Here we are on family summer vacation, following the route of fellow Ohioan William Tecumseh Sherman on our march to the sea.
It’s probably best not to bring Sherman’s name up in the South when we stop for dinner or swing into gas stations for my secret long-haul energy food — orange circus peanuts and coffee. Sherman is still a sore subject with some people. The mere mention of his name can be enough to make even the most buttermilk-voiced southern waitress tell you sweetly to kiss her grits.
However, we’re living proof the South has gotten its revenge — shrewdly claiming the half of the country with the warm beaches and palm trees and theme parks, then charging Yankees startlingly high prices to visit them.
So, instead of burning cities and plundering farms, we’re burning embarrassing amounts of fossil fuel and plundering our own bank account in search of rest and relaxation, which we have found, thank goodness.
Here are a few random observations from the driver’s seat, on a ramble to the Sunshine State and home again:
n This is something your dad might say, since, well, I am a dad. Back in olden times, maybe 25 years ago, the North had the Bob Evans, and the South had the Cracker Barrels. I enjoyed the novelty of stopping for a firm cup of Waffle House coffee on a trip through Dixie.
Now everyplace in America seems to have the same stores and restaurants as every other place in America. If not for the changes in soil and trees, you could hardly tell a stretch of freeway in Georgia from one in Ohio.
We do it to ourselves, being in a hurry to get from one place to another. There are plenty of folksy diners and mom-and-pop shops on the side roads. Homogeneity is the price we pay for making good time.
• In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott seems to be enjoying approximately the same job-approval ratings as Ohio Gov. John Kasich. When I overheard people complaining about the governor, I temporarily forgot which state I was in. One Florida pensioner referred to Scott as “our own Lord Voldemort,” referring to the bald villain from the “Harry Potter” films.
• To me, vacation always means a pile of books — including audio books for the drive. Here are my thumbnail reviews.
“Johnny Appleseed: The Man, the Myth, the American Story” by Howard Means (Simon & Schuster, 2011). I grew up in central-Ohio’s Johnny Appleseed country, so I enjoyed reading about familiar places in this thoughtful book. Means winnows away the chaff of Johnny Appleseed mythology to reveal the grains of truth about John Chapman.
“Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation” by Joseph Ellis (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000). The eminent Mount Holyoke College historian knits together six defining moments in early American history. However, the good professor would have benefited from a good editor.
Our family — history geeks all — did not make it past the first vignette. Ellis, bless him, took one of the most exciting stories in American history — the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton — and killed it through endless conjecture. Cut out the author’s suppositions and “Founding Brothers” would be a good book.
A far-better storyteller turned out to be Buzz Aldrin in “Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon” (Random House, 2009). Each of us was riveted to this inside story of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon mission. That moment when the lunar lander’s guidance system failed and Neil Armstrong made the split-second decision to land the craft manually as fuel ran out ranks as one of the great gut-checks in human history.
That was the first disc in the 11-CD set, which goes on to recount the personal difficulties Aldrin encountered after his return to earth. Not as interesting as the moon landing (what could be?) but I appreciated the honesty and directness of this engineer-astronaut. The memoir also includes great stories from Aldrin’s days as a Korean War fighter pilot.
• Attention highway engineers: Adding lanes does not make traffic move more efficiently. They merely give wacko drivers another route to rocket past those of us who observe the rules of the road. If I had a nickel for every car that passed me in the right-hand lane, I could buy a plane ticket and get away from them.
• We visited my wife’s parents, who happen live on the same block as the corporate headquarters of Hooters restaurants. I was driving and my wife was giving me directions from the passenger seat.
“When you see Hooters, turn right,” she said.
Our 14-year-old son snickered from the back seat. I couldn’t blame him. It’s not every day a boy’s mom says something like this.
Besides, it’s not a very helpful landmark. That describes almost every street corner in Florida.
Contact John Gladden at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @thatjohngladden.