Miss(ed) Manners Road Trip: Days 1 and 2: Yes, Bears Do.
At the moment, I’m in Florence, Alabama. My second time in this state in almost as many days. Thankfully, with the help of my lovely girlfriend/stage assistant/online navigator, I’ve found a public library from which to write. Thanks baby!
Also, please excuse all spelling errors, and the over-the-top length, just too much to tell, you know?
Where to begin? I’m on a road trip, have been for the past five or six days. You lose track pretty quickly when the only thing you’ve got to talk to is a road atlas that marks as many small roads as its printer can finagle on a page. I’ll get to reasons why I decided to take a week off work and tour the southern half of America, one town at a time, a little later. Honestly, any back story to this would just be cumbersome and unfunny. Instead I’ll just jump right in.
Renting a car in New York is about as painful an experience as one can imagine. Cars disappear, lines are long and the heat is hot. I’d gone online and reserved an economy class vehicle, which, as it turns out, means about as much as a passing score in Phys Ed. The car wasn’t there, of course, and after an hour of waiting online in some tiny midtown office, I was informed that they did have an SUV, a Chevy Trailblazer to be exact, and that I would get it for the same price.
On paper, this seems like a great deal. It’s a big car, bigger is better right? I’d be high up in the traffic food chain and burning rubber over hybrids and the like. Also, to get the car I had originally ordered, I would have had to go to 70th Street. Not cool. So I let my American sensibility take over and I jumped at the chance. Only when I drove away did I realize I’d saddled myself with a 24 mpg vehicle with thousands of miles to drive. D’oh. At least I’d be able to drag a piece of farm equipment up a mountain or some shit.
Here it is:
Once I got on the road I made the decision to skip right over New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and D.C. The nation’s capitol doesn’t hold much interest to me now-a-days, and after about five hours of driving, I hung a right onto 495 and circled around the swamp. It was around 6 or so, and I wanted to make it to the Skyline Drive by sunset.
For those of you who don’t know, the Skyline Drive is best road ever made by anyone, in any time. It winds its way up and down, round and about through the Shenandoah Valley. I took route 66 to Front Royal near its entrance.
Front Royal was the first time of so many that I’d see what I came to call, “Chicken Fried Ghettos.” It’s a tiny town near a non-revenue-creating tourist attraction, so it’s poor, very poor. Chicken Fried Ghettos have a lot of fireworks outlets, pawn shops and liquor stores. Driving through one really makes you realize how the formation of slums have nothing do with nothing but lack of money, not language barriers, not skin color or background.
I was starving and pulled in to a “fancy” looking place called, “Dean’s Steak House.” By fancy I of course mean that I could smoke at my table and watch the local news. As I waited for my bacon cheeseburger, I got to listen to a wirey, over-tanned guy expound to his table about how he was going to beat some sense into his baseball team, how he was going to make them respect the game and themselves. It was a T-ball league for first graders.
The burger was greasy, so greasy in fact that it disappeared off my plate and down my throat in a few seconds. The sun was going so set in an hour or two and I wanted my time on the drive. Thankfully, the entrance to it was just around the corner. I paid my ten dollars and was given the following: A receipt, for entrance any time in the next seven days, a map and a news letter… for a road.
The last time I’d been down this route I’d been 12 and slightly bored by the prospect of amazing views. Now, thirteen years later I found my sensibilities changed enough to appreciate what was happening on both sides of me. As the sun dipped down I pulled off every now and then I stopped and stared off into the open air. The views gave me such a good feeling about how this trip was going to go.
All of those feelings disappeared forty minutes later. Less than a third of the way through the Skyline, the bacon cheeseburger from Dean’s came back to haunt me in a very bad way. Apparently, the human digestive track doesn’t appreciate wholly swallowed beef chuck. I was in dire need of a bathroom, in a forest.
After a good twenty minutes of searching and doubling the speed limit, I came to a rest area, where, of course, the doors were locked. I’m pretty sure I threw a rock at nearby deer (who are completely unafraid of both humans and cars). Up that creek without a paddle, I knew I’d have to make do with the foliage.
I’ll spare you the gritty details, but let’s just say the newsletter actually came in handy. Business handled, I headed off the drive and into rural Virginia to find a place to bunker down for the night. Charlottesville looked pretty close and I hopped on 221 out of the mountains.
I took the next hour over the Virginia countryside in almost complete darkness. It was hot and humid and rotated smelling like beer, cornfeed and skunk, I had my windows down. Charlottesville is a college town, home to UVA, which apparently doesn’t have any vacant hotel rooms on Saturday nights. I checked everywhere. Eventually I took a double at the Econo Lodge and paid twice what I should have.
With so much progress made I decided to head out to get a drink, I found a local sports bar, Buffalo Wild Wings. The Yankees were playing and I’d welcome the distraction after so much staring at road paint. I grabbed a seat at the bar and started watching the game.
It took me only a few seconds to realize I was among only two people rooting for the Yanks. The guy to my left asked me if I was a fan, I said I was from New York and as it turns out, so was he. Finding New Yorkers scattered around the South was going to become a theme, I could tell. His name was Casey and he had just gotten a job at a local School, teaching ESL.
He was drunk. The kind of drunk that makes you want to just keep on talking, even though the back of someone’s head is staring at you. He droned on and on about the Yankees, and I started to think about leaving.
Then, like a heavy fog lifting, he got smart, like out of nowhwere. All of a sudden we were talking about my trip, accents and pre-conceived notions. He told me about fighting that urge to assume a southern accent equals a dim brain, and how his teaching English as a Second Language had helped him do just that. I left realizing it was a good lesson, as I’d be hearing a lot of accents.
I packed it in and got some rest, Econo Lodge has beds made of plastic or corpses, I’m not sure which is harder or more uncomfortable.
Sunday started off with a bang when I realized that my Great Aunt lives in Hillsboro, North Carolina, and that she was turning 80 that weekend, and that my father was staying with her. I gave them a call and started heading in their direction, but not without getting some breakfast first. I sat down to grab some waffles at a local eatery, I don’t think they have diners south of the Mason Dixon, I could be wrong though.
I only mention the meal as the waitress notice my tattoos through my shirt and called them “wings or sumpthin’ right?”
I got back on the road and decided to take 29 South down to 70 East, I would pass through Burlington, NC on my way to Hillsboro. I spent my remaining time in Virginia admiring the landscapes. Virginia is a wholly beautiful state, it’s mountains, hills and lush forests are absolutely amazing. I recommend it to anyone, any time. If I’d had the time I would have taken a nap under a tree or “sumpthin’.”
The two towns I visited that day were separated by just a few miles but by millions of dollars. Burlington is a burned out nexus around which there was once a booming industrial economy of some sort. It’s made up almost entirely by strip malls, new ones and burned out ones, completely uninhabited and covered in dirt and rust. I found it funny that land is so expendable that the new Walmart super-center can tear up a few hundred acres just next to four, now defunct super-stores.
Hillsboro on the other hand is on the edge of Chapel Hill, it’s basically a commune for writers, thinkers and artists. Some young, some old, all financially capable. The transition from the struggling, teetering economy of one town, to the fabricated authenticity of another was humorous, to say the least.
I met up with my great aunt, father and second cousin. We drove around, met an artist, saw her studio and chatted. Over dinner the subject of reasons and motivation for a trip like this came up. Remember when I said earlier I’d explain reasons? I was totally lying, there isn’t any reason, and this was the basis for the conversation we had.
I explained to my father that over the weeks leading up to my departure I mentioned to some people that I was taking a road trip and there were two replies. 1) That’s awesome, have fun. 2) Why? Where are you going? People who replied with #1 get it. #2 people just didn’t understand no matter how much I tried, for them I needed an explanation, a destination, a terminus. I mentioned to my dad (who’s a #1, always has been, in fact most hippies, ex or otherwise are), that when I started telling people that I was going to New Orleans, it just made things simpler for them. A lot of people just need a destination, a goal, a plan. For me, the whole point was that there was no plan, just a general direction.
Around 9 I got the itch to move on and headed off towards Charlotte. I’d spent almost six hours with my family, and while it was completely enjoyable, I’d made no progress. I decided to drive most of the night.
Speaking of making progress, I’m off to hit the road again. I want to make it across Tennessee and well into Kentucky by tonight.