence, cheering in the dark and the cold for this parade. Next to me an old bus goes the other way, part of the parade and decorated with haphazard care, and on top of this bus is a man in some costume I can't identify dancing to music I'm guessing only he hears. Is this a Christmas parade or some pagan ritual? I'm beginning to wonder.
From a window in the lower level of this bus-like vehicle someone is handing out cups of something, which I hope were apple cider or hot chocolate or something along those lines. Multiple small children almost die running in front of my car to grab a cup of this stuff. One of them stops in front of me, taking orders from his family on the sidewalk, oblivious to the fact there is a three-thousand-pound car who really wants to get the hell out of there just inches from his body.
The whole thing gives me the creeps.
There is more to this parade, but traffic finally starts to get moving, so I'm able to get to the intersection, finally, and head out towards Highway 22.
From there the drive was fairly normal, but the accident and the parade cost us an extra 45-60 minutes on our drive home. That, and it freaked me out.
Is this normal? Is a Christmas parade at night normal in small towns? I've never lived in one so couldn't tell you. Also, wouldn't it be a good idea to understand the traffic pattern of your own town before planning such a thing, and realizing there might be a conflict if the parade starts right about the time some of the heaviest traffic of the year will be passing through?
By the time we got home both of us were exhausted from the drive home. Sometimes life hands you a big box of crazy and you just have to deal with it I guess. Given our fuzzy kids, I should be used to it.