Country Driving

There are many differences between the North and the South.  However most of them haven’t really bothered me so far.  There’s the weather, but being that I have air conditioning it really isn’t an issue.  The food is good and the people are nice.  Yet one thing is hard to avoid here in Cleveland, Mississippi: country driving.

By that I don’t mean driving in general.  Within the city limits things aren’t that different than in New York.  Highway 8 and Highway 61 aren’t really all that different than Route 59 back home or Central Avenue up in Albany both of which are in fact state highways.  There are cars most of the time, most businesses are located on them, and turning left is a hazardous pain in the ass. 

But once you leave Cleveland itself things are different.  For one there is very little light.  Obviously it is impractical to carpet large areas of open country with street lights.  But out in the country there aren’t any houses either so the only source of illumination is your own headlights.  The pavement is also not as good.  Some roads aren’t paved at all and those that are can be full of pot holes and lacking painted lines.  You really have to pay attention to where you’re going.  That is especially true since signage is not always good.  In such instances it helps to know people who live in the area you’re traveling to because as I’ve mentioned before, Google Maps is useless down here.  And finally, country roads are often deserted.  That is not entirely a bad thing since other drivers are often the biggest hazard out there.  But it makes you realize how isolated life in the country can be.

Let me give you an example.   Two weeks ago I went to Po Monkey’s.  It is literally in the middle of a corn field on a gravel road.   Now there are two ways to get there.  One is from Highway 61 where you are directed down an unmarked road across from a Dollar General by a brown “Mississippi Blues Trail Site” sign.  This is not so bad.  I found the place easily enough.  However there is a back way.  You see the nameless road in front of Po Monkey’s doesn’t actually end right there, but continues a little ways and runs into Crosby Road.  Of course there are no signs.  I only know of it because a colleague of mine lives out that way. 

Once you get onto this road you see nothing and I do mean nothing.  There are no street lights, houses, or even lines for much of the way.  It is just you and a bumpy strip of pavement.  Occasionally a lone car may pass you.  Because the land is so flat things are farther away than they seem.  So that other car will be a tiny white blip long before it passes you.  After about 5 miles you come to Highway 8.  The thing is no one saw fit to put even the tiniest sign.  You’d have to know in advance to look for an intersection with a flashing red light.

If all of that sounds scary well that’s because it is.  But it isn’t so bad.  Being that the road is straight means you don’t have to worry about sharp turns.  Also with the high beams on one can actually see quite far.   Plus this part of Mississippi doesn’t seem to have an abundance of deer. 

So somethings around here just take some getting used to.  Even the terminology is different.  Where I’m from a highway means an Interstate Highway like I-87 or I-90.  In Cleveland, there are no Interstates and so a highway means the big, paved roads with other cars on them that to a New Yorker is really just a street. 

Of course you could probably avoid back roads, but that would mean not going to certain places.  I’m not just talking about Po Monkey’s.  The kickball tournament I mentioned a few weeks back was held at the local National Guard Armory.  There were no signs and I actually went passed it once.  Fortunately that was during the day.  But like all things Mississippi I am getting used to country driving.  My suspicion is that after a year or two of it I’ll feel about “city” driving the way I now do about country driving.

Article by Mike

Mike is the Head of Discovery Services for the Delta State University Library. He has lived in Cleveland since May 2013.

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