North Carolina: Slow Down, Look Around

North Carolina: Slow Down, Look Around
We never stopped at South of the Border when I was a kid. Dad was one of those psycho travelers. Bladders could be emptied only when fuel tanks were filled. Motels were always dark places and I only saw them during midnight check-ins and pre-dawn check-outs. Mom was sympathetic about the long hours, but obviously she didn't share a young boy's notion of roadside cool. No matter my arguments, Pedro remained tacky, and my curiosity surrounding places like Waffle House and Stuckey's would have to wait years to be satisfied. As it turns out, she was right on most counts, but I'll always be a sucker for chili on my hash browns.

Back in the early seventies, Dad's career moved us from Morgantown, West Virginia, to Miami. From ages 7 to 11, I remember our family joining the throngs of holiday and summer travelers on I-95, and I loved going back home to the Mountain State to visit family and friends, especially when I could ride dirt bikes; but the trip was a bitch. I had to spend an entire day sentenced to the back seat of a '71 Volkswagen Super Beetle with a terrier mix as my cellmate. A disproportionate number of lyrics from 70's AM radio hits are permanently lodged in my memory. Relief from the tedium of the day's universal radio play-list was long gone - all of dad's jazz 8-tracks being a part of the Plymouth Fury III trade-in deal, innocent victims of the Arab oil embargo. This odd automotive purgatory left me plenty of time to contemplate why yellow ribbons were being tied 'round old oak trees and whether Billy got shot or blown up being a hero. We're talking pre-Ritalin days here.

Though my back-seat despondency usually hit rock bottom by the time we rolled into the middle of Georgia, there was also a fascination with being on the road to counteract it. Somewhere deep inside my overactive mind, a little voice was telling me that the misery of counting minutes into hours and miles to the next town's exit would one day serve a higher calling. I knew there had to be a better way. Every time we made that long, arduous drive I swore that when I grew up my road trips would be about so much more than just getting there.

Crossing state lines on the two-lane, the only way to travel.

Aside from my dad's manic attitude when on the road, those cannonball runs across the South inspired my interest in traveling there. In the years since the keys have been in my hands, I've redefined my earlier notions of travel and enthusiastically explore all of those side roads I so longingly ogled from the rear windows of a little Yellow Bug careening down the Interstate. Ironically, my wife Kathy shares my wanderlust for a totally different reason: her family never traveled at all.

Nowadays as we journey about, we find ourselves interested in local histories no matter where we are and recently a new Kymco Grandvista scooter and a back-road route to Charleston, SC, offered us the perfect opportunity to explore more of our own backyard. Most of us take the unique fabric of our immediate surroundings for granted. That's really a shame. Every region has something interesting to offer and we find this to be true from the very beginning of our little tour. We didn't have to travel thousands of miles to find some great stories - we just headed out into the local countryside with open eyes, ears, and minds.

Our road of choice, NC Route 109, begins as Martin Luther King Jr. Drive on the east side of Winston-Salem. The road passes through the campus of Winston-Salem State University, a thriving liberal arts institution originally founded in 1892 as the Slater Industrial Academy. In 1925, the NC General Assembly recognized the school's high-quality training of elementary school teachers and granted it a new charter. The newly named Winston-Salem Teachers College became the first African-American institution in the United States to grant elementary education degrees. The school is now one of the sixteen member institutions of the University of North Carolina.