Tag Archives: Georgia

The End of the Road?

Bill Bryson in The lost Continent was looking for the prettiest town in America but falls short of finding one with all his desired attributes so goes about constructing his dream town of Amalgam from different towns with the bits he takes a shine to. A motel here, a Main Street there, a barbershop, a five-and-dime, an authentic and original movie theater, not the dreaded multiplex with screens the size of “bath towels.” A picturesque downtown with real stores were cherry-picked and, well, amalgamated.

As I pondered this we were on a long straight stretch of county road through rural Georgia. A gaggle of police cars with blue lights flashing appeared in the distance. A fierce-looking state trooper waived us down. My eyes fixed on the gun in his holster that bobbed on his disproportionately large hips. He approached, proceeded by his belly and a big cigar and grimly informed us that he was going to do an “equipment check.”

So it’s to be Georgia where we are disappeared by the local police – not Louisiana, not Alabama, not Texas as some so-called friends and erstwhile relatives had led me to believe.

Step out of the car. Hands behind your head. On your knees. Bang! was the scene that flashed through my mind and knocked out all thoughts of a pretty home town.

Before I had a chance to beg for my life the trooper had checked our headlights, blinkers, brake lights and horn. When he’d decided we were fit to continue to drive through his state his pudgy face softened into friendliness.

“You’ve come a long way,” he chuckled on seeing our Washington license plates. Little did he know that that was our second pass ’round the country – on track for 20,000 miles by the time we looped back to Washington State.

Jimmy replied, “We didn’t do it all today,” and they laughed companionably.

“Well y’all drive safe. God love ya!” and his toothy grin was topped off by twinkling eyes.

God and the State Trooper seem to love us enough to let us pass through Georgia.

If God really loved me He’d find me a house in Amalgam.

Thick Fog, Red Hot Brakes and Bear Bait

I have not done justice to the northeastern United States, only moaned about their traffic. Looking back over previous blog posts, I’ve not even written a travelogue just a catalogue of disasters, idle musings and rants. Oh well.

We left northern Tennessee, having timed a four week visit to the UK perfectly to miss the whole of autumn; all the glorious fall color of the Cumberland Mountains, the Smokies, the Appalachians and the Blue Ridge Mountains came and went. It was a good one by all accounts.

The Smoky Mountains doing their thing. Looking smoky!
The Smoky Mountains doing their thing. Looking smoky!

Our trek towards Chattanooga would have been a pretty drive with a few spots of color clinging tenaciously to the trees but for rain completely obscuring the views. Clouds hung in wisps on the forested hillsides so it did have some appeal in a gray and dreary sort of way.

There was no entertainment value in the thick fog we encountered. Visibility was zero so road signs and cars would pop up out of nowhere making me jump and grab the armrests, like a baby grabs a teddy or pops his thumb in his mouth when startled. I would like to have done all three with the aid of a teddy and a third arm.

An car from time to time gave us tail lights to follow at an almost safe distance and we relaxed until it turned off. When we were leader of the pack we were driving into a white wall leaning as far forward as our seatbelts would allow as if that extra foot would make a difference.

English: Clouds blanket the Forney Ridge Parki...
Boo! I’m a tree! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At junctions the road lines would disappear and I was convinced we were going to fall off the edge of the earth. Each time it happened, I took a deep, last breath only letting it out in tiny increments, making myself dizzy. The whole experience was made more exciting by towing our heavy trailer and knowing that we couldn’t stop as quickly as I would have liked despite the extra pressure I constantly applied to the floor mats on my side.

The descent into Chattanooga was a roller coaster of steep twists and bends in the road but as we dropped out of the cloud cover and the road ahead appeared clearly, Jimmy relaxed and took the car out of low gear. We could see Chattanooga.

Low on fuel Jimmy pulled into the first gas station we came to, both of us fortunately too wound up by our narrow escape from imagined disaster to notice the bold OPENING SOON sign. Jimmy was puzzled as to why his credit card wouldn’t work in the gas pump and I complained to him about the lack of toilet paper and paper towels in the restrooms until it was pointed out to us that the garage was still under construction.

It was a lucky oversight as we then noticed that our brakes were smoking furiously so we took the opportunity to have our lunch in the charming surroundings of the garage forecourt while they cooled down.

Our first night of this leg was spent at Fort Mountain State Park, Georgia, a seven mile zig zag course up a mountainside and another slow crawl ensued, but worth it as the picturesque state park was thickly wooded and carpeted with newly fallen leaves. The trailer was parked on level ground but our car, still hitched up to the trailer, sat nose up at a jaunty angle.

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There we are! All alone in the woods.

The woodland setting called to us and we had arrived in time to walk around the nearby lake just before dark.

As we relaxed afterward with a glass of wine in our cozy trailer, Jimmy read out the campground information, “Campers are advised to put all trash in the designated containers before 3 p.m. each day due to increased black bear activity in the area.”

This suggests to me that bears get the munchies after 3 p.m.

Our trailer is just across the lake. Can bears swim? Yes they can!
Our trailer is just across the lake. Can bears swim? Yes they can!

There we were tramping hand in hand, kicking crispy leaves and filling our lungs with pine forest scent, carefree and oblivious, and what were we?

BEAR BAIT!

Dee’s Road Kill Café

The trailer magnifies every bump in the road for us in the car so on a bad road I feel like a kid bumping down the stairs on my bottom – for hours. Hastily contrived Plan B’s after we’ve juddered along Interstates have not been the ticket to marital harmony as we have gotten lost on local roads not shown in the road atlas. We’ve checked out the Interstates in most states and tend to want to avoid them, hence my unpatriotic comment about the Interstates in my Friday post.

English: Map of the present Interstate Highway...
English: Map of the present Interstate Highway System in the United States Labels: Two-digit interstates (dark orange line) Selected three-digit interstates (blue line) Selected planned interstates (green dashed line) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

President Eisenhower’s grand scheme, approved in the 1950’s to open up the country with a grid work of limited-access highways, made long-distance motor transport in the U.S. quick and easy. I was a little girl when I95 scythed through my grandparent’s dairy farm in Maryland, spoiling the country tranquility.

Currently running to 46,876 miles, the whole of the Interstate Highway System was completed . . . . well, it’s not done yet. And thanks to a complicated system of funding with federal, state and toll authority funds, we will probably rattle our brains out on the poorly maintained Interstates for years to come. They’re not all in bad repair but you don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for until you are committed to at least that day’s route.

State and county roads usually have smoother road surfaces and less traffic hassle so that when we arrive at our destination at the cocktail hour Jimmy’s beers don’t explode, the contents of the bathroom cabinet don’t fall into the sink the first time it’s opened (so funny when I hear it happen to himself, “ARG*#@*&GH!”), and the frozen orange juice doesn’t launch itself onto your foot with the first visit to the freezer.

The country roads offer a slice of Americana as well.

Description unavailable
Description unavailable (Photo credit: LunaMoth116)

Had we stuck to the Interstate, we’d never have seen Whistle Binkies on the Lake in Rochester, Minnesota or the hair salon Curl Up and Dye in Georgia or Dee’s Road Kill Café on the back road to Atlanta; we wouldn’t have towed down Main Street in Brockport, New York and hooted with laughter at Fast Buck Fanny’s and Trader Shag’s Emporium.

If we hadn’t tooled along The Great River Road – Highway 52 – Iowa would have remained 56,276 square miles of beans and corn in our minds and we’d have missed the pretty town of Guttenberg nestled invitingly on the valley floor between the Mississippi River and the limestone bluffs, its limestone block buildings harking back to its origins over 150 years ago, a long history for this young country.

If we’d stayed on the Interstate instead of taking route 41 south in Georgia, we wouldn’t have seen fields of cotton and  the roadside littered with tufts of cotton, like so many wadded up tissues – real cotton – blown off the plants, the harvesters and the trucks hauling the cotton harvest to the train depot. Cotton was now a crop to be labored over in our minds, not just a shirt fabric in a store.

Cotton on porch of sharecropper's home, Maria ...
Cotton on porch of sharecropper’s home, Maria plantation, Ar… (Photo credit: New York Public Library)

There’s so much to see off the high speed roads and it’s a shame we can’t appraise every square mile.

What is your favorite back road?

A Fruitless Quest for Perfection

“Are you enjoying this weather?”

My first thought was that she was being sarcastic, but her sweet open face and tidy grandmotherly hairdo belied that notion. “Well, no,” I replied cautiously. “I’d like it to be a bit warmer.”

“Are you from here?”

“No. Baltimore.”

“Well we just love it here. We’re from Georgia and it’s so hot there.”

“Oh, that explains it. You must be enjoying the cool weather.” We were camped just south of Duluth. It was a 60° and cloudy in July – not the best summer weather in my view, and in winter five feet of snow can arrive all at once, all in one day. Sorry, Duluth. Can’t say I’ll be exploring your charms any further.

Summer sunset near Duluth
Summer sunset near Duluth

And that, my friends, is a perfect example of why we have been on a wild goose chase looking for a perfect place to live.

Because we’ve been talking to people.

What you already have – curly hair, skinny legs, a home in the South – is not necessarily what you want. What someone else wants – straight hair, big boobs, a home where it snows in winter – isn’t necessarily what you want.

What Jimmy thinks he wants is not necessarily what I want. And what we both think we want or someone else thinks we‘d like, we don’t want when we get there and see it. It’s too congested or too rural, too busy or too slow, too tired and seedy or too brand new and characterless. I despair.

So let’s review that list of requirements for a perfect place again:

  • Ÿ  somewhere not too hot, too cold, too wet or too dry
  • Ÿ  no spiders, no mosquitoes or other hideous insects
  • Ÿ  no snakes, no bears
  • Ÿ  no tornadoes
  • Ÿ  no hurricanes
  • Ÿ  no floods
  • Ÿ  no earthquakes
  • Ÿ  no tsunamis
  • Ÿ  no volcanoes
  • Ÿ  no deep snow
  • Ÿ  no humidity
  • Ÿ  no wild fires
  • Ÿ  a low cost of living
  • Ÿ  an ocean or gulf view (yes, realize that eliminates all but 21 states)

    Gulf of Mexico from the Panhandle of Florida
    Gulf of Mexico from the Panhandle of Florida
  • Ÿ  a mountain view would be nice, too

    Mountains bathed in sunset light viewed from the warmth of a desert climate
    Mountains bathed in sunset light viewed from the warmth of a desert climate

To this list I’ll now add:

  • Ÿ  no cattle grids on the interstate ramps (too high chaparral)
  • Ÿ  nowhere that traffic on the interstate is the main topic on the local news
  • Ÿ  not on a road called Skunk Hollow
  • Ÿ  no mudslides
  • Ÿ  on second thought, no spiders (above) would certainly eliminate all 50 states so will modify that to no tarantulas or giant arachnids. That might eliminate Florida so I won’t tell Jimmy if I see one. In fact Florida has all manner of shocking creatures, but humans are probably the worst (humans in general, not Floridians in particular) and we can’t get away from them.
  • Ÿ  not in a town where the local library sees fit to display a “No Guns” sign listing the pertinent ordinances in case you want to argue the point
  • Ÿ  near a major airport to take a teeny bit of stress off trips back to Blighty
  • Ÿ  not where we would ever, ever have to use the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River in New York City ever, ever again. Others shudder when you mention it to them and Jimmy pales and starts to tremble.
  • Ÿ  nowhere that you can buy just guns, musical instruments, jewelry and car audio in the same store
  • Ÿ  that no hurricane and no tsunami thing might eliminate all the ocean and gulf coasts so I’ll choose to ignore the discrepancy for now.
  • Ÿ  I’d like to say not within 50 miles of a taxidermist but I don’t think that’s going to happen.
  • Ÿ  not in a town where the gun store sells gator meat, hog traps and fresh frogs legs.
  • Ÿ  not in a town with a gun store at all. It may be very un-American of me to not want to have anything to do with a gun but I’d like to live somewhere that I don’t feel the need to have one about my person or home.
  • Ÿ  nowhere that we’d be dependant on using an Interstate daily as one third of Americans are. They’re a generally a mess – busy and bumpy.

Should we abandon the quest and the list and just live near one of my brothers so we’d at least have family nearby?

That would be Florida which falls foul of many of the items on the above list.

Or under the unending grey skies of Washington State (at least when we lived there) where when Mount Rainier is uncloaked it is event to be remarked upon and pointed out. “Look! Rainier’s out!!”

Mt. Rainier making one of its rare appearances
Mt. Rainier making one of its rare appearances

Fourteen and a half thousand feet of geographical wonder, which when the sky is clear is visible all up and down the Puget Sound, is usually hidden from view under a thick veil of cotton wool. Look at a U.S. weather map and you will invariably see a swirl of muck over the top left corner of Washington. The Puget Sound and Mt. Rainier are under there.

Jimmy is really no help at all. He wants to blow the house fund on a big motorhome.