The backroads between Florida and Alabama are perfect. The scenery is all dirt roads and sleepy homesteads. If you drive these two-lane highways with your radio playing old-time music, you will appreciate the music.
If you are so inclined, play a little Hank. If you are feeling adventurous, Willie Nelson. Romantic, try Patsy Cline.
I don’t know what it is about this drive that moves me. Perhaps it’s because this is my home county. Or maybe because I have been burning these local roads since my youth. Maybe it’s because once, I had this ridiculous idea that I wanted to leave.
I don’t know why.
Here, not much has changed since the pavement cooled. The one-story houses on the sides of the highway are frozen in time. The homemade vegetable stands, vacant until summer use. The broke down tractors, the cotton fields.
If you’re into rural beauty, there is nothing but beauty from here to Huntsville.
I pass Hart’s Fillin’ Station, in DeFuniak Springs. If you have never been to Hart’s to eat fried chicken, you aren’t living right.
On this road you see homes with hordes of cars parked in the driveway. Those cars probably belong to adult children who have returned home. It could be that everyone is in town for a wedding. Maybe a funeral. A baby shower. A birthday. Karaoke night.
Either way, there is going to be good eating, I guarantee it.
The narrow highway lopes across a flat Panhandle. I feel sorry I ever wanted to abandon it. Soon, I am leaving my county. Welcome to Florala, Alabama. We have officially left Florida and crossed into the Yellowhammer State.
The two locales look more or less the same. There are wide fields with gracious trees that bow over the roads. Pathways adorned with live oaks, flat green pastures peppered with round bales.
I pass children, seated on front porches. They are home for spring break, helping their parents do Lord knows what. Washing the siding, mowing the lawn, or raking pinestraw.
Right now, they are sipping juice boxes, counting cars on the highway. Just like I used to do.
There is an irony about me wanting to leave home when I was a younger man. On one hand, I wanted to be free. On the other, where would I have gone? I hate cities. I always have.
Only once have I visited New York City, and it was hell on earth. It was for a church trip. I was with the Baptist choir. I had a panic attack when we crossed into Time Square. I’ve never had a panic attack before or since.
Once, I tried living in Tallahassee, I even rented an apartment. I lasted a week. And Atlanta? Forget it.
Cities don’t agree with me. At any given moment, you are surrounded by a hundred thousand people. They are in buildings, looking down on you from fire escapes. They are in cafes, eating gluten-free miso. They are on the street, walking so fast you wonder where the fire is.
Sirens everywhere. Loud traffic. Some guy selling fake handbags. Blinking lights. Honking car horns.
I am a turtle in a world of rabbits. But it took me most of my life to figure this out because I am a slow learner.
The gentle roadway weaves through the azaleas that are in bloom. The whole earth turns pink and green. I am rolling through a land that has been unaffected by age. What exactly was I trying to leave?
The rest of the universe is growing more populated, and society is getting too complicated. Major TV networks air primetime specials about Lorena Bobbit. Newspapers try to get your attention with blood. The local news reports on out-of-town murders before they run the story of Girl Scouts raising money for breast cancer at the Walmart.
But this little highway defies all that. The simple homes. The kudzu on the longleaf pines. The red dirt roads that shoot into the wilderness. The adult children who still travel to Mama’s house for supper.
I turn up the volume on my radio. It’s Patsy Cline. I remember too much at once. I don’t know how this young fool ever grew up, but somehow he did.
And he was lucky enough to do it on roads like this.