Rant & Rave: Odd and disturbing sights witnessed out west

Jeanette Kendall

I recently returned from a nine day trip out west.

My boyfriend and I drove through parts of seven states: Iowa, Wyoming, South Dakota, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois.

We saw a lot of odd sites, such as a woman walking a small dog and an alpaca. Yes, I said an alpaca. The trio were trotting along on a sidewalk through a small town in Colorado as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

We also saw the aftermath of an airplane wreck in a field in Kansas. The small, yellow plane was upside down in a farmer’s field. The ground around it was tilled from the wreck, and the area was sealed off with yellow police tape.

Along an extremely long stretch of lonely two-lane highway cutting through Kansas, we saw several people riding bicycles that were packed with gear. My mouth dropped open because these bicyclists were out in the middle of nowhere. I wondered where they started and where they would end. One man had a sign on his back that said “2,176 miles to go!” Maybe it was a cross country race.

Another time, while I was driving at night, occupants in a vehicle in front of us threw some firecrackers out their car window. Just as I drove up, the firecrackers all exploded on the road.

In addition to these odd sights, one of the most disturbing things we saw was people texting and driving. I am not sure what the laws are in other states regarding this habit, but it should be outlawed if it’s not already. The common factor with the 10-plus people we saw doing this is that they were not driving well.

We witnessed the worst offender in Illinois. A young woman in front of us was swerving all over the highway. Her vehicle literally left the road and crossed the outside white line several times. She would then veer back onto the road. We were afraid to pass her. When we did pull up next to her, she was still texting. My boyfriend, who was in the passenger seat, made a gesture at her to stop. She just smiled.

Seeing her car swerving all over the road, I realized how dangerous of a combination texting and driving really is and how easily someone could crash. Really, it boils down to common sense; when you are driving a car, that is what you should be doing — driving.

Speaking of driving infractions, while in South Dakota we noticed several black and white signs lining the curvy roads in the Black Hills.

The signs had a red X on them and said “Think” and “Why die?”

I guessed that they were placed to mark a spot where a motorist died.

Later, we found out from a local resident that the signs were placed where drunk drivers died. He told us a story about three young men who were already intoxicated when they purchased a 6-pack from a Hill City tavern. The three met their fate when their vehicle went off the road and down a steep cliff.

It was ominous to see the signs placed in the exact spot where someone perished due to drunk driving. We counted nine of these signs from Custer, S.D., to Sturgis, S.D., where the huge motorcycle event is every year in August. I shuddered at some of the spots on the curvy hilly roads where the signs were placed. I couldn’t believe someone would take a chance on drinking and driving, especially in a dark area with that kind of terrain.

I thought the idea of the signs was a good one. I don’t know if South Dakota’s department of transportation pays for them, but they are a good deterrent.

Maybe IDOT could look into doing something similar here in Illinois. When we see a roadside cross, we know that someone died in a motor-related accident, but not how.

The black and white signs are a clear indicator of the consequences of drunk driving.

Jeanette Kendall is executive editor at TimesNewspapers.