Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Landscape We Love (Sometimes)

 Crossing the Mississippi River.
Hub enjoying Mardi Gras in Natchez MS.
Road trips are a great way to see the country. Drive sparsely populated open roads and occasionally clogged, smelly highways. Stop at well-known and more obscure tourist sights and pass others by, eager to rack up the miles, hours later driver and passengers exiting the car with sore, cramped muscles. Meet people. Eat food sometimes terrible and other times wonderful, but no matter how carefully one orders, most dishes contain an excess of calories with too much salt and sugar.

Racing through countryside, the landscape may be desolate desert, hilly, mountainous, lush green or full of autumn colors, or steeped in gray winter barrenness. It is nature glimpsed first-hand, if not in-depth. For that one must stop the car, get out, observe the surroundings and wander off road.

The United States is a huge country, the largeness not appreciated by Easterners like me traveling through metro areas for endless miles and hours, past towns that transform into countryside then merge with other towns. Trips in the past to Colorado and Utah hit this Easterner powerfully with its awesomeness, but we are (at least I am) forgetful once back on the populous East coast.

There is the natural landscape, and then the man-made panorama.

Unfortunately too much not pretty, and actually ugly, man-made scenery dots the land. 

Gas station/convenience store combos spring up everywhere.

Auto salvage shops and junk yards also seem to be everywhere. Not many people or houses, but lots of abandoned vehicles.

Driving through northern Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, towns are first revealed by a road sign with the town name and population. I wonder how the population number remains accurate. I am sure babies are born, people move out, move in and die…

Maybe people do not move away – or move in.

One of the first retail stores greeting a driver entering town is a Dollar General store, a Family Dollar and/or a Dollar Tree. Often two sit across the street from each other.

Then there are billboards. Rarely seen are electronic ones popular along highways around my home state. Along Southern highways billboards advertise car dealerships, fast food outlets, law firms, local motels, or display a Bible quote, the passage too long to read in its entirety while speeding along.

It is difficult avoiding BFTs – big f**king trucks. I guess their proliferation are a sign of a thriving economy, but it is no fun driving behind, next to, in front of, or passing these behemoths. Driving near them in the rain is even worse.

Waffle House restaurants turn up all over. We have not yet eaten a meal in one on this trip. We did once, years ago, in Florida. It was memorable, in a not good way. I do not plan on repeating the experience…

Burger King, Hardee’s, Whataburger, Sonic Drive-In, McDonald’s dot the landscape. Do people in these states eat anywhere else? Or eat anything besides cheap burgers?

I think everyone south of the Mason Dixon line living outside major cities drive big pick-ups. A lot of city people own them, too. Driving behind one you see nothing except the back of the truck.

I do not think there is anyplace anywhere in the country without some kind of road construction, from minor repairs to major roadwork. But I guess that is a good thing. People are working…

Then there are the pluses of driving through parts of the lightly populated south –

Few stoplights or stop signs.

Four lane roads - two in each direction - with wide shoulders.

No pot holes.

No traffic (most of the time).

Natural landscape. Sometimes pretty, sometimes not so much. Occasionally boring as mile after mile of similar scenery becomes monotonous.

Polite people (Donald Trump, take note…).

And the states roll by as our car pushes on into Cruz country (a.k.a. Texas)… 
Lunch stop in Collins, MS


  1. Worst meal I ever had on the road, or anywhere else for that matter, was in Pennsylvania. I remember passing a sign on route 95 in SC informing us that there was a McDonald's at the next exit--and warning that it was the last one for like 40 miles! Oh, the horror.

    1. We will not patronize McDonald's this - or any trip - entering a store only to pee if necessary!

  2. We ate at our first Waffle House four years ago, driving from Houston to Lafayette, Louisiana. Not bad breakfast, but I think everyone else in the entire place knew each other.

    1. We have noticed that small town phenomenon on this trip in the South - everyone seems to know everyone, except us.

  3. I had the same experience in a Waffle House. Once was enough. I haven't been to a fast food restaurant in years and am not in any hurry to visit another. Great description of your road trip! :-)

  4. I'll voice the minority opinion: I like waffles!

  5. A very large country indeed, yet very small compared to Africa.

    1. The country gets bigger and bigger the longer we are on the road!