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Published: July 22nd 2022
Think critically for oneself and make informed decisions that best suit one’s life? Or listen to your betters and do what you’re told. Remain terrified! Question nothing! Stay home! Nah, that never sounded like me. I think for myself and try to do things that scare me or at least give me a thrill from time to time. Take calculate risks and test boundaries. My mom is the same way. So tomorrow we set off again on another adventure. A three-week round-trip journey to the Everglades at the tip of Florida. We are driving the length of our country in a car I only first drove today. We are retreating from a brutal few weeks of snow and refusing to be coerced into staying put. Life is short. Travel years are fleeting. Alone together is not a thing. Time once again to say hello to America.
I wrote those words the night before departure. I had never been to Florida and was using this time of international travel inactivity to explore America. I was not keen on the idea of wearing a mask on a plane, so for the time being another road trip was on deck. I didn’t think
Baron von Zoom, my nearly two decades old car, would appreciate or even survive the journey. So a shiny white Jeep Compass was recruited to carry us away.
In the morning I eased our rental car out of the driveway and headed for parts unknown. The plan was simple. Point the car’s nose south on I-95 and drive. The worse part of the journey as usual would be the George Washington Bridge crossing and the upper park of the New Jersey Turnpike. It had recently snowed, and huge cakes of the white stuff kept flying maniacally towards us from off the top of sixteen wheelers. It was too early in the morning for this! However, the evidence of the recent snows dissipated as we sped down through the Garden State.
Just before leaving New Jersey, we stopped at a rest stop complex alongside the highway. It was chosen out of convenience. It had everything a road warrior could want: bathrooms, shops, and food. And it was designed in food court style where you could choose from numerous food options and then sit at any table in the cavernous place. The only drawback was that we wouldn’t see small
town America like we would have if we had gotten off at an exit and meandered around looking for a place to eat.
We kept on driving, now through the middle of Washington DC. We whizzed past the Washington Monument and the Capital Building in the distance. It was strange to ponder what had gone on in that building just the month before. Now here it was surrounded by high metal fences. Mom and I were driving through a time of momentous history.
We finally got through the congested DC area. I noticed that there were numerous Civil War battlefield between Washington and Richmond. This made sense considering these two cities were the capitals of the Union and the Confederacy respectively. Historical landmarks seemed to take on greater relevance due to recent events. I wanted to make one more stop before we reached out final destination for a bathroom break and a restful sit at a table. However, because of concern for coronavirus all the usual places were only offering drive-through. So reluctantly we pressed on, squirming in our seats for the final leg of the journey.
Finally, we reached days end at the Hampton Inn in
Stony Creek, Virginia. The hotel was still very much in CoronaLand. There was a plexiglass barrier up at reception and we were informed that the dining room was closed and there were only boxed breakfasts available. I found myself increasingly frustrated with all the health and safety protocols. Like shouldn’t we all be done with this by now?
Mom had wanted to go out for dinner, but we were basically in the middle of nowhere. This had always been planned as a simple pit-stop along a forgotten section of I-95 after a day of hard driving. We settled for takeout Wendy’s and an Alan Jackson country music documentary instead.
* * *
In the morning it was jump in the car, point it south, and drive again. We were driving right through North Carolina onward to a destination of Santee, South Carolina. We had fond feelings towards the Tar Heel State, as the result of our recent visits with Cousin Ron and Ben and Nancy. We stopped at a service station with a convenience store and a Dairy Queen. At the DQ we were surprised to see people just walk in and order their food without masks
on. In our more repressive New York, this was something you never saw. Everyone was so nice and friendly. It was a relaxing relief.
As we sat and ate our lunch inside, a rainstorm found us. The rain was coming down in great sheets as we scurried into the car. We soon found ourselves at the NC/SC border. South Carolina was to be the first new state visited for Mom since 2004. As we crossed the state line, we were listening to Josh Turner’s Song: South Carolina Low Country. South Carolina low country Southern words with an old Sandlapper tune Palmetto trees swaying in that Atlantic breeze Reaching up to touch the crescent moon
The road ahead felt very southern gothic. It was shadowy and the landscape seemed to hover and crowd around us. Dark murky swampland off both the right and left side of the road, overflowing and splattering with the torrents of rain. The atmospheric Turner song, Pallbearer, made the land come alive with myth and story. I'm like a lonesome pallbearer, walkin' down the aisle Travellin' to the graveyard, countin' down the miles With earth-filled shovel, they dig
that eternal bed I'm like a lonesome pallbearer, carrying the dead
The spookiness evaporated as we pulled out of swamp country and it began to shine again. Soon after the sun appeared, we pulled into Santee and found our Best Western hotel. At the front desk we were informed that they had just reinstituted hot breakfasts in the dining room. Hallelujah! The nice woman checking us in also recommended that we try Clark’s for dinner.
Clark’s Inn and Restaurant turned out to be a place with an interesting past. The owner had returned from fighting in WWII and built the place in 1946 when there was not much else around. He was betting that people would increasingly be moving around by car. And he was right! The site was on the main road for people travelling between New York and Florida. Soon enough business was booming and the town grew up around the inn. These days the dining room was very elegantly done up. I had what I thought was a very South Carolina meal: fried green tomatoes, southern shrimp and grits, and an apple crisp cooked from a 60-year-old family recipe.
One thing I noticed
already from our autumn trip just four months ago, was that everybody seemed to be getting more fed up with the whole pandemic. The lady working at the Best Western said the masks were a fad that she couldn’t wait to see the back of. The waiter at Clark’s was saying how much he hated his. I even overheard a gray-haired lady in charge of the giftshop talking on her cellphone, bitterly complaining about “Lord Fauntleroy” Fauci’s latest pronouncement. Attitudes were changing and we were back out in America soaking it all in. Note: This blog and the subsequent entries about this trip come out of the notebook I jotted down in each night. It has been interesting for me to read back on my early 2021 thoughts and the attitudes of those we came in contact with along the way.
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