NOTE: My apologies, once again, for this late post. My internet connection issues have been resolved and regular postings are now scheduled. If you wish to contribute, please contact me at http://www.getinjohnshead.com
Following the signs took Adam towards the main road. He had decided it the time had come to find the open road. The Interstate Highway System was something he’d been fascinated with for years but, until now, had never bothered to really pursue as a hobby. His goal was far different from any commercial venture. He had decided to chronicle the human element to the world of highway enthusiasts.
Yes, he was a roadgeek, but now was the time to put a face on that monicker.
His late model Ford Focus was the perfect mix of economy and style. A electric blue fuel sipper with a five speed manual transmission, it was exactly the sort of vehicle a road enthusiast would go for. Adam, lowered the driver’s side window, turned on the radio and found a station playing some classic Bobby Seger. After a few moments of moving the gearshift and working the clutch and accelerator in tandem, he had the car climbing the onramp of Interstate 10, reaching highway speed in a matter of seconds.
Florida’s panhandle region differed greatly from the rest of the state. Rather than be a land of sand, utilitarian looking stucco homes and a cacophony of big box stores, this area was chock full of smaller stores, lush woodlands, and rolling hills. Interstate 10, at least through this area, was a rural wonderland, traversing the region known to many in the southeast as “God’s Country.” With the exception of Pensacola and Tallahassee, there were no metropolitan areas to speak of. Rather, the landscape was dotted with small towns, beach burbs and a collection of tourist traps. Between the two metropolitan anchors, the only major towns to speak of were Panama City and Fort Walton Beach on the coast, and DeFuniak Springs, a small county seat located almost halfway between the Appalachicola River and Alabama Line. Aside from that, the only major settlement to speak of was Eglin Air Force Base, an echo of the Cold War and the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Adam had driven the stretch once, years ago, while on his way to Mardi Gras. It had been over a decade since he laid eyes on this landscape, and the road had long since been rebuilt. The devastation wrought by Hurricane Ivan, among other storms, forced the state to reconstruct the highway, which spurred new growth. A smooth, state of the art highway replaced the worn out asphalt, and Adam was enjoying the ride as he continued navigating I-10’s twists and turns. After about an hour or so, nature betrayed his desire to trailblaze, and a stop to relieve himself was required. Fortunately, a rest area was not far ahead, and he pulled the vehicle into the picturesque wayside.
The rest area was typical of such locations in Florida. Clean, full of travelers, and reasonably stocked with refreshments, it was a functional example of government efficiency. A Florida Highway Patrol officer sat in his cream and black cruiser next the exit of the location, and a private security vehicle patrolled the area. After using a reasonably clean restroom, at least by interstate standards, Adam took a few moments to stretch his legs, which he noticed a dog coming up to him.
Much to his surprise, the canine was friendly. A smaller pit bull, he was fully expecting the animal to be vicious. However, the brown and white dog sniffed him gently, then sat and looked at him, tongue hanging out. Adam then heard a feminine voice calling out from a distance. “Mel, stay!”
The voice came from a woman who, upon first sight, was easily one of the prettiest he had seen in many months. About five foot, two inches in height, her brownish red hair wavy hair shimmered in the sunlight. Like many in the state, she wore sunglasses to reduce the glare from the light. Adam crouched down and gave the dog a scratch on the chin, which led a slight whine from the pooch. He appeared pleased with Adam’s choice of greeting. “He seems friendly.”
“He usually is protective of me,” the woman remarked. “He seems to like you. That’s unusual.”
Adam raised an eyebrow and looked up as his newfound conversant. “Well, I have a way with animals. Had a dog of my own growing up as kid.”
The woman nodded, seemingly pleased with Adam’s ability to placate her pet. “Well, it would appear you haven’t lost your touch.”
He decided it time for an introduction. “My name is Adam.”
“Amy,” she said. “Good to meet you.”
“Same here,” he said. “So, you driving through?”
Amy looked around at the rest area, then looked back at Adam. “Sort of. I actually live in Chipley but I’m going to visit my cousin in Mobile. Kind of my thing on the weekend. You?”
Taking a deep breath, Adam decided a brief synopsis was better than details. “Just taking a drive today. Not sure where I’m going.”
“Ah,” Amy remarked. “Well, I don’t know if you’re hungry, but there’s a nice little diner off the highway near Crestview. It’s a little ways up the road, but worth the drive. I eat there every time I go to Mobile.”
Adam nodded, his face brightening. Despite the fact he wasn’t much of a breakfast person, this morning felt different. Maybe it was the thought of sharing a meal with a pretty woman, and maybe, just maybe, it was the chance to get to know someone new after his girlfriend had just left for a med school grad from Florida State. Either way, the history student decided it was that, rather than study history, he was going to run counter to his own. It was time, like his highway enthusiast friends liked to say, to put the rubber to the road and seize the journey.
“Sounds like a plan,” Adam said. “You drive and I’ll follow ya.”
Amy smiled, looking as though Adam was the right guy, in the right place, at the right time. Even Mel, the normally irascible pit bull, barked in agreement. Interstate 10 had often been called “The Loneliest Highway” of the system, but the highway gods apparently didn’t get the memo.