Now that I’m back I’m having a hard time remembering the exact details of my trip. When you’re driving long distances for long periods of time the places, roads and events tend to blend together, like memory Play-Doh, only less tasty. Again, this one’s a long one.
For a refresher I left off here:
(I added some pictures, by the way)
I’d spent most of the night driving, wanting to make it into South Carolina. I felt that if I did a state per day I’d be making great progress. My lunch, dinner and conversation in Hillsboro had cost me a lot time, so I was intent of making use of larger roads to cover the distance.
Almost instantly I realized a couple of things. One, that trying to sleep in your car in Charlotte at the end of July when it’s 120 degrees outside is not fun. Two, that outside of New York things cost normal amounts. And of course, three, that everywhere in America looks exactly the same at night.
It’s absolutely true. Everywhere you go. The same fucking street names, the same fucking hotels, the same fucking mega stores. It was horridly depressing. Every major sub-city has one of these roads, you know the kind of road I’m talking about, four lanes, a divider and miles of homogeny. When I woke up I promised I’d never drive on a big road again for the rest of the trip.
So in the morning I struck out on Route 121 South into the rural lands of South Carolina. It was Monday and I had a friend in Atlanta that I wanted to see later that night, I had plenty of time.
South Carolina is country. Not country in the Toby Keith “I want to beat up some A-rabs” sense of the word, but rather, country in the “you so country, girl,” sense of the word. Long roads between little towns and lots of burnt out sheds.
Somewhere outside of Chester, SC I had the following thought, at what point in age do decaying transportational vehicle skeletons go from being trash to art? In the span of a few miles I saw the over painted husk of a dodge charger tucked behind a tree and a turn of the century beat up motor coach without its wheels next to a driveway. The latter looked like some piece of Americana you’d see in Westchester. Maybe they’re just reaaaaaaally old school white trash.
I got onto 252 West and headed towards Honea Path, because the name sounded cool. Some really great country out there. Long winding roads, little towns where the speed limit forces you to take a look around. There’s a certain type of homogeny to the towns here as well, they’re all similar in their planning. They all have a town hall, and diagonal parking around it. Little shops, luncheonettes and antique malls. For some reason the sameness here actually comforted me, it’s inviting because you know it’s the town’s own, they weren’t just put there as a market initiative.
As I headed towards Anderson, where I hoped to get some lunch I noticed something else. CHURCHES. Millions of them! People down south love them some Christ let me tell you what. If Jesus were around today he’d totally be the class president of every high school down there. They’re everywhere, along the roads, behind houses and in strip malls (yeah I know). Some of them are only one room and the name is longer than the building. The First Carlisle Southern Bapist Church of the Lord’s Prayer of Peace Through His Word of Love and Peace. Even better, they actually have a yellow road sign that says, “CHURCH” on it, just in case you didn’t know one was coming up and you were about to covet something.
They’ve got so many churches down South that this one town I drove through actually had a sign for all the churches within town limits. Like the town was the Foodcourt at the Mall of God and you might get lost finding the Orange Jesusius. I wish I’d taken a picture of it, but I’d gotten so wrapped up in another venture of mine, bowling.
In the days leading up to the trip I’d been trying to find some sort of narrative thread for the whole thing. You know like some kitschy thing that I could do in every town and I could totally tie them all together into some great American story. What a load of shit. Anyway, I figured bowling was a great idea right?
Wrong. As it would turn out I would spend much of my time on the road looking for bowling alleys. When I did find them, I would just bowl a couple of games and then leave, not really talking to anyone. If anything it was a great work out for my forearm, which as we all know, is very important. So I ate and bowled in Anderson, which was great. Stupid bowling. Then I hit the road for Atlanta, I had to see my friend Mike.
Mike works for an entertainment company we use to help plan events. He’s a part time DJ and party MC which means he knows how to turn a lame party into something you’ll actually have fun at. I didn’t know a damn thing about Atlanta other than you’re really cool if you call it HOTTTTTTT LANTA!!!! So I figured he’d be a good guide.
I took my time when I got there and drove literally around the city (it’s got one of those great beltways that circumscribe the major urban areas). Atlanta is by far, my favorite city that I visited. If you ever get a chance, go check it out, especially if you live in New York. It’s bad in all the ways we kind of wish New York was. People are laid back and nice and down to party.
We spent the night drinking and playing pool at a couple of bars. It reminded me of high school in that, “What’s next? Who cares?” Sort of summer way.
I woke up with a slight hangover and hit the road (I’ve caned the fuck out of that term, huh?) and headed into Alabama. I wanted to make it to Biloxi by night, so I figured I had a lot of time to kill. I took 85 into the state and got off near Opelika.
After I played “Sweet Home Alabama” about forty five times I decided that it is indeed, very sweet. Just like South Carolina the back roads give way to expansive low hills and desolate country roads. I went through Union Springs and Troy.
I think every state has a town named Troy, maybe they’re all hoping to be looted and sacked by a rampaging horde of Greeks slinging Baklava, I don’t know. I asked at a gas station where I could find a bowling alley only to be laughed at for my Jersey Plates. No alleys around here, son, you’d have to head to Mobile. Which I did, stupid bowling.
It was outside of Troy that I first started to ponder the wonderful plant that is kudzu. This voracious climbing vine is almost as common as places of worship down in the southern states. It covers everything. Basically you end up just having miles of tree-shaped kudzu patches. I started playing, “What’s that kudzu look like” in my head to pass the time. Mostly, kudzu looks like leafy phalluses, but every now and then you see a Virgin Mary holding the Baby Jesus, pictures of which I’m sure have been offered on Ebay.
The most rural parts of Alabama have this great sense of accelerated history about them. You’ll see incredibly recent patches of development, attempts at hopping, skipping and jumping into the 21st century. Then, just a mile down the road you’ll see the left overs of an older age.
Like this hollowed out radio station:
One of the last things I saw before heading to Mobile made me giggle, an old lady who stored her walking cane in her gun rack:
By all accounts, Mobile is a pretty run-down city. My friends in Atlanta had said I wouldn’t be missing much by skipping over it, but I wanted my first touch with the southern coast to be in a place I’d remember. Honestly, I found it to be pretty charming. The main avenues have these low hanging trees that form tunnels for you to drive through. The houses are old and full of character. Maybe not my first choice for living, but definitely not that bad.
I pulled into a Waffle House to grab some early dinner and coffee, my hopes at finding a bowling alley discarded. While there I struck up a conversation with the waittress who, of course, used to live in New York. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a white girl from Mobile say, “Queens, represent,” while eating a Chicken McGrease ‘n Bacondeath at Waffle House.
Turns out her name was Jess and she’s a punk rock chick. Left Queens after a messy divorce with her kid to come back home. She instantly dispelled all my rosey imaginations of Mobile.
“Mobile has a way of sucking you in. Everyone I know only thinks of being here temporarily and then ten years later, you’re still here, two kids, three marriages and no way out.” I told her to come back to New York, at least there you can get Pizza.
As it started to get dark, I got back in the saddle and made my way to Biloxi, where I heard there was some gambling to be done. The awful Waffle still in my mind, I made up a Haiku in homage:
Scrabble letter sign,
Biscuits from heaven.