Blue Highways

I’m reading a book I wish I’d read thirty years ago: Blue Highways.
I love the blue ones, and last time I drove to Louisville, I took the blue highways most of the way back to Arizona. Slower, to be sure, but beautiful, and remnants of a time gone by.
I wish I’d read the book thirty years ago because I would like to have driven the same route as William Least Heat Moon.
In fact, I’ve driven many of the roads in his book. I’m just now half way through the book and am astounded at the towns he drive through that I, too, have driven through. I even have taken some back roads he missed.
One town that jumped out at me as I was reading was Scooba, Mississippi. Two years ago, I drove through Scooba. That’s the town I stopped in and bought the Very Best Barbecue Ever. “J’s BBQ, best in town,” says the sign. Heck. Best in the nation.
The big difference between Least Heat Moon’s drive and mine is the thirty year difference. Many of his blue highways no longer exist. He talked about the highway through Scooba being a road, a blue line on a map. When I drove it, it was a four-lane divided highway. Wish I’d seen it the other way, but then, of course, J’s BBQ wouldn’t have been along the side of the road. It’s not likely any black man’s food stand would have been along the side of the road.
Another difference is the food. The author spoke of searching for six-calendar diners. His theory is the more calendars there are on the walls of a diner, the more authentic it is. The problem is today there are few diners. Whenever I run into one, I stop, even if I’m not hungry. I just get food to go.
Evert time I go into a place because it looks cute, it’s a mistake. The food, if I’m lucky, is average. It’s the little diners, the ones lined with locals’ trucks, that are always the best.
One of my best meals ever (besides J’s BBQ) was in rural Oklahoma on a blue highway about thirty-five years ago. I was on my way to the Chicago area, staying off the interstates. I stopped somewhere west of Oklahoma City. My car steered herself right into the parking lot. I no longer remember what it is I ate there, but I recall telling people about it for many months to come.
Even in Kino, I prefer the little stands or the restaurants that cover open air patios with tarps when they’re closed. Sometimes the food is average, but more often than not, it’s excellent – and half the price of the “nice” restaurants. Some of the best places in Kino don’t even have menus. You just tell the waitress/waiter, often a child, what you want or ask what they’ve got. I go for the first thing they mention.
One of my best meals on the whole Baja trip was in a tiny restaurant in which the owner, an elderly man, was cook, waiter, busboy and dishwasher. Oh, that chicken mole! (MOW-lay, not mole, the animal)
Least Heat Moon talked, too, about his time in Selma, and though I was there probably the same year he was, my experience was completely different. He met white folks with resentments over things changed. The shop owner I spoke with seemed to have appreciated the march and the changes it created. Of course, perhaps she was being polite to the Yankees who dropped into her store, but maybe, I hope, she was being honest with us.
One thing I don’t do and couldn’t have done then is enter the little bars with the ease Least Heat Moon did. A strange woman walking into a bar in rural towns wasn’t appropriate, and sometimes still isn’t. In rural Mexico, there are ladies’ bars. They’re a little more upscale than the raunchy bars local men hang in, and the name implies they’re safe for women. The closest thing to a lady’s bar in the US might be a modest bar attached to a hotel. In one-bar towns, unless I see women walking in alone or in small groups, I’d stay out.
The last big difference is a difference of the times. Least Heat Moon picked up several hitchhikers. I used to in the 70s and early 80s, but no longer. Around home I do, often because I recognize the person or couple, but on the road, alone, no more.
Ah, the blue highways. I’m ready to get on the road.

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