Lesson No. 1: Don't exceed the speed limit in Verden, Okla. (population, tiny; economic base, speed traps). Speed limit through town is 35 miles per hour, and they will pull you if you're creeping along at 42 at 11 pm.

Lesson No. 2: If you ignore lesson No.1, be polite. When the police cruiser behind you lights up like a trailer park Christmas tree, pull immediately to the roadside and wait for the nice young policeman to come up and inform you that you were, indeed, speeding through town putting the residents in dire jeopardy. Smile as you fumble in your wallet for your drivers license and apologize profusely for your dangerous behavior.

Finally, when the only representative of Verden's law enforcement department you ever hope to meet offers you the opportunity to slip away with a “verbal warning if you promise to slow down,” try to say thank you without a smirk on your face.

Lesson No. 3: Policemen are never around when you really need them, and especially just after they've given you a verbal warning not to speed and have themselves sped off into the night, leaving you with a car that refuses to start.

Lesson No. 4. Learn from your mistakes. As you cruise into Verden pushing 55 mph on a return trip the following morning, after finally getting your car cranked the night before, if you stand on your brakes with both feet, you can slow down to 35 within seven seconds.

Lesson No. 5: Don't trust maps. Chickasha (Chick-uh-shay), Okla., appears to be located directly on Highway 19, which branches off I-35 about an hour south of Oklahoma City. It doesn't. Highway 19 goes just south of Chickasha and then heads westward. And, if you stay on highway 19 long enough, you'll run into Cement, Okla.

In Cement, if you can find no concrete reason to stay, take three right turns, which will bring you back to Highway 19, where a left will head you back to the elusive Chickasha, which turns out to be a short rock's throw from where you turned south.

Lesson No. 6: Never ask directions of hotel employees. They don't know where you're going either. For instance, “take a left on Grand, a right on 29th street and a left on Highway 62. Highway 62 runs straight into Fort Cobb.”

No. It doesn't. Highway 62 veers off Highway 9 about seven miles east of Fort Cobb and heads to Apache, Okla.

Lesson No. 7: If your gut instinct tells you that continuing to head south toward Apache, Okla., is taking you further away from Fort Cobb with every rotation of your tires, believe it. Stop, make a U-turn and head back north. You may miss getting to see Apache, but if you have a peanut meeting to get to, you don't have time.

Lesson No. 8: Always allow at least an extra 30 minutes to get anywhere you're going, because maps and well-meaning hotel employees can't be trusted.

Lesson No. 9: If you expect service at small-town motel restaurants, you'd better be a regular. Mere paying tourists have to wave flags and bang on tables to lure service providers away from the locals who gather every morning to drink coffee and complain about the weather.

Lesson No.10: Don't feel obligated to leave a tip.

Lesson No.11: Always, without fail, pack a sweater when traveling in the Southwest, even if was 70 degrees when you left Dallas. Temperatures can drop 30 degrees in 20 minutes, especially if you're near Verden, Okla. (population, tiny; economic base No. 2, selling sweaters to tourists).

Lesson No.12: Always, every time, without question, accept invitations to stay a little longer at a farmer's house for cherry pie and coffee. Even if it means getting home late, call your spouse, relax and enjoy one of life's greatest pleasures. You'll be hard-pressed to find a better way to end a trip that provided more than its fair share of misadventures.

To be continued. Assuming that I learn some more stuff.

e-mail: ron_smith@intertec.com