I don’t like interstates. Sometimes I have to use them, but not by choice. Today, for instance, I have a long drive ahead of me, I am avoiding the interstate like the plague.
Instead, I take the rural route of my youth, Highway 331. This little gem of a two-lane shoots from the Choctawhatchee Bay, upward into Covington County, Alabama, and straight across God’s country.
It’s an unassuming road that will weave you through Defuniak Springs, Paxton, Florala, Onycha, all the way to Opp.
Opp is the home of the Rattlesnake Rodeo. There, you can see snake races, snake contests, snake comedy acts, snake lectures, and good old-fashioned poisonous snake handling. Fun for the whole family.
Even though the rodeo is only seventy miles from my doorstep, my friends always go without me because I am deathly afraid of snakes.
When I was in first grade, a woman from the zoo visited our classroom. She brought a boa constrictor the size of a sewage pipe. She let it lick my face.
I lost all control. I screamed, I cried, I couldn’t breathe. Our teacher had to call reinforcements. The next thing I knew, I was going to the school nurse’s office to receive a pair of loaner trousers for the day.
Next comes Brantley, the “Front Porch Capital of the South.” Subsequently, you won’t find better food than Michael’s Southern Foods restaurant, downtown. It will bless your heart.
Then comes Luverne—Pepsi bottling country. Luverne is also the home of the Chicken Shack. If you’ve never been to the Chicken Shack, you need to get right with the Lord.
Highland Home, Alabama. They don’t get too worked up in Highland Home.
Hope Hull is next. My cousin once dated a girl in Hope Hull. They were hot and heavy one summer. My cousin and I went to visit her—he had high hopes of participating in some heavy petting.
But when my cousin arrived at her house, the girl’s father was on the porch, polishing his Remington.
The man grunted at my cousin. “Son, what’re your intentions with my daughter?”
My cousin replied, “I’m here to inform your daughter that I’ve decided to enter the ministry.”
The man smiled. “Really? That’s wonderful! Which denomination?”
“Marvelous! We’re Baptists, too! Are you Liberal or Traditional Baptist?”
“So are we! Traditional Northern, or Traditional Southern?”
“Us too! Are you Traditional Southern Baptist Gulf Coast Association, or Traditional Southern Baptist Southeastern Association?”
“Traditional Southeastern Association.”
“WOW! So are we! Are you a Traditional Southern Baptist Southeastern Association Council of 1827, or Traditional Southeastern Association Council of 1914?”
“Council of 1914.”
The man fired his gun. “Die, heretic!”
If you keep following the highway, you’ll hit Montgomery. I rarely pass through this city without visiting the downtown’s statue of Hank Williams. Mostly, I just touch his boot and say “Thank you.”
Hank was a fixture in my broken childhood. I had no compass in life. But I always had Hank. And you don’t forget folks like that.
From Montgomery, you can go any direction. The entire state of Alabama is your oyster. I am traveling north because I have to be in Hoover tomorrow morning.
If you were in a real hurry, you’d probably risk your life on Interstate 65. But if you weren’t, you could take a country road like Highway 31.
Highway 31 is special to me. It’s an ancient road. And back before the frenetic Interstate system ruled the world, it was an important route, carrying traffic northward through the South, all the way to the Straits of Mackinac, in Michigan.
Today, however, Highway 31 is sleepy. You pass more farmland than anything. Pine Level, Verbena, Clanton, Thorsby, Jemison, Calera, and Saginaw.
You probably wonder why I’m carrying on about a plain highway.
This road is more than rolling acres of green that remind you of simpler times before cellphones were so important.
It’s more than churches built from white clapboards, with steeples that are crooked from age.
It’s a lot more than log trucks with flashing caution lights, farmsteads that haven’t changed since 1934, barbecue joints, or the best of old America.
On these highways, you feel things. You recall people who are only memories now. Uncles who used to wear overalls, and sit on porches. Women who could feed six children on a handful of flour and a spoonful of lard.
You remember the day you fell in love with a brunette who lived on this very highway. And all the drives you took along these roads with her.
When you ride this pavement, you will remember it all. And you will become so moved that you’ll start to feel warm inside. Soon, you’ll be so overcome that you’ll have to pull over at a gas station just to write about it.
Kind of like I’m doing now.
Anyway, you’d be hard pressed to get the same thing from an interstate.