In my youth, the road to Florida was U.S. 41 and some called it the Death Road.
It was a two-lane road with hills and curves that beckoned those who were in a hurry to pass when they should have thought it out more. Our family trips to Florida to see our grandparents were trips my father drove cautiously.
Back in the early ’60s, we kids eagerly awaited the magical I-75, at that time, outside of Atlanta. From what I remember, it was a smooth four-lane and a safe highway. Daddy would always slow down a bit so we could see the Atlanta Stadium where the Atlanta Braves moved from Milwaukee to play the beloved game of baseball.
I would get so excited. The window would come down and my head would be stuck out with the wind whipping my hair around my face. I wanted to get close to it. My mother would have a fit and demand that I get my head in before I got it knocked off by someone’s car passing too closely. Mind you, I was in college by then. When I think about that time now, it was even before Turner Field. It was just the home of the Atlanta Braves.
As time moved on, and after I graduated from college, I found myself beginning a career in a small town in Northwest Georgia as an eighth grade English teacher. I didn’t plan on staying, but life very rarely turns out the way it’s planned. It has been over 50 years since my dad pulled onto the shoulder of I-75 as he and mom helped me move to my new home. He turned over the keys to their 1964 Chrysler New Yorker. This was my first time driving on I-75.
Unlike some people, I have never been afraid to drive on I-75 through Atlanta. Back in the ’70s, it was an easy road to me. The traffic did increase through the years, but it moved along. Oh, I have to admit that it became more daunting in the ’80s and ’90s. Big trucks took a real liking to it and the speed limit for the drivers of these rigs was as fast as they could get away with on any given day.
I must reflect a bit and tell this story on my parents that has stuck with me for years. We were on our way to Florida during a spring break and the traffic was particularly heavy.
Someone pulling a boat had driven onto the medium strip and was attempting to pull back onto the highway. She almost hit our car in the process. My dad called her a pretty ugly name. He actually yelled it out the window. She didn’t take kindly to it and gave the universal hand gesture of anger. My mother started laughing and said, “Stan, I think you used the wrong “b” word and they both laughed. I have to say my parents cracked up at the oddest times and could make a joke out of any situation.
One time, my sister-in-law and I were headed down I-75 to Fort McPherson. We weren’t exactly sure of the exit number. I was driving in the extreme left-hand lane when she screamed, “THERE IT IS!” I veered over what felt like 50 lanes of fast-moving traffic onto the exit. How we survived, I do not know.
When I worked in Adult Education at Coosa Valley Tech, now Georgia Northwestern Technical College, the state program had yearly literacy meetings in Atlanta. Educators came from all regions in the state and most stayed at the Westin in downtown Atlanta.
I generally drove us from GNTC to Atlanta most of the time. I’d just grip the steering wheel with both hands and pretend I was the Wicked Witch of the West on her bicycle as she swept through tornadic winds. Of course, I was driving a vehicle. Sometimes I would hum the song that accompanied the witch’s ride.
When our first grandchild was born and began to talk, he told me in no uncertain terms that he did not enjoy the “Big Truck Road,” meaning I-75. Last Friday, it lived up to his words.
Going through Atlanta was a piece of cake. I use the HOV lane. South of Atlanta was a different story. Once I got to the area around Eagles Landing, traffic slowed — lots of traffic. It was like a parking lot at times. I don’t know what the problem was, but all the way to our destination in Perry, it was stop and start. It took an extra hour and a half. Maybe I need to retire my I-75 drives and go the long way.
Nah, I’ll just stick to the big truck road.