Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, The last of life, for which the first was made: Our times are in His hand Who saith "A whole I planned, Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!" - From "Rabbi Ben Ezra" by Robert Browning

Monday, April 9, 2012

On the Road Again

Road trips are something I have always loved and looked forward to. As a child, family vacations were rare, but they always involved long distance travel to visit relatives I barely knew. The travel, the sight of new places along the way, and strangely familiar people at the end of the drive were always stimulating to my imagination and my sense of adventure. From my 20s, through my 30s, I was always on the road. I was single, with a flexible schedule, and the one most free to move about, so I was the one who traveled to visit others, family and friends scattered about. And I loved it!

I'd leave from western North Carolina, out on the road no later than 4 a.m. most times, and be at my parents' beach home in time for breakfast, or half-way across the state of Tennessee by sunup, on my way to Missouri to visit my sister and her family. Long hours on the road never deterred me. They excited me as I counted down the hours until I'd reach my destination, mentally marking the now familiar landmarks and favorite stops along the way! Singly focused on my destination, my travel was always planned for efficiency of time, as few stops as possible, and certainly, there was no meandering along the way, stopping at this place and that to shop (of all things)!

In those days before cell phones and GPS, I traveled on the prayer that my car would not break down somewhere far from home. Of course it did however, often enough that I stopped stressing over the chance of a breakdown, and learned how to cope with it if and when it happened! Somehow, I managed to get past those scary moments and reach my destination with the help of angels, good samaritans, kind auto store owners who trusted me to mail them a check, and one time, three CB buddies who didn't have anything better to do than rescue a damsel in distress on the interstate a half hour before sundown.

In the old days, if I was traveling to an unfamiliar place, I studied the road maps and wrote each and every step of the trip on 3"x5" note cards that I taped to the steering wheel, where they were available at a glance. As prepared as I always hoped I was, there would inevitably be a glitch that would have my stomach in knots, if only for a few anxious moments along the way.

Today, we travel with GPS systems that plan every step of our journey for us, and keep us informed as to how long it will take us to get there. Just when I think I may have missed a turn or gone too far, a soft, feminine voice I call "The Lady of Directions," speaks up through my phone to gently reassure me that the left turn I need to make is still a half-mile away, or that I have 106 more miles to travel before I reach the exit I need to take. This certainly takes the angst out of a journey that might involve more than a straight shot down a single road!

So this morning my father and I bid farewell to John, all the dogs, and the pig, and left home at 8:45, heading first to a nearby Bojangles to share a leisurely breakfast before we hopped on the interstate and headed for North Carolina to visit my niece and her children; my father's granddaughter and great-grandchildren. Dad Googled our trip yesterday, and his mapping of our journey lined up precisely with the travel itinerary The Lady of Directions had determined. So, with an electronic guide and a paper backup in hand, I felt we were good to go, with no unexpected surprises. I was surprisingly relaxed heading out on our journey.

Traveling up the interstate at 70 mph (never as much as 80 mph!), we made really good time! Then, for some reason, The Lady of Directions and the paper backup agreed that we needed to get off the interstate and head up a little two-lane road through many, many miles of small towns and rural roadside wilderness. Trusting all sources of pre-determined travel routes, I didn't question our departure from the interstate, nor did I realize that travel efficiency had just been tossed out the window. But I did realize rather quickly that our detour from "a straight shot" down the interstate had become charming, and nostalgic, and delightful! Dad and I marveled at the fresh sight of virgin land, where man had not stamped his progressive trademark of crowded civilization: strip malls, gas stations, and used car lots. We rode mostly in silence, admiring the countryside, and we shared a few travel stories.
A 1929 English Austin, similar to one Uncle Marvin owned

My dad told me the story about his Uncle Marvin, who, in 1932, moved his entire family from Roseboro, NC to Columbia, SC in an English Austin automobile. Uncle Marvin and his wife, Rose, sat up front. Children, Monroe and Louise sat in the back, and the family's belongings were stuffed in amongst them all. Unfortunately, this left no room for James, aged 14, who had to ride the entire trip standing on the back bumper, holding on through the back passenger windows. What an adventure that must have been for James, traveling that distance at probably no more than 35 mph, hanging onto the back of a car! Do you think anybody could get away with that now? Do you think they'd want to? I can imagine James (long gone now), somewhere in his elderly years, still telling his version of this story to grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and others who probably stared at him in disbelief, to his great amusement!
Miles and miles, and miles

Even I can remember family vacations down these two lane roads, through one small town after another, traveling, most of the time, at speeds that didn't top 45 mph. Roads like these were the main thoroughfare across America before the interstate road system was implemented. A distance that now takes an hour or two up an interstate used to be a full day's journey or more on these old roads. And it was on these old roads that the phrase "See America First" was immortalized.

From one small town to another, the traveler would meander past mom & pop two-pump gas stations, where you could stop for 15 cent gas and a freshly made bologna sandwich, past huge, never-ending fields of cotton, tobacco, or corn, past sky high half-naked pines distinctly Carolina, past ancient barns teetering on rock foundations, past rivers whose names sing of their Native American heritage, past fields of cows, past sandy ditches, past children watching for cars and waving as they passed, grinning and laughing as they stared and pointed at license plates and marveled over where the cars had traveled from to now be there passing them.
The US Interstate Road System

Today we drove maybe 50 or 60 miles without seeing a big name gas station, a strip mall, a big name grocery store, or a Wal-Mart. We drove through miles and miles of roadside wilderness, and small towns that still held some of that old world charm, with names that made me chuckle, or struggle to pronounce them, or wonder who named them, and why. Places like Camden, Cassatt, Bethune, McBee, Meddendorf, Cheraw, Hoffman, Pinebluff, and Southern Pines. And we drove forever without seeing another car! Honestly, not a single car!

And then we knew we were approaching civilization. Traffic was picking up. We went from being the only car on the road to two, then four. Then there were six cars on the road, and eight! It was becoming a traffic jam!

And then, before we knew it, we were in Sanford. The Lady of Directions had guided us well, and delivered us into the parking lot of yet another Bojangles, where Dad and I feasted on spicy chicken and dirty rice before we found a motel and called Kathleen to let her know we had made it into town.

Time to rest now, and save our energies for tomorrow, for time to be spent with family, with history, with love, and all, in the unending merciful grace and love of God.

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