Miss(ed) Manners

August 26, 2005

Miss(ed) Manners Road Trip: Days 7 and 8: The Voyage Home

Filed under: Column — missedmanners @ 4:28 pm

For any of you who didn’t get the Star Trek reference there, pat yourself on the back, you’re probably having sex on the regular. It’s actually a two-fold lame joke because they made far too many of those movies and this being the fourth and final installment, I’m feeling a little “Bones” McCoy up in this bitch. I am an amateur griper, not a travel writer, after all, Jim.

Day 6.5:

I start here because I would spend the next 24 hours on what quickly became my favorite road in America, the Natchez Trace Parkway. In addition to continually invoking images of mexican finger-food, the Natchez Trace cuts a diagonal swath across the entire state of Mississippi. There is virtually no traffic on it for the following reasons:

* It’s 50 mph.

* There’s a lot of bike traffic.

* It’s single laned and unseparated.

It’s a road made for viewing the scenery and I’d stumbled on it coming out of a gambler funk/blinding hangover out of total luck. Locals stay off it for the most part because it’s time prohibitive. Speed limits down south are almost always 70 mph on the highway, so why go and get stuck behind some tourist when you’ve got to get to the swap meet in 15 minutes? I realized I’d have the road, for all intents and purposes, entirely to myself.

Apparently I drove right through Jackson, you wouldn’t know it from the Trace, it’s encased on all sides by some of the most verdant forests imaginable. Every couple miles there’s a rest area where you can take in the sights or see an indian mound, which to my disappointment, has nothing to do with chubby Indians. Despite their frequency they are not gratuitous, there isn’t an ugly spot on that road.

Below are four of the choice stops I made possibly even in order.


I’ve finally found out what the difference is between the North and the South. The South sags. That’s right, like the sun ravaged breasts of an 80 year old man five years ino the Zone diet, it sags.

You know when you get into a subway car with no AC and everyone just looks tired and well, moist? Five seconds in and you’re slumped against a car door like Superman in a Kryptonite sauna. That’s what foliage looks like in the South, just laid out and saggy. It’s beautiful in that “I don’t have the energy to blossom today, so fuck off, Yankee” sort of way.

Most of the Natchez Trace is covered in forest, but every now and then you break out into these open fields. You just go in and out of these tunnels of green. The road’s a great metaphor for sex, only with a really leafy vagina.

This was somewhere southwest of Jackson, where I actually ran into a couple locals on the road. As one truck in particular came towards me, the driver gave me the steering wheel hand raise/wave. Which, if you grew up on a dirt road like I did, you’ll know is secret country talk for, “Heya.” It was comforting in a small town way. The same gesture is actually an insult bordering on death threat in Massachusetts.

The Ross R. Barnett Resevoir is awesome. Due to some road work (more on this later), I had to detour right next to it. The sun was starting to go down and I wanted to make it to Tupelo by midnight to find a bed.

Lake towns are the same no matter where you go, only the grimey restaurants change. They’ve all got the same boats, the same piers the same bunch of kids fashioning crude party flotillas out of drift wood to hold all night boozefests in the middle of the night above one hundred feet of water in the stupidest idea for a party of all time. That last one was a bit of a guess based on personal experience.

Day 7

I did make it to Tupelo and it’s not even close to being as good as the Van Morrison song. I think Elvis was born there or something, but since New Orleans I’d promised to keep my town interactions to a minimum. After spending the night in the hotel version of “That Seventies Show,” I got back on the road early. I snapped this pic somewhere near the Alabama border.

It was Friday and I was finally figuring out the whole trip. It was pictures like these that I was looking to get, roads like the Natchez Trace that I was looking to find. The day before I’d spent over 12 hours just driving, cruising at 55 mph and just looking around and it was the best day of the trip. After that day, time no longer holds any sort of meaning for me when I’m behind the wheel. If you just slow down and start looking around instead of just where you’re headed you’ll know what I’m talking about, let’s call it a “Driver’s High.”

I spent the whole day taking small roads through the Northwest corner of Alabama into Eastern Tennessee. I stopped to grab food outside of Chattanooga and marveled at the foothills of the Smoky mountains. It’s easy to have your inner conservationist aroused when travelling by state roads. Route 28 is highly reccommended.

On my way into Knoxville I saw something that threw me for a loop: ROAD WORK. Not road work like you know those signs that are everywhere telling you that speeding fines are doubled, no, I saw actual guys working on the road. I’d driven 3000 miles over seven days and I hadn’t seen a soul working, not one person doing any thing. But I’d seen over four hundred road work zones, and this was during the day, on weekdays, nothing. Good on ya, Tennessee way to maintain those roads.

I bowled in Knoxville and felt great. It was a good lane (not so stupid bowling!) and I broke 160. I aimed for Asheville, over the mountains in Virginia, where I hoped to find a room. On a Friday night. In a tourist haven.

Six hours later I was sleeping in the back of my rental car, ignoring a call from some friends out partying. It was a bitter reminder of what I hadn’t come to do, which was spend $100 on hotel rooms. I made up my mind that I’d spend the next day using all highway to get home.

Day 8

There’s not much left to report. I spent all of Day 8 driving home. I tried, unsuccessfully to drive through D.C. again but was thwarted by a hundred mile long traffic jam. After sixteen hours, plenty of detours and some swearing, I was back home.

New York and New Jersey drivers are far and away the worst drivers in the world. I realized that having a New Jersey license plate made people fear me down south, I was always given a thirty foot buffer zone, like I was an escaped convict fleeing the law with nothing left to lose. Now, back in the North, I was just another slow poke in the way. Horns honked, multiple lanes were crossed. Hey, fuck you too, New Jersey.

What was one of the things I really missed about New York? The radio. Southern radio stations are horrendous, they get horrible reception and they’re a mish mash of Clear Channel shlock and home fried country crock. New York has 102.7, the greatest radio station of all time, which I tuned in to as soon as I was within antenna-shot.

I parked in front of my apartment and looked at the odometer. 3,500 miles in 8 days. I was pretty impressed, but mostly tired. I cleaned out the car and brought it back to the agency the next day. I was of hoping the girl would make a mention of how I’d completely taken advantage of their unlimited mileage offer, but all I got was a bill.

As soon as I got home I tried to come up with a list of conclusions, things I’d figured out. I quickly realized that that was counter-productive to the central idea behind the trip. Sure I’d learned a lot things and come to appreciate the invention of the cruise control, but it wasn’t a Vision Quest by any stretch of the word. It was just a really long Sunday drive, where I got to see some really great things.

I’m just waiting for another really long Sunday to do it again.

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