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.

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?”

“Baptist, sir.”

“Marvelous! We’re Baptists, too! Are you Liberal or Traditional Baptist?”

“Traditional Baptist.”

“So are we! Traditional Northern, or Traditional Southern?”

“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.

Because.

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.

52 comments

  1. Sarah - February 23, 2019 6:58 am

    Thanks, Sean…I laughed out loud st least three times while reading this. I needed that! And I feel exactly the same about those wonderful two lane highways.

    Reply
  2. Melanie - February 23, 2019 8:46 am

    Man, I’m ready to hop in my truck and drive that road. Sure miss Sweet Home Alabama. Thanks for the ride Sean.

    Reply
  3. Jack Giddens - February 23, 2019 11:20 am

    Sorry you missed Troy and Brundidge Sean and nio mention of Luverne’s boiled goobers. Keep up the great work for us octogenarians!~

    Reply
  4. Sheri - February 23, 2019 11:42 am

    Sean you remind me why I love driving the back roads of the Eastern shore of Maryland, where life slows down and everyone sits on their porch watching the world go by. Thanks for the chuckles with my coffee this morning.

    Reply
  5. Elizabeth Edens - February 23, 2019 11:48 am

    Love slow drives on back roads!

    Reply
  6. Debbie - February 23, 2019 12:04 pm

    I, too, avoid interstates like the plague. No, that’s not true. I must NEVER drive on them. Not sure when my fear of them became so huge, but there it is. And, I’m left with highways. I’m okay with that … for all the reasons you said. Thanks for putting it into words for me, Sean.

    Reply
  7. Marilyn Warner - February 23, 2019 12:30 pm

    I’m with you, no 4 lanes for me…too many trucks and texters out there! Thank you, Sean for always making waking up a good experience.

    Reply
  8. Ed - February 23, 2019 12:47 pm

    Along those lines, may I recommend “Blue Highways” by William Least-Heat Moon. A journey around the perimeter of our country traveling on secondary roads.

    Reply
  9. Cathi - February 23, 2019 12:59 pm

    There’s no finer way to look at the world than driving down a two lane road. Check the cellphone, your ego & realize you’re not the most important thing on the road. Then sit back & enjoy the ride. Thanks for the reminder, Sean!

    Reply
  10. Connie Havard Ryland - February 23, 2019 1:29 pm

    I’m an old lady and I love country roads. Most of my childhood was spent traveling them. My grandparents lived way up in the country (it seemed like hours back then, in reality about an hour) and we were there a couple of times a month. In adult life, I had a dear friend who lived in Troy. When I see you write about little towns like Luverne, I think about the many trips we made to see him over the years. He’s gone now too, I miss traveling those long winding roads to visit my people. So, I truly enjoy it when you share your travels. Love and hugs. Be safe out there.

    Reply
  11. Janie F. - February 23, 2019 1:49 pm

    Both of my husband’s parents people are from Opp, nice little town. My stepdad who raised me grew up in the Luverne & Highland Home area. Those people were some of the finest I’ve ever known. I love back roads over interstates any day.

    Reply
  12. Susie - February 23, 2019 1:55 pm

    I used to be an interstate driver, but the older i get, the more I avoid it. Now, my husband and I go out of our way to stay off the interstates. Wherever we’re going, we get there less stressed and more relaxed when we’ve traveled at a slower pace taking in the pleasant scenery. It’s a 12-hr drive between us and our son. We’ve finally figured out a route that only includes about 20 mikes of interstate. We love it!!

    Reply
  13. Barbara Pope - February 23, 2019 2:11 pm

    Growing up in Brewton, I too mourned the loss of the smordgasbord of scenery riding on Hwy 31.

    Reply
  14. Doyt J. Richardson - February 23, 2019 2:27 pm

    Amen!

    Reply
  15. Vaudy Holley - February 23, 2019 2:40 pm

    Being from the Mobile area I always like traveling on Highway 98. The same can be said about US 82 to Tuscaloosa. There are things to see that you would never notice from th interstate. I was a Harley rider for years and I stayed off the interstate as much as possible. When you stop on back roads people will talk about anything with you, but if you stop at a rest area on the interstate no one will speak. We are missing a great deal of human contact in this don’t bother me because my nose is on my phone.

    Reply
  16. Sally Speaker - February 23, 2019 2:43 pm

    I hate missing you at the Hoover Library today. Write on!!

    Reply
  17. Patricia Pope - February 23, 2019 2:55 pm

    Love you Sean! You’re the best! Thanks again for precious memories to begin the day! I believe God watches you and smiles too…

    Reply
  18. Joe Powell - February 23, 2019 2:58 pm

    You may have missed the highlight of Highland Home- “it don’t matter” restaurant… story is name result of argument over naming place!

    Reply
  19. Jack Darnell - February 23, 2019 3:05 pm

    Okay dude, you done done it again. I just drove from Deltona to Belmont, NC for a funeral. I just made a vow to never drive I-95 in SC again. I looked over at my map reader and asked her to pick the scenic route for next time. She said that is easy, we can take US 301 to 21 the one we used before the interstate. So I plan on it.
    Good entry.. Thanks.

    Reply
  20. Betty F. - February 23, 2019 3:15 pm

    Amen!

    Reply
  21. Mickey - February 23, 2019 3:16 pm

    I live a country block from Highway 31 3 hours south of the bridge.
    You should keep driving North stop in and visit.

    Reply
  22. Rodney Stanfield - February 23, 2019 3:46 pm

    Sean, I recently came to your blog through my wife. Her words, “you need to follow this guy. And you need to go back through his archive and read all of his stories.” the trick to a blog for me is to find people that write like my ears and brain will like it. You do that. I cannot read all blogs and there are very few that I enjoy. I enjoy yours.

    This story struck a chord with me. So much familiarity. I attended high school at Bibb County High School in Centerville. Granduated high school at Marengo Academy in Linden AL. I met my wife at the University of Montevallo. Highway 31 is the way we went to Bham. Now Bham as come almost to Montevallo.

    Very few emails will make me stop and read. I find I look for your words daily. I know the blog and writer relationship can be a finicky thing. I have followed some that become silent. We share our stories for as long as it will serve us and as long as people will listen if that is what we need. I have not read all your archive buy I am working on it and look forward to reading your words as long as you wish to share them with us.

    Oh, I am sharing with others as well.

    Reply
  23. Budd Dunson - February 23, 2019 4:12 pm

    Now you are writing, good work.

    Reply
  24. Susan Self - February 23, 2019 4:38 pm

    When I get good and mobile after my knee replacements I’m going to travel these roads. To renew my heart and my soul. Thank you.

    Reply
  25. Michelle Gilliland - February 23, 2019 5:25 pm

    “Fun for the whole family.” Laughed out loud quite a few times.

    Reply
  26. Anne P. - February 23, 2019 5:26 pm

    I am so with you on the snake thing. Recently moved to Alabama and love to hike with my dogs. I keep praying the “encounter” never happens! Have yet to need replacement pants from a snake but I never say never. I did almost loose it over the Tradition Southern Baptist etc etc. You are such a hoot. Making me laugh on a day filled with my other Southern anxiety TORNADOS. Love you and how you transport us to special southern places and people every day!

    Reply
  27. Jeanne Butler - February 23, 2019 5:26 pm

    I hate interstates. I love country roads. I always travel them. Even in my small state of Delaware

    Reply
  28. Anne P. - February 23, 2019 5:32 pm

    Oh no you were at the Hoover Library??? Where is the best place to see where you are going to appear? Would love to see you in person!!!!!!

    Reply
    • Dolores S. Fort - February 23, 2019 9:44 pm

      I would also like to know his schedule. The last time he was close to my home, I was unable to see him. Hopefully, another opportunity will be available, and soon.

      Reply
  29. Mack Hollaway - February 23, 2019 7:24 pm

    Been on that road many times but long ago. Thanks for the memories.

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  30. Jack Quanstrum - February 23, 2019 9:39 pm

    I agree. Great story. Just the right amount of nostalgia!

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  31. Carolyn Hartigan-Bedford - February 23, 2019 10:04 pm

    Sean, I Love everyone of your story! Each one gives me different feelings, but always love and warmth.

    Reply
  32. Shelton A. - February 23, 2019 10:27 pm

    Come to think of it, I hate I-95 and I-77. Thanks for reminding me why.

    Reply
  33. Edna B. - February 23, 2019 10:49 pm

    I love travelling the country roads. One can smell the roses better this way. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  34. Kim - February 24, 2019 12:38 am

    I didn’t find out until today that you were speaking in Hoover. One of my best friends works for the library, I’ve suggested they get you for Southern Voices for the past couple of years. Even though I wasn’t able to see/ hear you today, I’m sure you gained more new fans from the ones who had never seen you. Stop by the next time you’re this close. Kim – Calera.

    Reply
  35. Gordon - February 24, 2019 1:28 pm

    ?”Thanks for the memories”? I traveled highway 331 many, many times as a child as my family and I drove from Florala to Montgomery to visit my paternal grandmother. I remember all those little towns you mentioned in your writing today. As far as the “feelings” of the two lane roads you wrote about, I had that same feeling yesterday as I drove from Alexander City to Selma using highway 22. There is nothing like the feeling of viewing churches, gas stations, abandoned homes, and rolling hills as one travels these “lonesome highways”.

    Reply
  36. Jones - February 24, 2019 1:40 pm

    Yet another great story!! Thank you so much for sharing your writings! Wonderful. Genuine. Plain and simple. Refreshing.
    Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  37. Sharen - February 24, 2019 2:11 pm

    Thank you.

    Reply
  38. Rodney - February 24, 2019 6:58 pm

    The old 2 lane 331 sure brings back childhood memories of trips to the beach. Trips with no cell phone, iPad, games and sometimes air conditioning. What at times as a child I thought the trip down 331 was torture. But now those are some of the best memories having to follow paw paw Smith at 20 MPH for miles before we could make it to the next welcoming town. Thanks Sean for making me feel like a kid again. But I do have one question…Are we there yet?

    Reply
  39. Phillip Saunders. - February 25, 2019 1:55 am

    Those old highways are a joy to travel. Sad that they are but a memory to a lot of us and perhaps somewhat of a myth to many of the young folks. Your message reminds me of another sad part of our history that Arlo Guthrie sang about. Like the old City of New Orleans that was stricken with those “disappearing railroad blues” our country highways are also somewhat stricken; but like the steel rails in the song, “they still ain’t heard the news.”

    Reply
  40. askguy - February 25, 2019 2:57 pm

    Sharing with my son, an educator at ATL Zoo who shares knowledge and the handling snakes and other animals with kids, to remind him of what his father would have done!

    Reply
  41. Barbara - February 26, 2019 3:36 am

    Sean, you really saved my day, I’m tired and my old body is full of pain, I decided since I hadn’t had a chance to read your blog today that I would do that, so glad I did. I laughed out loud until I was crying, my sides hurt from laughing so hard, I almost peed my pants. Your story reminded me so much of home and childhood right down to the Dad polishing his Remington. I agree about those old trails, a lot to American history along their paths.
    Yours is the only blog I follow, because your story’s are real. Keep writing I’m a recent recruit to your blog but I’m passing it around.

    Reply
  42. Patricia Gladden - February 27, 2019 8:35 pm

    I love Highway 31′ and growing up in Alabaster, Alabama… I still enjoy riding 31, as much as I did when I was younger. I have wonderful memories now that I am 81 years old , and a LITTLE DIFFERENT CAR!!! I do LOVE SEAN OF THE SOUTH.

    Reply
  43. Julie Davis - March 1, 2019 10:22 pm

    Hwy. 31 was a well traveled road for me growing up. I still take it going down to my hometown of Athens & back up to Spring Hill which is now home to me. It’s a beautiful drive. I choose the back roads every chance I get!

    Reply
  44. Gloria Rumph - March 9, 2019 10:13 pm

    Old stomping grounds! You bring back so many good memories I can almost forget all the bad ones, you were right I can just picture my uncle herman,uncle Bill in their overalls as a matter of fact never saw either one in anything else! Both were buried in overalls!

    Reply
  45. Debbie - March 23, 2019 11:04 am

    Back roads preferred even to work. I still take a long back road drive during the weekend.

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  46. Pat Floyd, Luverne - March 23, 2019 2:40 pm

    Sean, Thank you for taking us down memory lane. Next time stop by the BAMA Beltie Farm north of Luverne and see some amazing, unique and different cows in the South. I will even serve you a Sundrop, a Moon Pie and the famous best boiled peanuts you have ever put in your mouth!!

    Reply
  47. Kathryn - March 23, 2019 3:44 pm

    I am with you Sean! Every time I have to leave my home just a few miles south of the Florida-Georgia line to head north, I do everything I possibly can to avoid I-75 and, of course, the dreaded Atlanta, where traffic is always heavy, there is always an accident, construction is underway, (and has been since the 1950s), and toad rage is rampant. I take the leisurely route; I see small towns, lots of cows, fields, people who wave at me, and I am relaxed and happy, not stressed, when I arrive at my destination. It’s the only way to travel.

    Reply
  48. Kathryn - March 23, 2019 3:46 pm

    *road rage, not toad rage! Haha!

    Reply
  49. Mignon craft watson - March 24, 2019 12:37 am

    Loved this story today! Thanks for the memories. I am from Covington county. Still love that part our great state.

    Reply
  50. Mike welch - March 24, 2019 2:48 am

    Beautiful Lake Jackson in Florala, Al. Home of the 24th of June Masonic celebration.

    Reply
  51. Steve W. - March 25, 2019 1:30 am

    Dad hauled gasoline for Chevron 39 years. He lived 12 more after he retired. I don’t think he ever got on the interstate again.

    Coming home from Mississippi this morning my GPS sent me an hour and a half down 2 lanes instead of I-20. I still can’t believe how much less stressful the drive home was. Saw a few thousand cows, countless junk cars & a good hundred miles of every kind of fence they make. Couple dozen Hawks too. Hawks do not get in a hurry. They always take the back roads.
    Love you. Steve

    Reply

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