We are driving to Florida, mostly because I feel that my kid needs to have in his memory banks the recollection of a long car trip sometime in his childhood, and the manifold sensory impressions that entails. As anyone above the age of 25 can tell you, these memories are not always pleasant, but they are almost always durable. The boredom, the rest areas, the stories read, hearing your parents singing the B52’s, and the hotel beds all blend together to create a memory package of someone who may not have had a blissful vacation, but who has traveled.
Each trip of mine makes its own impression on me as well, and expresses itself later in the snapshots of memory that bubble up weeks, months, or years later. This time I’m observing the transformation of the world from Indiana to Florida. The slate grey cold gives way first to a less dense cloud cover somewhere in Kentucky, and then by Tennessee you say to yourself “Hmm. It may not be particularly warm here in the winter, but at least it’s sunny.” Atlanta is only slightly refrigerated, and by south Georgia the air is decidedly balmy, if not outright warm. From there, the temperature inches up a degree at a time, and at some point, you’ve escaped the winter altogether.
I’m also noticing the Southern-ness of the South more than I usually do, perhaps because this is the first time in a long while that I’ve spent any time traveling through it, after having lived there for several years when I was younger. I always fight with myself in the South, because it’s so lovely and the weather is so pleasing, and yet I find the overtly conservative religiosity of the place suffocating. The struggle between repressed human drives erupts all along the highways in Georgia, where signs for adult superstores and billboards that say “Strippers, need we say more?” argue with billboards offering travelers their choice between peach cobbler and pecan pie, and reminding us that the blood of Jesus is the only cure for our innumerable sins — all within the same quarter mile.
And I wonder what the billboard authors would have made of the trucker I encountered while we were stopped in standstill traffic in Louisville. The cab of his semi was painted as a near shrine to the Twilight series, complete with a drop of blood clinging to the “g”. He saw me observing his handiwork, and he rolled his window down. “Hey,” he shouted, gesturing to us to put our window down and address his question. He pointed to our tow hook. “Is that thing retractable?”
Travis and I were confused. I mean, who cares about our tow hook, right? “No,” Travis said uncertainly. The Twilight trucker nodded. “I’d be running that thing into my garage door constantly,” he said. He grinned broadly – and that’s when we saw it – the Twilight trucker had fangs. Actual fangs. Somewhere there is a dentist who created a set of fangs for an over-the-road trucker obsessed with Twilight.
And it strikes me that he might be more interested than I am in the health benefits of the blood of Jesus.