April 20, 1997. I have nothing against highways with four or more lanes. When my wife was in labor, I was glad to be near one. But the roads I like best are those which are less efficient. They visit country places and meander through forgotten towns. I put my watch in the glove box as I left Valdosta and headed north toward Vienna on U.S. Highway 41.
He was a timber rattler, maybe four feet long. His skin had too many tire tracks to make a guitar strap, so I ran right over him again. You can never run over a rattlesnake too many times.
A rather ancient lady with a German Shepherd was walking where grass and wild oats were well above her ankles. I wanted to warn her about rattlesnakes, but decided it was unnecessary. Her hair wasn’t in a bun or colored beauty parlor blue. It was long and gray and fell freely from beneath a weathered felt hat. Her faded Levi’s were tucked snugly into high-top cowboy boots that used to be brown. I figured she knew more than I did about snakes.
The marquee at Yancey’s Barbeque said, “Prayers can only be answered if you pray.” I wanted to thank them for such good use of their ad space, but it was Sunday and they were closed.
An abandoned motor court was covered with ivy. It was only a few rooms, but no doubt was well used when 41 had more than local traffic. I’ve never stayed in a motor court and I made a mental note to look for a nice one before they become extinct. The few that I know of rent rooms by the week or the month. I would only want to stay for one night.
Eldorado Baptist Church was on the left of the road. It seemed odd for a southern town to have a western name. It’s the kind of place where farmers in overalls once followed plodding mules down rows of cotton. Maybe the settlement was started a long time ago by a displaced cowboy, brought here by reasons I would love to know but never will. I wondered if the lady wearing the cowboy boots worshipped at Eldorado and if she checked her pistol at the door.
A massive billboard portrayed Jesus hanging on the cross. His arms were fully extended and pinned against the roughly hewn wood. Blood trickled down his face and around the piercing iron spikes. The caption read, “Jesus loves you this much.” I thanked Him and wished I had a camera.
There was a junkyard down the road with an impressive collection of antiquated log trucks. A lot of old rigs have probably been kept running with spare parts salvaged from there. It’s nice when something broken becomes a part of something that still works, helping them both stay useful.
Beautiful green foliage and multicolored blooms at a plant nursery closely nestled the right-of-way. There wasn’t a chain link fence or even a “No Trespassing” sign. They must have honest neighbors I thought. And I wondered if the people around there still slept with their windows open.
A man in a blue pickup waved cordially with a distinctive twist of his right hand. He didn’t know me or where I was headed, but I knew that if I had a flat tire he would have stopped to help. You can tell a lot about a man by his wave, but that’s just my opinion and nothing I can say for sure.
The dingy plate glass on Fletcher’s Hardware was mostly intact. Some unsold items were collecting dust on homemade wooden shelves. With white liquid shoe polish someone had neatly printed, “THANK YOU WALMART.”
“ROOMS/APARTMENTS” was barely visible in faded black letters on an arrow shaped sign that was nailed to a utility pole. I wanted to follow the arrow down the deserted side street, but I had no doubt the sign had outlived the rooms.
A two-story frame home, built many decades earlier, was freshly painted in white. Its shrubbery was neatly pruned, and its long inviting porch filled with rocking chairs. The tin shingle top had outlasted several changes of the neighbor’s asphalt roof with the 20-year warranty. I figured those tin shingles had come from Fletcher’s Hardware. And I was sorry it was too late to thank them.
There was much to see along the road. There was a lot to think about.