Day 5: The Train of Change is Coming Fast to my Dixie Highway

The lyrics of Kate Campbell’s ‘Crazy in Alabama’ song (re her hometown) sum up the day.

The breakfast start already has a forewarning of what is to be discovered. Breakfast is with Chuck and a bunch of old hands who share it every morning in a gas station annex country food place near Chuck’s hide-out. Same people, same time, same food, same table, same place, one chair being the sacred seat of one of them and not to be used by anyone else. I get told right away. It is good to know your place in the face of tradition. Being the new boy on the street, talk turns to the Dixie Highway. ‘Dixie Highway, what’s that?’ is the reply. And we are practically sitting on it.
DH I get onto on the Winchester Square, US 41A South. The Tina-Elvis monster detour is over, this is it. Cool it is, windbreaker needed. ‘First you go up the mountain’ Chuck had sent me off with. Beautiful ride up, 2-lane, as it should be. On top is an off-shoot of Cambridge, England. Elite Episcopalian University, all sandstone campus, Cambridge architecture huge bell tower with sizable Carillon. Do you know it, Arie? Fast curves down the mountain again.
Destination: disillusion at Chattanooga towards Atlanta. DH has been overtaken by civilizaton. Mile after mile of broad 4-lane business road, each structure with a vast amount of parking area around it, prepared for a baseball stadium audience, used by just a few cars at the time. Traffic moves up and down from traffic signal to traffic signal. One prolonged-forever line-up of the familiar chain outlets. Discovery: it seems like a repetitive pattern in a floor rug. After a few miles the same order of the same outlets starts again in a never-ending, boring and increasingly irritating stream of wasted land use. If this is what DH has turned into? About 45 minutes into the nightmare, I decide to make miles and hope for better down south of Atlanta
Interstate 75 comes as a relief to ride on. A temporary stray from my non-interstate belief. Three lanes of solid traffic thunders next and past each other to far-off destinations at 70+ miles per hour. I take a few minutes in the somewhat slower right lane to let MS and me pick up the mechanics. I admire the magnificent trucks, enormous, the mechanized mammoths and dinosaurs of our days. Relentless they go, the drivers seem more like captives in them then in control. Having an air displacement of an apartment building, they create demanding but entertaining high-tensity riding conditions. I don’t complain, I really enjoy it, I must confess. And so does MS. The big ones are no match for her vintage 1980 power and speed, she easily out-muscles all of them. Queen of the road and I am allowed to come along.
‘Diamonds on the sole of your tires’ Paul Simon reminds me of when I see the HOV diamonds on the road surface as the Southbound 3 lanes turn into 4, turn into 5, turn into 6, turn into the downtown Hotlanta (Chuck’s geography). MS and I qualify for HOV; not a disease but a privilege. I’d seen the diamonds before near Memphis, having no idea what they are telling me at the time. So I stayed far from them. Coach Chuck: ‘you are entitled to go there but be prepared to really push it’. HOV, he explained, stands for High Occupancy Vehicle, a lane only for cars with 2+ persons. Or motorcyclists. A warning came with it: ‘these Georgia people are dangerous speeders’. So MS joins into the fun relishing her 4.500 or so RPM’s. The Atlanta downtown high-rises soon become miniatures in the rear mirrors.

Retry towards Macon. Anything of what I thought and hoped DH would be? Well not really. DH is just to close an off-shoot of the Interstate. Macon triggers my curiosity because Macon in France (north of Lyon) makes about the best French white wines. My reconstructed 1923 map tells me I have to go there. It doesn’t get better, though; same stuff as above. The Goddess of Georgia comes to rescue. She sends me on a right turn for the better without me realizing it. Yes, I think, this must the old 2-lane rolling DH through the deserted outback of Georgia. Except the road signs reads ‘South 341′ and that is not on my DH number system.
Turns out, the good Goddess sent me off onto a back-road to team up good old DH again SW of Macon. I turn into an immediate follower. Unmistakable signs of God-fearing back-country USA show up as proof that DH salvation is near. Believers in her or another deity volunteer their advise to me.

* ‘If you deal with the devil, you are going to get burned’ is a huge warning on a billboard. But where, the devil, is DH as the one-time favorite vacation route for cold Northerns seeking relief down South?

* Another thinks that I am the missing link in evolution: the billboard features a nearly finished jigsaw puzzle. ‘The only one missing is you’, is the subtitle.

* What really gets me is this one: ‘God loves you when no-one else does’. Well, I sure hope he also loves me while other people do, too.
Other signs of the South. The enormous advertising ‘towers’ have changed color. The sheriff who rules the country is black, now. He won’t tolerate loitering and littering either, he proclaims. And the man-woman insurance couple promises ‘home+car=savings’; much needed now more and more people have trouble hanging onto both their house and their car. And also the black sharks are prepared to squeeze money out of an accident victim: ‘A wreck? Want a Check?’ they call out to the passers-by.

What hurts most is this. Nowhere any reference to the Dixie Highway, absolutely nowhere. In the southern outskirts of Atlanta is a street sign ‘Old Dixie Highway’ but it crosses the one which really is. I ride Memorial Highway for Mister X, for Mister Y and for Mister Z. Not the DH Memorial Highway. Gone forever.
And this. How naive I was. Uncle Tom is gone, too. Nowhere the old sagging shacks with bunches of black folks singing their blues about the bad old slavery times and about the good new times of perennial relationship mishaps. The run-down mobile homes tugged away in the trees along the road shoulders amidst unbelievable trash and junk cars don’t compensate my stereotyped expectations. Most of them have white folks in them, anyway. Where have all the black folks gone?
This high-speed train of change, I now understand, is why even in Google-land Dixie Highway has retreated to Terra Incognita. The day ends in Carter Country. Triple country, too. Peaches, Pecans, Peanuts. Endless rows of taller and smaller trees and plants. Amidst wide open hills with grain and more grain. And forestry all over. Along the roadside, the tall trees stand like a Hollywood facade; behind them wasteland of cut down trees. So the traveler doesn’t see what really is going on. Frankly, I have no clue what a peanut or pecan tree or plant looks like. Perhaps, biological manipulation has created trees here that grow all 3 P’s at the same time.
Montezuma has one Budget Inn, this one looks like it dates back to the old DH times! Time to stop. Architecture to stop for: well preserved small Main Street. Gone with the Wind Ante Bellum houses which could have seen Ronald Reagan carry his Southern Belle to the hay in the old barn next door.
I come to rest in a comfortable bed in the DH Inn, thinking I am the only revenue for the night for the old Indian / Pakistani / Bangladesh couple cranking a meager living out of it. I had to think again and hadn’t counted on the thin walls of cheap building of depression times. Late at night, doors of a car slamming, then the door of the room next to me. The couple wastes no time and goes for it right away. She tries hard, won’t come, lots of talk and debate, blaring TV for a while; try again, she gets what she wants. The X-rating of my room came at no extra charge. Quiet the small hours become. Except for the freight trains that push their whistling way through the night between my bed and MS cooling of outside my door.

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