Editor's note: This column was originally published July 8, 2001.
After practicing all year by driving the gauntlet between Hilton Head Island and Bluffton, it's time for the annual checkup on my defenseless driving skills. It's time to get out on Interstate 95. It's vacation time.
I used to think I-95 was the pits, with all its potholes, trucks going 100 mph and "We Bare All" billboards.
Now I recognize it as an important national game that only people in New Jersey and Florida are invited to play. The game is to see how fast they can swap places every summer.
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The game for those of us in the middle is to see how many albino alligators we can get the New Jersey people to pay to see.
Or perhaps how many candy-striped lighthouses. You know, whatever works.
Actually, it's odd that Hilton Head gets any visitors other than the ones whose radiators overheat. We do NOT bare all. We do NOT give free hermit crabs with every purchase. We do NOT have a wax museum. Our history-soaked lighthouse, circa 1969, does NOT wear a sombrero. And you CANNOT see seven states from anything, even if you were to climb the Pritchardville Fire Tower.
When a curious visitor made it to the top of our candy-striped lighthouse, he said, "What? You mean I can't see seven states?"
A friendly man in a madras suit stepped up and said, "No, no. We said, 'Seven ESTATES.' Can I sell you one?"
Anyway, for whatever reason, U.S. 278 around here now makes I-95 seem more laid back than the driveway to Tara.
Since I'm about to drive out U.S. 278 to I-95 for the express purpose of relaxing and getting away from the grind, it has occurred to me that I need some ads on my car. If NASCAR drivers get paid to relax in the same fashion, why can't I?
It all makes you long for the good old days of family vacation, doesn't it?
Like when everyone was on those quaint, two-lane roads. And tractors used those roads. And the roads went through the heart of every town. And every town had a thousand stoplights.
And there was no air conditioning, which made visiting the natural wonder of a cavern seem like a swell idea.
And children - deprived of headphones hooked to rap music, handheld video games, and laser beams - had to find amusement at Stuckey's, where ceramic toothpick holders shaped like an outhouse played "Dixie" when you lifted the lid.
Oh, it was an innocent day, all right, with kids sitting in the back seat sucking on candy that looked like cigarettes.
When this modern vacation is over, I may not be relaxed. But I do plan to have some free hermit crabs.