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Thoughts from the Southern road
by Gene Owens

Ruminations of a Dixie road warrior just back from a Southern expedition:

* If the inn advertises "Free HBO" or "Nice, clean rooms," you know you're not looking at a four-star accommodation.

* If the restaurant billboard says "couples welcome," assume that the waitresses' aprons don't have bibs.

* If the sign says "family restaurant," expect to order and eat between yawns.

* Truck drivers on the Interstates maintain average speeds somewhere close to the speed limit: 90 mph on the downgrades and 55 mph on the upgrades, which averages out at 72.5 mph.

* Speed limit signs on Interstates are there for entertainment purposes. Fifty-five miles per hour through a construction zone? Tell me another funny story.

* Speed limit signs on rural two-lane highways are badges of distinction for small towns. It gives them bragging rights over crossroads with nothing to slow you down . It takes ingenuity to squeeze 55 mph, 45 mph and 35 mph speed zones into "city limits" 500 yards apart. But some towns do it.

* If you're driving rural two-lanes on Sunday, don't drink coffee before you leave. The rarest commodity is an open gas station with a decent restroom. You can take a chance on turning into an isolated dirt road, but you might find yourself driving into the front yard of a mobile home.

* You know you're far from urban surroundings when the town's post office is a mobile home -- a single-wide at that.

* No food you can buy at convenience store is good for your blood pressure.

* Boiled peanuts are the best snack food on the Southern roadside, but make sure the price includes a container for the hulls. Unless you enjoy riding in a soggy car.

* Nobody has thought up an original name for a street, road, restaurant, motel or subdivision during the past 75 years. How many Pirates Coves can you count between Wilmington and West Palm Beach?

* If a town is big enough to have a city limits sign, it's big enough for a festival. My favorite is the Allendale County Cooter Fest in Allendale County, S. C. It features cooter races, guaranteed to be more exciting than any NASCAR event between Darlington and Daytona. As the festival's web site puts it, "We not only watch 'em on logs, we also catch 'em, race 'em, and sometimes eat 'em." If you don't know what a cooter is, it means you're from Up North. Down here, it's the common name for a native turtle.

* If a town is big enough to draw a crowd on Saturdays, it's big enough to have a football bowl "classic," such as the Golden Isles Classic Bowl in Brunswick, Ga. A "classic," according to my battery of dictionaries, is "a creation of highest excellence," which is what you'd expect of a town that sits by Sidney Lanier's "liberal marshes of Glynn" (the only things liberal in this part of Georgia). Anyhow, without the Sea Isles Classic Bowl, what would the athletes of Georgia Military College and Copiah-Lincoln Community College have been doing this past Dec. 2?

* If you miss the Sea Isles Classic Bowl in early December, take I-95 north one hundred miles or so past South of the Border and drift a few miles east to the corner of Cucumber and Vine in Mount Olive, N. C. Be there at 7 p.m. on Dec. 31. That's midnight Greenwich Mean Time, and in case you haven't noticed, Dec. 31 is New Year's Eve. At precisely that time, a 3-foot-long lighted pickle will drop into a redwood pickle tank. The festivities begin at 6 p.m. and end at 7:05 so that the good citizens of Mount Olive can be in bed at their usual time.

* Anybody who would ride a motorcycle on an Interstate highway at 85 mph would go skydiving without a parachute.

* If your trip takes you through Atlanta, forget the Perimeter. I-85 through the city is less insane, especially if you take the high-occupancy-vehicle lane reserved for vehicles with two or more passengers (dogs don't count).

* Alabama state troopers get the gold star for courtesy. I was pulled over somewhere north of Montgomery recently and found myself sandwiched between two state police cars. I expected to be ordered out of the car, hands on the roof, even though I had South Carolina plates. The cop didn't even ask for my driver's license. He simply told me, "Your gas door is open." He closed it for me on the way back to his car. It took a while for my heart to descend from my throat.

* North Carolinians have the strongest attachment for their state. When they're driving their own rural highways, they take it slow, savoring every mile. When they go out of state, they drive like maniacs to get back.

I gotta go. I see a car in my rear view flying an N.C. State banner, and it looks like the driver may be pickled.

Just kidding, North Carolinians. Folks who can produce barbecue as good as yours are entitled to drive any way they please.


Gene Owens has been around the Southern journalistic scene for 48 years. He has been senior associate editor of The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., and editorial-page editor of the Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Va.

As senior editor for Creative Services, a management consulting firm in High Point, N. C., he ghosted more than a dozen published books for professional clients. For the past nine years he has been assistant managing editor, political editor and columnist for the Mobile Register. Register readers named him their favorite local columnist, and readers of the independent regional magazine, Bay Weekly, agreed. He was runner-up in the regional Green Eyeshades competition among writers of humor columns.

He has been on the board of directors of the National Conference of Editorial Writers and was editor of The Masthead, the NCEW’s national quarterly. He is in semi-retirement in Anderson, S. C.

Read more of Gene's entertaining columns:
Warning: Raspberry running ant is coming!
Polaroid fades into history
A Tribute to Johnny Cash
Roy Moore at the Courthouse Door
All about Gene and Greasepit Grammar
Greasepit Grammar: Misplaced modifiers
Greasepit Grammar: Inertia can get you
Greasepit Grammar: Drinking and dranking
Greasepit Grammar: A Pronominal grand slam
The Wal-Mart Paradox
Taking a week off from retirement to do nothing
Insulation reduces mouse mortality rate
Flocking South with the snowbirds
Juicy Fruit will gum up the mole works
Dan Rather and the Texas truth
Putting on the dog!
The scars turned to flowers
If only our forefathers had used attack ads
Decent 'dogs
Ah for the life of a Freegan

Write Gene Owens at 317 Braeburn Drive, Anderson SC 29621 or e-mail him at WadesDixieCo@aol.com

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