January 2, 2016

Christmas road-trip, Md to Fla 2015: Coming back

Started the drive home with the Danger episode of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio, then set the flashdrive back to shuffle. Ended up with a great assortment of tunes along the way, so this road-trip tale is gonna be as much music as babbling...

And of course I found the historic Ocala cemetery when passing through to get from route 75 to 301. Of course I did. That’s what I do, I find cemeteries. Driving along, I glance down a side street and, boom, I see headstones a couple blocks away. This was an interesting one, too, decrepit and falling apart, but relatively well groomed. Wandered around it accompanied by songs blasting from an oldies radio station playing all the way across a field on the other side the road at what looked like a lumberyard. Since I’d not brought my camera on this trip, I had to take photos with my tablet, first time I’ve attempted that. The shots came out tolerably well, despite being barely able to see what I was shooting because of glare on the screen. Made them somewhat serendipitous.  Though I always feel that cemetery photos should be black and white, so after some internal debate I ended up editing them before uploading.






A little ways beyond the sprawling horse farms north of Ocala, I passed both The Orange Shop and a turnoff to the site of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park. Decided a few miles further on that those were stops I had to make, so I whipped a quick'n'vicious U-turn and headed back to check out both. 


 
What better souvenir of Florida than fresh-squeezed-on-site orange juice? And The Orange Shop itself looked to have been around way back when Hank Williams recorded what may've been his only political song-- 


 
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ homestead was definitely worth the prolonged stop. You have to squint a bit to block out the highway you’ve just turned off of, and the two-lane blacktop leading back to the park, and the park and boat ramp next to the homestead, in order to get a feel for the wilderness Rawlings moved to in 1928. Just inside the old gate at the entrance is a sign that helps. It reads “It is necessary to leave the impersonal highway, to step inside the rusty gate and close it behind. One is now inside the orange grove, out of one world and in the mysterious heart of another. And after long years of spiritual homelessness, of nostalgia, here is that mystic loveliness of childhood. Here is home.” And down the path is exactly what she describes, as you come around a slight curve into an opening that was once her orange grove. There are only a few more than a dozen trees now, but enough to give a feeling of what it was like, what with the old barn and big glossy chickens strutting around and roosting in the low branches of the orange trees. And Rawlings’ house beyond, maintained by staffers in period clothing. It wasn’t open this day, but I was able to walk around and peek in the windows, and wander the short trail through what’s left of the wilderness. I wondered as I walked what she meant by “here is home”. Literally, her home? Or a spiritual home that she felt all who entered the place would arrive at? The house appeared cozy enough, but the woods… not so much. They’re compelling, though, and certainly mysterious. The alien-ness of hanging mosses, strangling figs, palms that grow like ferns, and cypress knees creates a definite enchantment. But there’s also something forbidding in their mystery, in the way sandy soil gives way to springy marshiness, and then to swamp. What threats are hidden behind the fans of palm and in those clumps of Spanish moss? In my childhood, I saw the film of Rawlings’ book The Yearling, which makes the place seem innocent enough, despite the difficulty of life there. But I also saw Frogs and had nightmares about Spanish moss, so there you go. 

As I was coming back through the grove from the trail through the woods, the gentleman working there invited me to pick a few oranges to take with me. Take my word for it, the taste of historically significant oranges has a noticeable edge over anything you'll get in the grocery store. 

Was a bit jarring to have this come up immediately when I turned the key in the ignition, but the two that followed brought me back to a more appropriate mood.







The rest of the way up 301 to route 10 to the Jacksonville beltway and then onto 95 was swift despite construction squashing three lanes worth of traffic into two. The shuffling stereo got caught in a blue mood… 






 
But somewhere in the midst of Georgia, it brought up an appropriate tune (despite the fact that 95 runs by Savannah rather than Atlanta)- 


 
And then, as twilight ended, up came Blind Willie Johnson and some gospel… 





As I passed the exit for Effingham (which made me chuckle because I once passed another Effingham in another state and the same lame joke crossed my mind then), it was back to some roadtrip-appropriate hard stuff… 



Got off at an exit with three motels only to find that none of them had any available rooms. Decided to cross over the highway to see if there were more options on the other side, but what I thought was a road to somewhere suddenly turned into an exit that dumped me back onto 95 heading southbound, which was not what I wanted. When you’re hauling ass along a dark highway trying to get to the next exit to get back in the right direction, you could do a lot worse than My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult… 



That next exit back was for a town called Coosawhatchie. Instead of looping across the overpass to get back on the highway going north, I decided I had to see what Coosawhatchie looked like, even in the dark, so I headed in the direction the sign pointed. Either it wasn’t much of a town or I missed a turnoff to it, but I suddenly realized the dark road I was heading along was running parallel to the highway going north. Sure enough, it came back up to the previous exit where I’d had no luck getting a room. So I got back on 95 going in the right direction and high-tailed it some more to an exit with more hotel options, where it took three stops to finally get one of apparently the last five rooms around.

A room that, even after turning on the air conditioner, had a decidedly muggy, clammy feel to it. Floor, sheets, pillows, even my clothes the next morning felt ever so slightly damp. Plus, no wi-fi. Tossed all night, and did not sleep late the next morning. Got out of damp Dodge as quick as I could, with the Captain and Seu Jorge setting the tone for the morning. 





Stopped two exits down for breakfast at the Olde House Café, because “Country cookin’ makes you good lookin’”. We’ll see. 

Made serious time through the rest of S.C. and into N.C. thanks to another woman driving a red car. Can’t recall who initially caught up with whom, but we leap-frogged a few times, I ended up following her for a while, then got in front of her and maintained the lead for a long time. Then we got caught behind a slow pickup truck. When I was finally able to whip around and get ahead of him, I looked back and saw her roll down her window and throw a gesture of some sort at him as she passed. After that, it wasn’t so much fun having her follow me, so I put a little more pressure on the gas pedal and took it up to a speed she wasn’t as comfortable at. Though every now and again, when I’d get caught behind slower cars, I’d look back and see a red car coming around the side of the cars way back behind, as if she were trying to catch up. But once I was in the clear again, I’d step down and lose sight of her again. And then suddenly I didn’t see her no mo’.  Which was a bit of a relief, but also left me feeling a little bit lonely. Just a very little bit, though.

Along the way, just shy of Florence, I noticed that all the trees that weren’t pine were no longer covered with either Spanish moss or leaves. Though still down south, that made me suddenly feel like I was already back up north. 

Made a stop in Smithfield, NC to visit the Ava Gardner Museum. Don't  have much profound to say about her other than that what I learned at the museum put her right up there with Elizabeth Taylor in the list of women I admire.  Stunningly gorgeous, yet apparently a strong, down-to-earth broad through and through. Definitely need to see more of her films.

The skies began pouring down a monsoon rain as I pulled onto the highway from Smithfield. Obligingly, the stereo shuffled up an appropriate tune for what was ahead, again from Hank.



Because the rain just would not let up.  Other cars on the road became just pairs of barely visible red lights, until I came right up on them and got a glimpse of a vaguely car-shaped mass ahead or next to me.  I passed so many lakes alongside the highway that would have been fields on any other day, to the point that I was less concerned about having an accident with another car and more about coming upon a flood across the road. Especially when the stereo began shuffling up a string of damned fine driving tunes and I just could not speed up...








And this one, highly apropos to Ava Gardner's love of bullfighting and bullfighters...




Finally stopped for dinner somewhere in Virginia and came across this great quote in the most recent music issue of Oxford American, about why so much great music is made in Georgia: "Because of the humidity that surrounds us.  You lose your stinking mind and have to go crazy to remain sane!  Things are so backwards here. Frontwords is backwards. You know? One and one is two, but what's one?  Southern people are fucking crazy. And if you're not crazy, you're driven crazy. And if you don't have that crazy in you, you're not any good.


It ain't the humidity, it's all that scratchy pine and swampy water, I know it is.

And the second truism of the road is... a rainy highway is a rainy highway is a rainy highway.  Fortunately, the car stereo was yet again in tune with the drive and shuffled up a couple different versions of this one over the last hundred or so miles home...







Because if you're not in tune with your car, you just can't have a good road trip.




4 comments:

lostgander said...

That's a great quote from Oxford American. Thanks for taking us along on your journey home!

KaliDurga said...

Have you read O.A.? It's a great magazine that came across my radar a year or so ago. And thank you following the journey!

lostgander said...

I hadn't heard of it until reading your post. But it certainly looks intriguing.

(Side note: I really wish I could get notifications of responses from Blogger! The problems of cross-platform commenting...)

KaliDurga said...

Isn't there a checkbox to receive an e-mail of follow-up comments or something?