Take a ride on the stomach-flipping side

April 13, 2014 

Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco but I left my stomach somewhere between Highland and Grant Fork.

Perhaps you've seen my stomach if you've driven Illinois 160 and came around those zigzag curves and over the hill where there's just a little dip in the road. If you hit it at just the right speed --- not too fast, not too slow --- you'll experience a sharp drop, like the bottom falling out of an Adam Wainwright 12-to-6 curveball.

It happens in the blink of an eye and your car will continue down the road as if nothing happened. But trust me. Your stomach will remain there in the ditch, along with a million other stomachs that took the Nestea plunge.

Pop was a master at finding these little dimples in the roads. Especially the country roads we took to visit relatives in Breese and Mascoutah, Germantown and Trenton. On a Sunday afternoon, Mom and Pop would pack five or six of us kids in the back seat of the ol' four-hole Buick and head out on a road trip.

Pop didn't care much for the main highways, such as 40 to Troy or even St. Rose Road to Breese. Too many cars going too dadburn fast for Pop. He was more at home cruising long about 40 mph along roads with names like Old Arkansas, Bluemound and Buckeye.

We liked to wave at the farmers out in the fields on their tractors. Farmers always waved back. We mooed at the cows and they'd just look at us with big cow eyes and think how immature those Kuhl kids are.

Pop appreciated the cornfields right next to the road for the boys who couldn't hold it all the way to Grandma Molitor's house. He pulled the Buick halfway into the ditch and one or two who had to go disappeared into the corn "Field of Dreams"-style. The rest of us would do a fire drill -- we'd run around the car a few times to stretch our legs and burn off some energy. Of course, the cows would just look at us with big cow eyes and think "immature Kuhl kids."

When we piled back into the car, my sister would have some wildflowers she picked to bring to Grandma, and Pop would tell my brother to put the turtle in the ditch because he probably has family around waiting for him to come home. Mom would do a cockleburr check and we'd throw any cling-ons out the window.

Before Pop would head off, he did a head count, just to make sure he didn't leave one in the cornfield. More than once, he told a straggler to hurry up or "you'll have to live with the turtles." When he revved the engine, you knew it was time to skedaddle.

Soon, we were on our merry way with Mom and Pop talking in the front seat about who lived here and who used to live there, and us kids doing silly kid stuff in the back. Until Pop saw a dip coming.

Gradually, he picked up speed --- maybe another 5 or 6 mph. By the time you realized what was happening, it was too late. The Buick went up and over and fwwwaaahhhmp!

The bottom dropped out.

The car's and the kids'.

Those were the days before seat belts. So the quick dip would raise each kid ever so slightly. When you came back down, you'd feel that tickle in your tummy that made you giggle out loud.

"Who lost their stomachs?" Pop would say.

Between the "I did. ... I did's," there were calls for "Do it again, Pop, do it again."

Mom sighed. "Oh, Eddie ..."

I'm pretty sure she left her stomach on Old Arkansas Road, too.

It was like our own little roller coaster. One dip at a time.

Every country road seemed to have a dip and Pop had them all mapped out in his head.

Years later, when I became the dad and our sons rode in the back seat, I mapped out a few tummy-tugging dips myself. A good one is on Bowler Road just north of O'Fallon. We went over that one so many times the boys knew it was coming.

When I'd get close to the bridge, I'd speed up just a little. Their eyes were as big as Frisbees as they tensed up their tummies. But they couldn't stop it from happening.

Up. Over. And out.

We left their stomachs there on the side of the road. They giggled. And said, "Do it again, Daddy."

A couple of times, I circled around and did it again.

I'm always on the lookout for Pop's dippity-do's. There's a big one on Frank Scott Parkway at Old Collinsville Road. But it's at a busy intersection, so you can't get up enough speed most of the time.

The best ones are still out on the country roads between the cornfields and the cows.

Wanna go for a ride?

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