A road is not just a way of getting from one place to another without leaving tire marks on other people’s property.
If you travel a road long enough, the sights and scenery become embedded in your subconscious even if you openly detest the drive. Over time the landmarks, even if they only consist of a mobile home in a clump of trees in a pasture, become more than just a means for assessing the progress of a trip. They can become as familiar as family and sometimes more welcome.
I took a little trip down Memory Lane Tuesday, although most of you would know it as the section of U.S. Highway 45 Alternate between Tupelo and Starkville.
It’s a drive I used to hate back in the early ’70s when I was attending Mississippi State and one I made many times at many levels of consciousness including un.
(In the interest of being a good role model, kids, do not drive unconscious.)
I hated the trip because it seemed to take forever. It was always my luck to get behind some slow-moving piece of farm machinery on the narrow, two-lane highway flanked on both sides by the black soil of the prairie region.
And, until recently, I always associated the trip with the smell of dirty laundry.
Tuesday, however, I had a chance to go down and visit my old alma mater and, for the first time in more than a year, I found myself back on that old familiar road.
What made me pay particular attention on this trip was the progress being made on the new, four-lane 45 Alternate. In some places it parallels the old highway and in other places it disappears completely.
Soon, it will be open and the old highway will truly be just a memory for most of us.
As I drove back Tuesday afternoon, a lot of those memories came back to me. During my college years, most had to do with the ditches along either side of the road and keeping the car between them.
There was a roadside park just south of West Point where you could clean the beer cans out of the car on the trip home and two clubs where you could stock up on the way back. The park is already gone, demolished to make way for the new four-lane bridge over Tibbee Creek that replaced the long, narrow, two-lane bridge I used to drive white-knuckled over because of the two REALLY BIG ditches on either side.
There was the gas station at the intersection of Mississippi Highway 8 with the funky, ’50s era outdoor light fixtures. They were those old metal, bell-shaped fixtures painted red that I always thought would have made a cool lamp or light fixture indoors.
Whenever I drove past, I always thought to myself, “I’m going to come back someday and get those fixtures.”
Tuesday, however, I discovered the old station is now just a vacant lot.
There are more memories along that road than there are houses. There’s the soybean field where the campaign train I was riding on with Wayne Dowdy in the 1988 U.S. Senate race derailed, leaving us stuck downwind from a pig farm in the summer heat awaiting rescue.
And there’s the old grocery store just south of Shannon with the fading soft drink ads painted on the brick sides. I always thought those old signs would make a great background for a photographic portrait if you could find the right person to stand up against them and shoot.
As I approached it Tuesday, I realized I had my camera with me so I pulled over and shot it. The lighting was poor but it was better than a dim memory should the store be gone the next time I pass by.
Soon a new generation of Mississippi State students from Northeast Mississippi will be traveling a new route to school and the old road will fall silent. That’s OK, because they’ll create their own memories along their own road.
Marty Russell is senior reporter for the Daily Journal