An easy mid-morning start with a warning from my host about upcoming speed checks. ‘Stay under the speed limit out there, that is how they make their money’.
He is referring to a series of small towns on the rural highway between Gainesville and Jacksonville. Road signs confirm his premonition. ‘Zero tolerance for speeders’, ‘Speed limit strictly enforced’. These are official. Not this one, huge, put up by a frustrated local: “Speed trap up ahead, 5 3/4 miles’. Road practice leaves no doubt about how the sheriff’s men operate. Sequences of ‘Reduced speeds ahead’ traffic signs requesting slow-downs from 60 – 55- 50 – 45- 40 – 35 – 30 in various combinations are obeyed even by the truckers: the surest sign that the bears mean business out here. And they do. Here a civilian is caught in the ’shoot first – no questions later’ spider web, there a trucker. I pass safely, keeping MS’s speedometer firmly below the speed limit. Over the past 10 days or so, monitoring equipment alongside the road consistently told me I was going faster than what MS was indicating. Unusual, because speedometers tend to be universally too optimistic.
‘Well, there is Don Wop’s diner’ replies the Shell lady when I inquire about a cafe or so where I can eat something without having to go to Wendy’s, McDonalds, Subway and all the other food dumps I will not go to. “That is all we have here”, she adds a little ashamed. ‘Here’ is an one intersection ‘town’ consisting of little more than a few gas stations. And Don Wop’s Diner. How mistaken the Shell-lady is! The Diner is an all-time 50ties classic similar to the one I lost my MS keys in last year on Route 66. Red plastic chairs, white tables. The toilets are in the same style, magnificent. TV screens show only old musical ‘clips’ (Everly Brothers, you name it). Those were the times that a girl could have brought a star home as future in-law and her parents would have found him to be clean-shaven, well-dressed, a welcome addition to the family. My booth even has a table juke-box that takes quarters. A 3-dimensional Elvis on the wall having fun in his favorite red car.
I am about to regain the old Dixie Highway route on the state line between Florida and Georgia. “What can I bring you sweetie?” is the welcome intro from my waitress. Sweaty would be more relevant, she tries to be polite I guess. ‘A coke no ice and a coffee’ is my standard cocktail. Two 100% beef hot dogs further: ‘You pay down there, sweetheart’ are her parting words sending me back into the steaming heat. Where else do you get such service than in back-country USA?
The treasure. Dixie Highway reveals itself in all her historic beauty on US 17 going into Georgia. Two lanes amidst swamps, marshes, woods, wilderness. Decrepit mobile homes with the usual car trash around them, tucked away here and there in the trees. And then!
- Old gas stations overgrown by trees, vines and brushes.
- Old houses having gone to pieces.
- Old overgrown garage of which the facade advertises the spare auto parts to be obtained – the building is gone, just the facade remains.
- A maginificent old steel bridge over a wide river.
Abundant are the great remnants of the Dixie Highway past, resembling the Route 66 archeological sites.
And then THE find of the trip!! My eye catches a ‘US 17 – Old Dixie Highway’ street sign. Hit the brakes and return. A beautiful very old Dixie Highway section: all dirt, compressed sand if you wish; disappears in the woods paralleling US 17. Made my day, made the whole trip.
How old this pre-pavement section? A very large nearby outside mural in an historic towns tells the story. The triple mural shows 1908.
#1 Unpaved Dixie Highway passes through the town with a ‘Tourist hotel’ and a ‘Quaker State Oil’ gas station + attendant; car tire tracks in the sand.
# 2 Shows the unpaved DH but now with a single railroad track on it – a car is riding on the track, not a train.
#3 Portrays the losing transport system: the river boat.
The pilgrim’s photos you may expect when I get my Dixie Highway pictorial saga together later this summer.
The teaching comes soon, the wrath of the Georgia Goddess (so helpful on my way South). Wanting to make some miles quickly towards Savannah, I turn to nearby Interstate 95. Disaster. Only roadworks and solid traffic jams after a few miles. Mind you, it is 95 Fahrenheit and the sun is boiling my brain using the helmet as frying pan. My full motorcycle clothing outfit is giving my body a Turkish bath. MS appears not to mind, she just idles away as if nothing is happening. We are basically not moving for miles and countless minutes. Debate with myself: try to squeeze through the stopped traffic? That is what would be my normal procedure in Holland where car drivers in traffic jams are used to motorcycles riding between the car rows. Is this legal in the US (in Holland it is official condoned)? How will US drivers react, aggressively out of frustration, blocking my way? Getting seriously overheated I try, no space enough though. Finally, an exit, back to my Dixie Highway. Empty, beautiful, speed limit of 55. Brings me right downtown Savannah. I should never have left her.
Savannah. Back to modern US reality. The Afro-American outskirts – to be politically correct – feature blocks of small wooden houses, mostly in bad shape and for rent or sale. Classical large ante-bellum houses serve as social housing and won’t survive that function. Historic landmark down-town is a construction site where large modern high-rise office buildings deface the old early 20th century buildings being restored. The down-town back alleys are trash dumps. Twenty minutes and out I am.
The gas station on my way out sums it up: big, black and barricaded. This is an observation, not a statement.
PS. My prayers before starting a hot MS were heard today. So were her ear-shrieking protests.