Reading the Landscape

“I think that I shall never see

A billboard lovely as a tree.

Perhaps unless the billboards fall,

I’ll never see a tree at all.” — Ogden Nash

 

Snowbirding requires nineteen hour treks from Naperville to Sarasota, from Sarasota to Naperville. Last weekend, we packed the car with all of our essentials and all of my clothes, tucked into black plastic garbage bags, easy to cram in and perfect for hiding Mike’s golf clubs, and headed north.

Bummer! The book-on-CD turned out to be a dud, so we tuned into the 60’s on 6 on Sirius, and used the billboards as our entertainment. Northern Florida’s best ones tried to lure us in to a souvenir superstore to see their baby alligators, but since gators big and small roam our Sunshine State neighborhood, we weren’t interested.

Before long we were in southern Georgia, where there are apparently no guidelines for the number, size, or ugliness of billboards. It seems that Jesus has taken to outdoor advertising, as He spoke to us several times along the way:

“Let go! I’ll catch you!” – Jesus

“I’ll be back!” – Jesus

“Jesus is Lord, and you know it.”

Of course, Jesus is not the only one who tries to grab the attention of drivers zipping along Interstate 75. The Magnolia Plantation baits motorists and their snack-craving passengers with its ads for pecans, pecans, pecans. I pictured Margaret Mitchell’s Twelve Oaks or Tara, but The Plantation itself, right off the Tifton exit, is a seedy-looking place that’s no lovelier than a Cracker Barrel.

Of course, some signs offer other local diversions : “$tripper$ — Need We Say More? As Featured on Jerry Springer” boasts one not far from Jesus sign.

At Exit 71, I was charmed by the darling name Sunsweet – doesn’t that sound like a cute little town? I imagined pretty white houses with genteel ladies drinking sweet tea on wicker porch swings and waving to neighbors strolling by. Then I spotted the humungous Confederate flag waving in a field, followed by another sign down the road that featured only this; #secede and the web address LeagueoftheSouth.com. Even an ad proclaiming Gone With the Wind Tours couldn’t entice us to get off the interstate.

We passed Adcock Pecans, and I wondered if they were better than Magnolia’s. One board with a group of smiling doctors in scrubs asked, “Heavy periods? Overactive bladder?” and told us “We can help.” We pondered why Horse Town, “the largest western store in the world”, was in Georgia and not out West, but we didn’t stop to find out.

We passed Atlanta and eventually reached Tennessee, with lush, green rolling hills, scenic vistas, and a glut of fireworks stores. Our favorite was the Tennessee-Alabama Fireworks store with a Citgo station right in its parking lot. Now, that’s convenient — gassing up while stocking up on sky rockets, roman candles and sparklers. Gas? Pyrotechnics? All in one place? Gee, what could go wrong?

Also in the Volunteer State, the Outpost Armory displclever signs at frequent intervals, but these are a far cry from those long-ago Burma Shave ads that delighted  drivers as they tooled past. The Outpost attracted our attention with its tastefully done compositions in hues of brown and tan, touting the joys of weaponry. Their catchy slogans left me unamused.

More Guns Than Your Weird Uncle

Yes, Silencers Are Legal

Not Your Grandpa’s M1A

Empowerment Comes Standard (This one shows a woman peering into a rifle sight.)

We spent the night in Murphreesboro, and were in Kentucky the next morning, a lovely place almost devoid of billboards. The only scar on the landscape was one oversized Confederate flag near Paducah bidding us farewell as we neared our home state.

Then, Illinois! We knew we were on the last leg of the trip when we gassed up at a Jack Flash store that sold all kinds of Lincoln geegaws – shot glasses, tee shirts, and tote bags emblazoned with our sixteenth President.

Seas of pretty yellow plants that we couldn’t identify colored the fields. We scoffed at a sign for a Tuscan Hills winery near Effingham. Tuscan? Hills? Here? But, whatever wine they sold, it had to be more palatable than the peach wine we saw advertised back in Georgia. We passed through Kankakee, where one of our four felons/governors, George Ryan, is now on home confinement, since he’s been released from prison a while ago. This was OUR Illinois, home of Ryan, Blagojevich, Dan Walker, and Otto Kerner, criminals all.

Rural became suburban and subdivisions sprang from the ground where corn once sprouted. I57 to I80 to 355 to our exit. We hauled in all the garbage bags, the golf clubs, the near-empty bag of Twizzlers we’d nibbled on along the way. It’s good to be back.

 

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