Forty-Two Dairy Queens to Valdosta

By Timothy Cook


Kennesaw, Georgia

Not sure if this was a Sunday drive, but for me, every road trip is a Sunday drive.

From my road diary: “There are approximately 42 easily accessible Dairy Queens between Atlanta and the Florida border.”

I know because I've stopped at most of them.

The last time I stopped at one was on a trip when a good friend of mine was going through a painful divorce, and we decided to have a long weekend in Destin.

I am pretty sure we stopped for a Blizzard at least every half-hour. Okay, so that's hyperbolic, but my point is: The Georgia landscape off I-75 is full of them.

Almost as many exits have Waffle Houses.

My friend had been going through a miserable separation, and definitely deserved the Blizzards, and since he was buying, I ate at least a couple dozen.

The billboards announcing these dairy wonderlands are often sun-bleached and stand next to faded signs for pecan logs at now-defunct Stuckey's stores.

As Michelle and I drove from Tifton to Valdosta recently, I noted that except for anemic cows, vacant fields with watering gantries that appeared to go on for miles, distant pecan groves with dark, rich soil and cool, calming blue-green grass below them, and billboards announcing the impending apocalypse, there wasn't much else to see.

Billboards announcing the apocalypse? Really? Yes, and with a tone of hope and apocalyptic glee: warnings that Jesus will be back sometime soon, and we'd better all get our acts together.

Funny, approximately a quarter-mile past each warning that Jesus was watching, there was a sign for an "Adult Superstore" at a coming exit. Oh, and a giant Agrirama and tons of technical colleges, most offering degrees in welding and diesel engine maintenance.

I guess the theory behind this odd collage of sin, schooling, and salvation is: Things might be bad here, but you can distract yourselves with sexual addiction and shady massage parlors, learn to drive (or repair) big rigs and assorted farm equipment, or hope Jesus rescues you after next Tuesday ("the great tent revival will be held the Sunday beforehand," and you will need a day or two to pack).

Funny that all the pictures of Jesus made him look like an updated version of either Loggins or Messina. Absent the "you better watch out" language accompanying them, they would have been pleasing.

At some point, near Florida and past a giant building with a sign that read ANTIQUES, I also saw a giant rebel flag, larger than half of the highway. Yep, just to the right of I-75, on one of the few hills that exist in this otherwise "flat as a pancake" South Georgia landscape. I guess people placed it above the highway in defiance of the folks who "just don't understand," or will soon be "takin' our guns …" or some other sort of South Georgia nonsense.

Recently,  I learned that the Rebel flag was replaced with an American flag. But, we all know who hoisted it, originally. And, in some ways, it is still there to intimidate. That makes me sad. I love America.

Later, I saw signs for the Stephen Foster Museum and the Suwannee River, and I remembered I was sad because they have removed the rumble strips on the highway that made your tires hum way down upon the Suwannee River . . . I always looked forward to hearing that.

There’s a stretch of Route 66 in New Mexico that still plays America the Beautiful. But, somehow, it’s not the same.

As night set in, we crossed into Florida. Only five or so more hours of lonely driving to Saint Augustine.