I was probably a freshman in college, coming home from Athens down Highway 441, when I fell prey to the lure of savvy advertising.
Every mile or so there were hand-painted signs on the side of the road telling us to pull over for “FRESH PEACHES,” then “THE BEST PEATCHES YOU EVER TASTED,” then finally, “PULL OVER NOW — YOU’RE ABOUT TO MISS IT — FRESH PECHES!”
Even though I don’t particularly like peaches, I did as the signs demanded, and pulled up to a roadside stand covered by more large white signs with orange lettering, each screaming, in various spellings, that fresh peaches were indeed available in the vicinity.
Behind the counter was an old man wearing a white T-shirt that said “FREE BREAST EXAMS” on it.
After a quick consultation, my friend and I decided to opt for the fresh peaches instead of the free breast exam, however tempting.
“Excuse me, good sir, we’d like to get some of your freshest peaches,” my friend said.
“Ain’t got no peaches,” the old man said matter-of-factly.
“What? There’s a sign every mile for the last 20 miles saying you have peaches,” my friend responded incredulously.
“Sorry, bub, just got some boiled peanuts,” the old man replied.
Thus began a love affair with boiled peanuts from roadside stands. We devoured the bag of hot boiled peanuts in about 20 minutes, then stopped for another 60 miles down the road.
Years later, stopping at roadside stands is now an expected Robbins’ road trip staple. Boiled peanuts are the perfect traveling companion — cheap, delicious and easy to share. While we like to purchase other items at roadside stands as well, watermelons are a little too cumbersome and messy for family driving and dining.
An added draw for roadside stands is the gamble involved. Without those pesky FDA regulations, you don’t always know what you’re getting in terms of food quality. But you’ll always find something interesting or culturally significant — like the “Dukes of Hazzard” action figures I bought near Youngstown, Florida, or the tomato shaped like Mikhail Gorbachev’s birthmark we bought in Parrott, Georgia, or the “Git Outta My Truck” wardrobe my wife wouldn’t let me buy from that makeshift establishment on Highway 17.
I love roadside stand people. They deliver a wonderful product, wear funny T-shirts and are consistently congenial and glad to see you.
But they need help. And I’d like to offer my expertise.
See, for all their wonderful qualities, roadside stand proprietors aren’t the best of spellers. In addition to the aforementioned creative spellings of peaches, I’ve often seen tomatoes as “tomatoos”; “blueberries as “blu-berreys”; and even apples as “apels.” Apparently, spelling “boiled peanuts” is especially perplexing. I’ve seen “boild peanuts,” “bowled p-nuts,” “bowld pee-nuts” and, for those in the mood for a particularly gregarious goober or lively legume, “bold peanuts.”
Here’s how I can help. Before any of you roadside vendors take the time and effort to paint — or more likely, write in freehand using a crayon — a sign advertising your product, call me. I’m no Norman Einstein, but I do have a rarely-used feature called “spell check” on my computer. I’ll be glad to check the spelling for you, then you can confidently place your sign by the roadside.
With proper spelling, customers like me will know what you’re selling before we stop. For this service, I ask only one small favor in return — an extra bag for my boiled peanut shells. Deal?