By Tom Poland
My back-road trips of late have been good but not as pleasant they usually are. Too many people. They drive like madmen. They pass on hills. They cut me off. They force me to hit the brakes. They ride my bumper. They’re a blur flying through small towns and past fine old homes. The list goes on. I hope it’s temporary, a result of the season, and I believe it is. Out-of-state tags reveal tourists. “Get back to where you once belonged. Get back Jojo.”
I need space. On a back road I drive like a 106-year-old man. I’m always seeking photos and stories at the edge of a field, in a tangle of smilax, in a pine thicket, by that wonderful orchard, behind that stately old church. Call me The Seeker. Seeking’s hard to do with a car on my bumper so I developed a new driving habit: I pull over and let them rush on to whatever’s so urgent. Good riddance.
A few days ago I had no choice but to drive I-20. I didn’t think the interstate could get worse but I was wrong. Construction’s big cement barriers herded me into narrow high-speed canyons where disaster is a blown tire, broken water pump away—theirs or mine. But wait, there’s more. They’re also erecting big sound baffles for souls unlucky enough to live beside interstates. Now there’s zero to see. Nothing. Meanwhile within the cement canyons people rush about like crazed animals destined for slaughter.
What’s the big rush? Why are so many people driving like bats out of that place that rhymes with bell?
Got to be the summer vacation spillover from car-crammed interstates. It’s just the season I pray. Whatever its cause, I found an escape from drivers speeding along back roads: the back-back roads. I’ll go to a road with far less traffic and then take a lesser road off it. Who cares where it goes? There’s no traffic at all. Now I can look for old homes, forgotten cemeteries, beautiful old farms, abandoned trucks and tractors, and more. As I say in my talks, “On a back road, your blood pressure goes down, and your gas mileage goes up.”
It’s true and here’s a case in point: the colorful house with its greenish cheesecloth screen, red canna lily, and fine old brick fireplace pleased me very much. First it revived memories of Mom’s canna lilies of my youth. The old house itself brought to mind shacks and tenant homes I saw back in the 1950s and 60s and a feature I wrote that led me into the world of books. And there was something special going on that you can’t see. The entire time I photographed this house the lilting, soothing call of a bobwhite brought back memories of my grandfather’s farm. And those big rolls of hay? Memories of hauling hay fluttered up like birds from a field. I live in the city but the farm still lives in me. Back roads keep your youth alive. Try it and you’ll see.
So, it comes down to choices. Which do you prefer? The scenic South or an interstate that’s pretty much the same wherever you go? A clogged major highway or a lesser back road? Are you in that much of a mad rush to get from A to B?
Let’s do the math. You can add a noisy dangerous interstate to your travels, or you can subtract stress and danger by taking a lesser road that adds tranquility and memories to your day. Seems to be a no-brainer, but someone will say, “Yeah I get it but I’m in a bit of a rush. I’m not out joy riding. I don’t have all day to get where I’m going.”
“Fine,” I say. “Dash along on your joyless trip. If I see you in my rearview mirror, I’ll look for a place to pull over.”
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