Keeping It Between the Ditches


Originally published on May 29, 2019 in the Tribune & Georgian

Well that flew by. Another school year in the books. Congrats to all the graduates, from the Happy Apples to the High School and everyone in between and beyond. Graduation is a special time and my hat is off to you.

Summertime is indeed upon us here in beautiful Southeast Georgia. Our mild six month winter has in the last week spontaneously combusted into something out of the Grapes of Wrath. The yoke of high temperatures and drought strapped to anyone who dare venture outdoors. Yellow flies lurking at every corner. Stifling heat. Nary a drop of water. The only breeze coming off the wings of a trillion sand gnats as they flap their tiny wings. Even so it still beats Jersey by a longshot.

Okay, so maybe its not quite Grapes of Wrath dire out there, but it is undoubtedly hot and dry, and here's to hoping by the time this goes to print we will get some rain here in Camden.

Summer marks the beginning of road trip season. Families and individuals traveling here and there, seeing this and that. One of my favorite pastimes on a good road trip is to take the back roads. The "short cut," as my kids call it. I enjoy passing through those off-the-beaten path places. For everything the Eisenhower interstate system has done for travel, one negative is the lack of scenery. Nothing in my estimation is quite as relaxing as blowing through the countryside, windows down, Tom Petty on the radio.

Of course, you'll need to stay hydrated and nourished. Ergo that old vestige of the back road, the mom and pop gas station. Independent. Non corporate. Still owned and operated within the community. These old gas stations are typically the pulse of the town. You can glean all sorts of "locals only" type information within these sacred walls.

A simple "how bout it" upon entering will be your secret code word to the man or woman at the counter that you, weary traveler, while an unfamiliar face use as a familiar type greeting. There may be a handful of old men at a back table, drinking coffee and shooting the breeze. No old gas station is complete without "the gathering." Truly a beautiful sight.

Take a glance around. You'll find things not typically found in your corporate type gas station. Bullets. Fishing lures. Exotic type soft drinks. If you're in farm country, chances are you'll see the Mexican version of coca cola, a "Mexican coke." A delicious elixir, still made with real sugar and not corn syrup like our Coke here in the United States. Takes you back to your childhood. You'll notice a pleasant aroma wafting from the back. It might smell of fried chicken or fresh biscuits or hamburgers or all of the above.

I challenge you to find a better biscuit than the ones they serve at the gas station in between Glennville and Ludowici. Still homemade. Flaky, steaming goodness. I heard of a man once who was traveling from Swainsboro to the coast. He got to Baxley and though hungry he decided to press on. Almost a fatal mistake. By the time he reached the Little Satilla bridge due south of Patterson he was nearly starved out. Fortunately for our friend he was able to reach Country Boys Mini Mall in the hamlet of Bristol, there at the crossroads. Upon entering he was introduced to perfection in the form of fried okra and fried yard bird.

For those of us lucky enough to have grown up in the golden age of gas station cuisine, we are thankful that these beacons still exist here and there, neon lighthouses out on that rural horizon. A short trip within our own county will reveal a few of these places. Venture out a few hours in any direction and you'll find even more still. I mean, imagine if travelers on 95 knew to venture off the interstate to Tarboro on a Thursday night for home cooking. Or the bosom of downtown Waverly at lunch. Or to hit US 17 in Mcintosh and detour to Shellman Bluff for the best fried shrimp on the planet and some of the prettiest scenery around. Sometimes the adventure isn't only in the destination but in the getting there.

Those byways and backroads are calling. The summer is ripe for some new adventures.