“I took the expressway out to the track, driving very fast and jumping the monster car back and forth between lanes, driving with a beer in one hand and my mind so muddled that I almost crushed a Volkswagen full of nuns when I swerved to catch the right exit.”
— Hunter S. Thompson, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved”
The imposing houses and lawns of Milledge give way to highway; the city gives way to three hours of country, the pastoral landscape of a Jason Aldean song — or a Chevy pickup commercial.
It’s the road south, and it’s Georgia-Florida weekend.
We’re going past tired towns most of the way. Tired houses; cracked paint. Briary fields of white cotton.
For 50 miles a tractor trailer hauling a Walmart load — “We sell for less — Always!” — charges forward ahead of us, bound for who knows where.
Two tons of civilization and rock-bottom prices tearing down the highway — reinforcements for the stalwarts in the wilderness.
There’s little conversation in the car. We shift around in our seats, trying to find a comfortable position (especially difficult for me — I spent the morning in Atlanta, so I’d been on the road all day). “Comfortable” is a losing proposition for five grown men in a five-seat car.
My phone buzzes in a text from my dad. He says the weather forecast for Jacksonville is 75 to 90 mile per hour winds on Friday and Saturday. He tells me to stay out of the surf.
I’m not too concerned. Not for my health. You’re only in college and invincible once.
Concerned about my first Georgia-Florida weekend? Yeah, a little.
But if I know the crowd that’s making the pilgrimage to pay homage to Saint Simon, gale-force winds will deter them little.
I can see the headlines and fliers: “2,000 Greeks washed out to sea — Scores of Athens bars out of business overnight” and “Have you seen this bro? Last seen funneling in five-foot swells.”
Horrible carnage on the beach. Unconscious bodies. Garbage everywhere. Yeah, that’s a good thought — maybe the hurricane will miss entirely.
After a several hour dry spell coming out of Athens, we begin to pass familiar cars. Not familiar in the immediate sense (except for one speeding car of Tri-Delts we knew, and flagged down), but familiar in the quotidian sense. University of Georgia stickers and Greek letters. Cobb County license plates. Heads bobbing to bass-heavy music in the windows.
ECV gridlock familiar.
We pull off to a truck stop McDonald's for a college man’s dinner. The adjoining convenience store is stocked up the walls with Americana. Flavored pork rinds and a candy shop’s display of chewing tobacco cans. Novelty mugs and dime novels (Westerns) and that leg lamp from A Christmas Story (really).
A goth couple sits in tall stools by the entrance. The boy is wearing a purple cape. The girl is wearing a mini top hat and six-inch, fully-platform heels — my God, this is becoming a Hunter S. Thompson piece.
Maybe they are going to a costume party. One can hope.
Willie Nelson walks in behind us, an old man with the grizzled look and ponytail of a ‘Nam veteran. He is carrying the biggest coffee mug I’ve ever seen — 64,000 fluid ounces of stainless steel with a telescoping base and maybe a minesweeper hidden somewhere.
A middle-aged lecher strikes up a one-sided conversation with two sorority girls who wear the squinty-eyed smile of polite discomfort.
We eat and leave. It’s dark, and not too long before we reach our destination — beautiful Brunswick, Ga. No telling if it’s beautiful — too dark. My money is on “not beautiful.”
As we pull into the Best Western parking lot, we see a pair of hunched-over college girls steal into the hotel via a side entrance, where they’ll undoubtedly retire to a two-bed suite with their 70 other roommate-conspirators.
I’ll retire to my own bed. More tomorrow.
— Blake Seitz is the opinions editor of The Red & Black