'Matter of Laugh or Death,' a humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
POETRY FAN HAS MILES TO GO
The last stanza of a famous poem says, “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep / But I have promises to keep / And miles to go before I sleep / And miles to go before I sleep.”
I think this poem was written by Robert Frost—or possibly Weird Al Yankovic. I never gave much thought to this poem, specifically the ending, other than to suspect the author couldn’t come up with another word that rhymes with “-eep,” and because he was tired at the time, he just repeated the third line as the fourth line, and called it a night and went to bed.
But recently I experienced the full effect of this haunting phrase. I had to drive to Maine for a business conference. The last time I traveled to Maine was about two decades ago, but I was pretty sure the state was still located in the same place. I opened up a road atlas of the Eastern Seaboard and sure enough, Maine was still there at the northeast tip of the United States, approximately three inches away from Connecticut. Three inches is not so far, I figured. If I started driving by early afternoon I estimated that I would get to my destination by dinner time.
Well, as occasionally happens in my office, I was required to do some work. It was late afternoon, rush hour, when I finally left. Then I discovered that all the interstate highways in New England had been invaded by swarms of road construction crews, whose primary function seemed to be arranging billions of orange cones in such a way that four lanes of traffic had to squeeze by in a single lane. I didn’t see any actual construction being done. Several hours later, long past sunset, I was still driving north.
As I clutched the steering wheel and stared off into the dusky gloom (“dusky gloom”? That sounds like the color of lip gloss preferred by Goth aficionados), my brain was screaming at me to get some sleep. I could barely keep my eyes open. That’s when the haunting words of Carl Sandburg—or possibly Red Skelton—struck me with their full force: “And miles to go before I sleep / And miles to go before I sleep.”
(Actually, it was the sound of the rumble strip that struck me with full force, startling me awake when the car drifted toward the breakdown lane.)
It is a very uncomfortable feeling to be so drowsy you could start snoring while standing up, and yet still have many more miles to drive. In my case, having never been to that part of Maine before, I didn’t even know how much further I had to go. Ten miles? Forty? I wasn’t sure, as it looked like about an eighth of an inch in the atlas.
Collapsing onto the bed in the Moose Hills Holiday Inn, still wearing my jacket and shoes, was one of the most joyous sensations in my life. And it didn’t even matter that I had stumbled into the wrong hotel room (“Fred! There’s a man lying on our bed! I think he’s dead!”). It was still a joyous sensation.
Next year the annual business conference will be held in Niagara Falls, NY, which according to my atlas is almost five inches away from home. With my luck the road construction crews and their billions of orange cones will swarm all over the New York state highway system. So I’m sure during that long road trip I will once again be struck by those haunting words from Walt Whitman—or possibly Sid Caesar.
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