Back Roads

My father’s mother lived in a small South-Central Georgia town and with relatives in Atlanta at least four times a year we would pack our bags for a family visit. In those days there were no fast food restaurants, so along with a thermos of coffee and a jar filled with tea, my mother would pack a lunch and we would get on the road. I was a tyke and when I got restless my dad would look for a small-town drugstore with a soda fountain, and there he would buy me an ice cream cone and then we would be back on the road. I remember stops in Homerville, Pearson and Douglas: places now a long way off of Interstate 75.

After visiting his mother, dad would plan the Atlanta stretch of our trip so that he could eat lunch at the New Perry Hotel. Once on the road, he would overcome my mother’s objections with the reminder that, “lunch at the ‘Hotel’ is a Southern tradition.” The meal would include fried chicken, two vegetables, rolls, sweet tea and a “cobbler” with ice cream.  After taking an hour for lunch, with me full and asleep in the backseat, my father would continue the trip to Atlanta.

My brother Randolph, who loved country roads, was part owner of a house on an island, located in the Gulf of Mexico just south of Carabelle, Florida. I recall flying across the panhandle in a brand new Chrsyler, sipping brown whiskey and singing at the top of our lungs. To quench our hunger, we stopped at every filling station—where there was always a supply of pickled eggs and Slim Jims—and at each stop my brother made a new friend. By the time we got to Carabelle, we were three-hours late and it took two people to load us into the boat to the island.

Even when we were in a hurry, Randolph would always insist on exiting the expressway for snacks or lunch. Perhaps it was memories from traveling with my father, but I swear he knew every country diner in the Southeast. When I would complain that we were going to be late, he would respond, “It will only be by a few minutes.” and then order more iced tea and dessert.

I once asked an acquaintance how he had secured a large window order. He replied a salesman made a decision to forego the Interstate and take a back road home. Along the way he saw ground being cleared, stopped met the contractor and they ended up with the order. He told me the decision to take a different route was not something the salesman normally did, but would almost always do in the future.

When I began working for my dad, Bob Wooten was his general manager. Bob drove me crazy because he always took back roads: a 30 minute drive would become a 45 minute journey utilizing an alternative route, and there were a lot of alternative routes. Bob would respond to my complaints about wasting time with, “You miss a lot by always following the same route.”

In today’s world, we are often in too much of a hurry to try a different route: fast cars, fast food, 80 miles per hour we rush down life’s highway. Time roars by, leaving us to wonder where the years and days have gone.

Bob Wooten was right. We miss a lot by always following the same route: we miss a more relaxed lifestyle with an opportunity for our mind to be open for problem solving; we miss opportunities—after all you can’t pull over and meet a contractor while on the interstate; we miss the adventure of new sights and places; we miss fried chicken, two sides and a dish of peach cobbler, we miss out on a large slice of life. Those who know me, understand I don’t like to be late, so I leave early, take back roads and allow time for  iced tea and dessert.


I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

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