Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Joy of Road Trips

Driving the back roads of America can be as exotic as those of any country in the world. I recently hit the road from Jacksonville, FL, to Blue Ridge, GA, and the Old 96 District of South Carolina.

Speed was the priority going up but even on I-75 I found humor, as in the sign:

SELL YOUR HUSBAND                          
on new cabinets from... 

Then there was the working man's  lunch stop I hit in Cordele, GA. The food wasn't as good as I'd hoped but it was cheap and plentiful and the vegetables of the day included rutabagas (!). When was the last time you hit those on a buffet line, especially a very small one? They were the best things I had.

North Georgia is largely undiscovered by travelers outside of the South. Scenery is beautiful, folks are friendly and for Levelers, the towns are built mostly in the valleys, making them fairly flat and easy to negotiate.  

One stop definitely worth your while is the darnedest store you're likely to encounter, Alexander's, a 50-plus-year-old institution outside of Blairsville. If you can't find it there and at a discount, it isn't made. Jewelry, men's and women's clothes, hunting gear and equipment, hats, socks, furniture, scarves, refrigerators, boots, stoves, bathtubs, sunglasses - you name it, they have it.

A different kind of store but definitely worth a stop is the Old Sautee Store on the Unicoi Trail, now GA Hwy 17. Opened in 1872, it has been run by only four families. 

All of them contributed to the old half - the 1911 nickelodeon, an early movie peep show and all the other goods stocked over the years - but the Swedish and Norwegian couple who owned it in the 1960s set the tone for the new portion with its collection of amber jewelry, old country knits and Swedish farmer's cheese. They started making the cheese in the 1960s and have become the largest seller of it in the U. S. - 21,000 pounds in the last year alone.

Driving through the foot-, heel- and toe-hills to South Carolina you hit one charming town after another. Didn't see a railroad track going through Clarksville but the Beatles song about the Last Train to there stuck in my brain anyway. The Hartwell Lake radio station read the day's obituaries, including where and when the family would be receiving, during the noon hour. Next time I'll stop in Clarkson and poke around in its interesting looking boutiques. I'll also take the time to learn if  the teeny town I passed through is named Dewy Rose or Dewey Rose as its name was spelled both ways on various signs.

One find was the "stew" at Backwoods BBQ south of Lavonia, GA. It has the texture of a fork-thick soup and the flavor is out of this world. Next time I'll bring a cooler and buy a quart for $7.25.

Travel doesn't have to be an ordeal or expensive. Hop in the car, head off in a new direction and pay attention.


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