(Part twelve of a sequential tour narrative. Go to April, 25 2009 to start at the beginning.)
The liephone said to take 316/29 back to Atlanta, jump on I-85 and be in Auburn, Al in just over three hours. Had I asserted that I drive and that I believed this suggested route was the best course of action, we might have gotten there in three to four hours. However, I had driven from Atlanta the day before and I wanted a break. The plan was to leave at 1:30 so as to avoid Atlanta rush hour and make the drive as short as it should have been. Once we actually got on the road it was 2pm and though this wasn't a tragedy in and of itself, it certainly was a harbinger of the trip ahead. It seems no one else had bothered to look at their liephone or map because we were making multiple wrong turns before getting out of Athens. The person driving then decided that there was no way he was going through Atlanta so he picked out a "scenic" route that headed south and west in order to bypass the city. The whole point of leaving at 1:30 was to avoid the traffic. After living in Austin for nine years and sitting on the parking lot that is I-35, I understand that exerting a little patience will get you through the jam and still make the highway the faster option. If we had gone through Atlanta we might have hit some traffic but we would have gotten through it and it probably wouldn't have been that bad. Instead, our three hour trip turned into a six hour trip. Bummer. Aside from buying a bottle of Vidalia Onion hot sauce at a peanut stand on the side of the road, I was as close to loosing my shit as I may have ever been. I don't think I have ever felt so pissed off from not being in control. As we got stuck behind school busses, RVs and redneck junkers on Highway 16, I bit my tongue and vowed to take the helm as much as possible from then on out. I'll sit through some interstate traffic so that I'm not in the van all day.
And once we got to Auburn and made a big liephone-induced wrong turn on our way to the club, it started pouring rain and lightning. Great. The Strutting Duck was the name of the bar we played that night. There were some nice folks working there and the food was good. Too bad there were like, seven people watching our set. We played much more than our normal set taking some chances, and why not? If a tree falls in the woods... The green room was an airstream trailer without electricity, in which we took turns shooting from the bottle of Maker's Sam and Katie bought down the street. After all, The Duck was a beer-only bar. I believe this was the night when the Jason Isbell bit really took flight. It had started in Whitesburg, but now it had full lift off, mumbling it three times and everything. Mumbling it in an OCD-Rain-Man fashion became hilarious after a gig like we had that night.
I had vowed that we would make the next day's long drive to Orlando without consulting a liephone, using only an old-fashioned road map. This also meant that I was driving. Unfortunately, we had to leave around 8:00am but with Sam's coffee I was good for awhile. The other three slept for most of what was a beautiful drive southbound on a string of state highways that stitched together the lower foothills of Georgia and the upper parts of the coastal plain that, once we got on I-75, became northern Florida . It was nice to witness this gradual transition of landscape again. Having grown up taking vacations on the beaches of the Carolinas, a large part of that liberating four hour drive east was watching the diverse foliage and red clay foothills get flattened by sand-rich soil staked with pine trees and golf resort billboards. However, unlike the beach-bound drives that own so much real estate in the nostalgic part of my brain, this day's drive had a more ominous vibe. Upon getting out of the van in the parking lot of Sonny's Real Pit BBQ, that first deep breath of thicker, saltier air meant that I was near, or perhaps already inside, Florida for the first time in my life. Yes, the ill-reputed New Jersey of the South.
"Visit Florida. See America's Wang."