I have never been one for speed and never been in a hurry. I bought my first car when I was going on 18 and it was a 1966 Mustang GT with a 289 engine, duel exhaust, 4 in the floor and a 4 barrel carburetor. (I remember that because I had to repeat it every day when the guys ask me what the specs were ). However I did not buy a mustang for the specs , I got it because it was a beautiful 'powder blue' with buttery bucket seats and great speakers ! All my friends wanted to ride in my 'fast new sports car' and immediately upon sitting in the passenger seat they would elicit such exclamations as "Okay sister Floor It!!" , or "Lets lay some rubber Susi !!" Or the lovely "Lets see you make her squeal !" I would then pull a joni Mitchell cartridge or a Simon and Garfunkel ' out of the glove box, insert it into the 8-track player with a smile and then ,as slow as grandma, I would pull gently away from the curb. My friends would groan and say "What'd you buy a mustang for ?" and I would say "To enjoy the drive ".
And I still enjoy the drive ...
I have never been a fan of interstate, to be quite honest, speed scares me and I have never found a thrill in racing along a busy highway in a blur of trucks and trees with only my destination in mind. To me, one of the best elements of any trip, rather it be a vacation or just the drive to work, is to take in the sights , sounds and beauty of the road. Of course the only way to acquire this level of quality on any trip, is to hit the back roads.
As a child in the 50's and 60's most roads were back roads as there was not a lot of interstate then and there were trucks ( which were scary as hell barreling downhill on a country road and you're a little kid sleeping on the back window shelf . There were NO seat belts in those days ) but trucks were not plentiful and kind of a fun sight for kids , as we would stick our arm out the window and make that 'pull on the horn' gesture and the trucker would oblige with a bold blast of his horn and big grin on his tired unshaven face. Back then drivers interacted and realized there were other real people on the road in which to connect with and offer a wave or a nod in passing. No one 'owned the road' or felt isolated in their air conditioned speeding cubicle with no thought of the 'others'.
Driving the back roads was and is, a lot like watching an old time movie with characters and stories that unfold slowly and sweetly right before your eyes. For instance, during my daughters years at Radford university I always drove the 'long way'. This trip took me down the service road in Wytheville (highway 11) traveling right beside the interstate , with the speeding cars and many accidents witnessed as I tooled along going 45 MPH and singing to my fav radio station 98.1 . This road takes me past Ft Chiswell where I sometimes will stop at the antique stores ( where they know me by name ) and pick up props for my portrait work. Then on past Carter Park where I always glance over at the beautiful creek and bridge and, at times, stop for a deer crossing. There is a store called "Apple Tree" where I usually pull in to answer a text from my daughter (This store is always where my daughter stops on the way home and will send a one word text 'Apple' which is now our sentimental word for "Almost home". Here I sometimes grab a drink or use the rest room and head on back down 11 . There is a little house on the right that hangs their laundry on the clothesline hooked to two trees in the front yard and I always slow down and smile at this beautiful sight as I drive by and imagine their humble peaceful life inside .
The road soon comes to a stop and I turn left to climb Draper Mountain which leads to downtown Pulaski. This is the same mountain road that our family took when I was a child and I recall my brother always exclaiming as we crowned the mountain "Puuuu- Laski !!" as the paper mill always stunk to high heavens !
The top of the mountain still has the 2-sided "Outlook' where you can pull off and rest and enjoy the magnificent view of the mountains and farm land below. If you're lucky, the honey suckle will be in full bloom and the sweet fragrance will enhance the view and become a sentimental part of this memory .
Then comes the ride downhill, which always made my sister car sick (The roads were skinnier back in the 50's and guard rails were scarce, so it felt like the car was right on the edge of tumbling down the mountain side) But, as kids will do, we had complete faith in our Father's driving and knew he would keep us safe!
At the bottom of the mountain on the left, there lies one of the best burger joints around "Tom's Driveinn' . I no longer eat Burgers , but remember very fondly the taste !!
The drive through downtown Pulaski is like going back in time. The speed limit is still 25 and so you must slow down and take in the sights. Here folks still walk and visit their neighbors. You can still see teens walking hand in hand down the sidewalks and Grandma's waving from their front porch swings. There are mechanic's sitting in front of their garages chatting about politics and cursing the new engines that are so much harder to work on with their customers nodding in agreement in their farming overalls. The houses roll along the road in a sort of stacked muti level arrangement of balconies and chimneys reminiscent of a Rockwell painting. On up the road , near a community apartment building , I alway look to my right for the elderly black man, sitting stately in his old wooden chair with a cane in one hand and a cheerful wave in the other. He spots me and waves a little more energetically and I tell myself once again "Next time I'm gonna pul over and have a visit with him". I find myself still smiling at this encounter blocks down the road as I curve sharply to the right away from downtown past the old Maple Bread and Breakfast (which is probably over 100 years old and quaintly in need of fixing up , but can't imagine it looking any prettier ) There is a teen Mom on the sidewalk staring down at her newborn in a baby blue stroller with a look of unexpected love and fear on her smooth still face. Two boys race by her on their rickety bikes laughing and hooting about nothing more than Summer and freedom and the young mother sits on the curb staring down the road as if expecting something or someone . As i drive by I wonder about her and wish her well, which to me, is the same as a prayer.
Its is just these stories that keep me on the backroads ,as they remind me about the part of life that really matters , the people we most likely will never meet or know and yet, can feel such immediate kinship with just in passing. Their stories are our stories and , we may refer to them as 'strangers' but they are truly our sisters and brothers, our Aunts and Uncles, our Grandparent and our friends . There is a magic & Mystery on our country roads that connects us all in this long grey ribbon of road that is truly synonymous with our life. So next time you are about to enter the interstate and disconnect, give some thought to the backroads and to the quality of your daily life, a chance to slow down and take it all in. A chance to enjoy the 'journey' and know that , we are all going to reach our destination soon enough. What is your hurry?