A three state day
Monday, June 17, 2013
It was a strenuous, but great, drive. I set off with the roof down, for the sheer pleasure of the warm Mississippi morning. I soon had another encounter with the law when I was pulled over a few miles before the Alabama state line. There was a ritual dance as the cruiser sat behind me waiting for me to do something. I drove steadily at 69mph for about a mile before he put on his lights anyway. The young officer immediately told me he was going to "make no trouble" but was just curious about the "beautiful car". I told him my story, he thanked me and wished me well. He didn't even ask to see my papers. It was the first stop for a while and easily the most genial - though all the others were friendly too. He sat patiently waiting for me to pull back out onto the busy I-10 and I didn't see him again.
I stopped at the Alabama welcome center and was warmly welcomed by the charming lady in charge. I selected a leaflet about local food - as lunch was my only anticipated activity in her state. Judging by the information on offer, I have missed a lot - which is pretty much the norm for this trip.
I chatted happily for a while with a charming Arkansas family who asked to take pictures of Speranza. I invited the three youngsters to sit inside while their dad took their photos and showed them Speranza's "party trick" (coupé to open tourer in 14 seconds flat). They seemed like really nice people and I regretted, as I have so often during such conversations, that I had not seen more of their state to talk about with them. On the Great River Road section of my tour, Arkansas - you may recall - got very short shrift indeed.
I saw a bit of small-town Alabama on my way to my micro-visit to Florida and was impressed. I drove past rather beautiful upscale houses as well as neat smaller ones. The businesses, closed for Sunday, looked clean and prosperous. The various church car parks were packed with clean, shiny vehicles - for once no pick-up trucks. I stopped for a drink and some wifi at the local Burger King and was approached by impeccably dressed and polite locals, presumably on their way from Church, to enquire about Speranza. When I told them what I was up to they were enthusiastic and encouraging and welcomed me to "the real South" and its famous hospitality. The senior lady of the family group looked briely quite shocked when I explained just how little time I was giving Alabama, her sweet home. Her mask of polite interest quickly returned however.
The little bit of Florida I saw was a real contrast. The north-western corner of the Florida panhandle seemed a rather seedier place - or maybe that was just the rather sleazy "state line" shops? I have spent time in Florida before on family vacations and - although I have never really liked the atmosphere of the place - I didn't remember it that way at all. It was a reminder that no serious conclusions can really be drawn from my random samplings of such big, diverse places as the American states. If that was all I had seen of Florida in my life, I would have thought of it as a sad, poor place and would - obviously - have been wrong. I may be just as wrong in my impressions of the other states (e.g. North Dakota, Arkansas) that I sampled in only homeopathic quantities.
It was a long slog across Alabama. I had another pleasant encounter with the law when a sergeant driving an "interdiction" vehicle joked at a gas station that he wanted to drive my car around the block. I answered smilingly (and truthfully) that I had been advised that the correct response to a US lawman was "Yes, officer." He laughed but didn't take me up on it. We had the usual conversation about the perceived difficulties of driving a right-hand drive car on the right side of the road and he sent me on my way with his best wishes.
I enjoyed the lush, fertile-looking countryside but not the Sunday traffic of RVs, boat-towing trucks and "mommy vans". Having already stopped for a break at Georgia's Welcome Center (where I had another pleasant chat with a family curious about Speranza who welcomed me to their state), I took another break at a rest stop as I felt I was losing alertness. After stretching my legs for 30 minutes I hit the road again refreshed with only 125 miles to go. I was ready for another rest by the time I hit Atlanta - and delighted when it was an hour earlier than I expected. This was only because my clever satnav had updated its clock- and therefore its prediction of my arrival time - to the local time zone. My watch and Speranza's onboard clocks however, were still on Mississippi time.
Tomorrow I stay with a friend; a former luminary of the Moscow real estate market now retired back home to the States. I have treated myself to a "proper" smart hotel as opposed to a roadside inn, so I should be well rested for the short hop to his home. Having called for room service, I am certainly better fed than usual. And Speranza is being treated as she deserves, having been installed in place of honour outside the main entrance, rather than parked in the garage with the automotive hoi polloi.