Youve no doubt heard the saying Lifes a journey, not a destination. The first person to utter those words was probably some guy responding to his wifes suggestion that he stop and ask for directions because they were lost! But past that, theres a lot of truth in that old saw (especially if youre lucky enough to be a car guy). Were our happiest when were doing something involving our cars, be it wrenching on them, showing them, or driving them.
For us, we get the most pleasure from driving them, which makes the worst thing about getting someplace the fact that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Anytime we put some real distance on the odometer, were usually heading for a specific destination. Thanks to the great interstate system that makes our countrys maps look like someone dropped a plate of spaghetti, we can jump on the expressway a couple of miles from our driveway and get off a couple miles from our final destination, never seeing a lot of really great country. Because were usually in a hurry to get there (wherever there is), we never give much thought to whats in between.
Last year we were lucky enough to drive a Viper from our Lakeland, Florida, office up to Atlanta to do a horsepower comparo against a 67 Hemi Belvedere (Head To Head, December, 1999). Running from the southern tip of Florida right up to Michigans Upper Peninsula, Interstate 75 is, more-or-less, a straight shot through the nation. Because we had to be in Atlanta the morning after we got the keys to the snake, we hopped on I-75 and hit Auto Pilot for the next eight hours, not seeing anything but truck stops and concrete Jersey barriers the whole way.
We were done on the dyno Friday afternoon and didnt have to be back in the office until Monday morning, so we decided to take the opportunity to go the long way home, never getting near an expressway for over 800 miles. It was glorious!
This may sound like a tourist infomercial, but driving through the small towns that are barely dots on a map is more enjoyable than just about anything weve done in years. We shunned the national franchise restaurants in favor of mom-and-pop diners. Some were good, some werent, but whens the last time you actually got to say Ill have the Blue Plate Special? Better still, whens the last time you walked out of a restaurant and the strangers at the counter, who all know each other, said Good bye, drive safe as you headed for the door?
Remember when the drug store still had a lunch counter? We found one on Saturday evening, but small towns have a tendency to roll up the sidewalks at 5 oclock, and it was closed for the daywe were crushed.
Remember when A&W rootbeer...
Remember when A&W rootbeer came in a brown bottle? Whens the last time you even saw Nehi? Something this insignificant could be the crowning touch of your weekend. And youll never find these at the rest stop on the turnpike.
The Gulf station stopped pumping...
The Gulf station stopped pumping high test a couple of decades ago, but then we didnt stop to fill er up, either.
How longs it been since...
How longs it been since No-knox was 36 cents a gallon? Not since you could order three 2-barrel carburetors, thats for sure.
Morgan Hardwarein the...
Morgan Hardwarein the same location for over 100 years.
We did, however, find a hardware store thats been in the same location for over 100 years. Thats about as close to Nirvana as it gets for a man. The creaky wood floors...the smell of dust, tractor grease, and the occasional cigar hanging in the air...the horseshoes that have been sitting on the same shelf for the last 40 years, and probably will for another 40...Were suckers for nostalgia, and that hour spent walking through Morgan Hardware went by like ten minutes.
You have opportunities traveling the back roads that youll never get on the expressway. We found an abandoned Gulf station with Gulf No-nox for 36 cents a gallon. We spotted a couple of potential project cars (not that we dont have enough already!), and drove past a barber shop that looked straight out of Mayberry, RFD, that made us wish we hadnt just gotten a trim. Wed have really enjoyed chewing the fat with Floyd while he lowered our ears a tad.
Small towns hold treasures youll find only if you step on themwe stumbled on Royston, Georgia, The Home of Baseball Immortal Ty Cobb, and the Ty Cobb museum. Little burgs across the nation are home to thousands of museums and local attractions, few of which are destinations for the masses. When the opportunity presents itself to check out the Phosphate Mining Museum or President Grover Clevelands home on a Saturday afternoon, take that opportunity. Not because youve ever wondered how they get the stuff out of the ground or what Grover named his dogtake that opportunity simply because you can.
We were lucky to make the drive in a Viper, but the car wasnt what made this trip enjoyable. In fact, wed have actually preferred a vintage car for the weekend. But thats not the point. The point we want to make (clichéd though it is) is that no matter where you live, there are small towns with thousands of back roads, little dinners, and interesting shops within a couple of hundred miles from your door. Stop at a roadside stand and buy an appleitll taste better than anything you get at the store. Walk into the restaurant on Main Street and ask Whats good? Then order it. And always get the soup, because it didnt come from a can.
Take a Friday off of work, put an overnight bag in the trunk of the Road Runner, and go. And remember, you dont have to be to work until Monday morning. Imagine three days behind the wheel of your pride and joy seeing what youve thought was long gonewhat could be better?
You dont walk through...
You dont walk through a store like this and look aroundyou go through it and absorb the sights, sounds, and smells of 100 years of history. Home improvement centers have everything, except character.
You dont spot vehicles...
You dont spot vehicles to save from the expressway. And if you do, you usually cant turn around and go check them out.
Theres a treasure around...
Theres a treasure around every turn on the backroads.