What do they want in Romney, a southern Tippecanoe County crossroads about one-third the way through the state’s official Interstate 65 detour?
“Gas and bathrooms,” said Laurie Lowry, a convenience store clerk who has had a window to the intersection of U.S. 231 and State Road 28 since the Indiana Department of Transportation closed the northbound I-65 bridge over the Wildcat Creek for a second time Aug. 7.
These days at Friendly Market, a Marathon gas station and convenience store next to the Pit Stop diner, you have to take what you can get.
The sign on the front door says: “Sorry — Restroom is out of order!!”
And if you missed that one, the door on the bathroom says pretty much the same, seeing as how so many desperate drivers along the detour have stopped to use the toilets that the building’s septic field can’t handle any more.
“Some guy came in the other day all mad,” said Dawn Webb, a cashier at Friendly Market. “He said, ‘We’re from Indianapolis, and we’ve heard about you guys in Romney. It’s the place without bathrooms.’ We always knew this place would make it on the map someday, but I didn’t think it would be for for that.”
Pity the folks in Romney. They’re dealing not only with a detour pouring the bulk of the 26,000 vehicles that typically take northbound I-65 traffic through Lafayette — hey, they have to fight it to get out of their driveways, too — but also the wrath that gets pent up along a route diverted at the U.S. 52 exit in Lebanon.
In the media, Romney has become collateral damage in rampages against INDOT and Gov. Mike Pence over the I-65 bridge failure and the detour that followed.
That includes this from David Rutter, in a column making the rounds after publication in the Chicago Tribune: “We had no wish to visit Romney, population 1,060, but the Indiana Department of Transportation, Indiana State Police and Gov. Mike Pence insisted.”
And that includes Michael Calloway, who was stranded on the shoulder of U.S. 231 Tuesday morning, waiting for a tow truck to bail him out. Calloway said he was on his way to Purdue University to drop off a box a neighbor’s son left behind when he moved into the dorms on Monday. (“Amateur move yesterday on our part,” he said.) Calloway was detoured from the I-65 detour to avoid a fatal crash on U.S. 52 in Boone County. His Kia Sorento petering out was just bad icing on an already rotten cake.
“It’s not this place’s fault,” Calloway said. “It’s just that I’m the one stuck here. We all are. Do you blame people for getting a little pissy?”
Romney’s absorbing it the best it can.
“It is what it is,” Cliff Greenup said, flinching at the sound of another semi locking up its brakes on the wet pavement 20 yards away.
Greenup was manning a farm cart of tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet corn — 15 ears for $5. He said his honor box has been a bit light on cash since the detour started.
“People don’t want to pull out of that line to come see me,” Greenup said. “What are you going to do?”
But the 78-year-old who grew up in Romney said it’s been interesting at the corner of U.S. 231 and State Road 28, even after INDOT installed temporary signals a little over a week ago to keep traffic moving.
“Saw a truck driver get out of his truck when he saw this highway worker. Said he was going to whip him and all that,” Greenup said. “They never come to blows, but the shouting was real good. … Going to be that way for a while, I guess.”
At Friendly Market, Webb said things are a bit more calm since INDOT started advertising other detours around Lafayette, in addition to the official U.S. 52/State Road 28/U.S. 231/U.S. 24 route that makes a turn in Romney.
“It helped some,” Webb said. But come 11:30 a.m. and the after-work rush? All bets are off.
“It’s truck after truck after truck,” Webb said. “You don’t want to be out there. … I know, because people come in here and tell us.”
The numbers at the end of a shift tell the story for the cashiers. Webb said the number of sales on one of her typical shifts might be 200 to 240. Now? “It’s at least double that,” Lowry said.
Most of that business still comes down to the basics: Gas and bathrooms.
The store has run out of gas several times in the past week or so.
“We get yelled at about that, too,” Webb said. “I get it, but what can I really do?”
With the store’s restroom only available on and off, depending on how the septic system is keeping up that day, the clerks have been watching people scatter into neighboring corn fields. Or, Lowry groans, right behind the building.
“That’s always nice to clean up,” Lowry said.
At least, Webb said, things will be back to normal sometime in late September. That’s when INDOT says repairs should be done to the bridge and traffic is back on I-65.
“I heard somebody say it’s going to be closer to six months,” Lowry said.
“Whatever,” Webb said. “We’re here. We’re going to have to deal with it. However long.”
Dave Bangert is a writer for the (Lafayette) Journal and Courier. Send comments to email@example.com.