Stirring up memories
On the (back) road
April 26, 2006
I like to stop in Preston for lunch on my trips to and from Atlanta. There's Mom Café with a mural of the Last Supper painted on the outside wall and inside generous servings of "a meat and two sides." Buena Vista beckons, too. There I can choose between the spicy and authentic Mexican food at Azteca or head across the square to Aunt Mary's Kitchen for the classic meat and sides. Plus I can plunge back decades during a visit to the Dime Store or drop in next door for a chat with folk artist Rocky Wade. Wait a minute. You haven't noticed Preston or Buena Vista on your way to Atlanta? I-75? US27 to Columbus and on to Atlanta? Where are they?
Folks around here say, in fact, I believe I have read it in the very pages of the Post-Searchlight, that there is no good way to drive to Atlanta. None. The choices are two and both are scary—dangerous and scary.
Until a few weeks ago, I agreed. In fact, I was part of the chorus. Since daughter Katy moved to Atlanta several years ago, I've been a frequent traveler there, and I didn't like my options. I could drive through Albany to Cordele then climb on to I-75 and play killer tag with eighteen-wheelers or, likely as not, sit for an hour or two waiting for a humongous collision to be cleared. (Be sure and make a pit stop before getting on the Interstate.) The other option was to make my way to Columbus—I've tried every back road, then zip on I-185, hence I-85 to be carried along by way-too-fast traffic into Atlanta.
A few weeks ago I decided I'd done it one time too many. I'd made a solo run to pick up granddog Mannie for a visit with his Uncle Frank.
I don't know how old my white Jeep is in car-years; she's certainly no youngster. She doesn't enjoy, or even like, going way too fast in heavy-duty traffic. She hates it. So do I. I had to push her twenty miles over the speed limit to keep from getting honked at in the slow lane. It was a little breezy. We bounced and swayed like in a bad dream. The Jeep complained more than I did.
Time to leave on Sunday afternoon, and I looked at Mannie—all eighty-some pounds of him. He's affectionate and sometimes a bit nervous. Loud noises, sudden turns, swerves or stops make him more nervous. Then he wants to move from the passenger seat (no back seat for my man, Mannie) into my lap. Suddenly the picture of driving the white Jeep with a black Lab in my lap at ninety miles an hour shot across my mind. That's not a bad dream; that's a nightmare!
The idea of gridlock on I-75 with same dog in my lap or needing a potty break? No!
"I'm stuck." I told Katy. "I can't go home either way."
Her eyes darted. She grimaced. She thought I meant I wasn't going home at all. I didn't let her suffer too long. I took my tattered Georgia map and using her yardstick drew a line from Atlanta to Bainbridge.
"Would you look at that? It's almost a straight shot from the airport to our house." Katy looked dubious, but it would get the me—and Mannie—out of the house and on the road. We used the city map to plot my way across the metropolis from her place in Grant Park. We hit on the road.
It worked. I've made two more round trips, and I've got it. There is a good way to get from here to Atlanta in the car. Plus, there are two ways to do it. Pack food and keep going with maybe one stop. Bob and I tried that recently. From the intersection of I-75 and GA85 near the Atlanta airport to the intersection of US84 and West River Road—the odometer measured 215 miles and our elapsed time was 3 hours and 45 minutes. We did stop for a big Sunday lunch in Buena Vista—but we didn't count that in. Sure does beat a two hour wait in an I-75 traffic snarl, and we saw lots of lovely Georgia countryside.
Even better than our speedy trip home had been our more leisurely drives up a couple of times. Come join us as we meander through Georgia. (It's going to be so lazy that it is going to take me two columns to get us to Atlanta.) There's only one warning—don't try this the first time at night or in bad weather. I've put my driving instructions in the adjacent box.
Get yourself to Leary. We go the really, really back roads. Some of them seem to be unnamed, but they are all good and offer a straight shot. Once in Leary, there's not a lot to do, but after some 45 miles, you may want to stretch your legs. We did spot out a library. I asked the fellow working in the yard about hours. I thought that probably there weren't any, but he assured me that they are open every afternoon. Some day when I hit town during their open hours, I'll stop in for a look around—maybe I can donate some books.
Head west on Highway 37 and in no time you are in Morgan, the county seat of Calhoun County. Take time to circle the square and admire the first of many courthouses that appear on the route. Two cities in the county are larger than Morgan with its population of around 1500 people. You certainly know that the county was named for Vice-President of the United States, John C. Calhoun. But did you know that Morgan is named for a Revolutionary War hero, Daniel Morgan?
Morgan, whose home was in Winchester, Virginia, received a gold medal from Congress for his leadership in the victory over the British at Cow Pens (sometimes Cowpens), South Carolina on January 17, 1781. Later he served in Congress as a Representative. No one seems quite sure why a small town in Southwest Georgia is named for this hero.
If you didn't stop in Leary, there are a couple of good options in Morgan before you search out Georgia Highway 45 (this is a little tricky, but well marked) for about half a mile before picking up GA41 and heading north again.
The next town is Shellman. It's not as big as Morgan—almost, about 1,100 folks. It's worth a drive through though to see the beautiful old railroad station. Right across the tracks the Post Office with its billowing flag will take you back to the 1940s or 50s. We arrived too early for lunch, but a crowd was beginning to gather at the Back Porch Restaurant. Turn left at the bright red building on the highway. And good to know for weekend travel—they are open until 2 on Sunday.
Just out of Shellman, where Highway 41 crosses US82, keep your eyes alert for a historic marker on your right. It tells the tale of the Battle of Echowanochaway Creek (as it is spelled here), where on July 27, 1836 the settlers of Randolph County had their last encounter with hostile Creek Indians. At the end of the battle, three settlers and eighteen Creeks lay dead in the swampy land. The battle took place on the creek banks about five miles northeast of the marker.
Go on through tiny Weston. Here you'll cross Highway 520. If you've had enough of back roads, turn left for Columbus.
But don't. This is where the land begins to roll. The scenery gets better and better as you head into Lannahassee in Kinchafoonee County. Where? It's changed its name. Now it's Preston, the county seat of Webster County where the Confederate flag was raised in Georgia for the first time. Preston is home to a lovely courthouse on the National Register of Historic Places. Mom's Kitchen promising "Good Ole Home Style Cooking" sits across the street. It's the place to meet some good Kinchafoonee, I mean Webster, County residents any day but Sunday. Be sure to drive around to the far side of the building and enjoy the murals of a family picnic and the Last Supper.
Fact is, it's a good place to stop and linger over a cup of coffee. I'll continue this trans-Georgia adventure in the another Stirring up memories.
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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network