EN ROUTE TO LANSING, Mich. — Long road trips provide a wealth of wordplay, if you know where to look. Especially if you pay attention to highway overpasses and see classic street names like Fangboner Road (east of Toledo, Ohio).
There’s Ransom Road near Batavia, NY, followed by Shortman Road at the New York-Pa. border en route to Bargain Road near Erie, and (much to my) Chagrin Blvd. outside Cleveland, Ohio.
When my girlfriend and I take road trips, we pass some of the time appreciating this kind of wordplay — it’s part spelling bee, part etymology, part regional dialect study. You could say we’re nerds, but not if you heard us imitating characters from the TV series “Justified.”
We’re actually pretty bad ass.
Speaking of that body part, there was some confusion in the car yesterday after about eight hours. Our traveling companion in the back seat said something about getting to our destination (Lansing, Mich.) for “our sake.”
While I agreed, I had forgotten we were still in “Justified” mode and didn’t realize that I had mis-heard the words “arse ache.”
My hearing ain’t so good (that’s Justified for “isn’t”) and my Nissan Versa’s acoustics ain’t much better.
We also discussed a phrase I had never heard — “fetchin’ up,” which means common sense or having a good head on your shoulders. As in, “He ain’t had no fetchin’ up.”
Told you we’re bad ass.
But the nerdiness usually wins out. We discussed the negative connotations of English words with roots for left or left-handed (gauche and sinister, for example) and tested our chops on old spelling bee words.
“Dromedary,” for instance, we remembered as a two-humped camel but the nerd in me looked it up and learned it has just one hump. My theory on “dromedary” is that young people today have never seen the word in print, and if they heard it, would think it was “drama dairy,” or how to describe a spoiled milkmaid throwing a hissy fit.
OK, two more road signs … In Ohio, motorists are advised to call a number if they see “drug activity” or impaired drivers … In Michigan, we’re warned, “Prison Area, Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers” … (Hey, we’re not that bad ass.)
Which brings me to the whole Michigan vs. Ohio matter. I’m a proud alum of The Ohio State University (just down I-71 from the huge Grandpa’s Cheese Barn billboards) while my girlfriend’s family is all Michigan State. She and her brother are Spartan grads, and their mom worked at MSU for 22 years.
Somehow we all get along, even when I wear my Ohio State hat and shorts (even as I write this, for inspiration until my arse aches). They’re not out-of-control sports fans, and we’re sensible enough to cringe at kooks like the guy back home in Syracuse who just got a huge tattoo of basketball coach Jim Boeheim’s face on his leg.
I must take partial credit for this Ohio-Michigan peaceful coexistence (“detente” would be a great spelling bee word, by the way). When we passed the sign for the Gerald Ford library in Ann Arbor yesterday, I didn’t bring up Chevy Chase, or Ford’s pratfalls or golfing mishaps.
But then Ford was a University of Michigan Wolverine, not an MSU Spartan, and — uh-oh … some irreverent Ohio State fight songs that make fun of schools “up north” just popped into my head. I’d best keep those to myself.