Round America 50-State Road Trip – Savannah, Georgia to St. Augustine, Florida

Interstated and Ticketed – Day 3

From beautifully-preserved Savannah Georgia, we traveled down two-lane roads with skeletons of businesses put under by the Interstate highways.

We expected a let-down today after such a special day in Savannah yesterday.  We got it.

According to Mr. Rand and Mr. McNally, the distance from Savannah to Saint Augustine is only 180 miles.  It took us 12 hours to get there, so we averaged just 15 miles an hour (though we ended up driving over 350 miles, so we actually averaged about 30 mph).

I recall passing just one vehicle all day.  I hadn’t had a ticket in 9 years, and I had decided to drive at or under the speed limit throughout this trip.  After all, we were driving on two-lane roads to see the sights…not racing to get somewhere.

So it was the lowlight of the day when Officer Vincent Passarelli of Kingsland, Georgia claimed I was driving 55 in a 35.  I was just driving along at the same speed as a bunch of other folks.  Officer Passarelli admitted he was coming from the opposite direction, so he decided to stop the little white convertible instead of any of a variety of pickup trucks and SUV’s.  I joked with him that we had driven only 500 miles of 25,000, and at this rate, I would lose my license before we hit Alabama.  He didn’t laugh.

I tried to get him to let me take his picture, but he refused.  We did manage to get a shot of a sign nearby that said: “Speed Checked by Radar.”  On our Trip Scorecard, I budgeted 0 (zero) traffic tickets, so we are way over budget, and it’s only day 3.

I’m afraid my focus will now have to be on speed signs to avoid seeing more flashing lights in the rearview mirror.  There are a never-ending number of speed limit changes on the two-lane roads that pass through so many towns.

The day began well enough five or six hours earlier, though we got away from the hotel much later than we should have.  Sunny and 75-degrees, so another lovely day.  We drove around the Historic District of Savannah for an hour or so looking at homes for sale, and we saw some nice ones.

We stopped for gas, and we were delighted when we found it was an old-fashioned full-service station.  Thomas pumped our gas, cleaned our windows, and helped me clean the bugs off the front of the car.

We drove off – Saint Augustine, Florida was our ultimate destination.  We got really lost trying to find our two-lane road, and we wasted an hour or more.  I lost count of how many times we got lost today, but I bet it was five or six times.

I joked with Barbara (who I call Boz or Bozzie) that I should place an ad on www.monster.com for a new navigator.  We again regretted that we didn’t have a GPS and joked that we were using a BPS (Bozzie Positioning System).  We finally got on the right road.

We saw the historic Midway Church, built in 1754, but one of the few highlights of the day was a little later when we saw the world’s smallest church — 10-feet by 15-feet, built in 1949 and deeded to Jesus Christ.

We drove through mile after mile of run-down houses and trailers.  Several of the houses looked like something out of “Deliverance.”  I hope the folks who live there are happy.

We reached Brunswick, Georgia for a late lunch at the highly-recommended Georgia Pig restaurant.  We were disappointed, and Boz assured me the ladies room would “win” the worst restroom award in our “Best and Worst” competition.

Jekyll Island was our next stop, and we felt it was a bust.  Boring and not particularly attractive.  The ladies at the Welcome Center were far better than the island.  I adjusted the color on the picture of the ocean at Jekyll Island, and it makes it look a lot prettier than it was.

There is no coastal road from Savannah down to Florida.  We passed through a lot of swampy terrain.  Not a pretty area compared to beautiful Savannah.  We finally saw the ocean at 2:30 in the afternoon.

Throughout the day, we saw one closed bombed-out-looking service station after another.  I love old service stations, and I did find these interesting to see, but it is sad to realize that the Interstate Highways caused so many businesses to fail.

We did find Woodbine to be interesting — mainly because the first thing we saw as we drove into town was an “antiques” shop with a sign out by the highway that says “Dead People’s Things For Sale.”

We met some nice people, including Kevin from Strongsville, Ohio, who we ran into at the Hofwyl-Broadfield rice plantation; another Kevin (the rock climber) in the parking lot at Staples; and Tim and Tiffany inside Staples.  Tiffany had an interesting story; she has two different legal identities!  Her name was misspelled on her birth certificate, so she is legally “Tiaffany.”

We also met some really nice folks on the boat.  Yes, the BOAT.  We had not planned to take a boat ride, but there are a few problems with maps, it seems.  We discovered that maps have far less detail than is ideal; small roads and towns are not shown, and they tend to show roads where they aren’t.

That’s why we ended up on a boat — the St. John’s River Ferry boat — to take us across a wide expanse of water between Fernandina Beach and Jacksonville.  The “Ferry Mistress,” Jennifer, was a delight as were the folks in the vehicle next to us, Melissa and Rodney from Powder Springs, Georgia.

We finally arrived in Saint Augustine after dark at about 8:30 pm.  We couldn’t find our hotel.  When we called, the hotel said they had no reservation for us.  We checked with hotel after hotel to find them all full.  I drove further than I will ever admit before we finally got a room for the night.  To me, there’s nothing much more aggravating after a long day than to hear that you don’t have a room.

We learned a number of lessons today.  I guess the main lesson was Location, Location, Location.  Interesting that Savannah can be so beautiful, but you don’t have to head very far south to see ugly.  And to see what the interstate highway did to businesses on the old two-lane highway delivered a very strong message of the first, last, and some say the only rule in real estate — location, location, location.

The reality hit “home” today that this trip is going to be very hard.  At one frustrating point, my sweet young wife of 34 years said this trip was going to be a cross between Fear Factor and Survivor.  She’s right about the Survivor part; this was to be an endurance test.

Round America 50-State Road Trip – Day 2 – Savannah Georgia

Life is like a Box of Chocolates — Day 2

Savannah, Georgia is a feast for the eyes.  We love old buildings and architecture, so today ranked as one of the most enjoyable days we have ever spent on vacation.  Savannah has an incredible collection of beautiful old buildings, huge trees draped with Spanish Moss, and lovely flowers, plants, and gardens.  When you put all of this together, it is truly stunning.

We live just a few hours away, but we had never seen Savannah until today.

We saw buildings that date back to the mid 1700’s; late 1800’s buildings seemed new in comparison.  In 1820, 464 homes were destroyed by fire, but with only a few rare exceptions, the people of Savannah have managed to save the city from those who would knock down the old to make way for the new.

I don’t believe there is anything else like this anywhere in the country.  Savannah also has clear rules about trees; no one is allowed to touch them – not a one.  Barbara commented that if she were a squirrel, she would want to live in Savannah!

We have learned from our travels that an overview bus tour can be really beneficial in a new city, so we began our day with guide Annie and a busload of gray-haired people on an Old Savannah Tours trolley.  We got the lay of the land and learned a lot.

We left the tour and then walked the route to take a closer look.  I took about 200 photos; I could spend days here and take thousands.

James Oglethorpe, the founder of Savannah and Georgia was apparently a very strong leader, and it is clear that he was a genius as a city planner.  Savannah was laid out with 24 wards (now known as squares), and these are beautiful parks with big trees and beautiful plants and flowers.  21 of the 24 have survived, and we saw them all.

The squares are usually lined with great, old homes and equally attractive commercial buildings.  Savannah makes extensive use of iron – wrought iron and forged iron – and the iron provides the character for many of the historic buildings.

History is everywhere.  Savannah is surrounded by three forts, and the military has a strong presence here.  There are more memorials to brave Americans and wars than I’ve seen anywhere but Washington, DC.

We took a break from history to lunch at the Soda Pop Shoppe, a small Mom and Pop lunch counter in the heart of the city.  “Senor” took good care of us, and our hot dogs were very good.

We visited the Jack Leigh Gallery.  Mr. Leigh is a top photographer, and one of his photos is the cover for the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  We admire great photography, and we were really taken with his work.

There have been a lot of movies filmed in Savannah.  We took pictures of the Mercer House on Monterey Square – the home in the movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”  And we visited Chippewa Square, where Forrest Gump sat on the bus bench with his box of chocolates.  We were disappointed to learn that the bench is no longer there, as the bench has been one of the highlights that we planned to see.

Guide Annie told us that the bench is now in the museum at the Savannah Visitors’ Center, so I paid the entrance fee to take my trusty camera in for the all-important photo.  I got the picture, but it isn’t the REAL Forrest Gump bench; it’s just a similar bench that the motion picture company donated to the city.  I hope they didn’t sell the real bench on ebay.

We met a number of nice people on the streets of Savannah.  We enjoyed chatting with Jane and her dog, Susie, and Sherry and her daughters, Morgan and Ellie.  We also talked with a nice couple (both medical folks) from Delaware who we ran into several times.

I enjoyed taking photos of flags and patriotic displays.  There were quite a few.  I was puzzled by one home that had three flags hanging from an iron railing on the second floor.  One was mounted properly, but two were upside down (and flying a flag upside down is a signal of distress).  I’m not sure if it was an expression of concern about the Iraq War or a dyslexic patriot.

I am hoping that I will get enough good patriotic photos from each state to publish a photo essay book featuring flags across America.

On vacations in recent years, I always felt like the vast majority of the other tourists were quite a bit older than we were.  After removing my glasses several hundred times to take photographs and to attempt to read maps today, I now recognize that the years have taken their toll.  After this, I may just have to try the surgery to improve my vision as I hate being handicapped this way.

We had been planning to eat dinner at Mrs. Wilke’s Boarding House, but several people recommended a similar place, The Lady & Sons.  Our southern buffet was exceptionally good.

Each item at The Lady & Sons was about as good as we have ever had – fried chicken, sausage and onions, spaghetti, green beans, butter beans, yams, black-eyed peas, and cheese biscuits.  The peach cobbler and banana pudding were really good, but not special.  I again had ½ iced tea and ½ lemonade; our singing waitress, Lisa, called it an “Arnold Palmer.”

Everyone we met and did business with in Savannah was nice.  Even the street people were courteous, and they were surprisingly few in numbers.

Georgia is very clean.  We believe people today are much more conscious of keeping places clean than they were when we traveled as children.

We capped off a special day by going to the Savannah Theater to see a musical production, “Lost in the 50’s.”  The Savannah Theater is the oldest continually operating theater in the country, built in 1818.  The show featured 80 great 50’s songs.  Nine energetic singers and dancers and eight musicians did a nice job.

While the talent was not Broadway-quality, it was a very enjoyable two hours enjoyed by several hundred folks.  It was an audience where you didn’t want anyone to take flash photography as many could have been blinded by the reflection from all the gray hair.  It was definitely a “Branson crowd.”

We didn’t miss the continuous coverage of the war that we endured while home for the last few weeks.  When we watch war coverage, we watched Fox News, as they are the only network that we’ve seen that seems to be patriotic.

As we walked back to our hotel after the show, we reflected on the day and agreed that we had learned an important lesson today: There are significant benefits to preserving and protecting history and “old stuff.”  It bothered us when we saw an ugly CVS Pharmacy on the corner of one of the most beautiful squares, a really tacky-looking chiropractic office in another square, and an orange A-frame Howard Johnson’s motel just a block or so from the Historic District.

The job that generations of folks in Savannah have done to preserve the history and beauty of their community is truly amazing.  Interesting that I could draw this same analogy to the Iraq war — it’s the brave who make possible the land of the free.

We knew our trip would be like a box of chocolates.  So far, we’ve pulled nothing but winners.  Days 1 and 2 were a delight.

Round America Trip – Day 1

Day 1 — April 1 — Tuesday

Lost in Atlanta

The time: 9:15 am. The date: April 1. The place: Atlanta, Georgia. Our trip Round America begins.

After years of thinking about this trip and several months of intense planning and research, we charged out of our home at 9:15 am filled with excitement and anticipation. 28,036 on the odometer – will be over 56,000 after we visit all 50 states. “Baby You Can Drive My Car” by The Beatles was cued up on the CD player and provided great dancin’ music as we hit the road. We were pumped!

We ran right straight into Atlanta’s biggest de-ttraction: nasty bumper-to-bumper traffic. Thirty minutes later, we managed to escape, top off the gas tank, grab a couple of Cokes, and put the car in high gear headed east to Athens, Georgia. Enthusiasm filled the air.

I almost immediately learned the hard way that our 29-cent clip-in-the-window-sill cup holders should not be asked to hold nearly full open cans of Coca-Cola. Our second stop was in a church parking lot a few blocks from our home to clean up all the Coke. But nothing could dampen our enthusiasm, so we cranked her into high gear once again, and we were off – vowing that we would let nothing bring us down – this was to be a happy, fun, experience-of-a-lifetime!

We then became hopelessly lost trying to find the little two-lane road I had chosen off a map. An hour into the trip, we came upon the golden dome of the Georgia State Capitol Building. It glistened beautifully in the late morning sun. One problem: the Georgia State Capitol Building is in downtown Atlanta – due south from our home and NOWHERE near Athens, Georgia. All we could do was laugh! A fitting start to the trip. I could have probably driven straight to the world’s largest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas (where I’d not yet been), but I couldn’t even find my way out of the town we live in! Sometimes we can’t see the trees for the forest. I had the big picture, but I couldn’t put together one of the most important little pieces. With the help of a cell phone and our daughter, Brittany, we managed to get headed in the right direction, and we ultimately made it to Athens – just two hours later than planned.

Behind schedule, we didn’t stop to see any sights in Athens. Not the way we had planned to begin the trip.

From Athens, we took the Antebellum Trail – a highway that goes through an area of Georgia with beautiful antebellum homes. We fell in love with Madison, Georgia. Madison is described as the “#1 Small Town in America.” Gorgeous streets with stately homes, a wonderful town square, great shops, nice people, and just a warm feeling.

We took a lot of photos, and we had an excellent lunch at The Madison Gift Mart & Cafe. Our waitress, Ginger, was delightful, and we thoroughly enjoyed hearing about life in her very small town. Ginger reported in her DEEP southern accent that everyone in Madison was really excited about the new skating rink (roller, no doubt). Unfortunately, the place will only hold 250 people, and it’s almost impossible to get in because the young kids have made it their hangout. She bemoaned the fact that Wal-Mart is about the only place in town to shop. But she loves living in Madison and commented about how special it is that since the town has only one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school, her children will attend all 12 years of school with the same friends. (That’s an interesting concept for someone like me who had lived in 15 cities and 31 homes in 54 years). Clearly Ginger and the folks in Madison do have a kinder and gentler life than we know in the big cities where we have lived.

We also met Savannah and April at the cafe, and we took their photo. The Blackberry Cobbler was recommended by the nice lady at the Madison Chamber of Commerce, and it was excellent – just like Grandma used to make! Even better was the Gentleman Jim’s Tea – 1/2 sweet tea and 1/2 lemonade. Try it; it’s really good. We planned to eat in Juliette at the Fried Green Tomatoes Cafe, but it was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so we will visit it at another time.

We managed to get lost two additional times today. It appears that one of the great challenges of driving around the country on two-lane roads will be FINDING the darned roads. Highway 8 to Dacula (that’s Dracula without the R) just isn’t marked clearly. We may need that GPS system that Uncle Ward told us to take.

We took a number of photos along the way. We saw some expressions of patriotism, but nowhere near what we all saw after 9/11. Dacula and Madison showed the greatest patriotism.

We had a nice dinner at The Shrimp Factory (recommended by Karen, our dental hygienist in Atlanta). Our waiter, Michael, took great care of us and even showed us how to get to Forrest Gump’s bus bench tomorrow. We topped off dinner with the pie recommended by Amanda from the hotel — White Chocolate Coconut Cream Pie. Barbara said it was the best pie she had ever eaten in her life! It was tasty.

We took a stroll down the lovely waterfront area before calling it a night. Savannah is truly a uniquely beautiful American city, and we look forward to tomorrow.

The biggest lesson we learned today, or most important observation, is that there is a kinder and gentler life in the smaller towns in America. Small towns seem somewhat insulated from the negative aspects of life in big cities.

The Daily Journal of Round America:

Each day, we collect our thoughts on a web page just like this. We drop in some of the photos from the day. Our goal with the Daily Journal is to write about the towns we visit, the sights we see, the people we meet, and the pie we eat. We write about where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going, but we also make observations about what we’ve seen and done as well as about life in general.

You can follow our travels from the Daily Journal section of this website. Other pages of interest include the running report of “vital statistics” on the Trip Scorecard, our nominations for the Best & Worst of the trip, as well as a rating of the pie we eat. If you’d like to see information for a specific state or town, click here, and then click on the state of interest and the full itinerary is shown.

Random Comments:

Some folks think we are nuts to take off driving around the country for several months. In honor of those people, we chose April Fool’s Day to begin our adventure. Maybe we are crazy, but we are very excited to see so many wonderful sights in this great country that most of us never see. There aren’t a lot of people who could or would take off and drive around the country for four months, so we’ve created and will build this website to provide a virtual tour for those of you who wish you could do something like this…or those of you who are just curious.

More Information on the Sights Visited Today:

Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta — Apalachee School House — Madison, Georgia