On the way down to Destin this year, I found myself inspired by a road. By some of the things I saw and thought and didn't see. This post has kinda been in the back of my mind ever since.
US Route 331.
I don't know if it is possible to develop an emotional attachment to a span of pavement, but if it is, then I have. I love that road, and have driven every inch of it several times.
Coming out of Montgomery, as I-65 turns southwestward for Mobile, 331 heads almost due South towards the Emerald Coast of the Florida panhandle and her white sand beaches.
For 150 miles--nearly all of it two lanes--331 leads you through quiet countryside and quaint towns. None of which have populations of more than six or seven thousand. Towns such as Luverne, Opp, Florala, and Brantley. The latter has a sign proudly proclaiming it as the hometown of former NBA star Chuck Person.
They are hushed little towns where time may not have stopped, but it surely has slowed down. There's a simpleness there that I long for. There are town squares with time-worn buildings and empty storefronts, where I imagine that not too awful long ago you could go into the local drug store and find a real soda fountain. And just maybe, in one of them, you still can.
In between towns, there is more countryside. Houses, farms, and fields, interrupted only by the occasional gas station or roadside cafe. There are homemade signs for antique shops and a flea market, and a billboard inviting you to stop in at the It Don't Matter Family Restaurant. I always think about stopping, but haven't yet.
You will inevitably come upon a train of four or five or seven cars with out-of-state tags on their way to or from the beach. Having its southern terminus at Highway 98, a few miles east of Destin, 331 has been a popular route for beach-goers. But traffic has declined in recent years. For every open store there seems to be at least one other that's closed down. And at times, I'm overtaken by the sense of what I don't see and the feeling of what no longer is.
Several years back, there was talk of four-laning 331. But as other beach routes--supposedly quicker and passing through fewer towns--gained in popularity, that never came to fruition. And I for one, am kinda glad. I already get my fill of four-lanes and interstates. So I'll keep taking the road less traveled, literally.
Besides, little towns where people live and work and go to church, mow their grass and grow their gardens, raise their kids and put tacky lawn decorations in the yard--as the song says, ain't that America? Maybe not an America we hear much about anymore, but one that definitely still exists. You just have to slow down sometimes to see it.
"There's a place where mornings are an endless blue, and you feel Mother Nature walk along with you. Where simple people livin' side by side still wave to their neighbor when they're drivin' by..."