Freedom to Exile

Nathan Grote, IV Leader Columnist

It was Thursday morning that I had visited Appomattox Court House.  It was a comparatively small site next to the expansive battlefields of Gettysburg, Antietam, and Manassas that I had been to throughout the week.  By 9 o’clock I had seen what there was to see, and I had the whole rest of the day set aside for the part of the trip I had been looking forward to the most: the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Parkway is a magnificent stretch of road that covers nearly 500 miles between Virginia and North Carolina.  The road itself is as simple as can be- two lanes, two yellow lines down the middle, and no shoulder.  Stripped away also are all the things that have become synonymous with roadways everywhere- power lines, light poles, radio towers, billboards, signage of any kind.  Aside from the pavement itself, the only reminders of civilization are markers pointing drivers to the very many pull-offs that offer spectacular vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I spent somewhere between 9 and 10 hours that day cruising along the Parkway.  I say ‘cruising’ because the speed limit is 45 mph throughout, and since no commercial traffic is allowed, the entire drive is pure leisure.  And as icing on the cake, as soon as I pulled onto the Parkway outside of Roanoke, Virginia, I found a public radio station that played uninterrupted classical music all afternoon.

Even though there was absolutely no cell signal anywhere in those mountains and not a radio tower in sight, there was never so much as a crackle in that radio signal.  It was as close to a divine blessing as I’ve ever experienced.

The Parkway put me in Asheville, North Carolina, where I stayed that night.  The next day I left there and set out across Tennessee towards Shiloh.

I’ll tell you this now- I never made it to Shiloh, though I came damn close.  As I descended the hill into the town about 12 miles north of the battlefield, I shifted my car down into 4th gear.  When I did this the Nissan made a sound somewhere between a bowling ball in a wash machine and a dying wildebeest.

I coasted into the first gas station I saw on the outskirts of Savannah, Tennessee.  I was smiling already, because, what else could I do?  I got hopeful when I noticed the farmer’s co-op next door.  Surely someone in there would be able to provide some kind of diagnosis.

Now, to steer clear of any ugly stereotypes about southerners, I’ll call this fellow ‘Winston.’  When I asked Winston for a bit of help, he looked at me a moment, grunted in my general direction and followed me out to my disabled automobile.

After he squeezed his 500 lbs. behind my steering wheel, he jiggled the shifter around a bit and grunted a few more times.  My springs let out squeaks of relief when Winston left the driver’s seat and lumbered around to the front.  Under the hood, he jiggled some more things, did some more grunting, said some unintelligible things, and left me with no more than I had already known.

However, some other folks up the road knew what they were doing.  I was way about skimming through the yellow pages, picking an auto shop to fix my car and saddle me with a 4-figure repair bill, but I hadn’t many options.

Somehow, I got lucky.  The place wasn’t much, a single rusty garage door and an adjoining office, but inside was a great bunch of people.  They were helpful, kind, competent, and conversational.  I was offered rides, advice, company, everything a stranded traveler needs, and they did a great job on my car to boot.  So if you’re ever in Savannah, Tennessee, and your transmission goes caput, look up Owl’s Auto, and ask for Brian; they’ll take care of you.

So that’s basically how the trip ended.  I didn’t make it to my last destination, spent a week in a shabby motel room waiting for a new transmission, then drove 10 hours overnight back home.  The last week’s fiasco wiped out all of my bank accounts, and I’m still in the whole from money I had to borrow, but I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all over again.

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