Sometimes the Road is Just a Road Trip

Sometimes the road leads us to our dreams.  A degree.  A career.  A home.  Sometimes the road leads us to painful times.  Losses unexpected.  Broken relationships.  And sometimes the road is just tar and concrete and the means to travel from Point A to Point B.  I have done quite a bit of highway traveling.  I have known 100 mile daily commutes – just for a desk job.  Even had a state trooper pave the way for me down a 30-mile stretch of the interstate on one morning commute.  Don’t remember his name, but it made for a very relaxing rush hour.  ‘Cause in Jersey on 287, everyone moves to the right for troopers traveling in the left lane.  And then they move back to the left behind the trooper…
The past few years I’ve been up and down I95 a few times.  It is not my favorite highway – especially in the Northeast.  From Virginia on north, alternate routes are preferable.  But taking Route 1, otherwise known as the Old Post Rd., the Jefferson Davis Highway, Old Dixie Highway (take your pick) just isn’t practical if the start/end point of the trip is South Florida and you need to cover more than 1000 miles.  Along the way, I’ve found a few favorite stops, try to add new ones each time and every trip I tend to notice places and signs I hadn’t noticed before.  Digital cameras (as opposed to 35mm) make it easy to photo document along the way, but when I have been a passenger, it’s been a challenge to capture those ‘Kodak moments’ when barreling along 95 with a driver whose philosophy is ‘5 seconds means 15 minutes’.  Therefore there have been some missed photo ops.
Case in point:  the billboard in lower Georgia proclaiming ‘Who is John Galt?‘    Missed getting the photo on numerous trips.  It may have been a local political reference, but my mind immediately jumped to Ayn Rand.  Never expected Ayn Rand to be quoted anywhere on 95 – especially Georgia.  Handmade signs advertising peaches and BBQ are more expected and can definitely found.  Low to the ground, and in the case of peaches, one word signs (Fresh) posted every 10 feet or so (Georgia), leading you to the exit (Peaches).  As for the BBQ, there was only a sign with an arrow pointing through the trees.  Still have no clue how to get to that advertised BBQ…
And while it’s a short-haul through the state on 95 (‘We’re glad Georgia’s on your mind’), police presence is heavy with speed traps, especially by the state line, and they use muscle cars to catch road rule violators.  Consider yourself warned.  South Carolina has started using them too.  It’s a great incentive to get a job as a trooper.  I know a few people who would love the job perk of driving a muscle car, myself included.  Surprisingly, Florida doesn’t use them when they probably repossess the most – and the most expensive – fast cars in search and seizures and drug busts on the East Coast.  Guess the feds don’t share well with the locals.  But then, speed limit signs are just superfluous to drivers there.
When you need to make a pit stop, I highly recommend stopping with the truckers:  Love’s – any of them.  Just look for the tallest billboard sign with a heart.  Always a clean restroom, good coffee (decent choice of flavors and caffeine levels since Dunkin’ Donuts are scarce from Virginia through Georgia) and if you have a question about road conditions, construction, alternate routes, the staff is friendly and extremely helpful.  They can also be mischievous by telling you to use the opposite sex restroom while they are cleaning and then chiding you when you exit, saying “What were you doing in there?  Can’t you read?”  And they have a free travel guide to all their locations across the US.  No need to study the posted map and write notes to find another location along your way.
And while truckers are in abundance all along 95, and are (mostly) safe drivers, the majority of tire blowouts seem to occur on the northbound side of 95 in southern Georgia.  Whenever possible, keep your distance behind them to minimize the risk of a tire flying into your windshield.  Had a close call.  Had just moved one lane over, as did the driver behind me, and was just ahead of the semi’s rear axle when I saw the tire blow.  The vehicle behind me moved over another lane to avoid any casualty, since semis traveling north out of Florida are hauling empty trailers, which makes driving trickier than with a full load that’s weight balanced.
And since they no longer list exits and their amenities in those coupon books you can find at the rest areas, the state welcome centers are invaluable for finding out distances between rest areas and get recommendations for dinner other than the typical fast food franchises at nearly every exit – plus updated maps!  As hard as it may be to believe, not everyone has a high-tech car, with tons of computerized gadgetry.  Some of us actually drive basic transportation, which affords us fabulous gas mileage and easy maintenance.  And when you’re following the path of a hurricane up the coast, they’re the best place to get updates on road conditions, not only from the staff, but fellow travelers headed for the same state destination and also planned the coastal route to get there.  Santee, SC has lots of eateries to choose from where you can sit a while and have a relaxing and revitalizing dinner.  Superb roasted sweet potatoes at the Captain’s Quarters complete with brown sugar and cinnamon.  I really needed that break southbound trying to make it to Georgia before calling it a night.  Would have liked to browse antiques, but that will have to be another trip.
Some of the billboards for South of the Border are corny, others a hoot – especially ‘Too Much Tequila’  – but unless you need a pit stop, it’s really not worth stopping at more than once.  Worth stopping at is the Carolina Cider Company on the way to Charleston (traveling northbound).  A hop and a skip off the exit on US 17.  A small old-fashioned country store where they make their own cider (the cherry is highly recommended) and lots more homemade goodies.  They have mail order, but it’s not the same as stopping in person where you can sample some of the jams and butters and flavored ciders and other jarred goodness, because everything looks delicious and tempts the taste buds to experiment in the kitchen.  They have some sweet homemade bakery treats too if you need a sugar fix.
And while there are tons of Waffle Houses along 95, they can get tiresome.  Mr. ‘I can make it from Florida to New Jersey in 18 hours’ wanted to find an IHOP instead while traveling through NC.  Found an exit that advertised one, but it wasn’t located just off the exit and he started moaning (again, the ‘5 seconds means 15 minutes’).   At the intersection I pointed left and shouted ‘Diner!’, ’cause Jersey girls will always find a diner and pick one over IHOP any day.  Comfort food any time of day, even if you order a ‘Yankee’ breakfast – hash browns, no grits please thank you.  A classic chrome diner.  A diner where the local cops even stop for coffee.  And bikers are welcome.  The Highway Diner.  Exit 138.  Intersection of 95 and 64.  Thumbs up.  Especially on a rainy trip.
There’s no need to remind anyone of the road congestion from mid-VA northward, but the tolls are ridiculous in DE for such a small state.  And alternate routes around DC are a must.  Plan ahead.  Had to take an alternate to the alternate (southbound) that got gridlocked and met up with another traveler at the Florida welcome center who had gotten caught up in the same alternate traffic and detoured to a second alternate that I wanted to take but couldn’t get into the exit lane.  Rt. 1 always works and amazingly I still made the same time if I had taken 130.  Once you’re past Quantico, feel free to re-enter the 95 corridor.  If you need to check directions or ensure the GPS is accurate, the welcome center in VA has pre-printed directions for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.  Apparently it’s a popular question from travelers.  And you really can’t beat the scenic route traveling along the east shore.  Just remember when passing the poultry plants you are smelling America at work.
As for Florida, that’s an adventure all its own for another time.  On the way there, if you’re lucky, you can catch the sunset over the Georgia salt marshes.
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