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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Remembering Washington to Miami

August 20, 2014

For those who took to the highways this summer it might be fun to remember another day, another time, when auto travel wasn’t grueling, but an adventure and a chance to explore the country's  back roads.

It helped to be young and fearless.

I made many trips to the University of Miami, Fla. where I was a student. It was before completion of Interstate 95 so the trip took me through the deep South along two-lane roads and small towns.

Looking back, they were legendary journeys, all-nighters; no stopping and no sleeping. Without fail, each trip had its own story, filled with laughter, misfortune, luck, and were always a version of ‘The Breakfast Club’.

There was never any forethought or planning given to making the 1,000 mile expedition. At no time, did I check the tires, change the oil, or make sure I had water and a blanket before leaving. I just left. There were no cell phones or any other way of reaching me once on the road; it was as if I was venturing to the opposite side of the moon.

I drove a 1966 Pontiac GTO (three deuces, a four-speed and a 389), but sometimes I was a passenger, sharing the cost and driving with another student. There were “compatibility issues’ always and sometimes I traveled with people I met from a bulletin board.

Still, there was something adventurous and romantic about the trip. We drove straight-through, switching drivers when someone got tired, stopping only for fast-food and gas which was 29 cents a gallon. This meant long stretches in all hours of the day and night, and through many changes of the weather.

I learned another thing, Brook Benton was right, it's always a 'Rainy Night in Georgia."

We laughed and talked all the way, and were consumed with searching the radio dial to keep the music going. The only stretch of Interstate 95 completed was a small portion in the state of Florida, and some parts of Virginia around Washington DC.  Mostly, we traveled through farmland between small villages in the rural South.

We kept a keen lookout when traveling through North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia for local police or anyone else we considered weird. Cops in those states were notorious for harassing students commuting to or from college. The roads were bad and we could rarely go over 50 mph, except to pass a slower moving car or truck.

Local restaurants were dingy and dirty, and the restrooms weren’t much better. I inadvertently left my high school graduation ring atop the sink in one of those grimy facilities, realizing it too late to go back and get it.

On another trip, high school friends, Peyton Wells, and his brother Freddie, decided on a whim during a New Year’s Eve party to make the trip with me the next day. So, bright and early on New Years’ Day I arrived at their house where I found them just returning from the night of celebration.

They threw a suitcase together, and climbed into the back seat of my GTO. Peyton quickly fell asleep and didn’t reawaken until High Point, North Carolina, only vaguely remembering what he committed to and where he was going.

These journeys were also teaching moments. It’s hard to forget the sight of rural southern poverty on display so openly along the back roads of the route. There was a sense of seeing and understanding a part of the country that's now 'gone with the wind'; the uncharted, segregated rural deep South.

Those memories remain vivid today.