We slipped across the border at first light. Perhaps “slipped” is the wrong word, even though it had been raining heavily. A surly immigration officer closely scrutinized us before allowing our car to cross over into the sooty-Detroit dawn.
“This is so exciting,” I enthused. “I’ve never been in middle America before. From here on in this is all new territory.” Finding I-75 from the border crossing took us through a maze of back streets. I hoped we would actually end up on the Interstate and not in the black heart of the inner city. Happily it wasn’t new territory to Marilyn and damp, dismal, Detroit soon shrank from view as we headed south.
By breakfast the sun was shining and we were somewhere in the Ohio River Valley. The industrial heartland competed with just plain heartland. Smokestacks belched fumes from concrete and steel boxes, strip malls literally stripped the might-have-been green of cow pastures, colouring them asphalt gray. Gas stations encroached on productive fields just ready to plow. It was two weeks before Easter.
Green and gray battled all the way to the outskirts of Cincinnati.
“Urban sprawl, otherwise known as Creation’s cancer. Why do we do this to ourselves?” I ranted. Marilyn wisely ignored me. She had more important things to do.
“Okay, look for …” she called out. I had been following the map as we came to each major population center. There were some places we simply couldn’t bypass and Cincinnati was one of them.
“Sign, sign, where’s the I-75 sign?” As navigator, I had to do the looking for those little shields lost among a maze of green rectangles telling us about places we didn’t want to go. Marilyn needed her eyes on the road and on the traffic.
“How many more of these big ones do we have to go through?” I asked as I happily bid farewell to Cincinnati disappearing behind us.
“Just wait till we hit Atlanta tomorrow,” she warned.
I forgot the terrors of driving through strange cities in favour of appreciating what was whizzing by me along I-75. Spring was showing off as we drove into Kentucky. Rolling hills, lush pastures, greening trees interspersed with flowering shrubs lined the highway. This was horse country, so I looked for horses and white rails around neat paddocks, and wasn’t disappointed. I discovered that Americans have wonderful rest stops strategically located at decent intervals that even a woman’s bladder can handle.
Tennessee was more of Kentucky with fewer horses and endless rolling green embraced by blue sky and shining water.
“I could live here,” I remarked, trying to ignore the number of dead animals tossed to the side of the road. I had hoped to see wisps of smoke rising here and there in the folds of the hills. But then again, no respectable hillbilly would be heating up his still in plain view of passing revenuers, would he?
We stayed on the outskirts of Knoxville overnight with friends. The house, brown and wood-shingled, perched on the hillside with the faded elegance of a southern belle whose face and fortune had seen better days, but upon whom nobility still rested.
“I could live here,” I repeated, as we tucked into a truly lavish southern dinner.
Early the next morning we headed back through Knoxville to hook up with I-75 once again. Construction confused us for a bit, but we finally put another city behind us.
“Pity the poor Americans,” I said. “Longer summers mean extended periods of road construction. Maybe there is something to be said for long Canadian winters after all.”
We crossed over into Georgia. More green.
I could live here, I thought. Saying it out loud again would have been abusive.
Well, that was until we got to Atlanta. I’m sure I counted twelve lanes of cars, and those elusive I-75 signs needed to be twelve times bigger.
“I don’t want to live here,” as we escaped our last big obstacle.
A pale and somewhat shabby southern Georgia gave way to the deeper, more brilliant greens of majestic forest laced with darkening shadows as we crossed into Florida, now eager to get to our final destination. Night had fallen by the time we got to Madeira Beach. With the music of waves from the Gulf of Mexico in our ears, we hauled our bags and our tired selves up to the apartment.
“Well, what’s the score?” asked Marilyn.
“I’d give I-75 an 8 out of 10. I really could live here.”
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