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When the wrong road turns right

It turned out that the detour warning that disappeared in a blur as I sped past really was for me. The interstate exit I want is closed, so I shoot off onto an alternate two-lane highway.

It is a dark, moonless night and growing late. My GPS is searching for satellites and the rental car did not come with a map of back roads winding through coal-mining country.

Oh well. It can always be worse, right?

Right. Which is why it starts to rain.

At least I have the road to myself. Yep, not a car in front of me or a car behind me. No taillights to follow, no oncoming headlights to signal for help, just pitch black.

I have a general idea of where I am headed, but the road curves and winds so that the general idea suddenly feels a little disoriented and slightly lightheaded.

Falling Rock and Fallen Rock signs appear. Seems the rocks will get you one way or another -- either they'll tumble down on the top of your car or you'll skid to avoid one in the middle of the road and plunge into the river.

The highway fits snug against the river. I take another curve and pass a deer warning sign. Those would be the deer that survive the falling rocks on their way to the river.

Around another bend, streetlights, storefronts and a few homes with lights on reflect into the river. It's quiet. And peaceful.

The speed limit jumps to 45, then a few miles later slows again to 30, then 15 as I approach a pedestrian crossing. Five men cross the street and descend a wooden staircase leading to flatland. They are coal miners working the night shift.

This is country where generations of men have made their living above ground in the steel mills or below ground in the coal mines. Sleepy village after sleepy village, houses crowd the street and front porches nearly brush the curb.

Most of the stores are closed, but a few chains are open -- CVS, Rite Aid, McDonald's, a Pizza Hut now and then. The real stops of interest look to be DeFelice Brothers Pizza or Vocelli's.

A white stucco building sits alone on a corner. It was likely a general store years ago. The door in the middle is flanked by a large display window on either side. A glowing pink neon sign inside reads, "Mayor's Office."

Bend after bend, village after village has been chiseled out of the mountainside. These towns tell stories even in the dark when they're sleeping. Houses, hammered into the hillsides, stand like sentinels keeping guard over the river. Cars are parallel parked street side, bumper to bumper. These homes were built long before the attached two-car garage became standard.

Garmin is back online, nagging me to turn right, turn right, turn right. What else do I have to do? Garmin leads me up a vertical incline, a block west, down a steep drop, a block east, and up again. Garmin is in a holding pattern and must be enjoying the sights herself.

The rain is only a mist now. I pass the same grocery twice and finally find my hotel just shy of midnight.

Hopefully, the interstate will still be closed when it's time to go home.

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