Take Me Home, Country Roads

Location: Grayville, Illinois

I wanted to cover a lot of miles today, but I didn’t want to retrace my steps. I chose a more northerly route through America’s heartland.

Add Highway 52 in Virginia to the list of tops highways in America. It was a sunny morning and the car and I were in fine fettle. I headed north from Winston-Salem with a full tank of gas and a desire to see the world. I flew around the curves, through clouds of leaves, slowing down for pretty little towns with their pretty little churches. I was awash in the smells of the land.

Not far out of the city, before the road got really interesting, there was a smell it took me a moment to place. Tobacco. Sure enough, the next exit was Tobaccoville. North I went. The road got twisty and turny and the air was heavy with the smell of leaves decaying, making the rich loam that would slumber through the winter and fuel the spring. I turned off the tunes in favor of birdsong. Passing through one of the little towns I breathed in the smell of fresh-mown grass as I passed an old man on his tractor.

One cool part about this stretch of highway 52 is that it is not the best way to get from point A to Point B. There is I-77, which is much more efficient. There were stretches of several miles of perfect driving road in which I saw not a single soul. Sure, I’m trying to cross an entire continent, but I wanted to see more of what the east is like. What are their contributions to the new pantheon?

Interstate 77 turns into a toll road in West Virginia. I’m a cheap bastard, and I was having fun on 52 so I decided to stay to the little road. I’ll tell you this, I don’t know what the West Virginia Turnpike costs, but if you’re trying to get anywhere it’s worth it. Highway 52 in West Virginia take you along a rail line, through little coal towns nestled in valleys, strange combinations of postcard views flanked by run-down and abandoned buildings. (According to a political ad I heard more than once today, West Virginia is the only state whose population has declined since 1950.)

As I passed the mines I was met by the acrid, acidic smell of the coal, and in one town I saw a man whose job it was to scrape the coal dust paste from the street gutters.

On this part of the highway there is no alternate route, and people drive at a maximum of 45 no matter what the posted speed limit is. I spent long, long hours watching the ass end of mal-tuned pickup or a Buick with no visible driver. I lost a lot of time, but now that I’m here I’m glad I did it. I’d read about that country, but I’m glad I got a slow view of it, even if it was a driveby. I drove by a lot of photos, but that would have slowed me down just too much.

The final smell I picked up driving top-up in the light rain as I drove through southern Indiana in the darkness. Fertilizer clogged my nostrils. It was worse even than Clovis.

6 thoughts on “Take Me Home, Country Roads

  1. Not sure when Lee & Marianna go back to Prague and Jerry comes back to the (mostly Republican) States, but we hope you can be in Albuquerque on January 8.

    This morning early I was awakened by what sounded like falling aluminum cans. Opened the garage door in time to witness steam rising from the Deluge. Water heater valve had been shot across the garage, leaving water heater to discharge its entire contents and them some like a bulimic on steroids. Shut off water, turned off heat, called plumber, spent two hours emptying garage so I could remove the sodden, heavy carpet that the previous owner had placed. Then had cold shampoo in sink and short very cold shower. Aaargh.

    Sunday at least good news of Gerald making all-state Concert Orchestra. He’ll play Popejoy Hall on Sat., January 8, 2005, so we want you there! This was after bad news Saturday of Gerald breaking his string bass. Today I borrowed another one from the school for him to use for practice at home.

    Now if only Lee can get here before Carol Anne drinks up all the Negro Modelo and Pilsner Urquell. (Those and Bohemia are the closest things we have to Pivo C^esky.)


  2. Actually, Pat wasn’t around when the plumber came to replace the water heater … he said the pressure valve at the top of the tank had failed, and that’s why the drain faucet blew.

    El Caballero got a really good pressure wash of the right-front tire and fender. But somewhere along the way, a four-footed somebody left muddy pawprints all over the windshield. It was a pampered indoor-only somebody with fur growing between the paw pads, and with dainty little paws. Dulce says Tres did it, and Tres says Dulce did it.

    Meanwhile, that route 52 … where exactly does it go? I have my novel characters taking the same route as the Cardinal (passenger train, very scenic), but the atlas I’m using isn’t a road atlas, so it just shows the roads and not their numbers. Does Highway 52 travel alongside the tracks that go from Cincinnati to Washington?

    Oh, and Lee, don’t worry about the beer. We can get more.

  3. I was tempted to take the cardinal, but they don’t carry cars. The section of 52 that I drove through West Virginia runs up from the south along the Kentucky border. Amtrak passes through Huntington, I think, which is were I left 52 and joined the freeway.

  4. This is just a test of the ??” ?zech mode on my computer, and whether haloscan will displaz the characters correctly. Switching the z and the y is not very nice.


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