Drove from Maryland to Florida for a belated Christmas this year. Left Christmas eve morning, well, actually more like noon, and hit the dreaded I-95 Corridor through northern VA. I've driven 95 from Connecticut to the Carolinas (before this trip) and the stretch through Virginia is consistently the absolute worst in terms of traffic slowdowns for no discernible reason. Fortunately, there was a flashdrive full of music plugged into the car dash and it more than once set both the mood and the pace of the trip, both going and coming back. Though I learned something important on this drive-- Setting music on shuffle makes time go more slowly than listening to something with a discrete time-frame, like a podcast or album.
Hit the border of VA and SC a little after 8pm with the intention of stopping at that famous (notorious?) spot that is the entrance to SC. But South of the Border just does not live up to its kitschy potential. Very sad. Obviously there was a time when it was a fun spot, but those days seem to be over. I thought of staying at Pedro's motor inn just for the fun of it, but lost the taste for it after taking a quick spin down the road beyond and passing a gentleman's club and "Asian spa", where I would swear a drug deal was taking place as I pulled a u-turn in the lot. Went back and wandered the deserted aisles of Pedro's gift shop looking for a fun memento or silly gift for a co-worker, even just a bumper sticker or post card, but came up empty-handed. Just a lot of nothing clever there.
Woke up Christmas morning a little farther south than South of the Border and got back on the highway. Spent half of Jack White's album Blunderbuss tucked into a line of four cars doing a consistent 90-100mph. No one was being competitive, there was no tailgating, no passing. Just smoothly pacing each other at high speed. It was great. Then in the middle of Trash Tongue Talker we came up behind a clump of slower cars that couldn’t be easily passed and it all fell apart.
When we finally got by, the two in front got slow, the guy from New York who’d been bringing up the rear got aggressive and that was it. All good things must come to an end. A few songs later, after one had gotten off at an exit and I’d passed the two who’d been leading, I put on the brakes myself to let New York get in front of me, and then watched him proceed to tailgate and pass cars up ahead, to the point of using an on-ramp to pass a truck on the right.
On my own again and with 300mph Torrential Outpour Blues set on repeat, I started taking a closer look at the scenery, sizing it up and drawing conclusions about it. I think I wrote once years ago about driving through the desert of Utah and feeling that the landscape there, so wide open and lacking in coverage or shade, so much hot sun relentlessly pounding down on your head, could drive a person mad. But I got the same feeling looking at the landscape passing alongside the road in S.C. Instead of wide open, it’s dense with thick, seemingly impermeable stands of tall, dark pines and scrubby undergrowth, here and there immersed in stands of swampy water. Having to make your way through that back in the day before there were highways or even many roads would be a tricky thing for the sane, though a convenient thing for the insane or merely surreptitious looking for places to hide. And if you weren’t mad already, I could easily imagine it making you mad, all rough bark and sharp needles scratching at your brain. So easy to picture those convoluted woods filled with moonshine stills and guys like Ernest T. Bass.
Hopped off the highway for a moment for a break and bought a pack of Raisinets and a black-and-white, Harlequin-painted resin skull at the truck stop. Made sure to say “Merry Christmas” to the woman at the cash register as I paid for it. It was very tempting to follow the narrow road down through the pines on the other side of the overpass, but instead I hopped back on the highway and took off to the tune of Bear Cat.
Had to chuckle a bit at the GA border over the fluttering U.S. and S.C. state flags, landscaped palm trees, and graciously worded signage (“Thank you for visiting South Carolina"). What is it about S.C.’s relationship with Georgia that made them put this up, in contrast to the sketchy neon kitsch of South of the Border up north by N.C.?
95 through Georgia spread immediately from S.C.'s 4 lanes split by a swampy pine divider into 6 wide open lanes with a Jersey wall divider. It also immediately became quite dull, aside from frequently having to pass folks with their brains stuck on cruise-control in the left and middle lanes. The monotony was broken here and there by marshy rivers like the Jerico and Cat Creek, which reminded me of Jug Bay and Blackwater back home in eastern MD.
Perfect road-trip song, huh? Though I may live a predominantly static lifestyle, afraid to let go of the stability of a steady, well-paying-though-usually-unstimulating job, trips like this and the rest of the travelling I’ve done the last few years are necessary to keep me sane. Certain family members might consider some of the travelling I’ve done to be irresponsible and selfish, but my feeling is that I have to do it now while I can. I couldn’t afford to do it when I was younger, and in a handful of years I may have to take on the sort of responsibility for others that I’ve always shied away from. I don’t know what to expect, but the possibility of it is what drives me now to drive and fly and follow my addictions to road and music. Now is when I can do it and I have to take advantage of that.
After all the billboards along the highway had left visions of peach salsa and peach cider and peach ice cream and peach bread dancing in my head, I was very disappointed that Peach World was closed for Christmas Day.
Spent several miles debating who recorded the better version of Solid Sender- Chico Leverette or John Lee Hooker.
Totally different songs, not variations of the same. Both have strong selling points, but I'm inclined to lean towards John Lee.
Crossed over into Florida to the tune of Son House’s Death Letter. I don’t have much to say about Florida. It’s not my favorite state. The natural flora is exotic and mysterious and sometimes beautiful, but the human development (I almost said “encroachment”) seems mostly haphazard and ill-conceived, and frequently shabby. I’ve seen some interesting and even wonderful things in Florida (culture in Sarasota, the Edison-Ford Winter Estates, incredible cloud formations), but overall the state just leaves me on edge. It’s a hard place for me to relax in. Though I’ve always experienced it through the prism of family or work, so maybe this trip, driving through so much of it on my own, will let me form a different connection with it.
Connections might be tough to form, though, as there seem to be damned few places to stop. Went all the way from Jacksonville to Ocala via routes 10 and 301 with nary a rest area or hotel/restaurant haven, and thought I was going to be out of luck dinner-wise in Ocala. Cruising the outskirts of town, the Family Dollar store was open, but Burger King was not. That says something. Thank goodness for Aunt Fannie’s Restaurant, which, as the servers kept answering the phone near me at the counter, was “open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year!” The counter was so high that I felt like a little kid sitting there, especially as the stool was also so high that my toes didn’t touch the floor and the glass they served my sweet tea in was so big it took two hands to grab and lift it to my mouth. A bit Alice In Wonderland-ish, but the ham steak was damned good. Three hours to go, headed back to the highway accompanied by Hank Williams’ 6 More Miles To Go.
Looked over my left shoulder a while later to see the Full Cold Moon rising. Listened to Son House singing Pearline and tried to imagine him at 60-something in a recording studio with “Blind Owl” Alan Wilson helping him to remember his old songs. Was Pearline one he originally did way back when, or was it made up during those studio sessions? I should look that up some day, see if I can find out. It’s my favorite of his songs, with lyrics that consist of pretty much nothing but “Pearline, what’s the matter with you?” and “Pearline, I love you”. His slide guitar sums up everything else about their relationship in between those two sentiments.
One of the truisms of the road—No matter what state you’re in, a dark highway is a dark highway is a dark highway.