Road trip to the South

When we checked on airfare and car rental prices last November for a planned February vacation in Florida, they were through the roof.

With low mileage on our leased Honda and a free place to stay in Savannah, we decided a 1,200-mile road trip was an experiment worth trying.

It was an unsettling time for a vacation, a madman hurling bombs and rockets into Ukraine and threatening anyone who would dare intervene, but off we went, hurtling down the vehicular sluiceway of I-95 toward warm weather.

From Fairfield to Richmond, Va., I-95 is a familiar free-for-all of rumbling Kenworths and the reckless weavers in their cars.

But below Richmond, the road takes a more gentel turn. The 18-wheelers thin out, the RV presence picks up and the billboards multiply among the pines and gums that line the road.

Simply astonishing how the come-ons for fireworks and X-rated toy and book shops proliferate. And in competition with these temptations of the temporal life, the biblical warnings, some of them wrathful, also hang in the pines alongside the road.

“REPENT” we were administered with regularity.

“Find Peace — Surrender to Jesus.”

Like glyphs left from an ancient age — pre-January 6 — red-white-and-blue “Trump-Pence” billboards stood here and there, some tilted on decaying frames.

Savannah is a beautiful city, its majestic oaks — the state tree of Georgia — festooned with Spanish moss. Our friends’ home is on Skidaway Island, no more than 20 minutes from downtown.

It was good to be in Georgia, the home of a man whose face should be on a stamp — Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state and a Republican, who refused to wilt under the hot breath — and delusions — of Donald Trump in the aftermath of Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election.

There is no one “Florida.” The state is as varied as it gets. The horse country in the north, with its cupolas, stables, paddocks and tracks is elegant. In Ocala, you could take in The Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing. Palm Beach, on the east coast, is the land of Bentleys and Rolls Royces, not so many double-wides.

But heading south, as the billboards increasingly pitch fireworks, BBQ and “Live Baby Gators,” the tired trailer parks and shacks are visible behind the veil of trees.

On one stretch of southbound I-95, Google maps showed a ghostly gray line running parallel with I-95. That is Route 301, once the main north-south route from Delaware to Florida.

It brought commerce to the small towns. But 95 changed all that. On a number of legs on our trip, we found ourselves on 301, moving through small towns that held the husks of shuttered motels and tumbledown shops.

What had largely replaced the abandoned businesses was an amalgam of Waffle Houses, dollar stores, X-rated entertainment venues and used car lots.

It was also reassuring on this trip to know that wherever you may be, there will be a politician looking to amuse.

By way of supporting the local troops — the enemies of the people, if you will — I buy the local newspaper.

In Sarasota, Fla., our destination, the newspaper is the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner with a strong editorial voice.

Only a day or two into our stay came the story of Martin Hyde, a Republican congressional candidate in Florida. A Sarasota County sheriff’s officer pulled him over for speeding and texting while speeding. What ensued was the usual:

“You know who I am?” the wannabe member of Congress inquired. He knows the chief, of course, and the supervisor he insisted come to the scene. When the officer replied that she was doing her job, Mr. Hyde replied that that job thing could be in jeopardy, too.

Pretty standard stuff for a certain type. But Herald-Tribune columnist Christopher Anderson, with a sharp eye for the not so usual, pointed out that Mr. Hyde’s vanity plate was MH007. You’d think that for a Mister Hyde that MH-DRJ would be a better fit.

So, as much as 007 tried to intimidate the female officer, Anderson concluded his column by noting the officer was “neither shaken nor stirred.” I wrote Anderson a note in which I freely confessed to my envy at that line.

We spent a month in the warmth of Siesta Key, a laid-back Gulf Coast enclave of tiki bars and plump oysters just below Sarasota.

On the three-day trip home, we laid over once again on Skidaway Island, just outside downtown Savannah.

On return, somewhere in Westchester County, nearing the Connecticut line, we picked up radio station WPKN, 89.5 on your FM dial, and, like a warm, personal welcome, we heard the dulcet pipes of an old friend, jazz man Giacomo Gates, of Bridgeport, singing a cut from his latest album.

But our true welcome to being back in Connecticut occurred the morning after our arrival: 34 degrees on the back porch thermometer.

Michael J. Daly is retired editor of the Opinion page of the Connecticut Post. E-mail:

mjdwrite@aol.com

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