I am a back roads kind of guy. It’s not that I hate the interstates. I have a lot of interstate miles on me. But the back roads are my preference. I’d rather see woods and pasture and livestock and rivers and small towns up close than to play high speed dodge-car on the big highway any day.
It could be that I’m just getting older and my speed has slowed a notch or two. I’ll probably end up being the old guy driving a 1971 Chevy rolling up the interstate at the breakneck speed of 50. The right front tire on the little white line to the right side. Gripping the steering wheel with both hands. White knuckles. Peering out through glasses thick enough to make my eyes look like alien bug eyes.
“Are you sure we should be doing this?” my wife will say.
“How else we going to get to the doctor at Emory?”
A semi blows by in the left lane on I-85. The old Chevy rocks side to side. I grip the wheel a little tighter.
“We could reschedule the appointment, you know.”
“Maybe one of the kids would drive us up to Atlanta next week.” She’s getting more nervous, which makes me more nervous.
“Maybe I can find a back road to get there. This interstate is killing me.”
I can see it now. We’re not there yet, but it’s coming. Two old people trying to get up the interstate without getting run over by a semi. Clutching the wheel. Clutching on to life. Thinking it all could end right here and now if someone runs up behind us and smashes us to smithereens.
I do own a smart phone with a GPS map. But I also have a Rand McNally road atlas in the back pocket of my truck seat. I use both equally, and I use the map to check what the GPS is telling me.
I drove up to Bishop, GA the other day to visit an old tree farm. The GPS told me it would be 2 hours and 15 minutes by interstate. But the little map doesn’t anticipate the 14 wrecks and 5,000 orange barrels that might get in my way if I dare go through Atlanta.
I never actually considered the interstate route anyway. In fact, I didn’t really need a map at all to get there. The road that takes me through Molena and Concord, up to Zebulun, Griffin and then across to Jackson is like an old friend that I know well. There’s a café in Concord that you should try. If you like black-eyed peas, pork chops, mashed potatoes and gravy and peach cobbler; then, you should definitely travel to Concord some lazy day.
But lunch was far off, yet, and I didn’t stop.
Highway 16 east of Jackson winds its way along the rolling hills and pastures lined with old fence post and rusty barbed wire. The road meanders through old farmsteads and gently falls away into the narrow valley of the Ocmulgee River. I’ve never been on the Ocmulgee, but the view from the bridge is gorgeous. If you were adventurous, you could follow that water all the way to the Atlantic.
Not far east of the river there, Bethlehem Church Road turns off to the left. We went through a little unincorporated placed called Eudora. I never knew that there was a Eudora, GA. Along the way there’s an old abandoned filling station. The kind where the front roof extends out over the island where the pumps used to be. I’m guessing that some fella would come out to your car and ask you what you needed.
“Fill ‘er up?”
“Let me check your oil.”
“That windshield is pretty dirty. Let me get that cleaned up for you.”
You go inside for a minute. There’s a wire display stand with salted peanuts by the front window. A Co-Cola chest by the counter. You raise the top and pull an 8 ounce green bottle out of the ice and pry the cap off on the opener on the front of the chest. The cash register dings and you pay the man $4.57 for the gas, the Coke and the peanuts.
I know I’m being nostalgic, but that’s why the backroads make the trip interesting. I don’t care that the GPS says that my route will take 2 hours and 54 minutes. Thirty-five minutes longer than the interstate. Depending on traffic. Maybe this route is quicker. For sure, it has a lot more interesting things to see. You don’t ride through places like Eudora on the interstate. No sir.
We turned on roads like Mill Pond Road. Fairplay Road. I was shocked at how much cotton is being farmed in that part of GA. Hundreds of acres. Dozens and dozens of cotton bales the size of a semi flatbed sitting along the edge of the fields. Reminded me of cotton wagons that used to come by our house leaving the shoulders of the road littered with cotton that blew off the wagon. Looked about like snow to us kids who had never seen much snow.
To me, the backroads hold the treasures of all that’s good about growing up in the South. Probably true of rural life anywhere. If you’re driving down the concrete corridor at 80 miles an hour, you never see it. Thousands of people just blowing by who are unaware that it ever existed, and in some places, that still does exist.
My advice. Take a trip down some back road. Turn left east of the river and don’t worry about how much time you’re losing. Because you’re not losing anything. You’re gaining perspective. Stop at the old gas station that’s empty and imagine what that Co-Cola might have tasted like before cans and fake ingredients ruined it. Let your mind follow the river all the way out of sight. And if by some chance you ever get to Concord, for dang sure stop and get a bite to eat at the café. You won’t regret it.