Saturday, July 10, 2010

on the road in Florida and Georgia

In the midst of Colby madness in South Haven - my family spends the 4th of July weekend in a state of overconsumption and sun overexposure each year at our cottage in Michigan - I got a call from my Dad.  He had been looking for a used car online for months after our sad little Hyundai station wagon died, and he finally found the perfect Florida.

So after very little convincing (he didn't have to do much, free trip!), he asked me to find someone to travel with and he would pay for our flights down and we could drive the car back. This seemed like an impossibly awesome offer to me, but nearly everyone I knew had plans or work. The only person available, Patrick, had a job our society likes to call full-time even though the lazy jerks get to lay around for 3 months each summer (ha ha, like this isn't my consistent way of life)! 
So, we planned out the logistics and were on a plane within a couple of days. We flew down to Jacksonville, Florida to meet the car-owner Janeen and her friend Lee. Now, I don't know if you have ever been to the Florida panhandle area, but around these parts Lee is a three-syllable name. Lay-ee-eh.

We drove in the very comfortable new car to Janeen's house, where she offered to let us stay for the evening. Upon seeing our sleeping quarters, a lofted bed placed very strangely over the kitchen, and smelled the odoriferous creation of five large dogs which wafted through the house, we quickly decided that we would be on our way. 

We signed papers, listened to Lee explain how 'this is the only place in America where you'll see guys with confederate flags 'cross the back of their trucks blasting rap music...BUHH hawhawhaw!' Grinning with a mix of politeness and self-consciousness, we quietly planned our escape. 

Never wanting to miss an opportunity to see the best the world has to offer, we were split between New Orleans and Savannah - both world-class sightseeing cities, both indulgently beautiful, both out of our route back to Chicago. We decided to go with Savannah as it was less out of route and more accessible for a one-day visit.

We slipped away from the strangers and the excited pack of doggies and hopped behind the wheel of our fantastically comfortable brand new car and headed north. Out of the South with shanties and rednecks and overt racism and into the more dignified, more proper and more veiled-racism South. 

We traveled over flat, soggy marshland with windows down and an endless summer sun lasting deep into the evening lighting our way. We got to Savannah just at the end of twilight and found a hostel run by a sweaty, out-of-place New Yorker who wearily showed us into his home. With his kids squealing in the kitchen, he took our information inside a room with impossibly high ceilings that must've once belonged to the aristocracy of the early Industrial Revolution era, but has fallen - like the city itself - into decay. 
After leading us into our room in a detached coach house, we dropped our things and headed for the water where we found a city all draped in heavy moss and cockroaches scurrying through the cracks in the cobblestone. We went to the promenade, which has now (along with every other quaint and characteristic part of every American city) been turned into a bunch of boutiques and tourist shops. Sinking into a late-night restaurant, we get enough fried seafood to feel like we never wanted either again.

The next morning, we were up with the bright, hot, oppressive Savannah sun and onto a walking tour of this place that just drips with beauty. It seems no one came to wring her out like other American cities. No developers with strip malls or city planners choosing to put cars at the center of city life. Like a respectful and gallant belle, she sits waiting through the years with hopeless and untouched beauty, only growing more unbearably irresistible through the years.
There were cemeteries with mossy headstones, churches with spires reaching to pierce the clouds, and so many public squares. Arising from the torture of being indoors in Savannah in the summer, these squares provide public spaces to feel a breeze and meet your neighbors.

Having to leave the city as quickly as we came, we headed out of the city and back north, upwards toward civilization. We briefly stopped to get some just-picked Georgia peaches and with the juice running down our chins, we sped off to race the sunlight to Chicago.

About halfway home our bellies began a-rumbling and what better place to quench our primal needs than with some down home country barbecue in Music City, USA. We got off the highway and immediately found parking smack in the middle of downtown Nashville. We stretched our cramped legs and filled our tummies with an incredible amount of protein and molasses.
We sped like Jack Kerouac towards the promised land, fulfilling the inborn American desire to hit the road as if there were no destination.

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