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Column: Navigating roundabouts prompts musical odyssey


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Eventually, if you live here long enough, you will read a newspaper story reporting the movers and shakers of Johnson County have plans to develop a major east-west route across our little rectangular piece of Heaven and then eventually beyond.

Eventually, the planners say, we will develop a route that eventually will go east from Interstate 74 across Interstate 65 to State Road 37, which eventually will be changed to Interstate 69.

Now I have lived here most of my life, but because I am an incurable optimist and ever hopeful, I believe it eventually will happen.

The proposed route is not a straight shot across the county, but that probably is a minor issue. I mentally drove the section of the proposed route published in the newspaper, taking the jogs and turns, and decided it wouldn’t be too bad a trip, probably smoother and more efficient.

On my imaginary drive I also took the roundabouts that are part of the master plan. As always happens, even when I am imaginary driving, the moment I come upon one of those traffic intersections, I began hearing in my head “Roundabout,” the old Yes song from 1970.

From the beginning, I was not able to discern the lyrics of the song. I understand the beginning: “I’ll be a roundabout, the words will make you ...” After that, I am lost.

Then again, back when the song first made an impression on me, I was trying to decipher it through the tinny AM radio in my rusty 1964 VW. It is still part of my mental playlist today, and as I arc the roundabout at Greenwood Park Mall, or any other roundabout, I find myself humming the Yes song with the missing lyrics.

Well, I’m either humming “Roundabout” or singing “Penny Lane” by the Beatles. I know all the words to that song. One verse goes, “Behind the shelter in the middle of the roundabout, the pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray ...” When they put a roundabout at the entrance to the middle school where I taught, I would walk in humming either “Roundabout” or singing “Penny Lane” most every morning.

I looked up the lyrics to “Roundabout,” and they kind of make sense, I guess, in a 1970s hippy, dreamy way, but I think I’ll stick with just the first part of the first line and then hum the rest when I am driving a roundabout.

After I read the lyrics, I learned something about the kind of roundabouts we drive on. Although there are examples of circular intersections in the distant past, modern roundabouts became more widely used after they were re-engineered in the 1960s and entrance and exit rules were standardized.

The U.S. has been slow to embrace the roundabout although they are common in much of the world.

By way of comparison, in 2011 the U.S. had about 3,000 roundabouts, while France had 30,000. Statistically they are much safer than traditional intersections.

One of the first times I drove on a roundabout was in England, which in my mind is appropriate since both the bands Yes and the Beatles hail from that country.

I knew the English drive on the left side of the road, and I remembered when I got in the rental car that the steering wheel was on the right, but I as I approached the first of many roundabouts that day, I was not prepared to make a left turn clockwise around the circle while steering on the right side of the car while trying to stay in my lane and figure out where I was supposed to exit the roundabout.

Fortunately, I had an understanding navigator in the passenger seat.

For the first several roundabouts, I received a few angry honks and scraped a curb or two, but I got it — eventually.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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