Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Get off the Highways!

Shanties at Small Boat Harbor.

When was the last time you visited a small town? I don't mean just driving through and saying, "Oh, look at that cute building." I mean walking around and enjoying what has been undisturbed for decades or centuries; talking to the locals and learning about their history, eating "real" local food.

Most people who travel hit the the highways leaving home wearing blinders. They have their fancy GPS gadgets, their glossy maps, and they never see Americana. Today's new maps don't even list many secondary roads that lead to the past. On some maps you can't even find Route 66.

I am a back-roads person. That is where you find life. Nothing happens on highways except accidents and traffic stalls.

People who head out with blinders on don't know what a mom and pop meal taste like - they end up eating at a franchise or some greasy spoon disguised as a mom and pop diner. They pass by living history books, people more than happy to chat with them about their towns, their families, the rusted tractors that need to be readied for harvest, the pies in the oven, "Would you like a piece?"

When I worked for a newspaper in the 80's, I had the dream job of covering a large amount of territory in Georgia and South Carolina. I was looking for feature shots, interesting people, and stories to take back to writers (or write myself if I felt like it). I met the most fascinating people; people who invited me into their homes, offered me biscuits and honey, pie, or lunch or dinner, depending on the time of day. I was loaded down with fruits and vegetables in season, and jams and jellies in the winter.

I have taken several trips out west, and found towns that weren't even on the local maps. I remember a small dusty town somewhere off the beaten track in New Mexico. Dirt roads. Fine people, not a bit suspicious of a stranger. I let their children play with my cameras. They fed me, laughed when one of their goats tried to eat one of my cameras, and sent me off with smiles, waves, and something delicious wrapped in corn husks.

Men in some long forgotten Texas town, drinking their morning coffee and talking politics were overjoyed that I wanted to take their photos. They talked about their farms and the price of corn and wheat; they bought my breakfast.

Everybody goes to Nantucket, but who has heard of Vinalhaven, Maine?

When I am on the highway, I feel sad when I see travelers trying to beat it to some touristy destination. In this hurry-up world, no one knows how to, "Sit a spell and talk."

Well, Crisfield is on the map, but it is one of those towns you should try and visit. There is a ton of history here, and the folks are mighty friendly. You can always find the island boat captains sitting on the city dock before the boats leave around noon. I love talking with them.

Though we have some wonderful restaurants in Crisfield, make sure you don't miss Gordon's. It has been around since 1924. There is some Americana for you! Try their coffee, it's famous, and take some time to get to know the diners. They will spin you some fine tales.

Walk around, visit the museum, talk to people on the streets, study the old buildings from a time when Crisfield was truly, "The Seafood Capital of the World." When you have taken in the town, hop a boat to Smith or Tangier Island. Head to Deal Island or Rumbley.

Wherever you go, think about those maps that lead you right where they want you to go - through the heart of Capitalism. Do you homework and see the "real" America. There is still a lot of it out there. You will find some mighty friendly people on the back-roads, along with some breathtaking landscapes.

“Is the small town a place, truly, of the world, or is it no more than something out of a boy's dreaming? Out of his love of all things not of death made? All things somewhere beyond the dust, rust, and decay, beyond the top, beyond all sides, beyond bottom: outside, around, over, under, within?”~ William Saroyan

Yes. Small towns do exist. I have been there. I live in one.


~JarieLyn~ said...

Patty, this is exactly how I feel about traveling. I love taking the back roads and exploring the towns and the people in them. I get much more excited visiting a small town, than I do visiting a big city.

Today is my husband's birthday. We took a drive to Moapa. It's about an hour's drive North of Las Vegas. Once we got there we took every single back road we found and we drove around looking at all the farms, and the rusty old trucks, and the alfalfa fields, etc. We didn't see many people out because they were all probably working in Las Vegas. But, my camera took a lot of pictures today.

I love small towns.

Lew said...

This side of DC is also dotted with small towns, some with a place in history books, others places where people still live of the land. And I enjoy the backroads when I travel about. Love your posts about chrisfield!

Linda said...

Without small towns people in the large cities wouldn't know how to live. I love your blog today. When Barry travels he likes to get from A to B as fast as possible. I prefer to meander stopping and checking out this and that. You miss so much when you hurry around. I love listening to the old stories too. So much history is there for the asking. A brilliantly written post here, Patty!

willow said...

I would love to take a long and lazy roadtrip on the old Lincoln highway across America, stay in little out of the way places and eat in old diners.

Barry said...

Excellent post Patty. As Linda mentioned, when travelling, I tend to be an A to B kind of guy, but whenever Linda has wheedled (when was the last time you used that word?) me into a side tour on the scenic route, I've never regretted it.

Cyndy said...

Crisfield is definitely on my list of places to visit. There is so much more to the Eastern Shore than just the beach!