Crossing the The American South and encountering Billboard USA

Everything looked so misty and magical when I crossed the border of Georgia into Tennessee at dawn in early October and encountered the picturesque Tennessee River. It was all Sleepy-Hollow-like but not exactly spooky. Mysterious, that’s what it was–a much more evocative word isn’t it? If you love a mystery, that is.

I failed to get even one single photo, though. In lesser known locations, difficulties arise when figuring out the best spot to stop to get good photos. I realized too late that the best place to take shots of the Tennessee River would have been several exits back. Having a long road trip ahead of me, turning around to go in the opposite direction for any reason was just unthinkable.

And dagnabbit if the same thing didn’t happen when passing though Nashville. I’ve driven by on the Interstate several times but never stopped to explore. So, I set my GPS to arrive at a specific location in downtown Nashville.

To make a long story short, the GPS f*cked me over… or maybe I just didn’t set it right. One of those two. So, I didn’t get to stop there either. It just wasn’t in the stars–the country stars that is.

Eating the second of three peaches I bought while still in Georgia helped a wee bit. The sweet peach juice ran all over my fingers and having previously sanitized my hands, I was good to go as far as licking it off.

Photo by Charu Chaturvedi on Unsplash

Defining The South

“The South” generally encompasses an area more or less beginning in eastern Texas and stretching to the Georgia shores of the Atlantic Ocean, and as far north as Kentucky, the Virginias, Maryland, and even Delaware. The Census Bureau considers the whole of Texas to be included in The South but I know I’m not the only one who has surmised that a dividing line could be drawn with East Texas staying with The South and West Texas being awarded to The Southwest.

One could argue the same about Northern Florida. I say this for many reasons but to point out just one, this is where The Bible Belt (an area that is often synonymous with the The South) seems to unofficially start given all the religious and pro-life billboards that start cropping up well before crossing into Georgia. I’d like to say that these billboards occur every half mile or so but then that may in fact be a conservative estimate.

The billboards alert travelers to the existence of various churches along the way, Jesus Saves Radio, sources for help when it comes to choosing Pro-Life, etc. Soon after crossing the Georgia line I saw this billboard: “Bibles for Sale–Lowest Prices.”

As far as terrain goes, Florida is the flattest state in America and so is much of Georgia until getting to the southern tip of the Appalachian Mountains in Northern Georgia. After that it’s game on for hills, mountains, steep roads, and sharp curves–not to mention all the busted out fragments of tires to be found discarded along the roadside–casualties of the mountains.

One billboard at a time…

How many billboards are to be found along Americas highways and Interstates? Millions. Only four states prohibit billboards and none of them are in The South. Some large cities, like Houston, have moratoriums placed on erecting any new billboards, while numerous smaller communities have prohibited them altogether. Even so, there are still plenty to be found.

There’s a vibrant community of people who are vehemently anti-billboard. I find billboards interesting though and believe that they get way too much of a bad rap–they have the potential to provide a lot of important information to ordinary travelers not familiar with an area.

How else, for instance, would someone passing through Tennessee know that there are whisky distilleries near every Interstate exit. For example, the Old Glory Distilling Co. off Exit 19 on Interstate 24 is merely one drop from a gigantic barrel. Furthermore, there is actually something called a Tennessee Whiskey Trail and passports can be obtained in order to visit as many distilleries as possible. Seriously, even though I’m totally a rum gal, I still think this could be sorta fun maybe.

In addition to this, without billboards how would we be alerted to all the antique malls, fireworks stands, truck stops, hotels, pancake houses, outlet malls, McDonald’s, Harley Davidson, adult superstores, and gentlemen’s clubs. Brothels are not, of course, advertised–at least not outside of Nevada–and I think this is a great mistake. Most experienced truck drivers know exactly where they are though and I consider this to be vitally important as who would want explosive and sexually frustrated truck drivers on the road? Not me. Much better to have them calm and placated, sexually speaking.

You may think I’m joking about this but I’m not.

Photo by Rémi Thorel on Unsplash

The best billboards are the ones advertising various kinds of foods–candy, ice cream, and, most particularly in The South, barbeque. For meat-eaters, southern BBQ is the single greatest reason to visit the south. However, I’ve noticed a pattern in that the places advertised on the billboards are not necessarily the ones where you want to stop and eat. A better method is to search out other BBQ joints in the same area via google or some other search engine and read reviews. The one advertising on the billboard typically is trying to steal customers away from the best places–the latter tend not to advertise much as they have plenty of customers already. Get how this works.

Two anomalies amongst the typical billboards that stuck out in my mind: One advertising over 1,000 wigs for sale and a small sign in Georgia, perhaps not an official billboard, that said: “Bulls for Sale.”

An extremely short history lesson: Who is Jefferson Davis?

I kept seeing references to Jefferson Davis, like the Jefferson Davis State Park in Georgia and the Jefferson Davis Memorial just over the border into Kentucky. Who is this person?

Anyone residing in The South will most likely know exactly who this is but outside of that I believe the name rarely gets mentioned and is perhaps hoped to be forgotten. Jefferson Davis is of course the first and only president of the Confederate States of America from February 18, 1861 to May 5, 1865. Ok then.

References to Jefferson Davis and confederate flags are elements a person has to be ready to encounter when traveling through The South. I choose to think of them as a lesson. Anyone who believes that racism is a thing of the past and that certain people just need to forget it and get over it already, as admittedly I myself once thought, need to understand that it is far from over and that there is still an immense amount of work to be done when it comes to educating, healing, and patching up all the gaps and cracks that continue to fester all over the U.S.

And, finally, the conclusion!

I ended up driving through five states in one day! Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, and finally into Missouri. It was quite interesting and I didn’t fail in stopping to get my fridge magnets to take back home.

I have lots of Diwali photos that I hope to post soon.

Hope everyone is doing well!

21 thoughts on “Crossing the The American South and encountering Billboard USA

  1. I was born in the North and lived there until my family moved to Virginia when I was nine. My great grandfather was Ulysses Grant Nicholson, who moved north from Virginia to West Virginia at the start of the Civil War. I have lived the rest of my life in the South. I am a firm believer in civil rights and equality for everyone. As an old social studies teacher, I would like to clarify some issues in American history.

    I think generalizations about the South can be misleading. The issues surrounding slavery and the Civil War are quite complex. Slavery was perpetuated by ships from New England who brought slaves from Africa to be sold. Many of the captives did not survive the terrible voyages on the overcrowded ships.

    Slavery ended in the North as a result of industrialization. When slaves were no longer needed in the North, abolitionists got a conscience and began efforts to abolish slavery in the rural South, whose agrarian economy was dependent on manual labor.

    Most Southerners did not own slaves; owners of large plantations had many slaves. The average small farmer was in direct economic competition with slave labor.

    The main issue of the Civil War in the minds of Southerners was states’ rights and their belief in a constitutional right to secede from the Union. It is not as simple as naming someone a “traitor.” Most considered themselves patriots loyal to their home state.

    Many admirable and decent people were born into an evil racist system. Many Southerners who were not slaveholders were killed and disabled fighting in a bloody civil war that decimated an entire generation of young men. The South was looted and burned. Most people in the South, both Black and White, were living in poverty after the war. Carpet baggers roamed the South trying to profit from people’s misery. The KKK terrorized African Americans.

    After the Civil War, slavery became a system of tenant farmers, and little changed for many of the former slaves. Later, the mechanization of cotton farming with the invention of the cotton gin and the cotton picker meant that manual labor was not in as much demand. Many African Americans migrated to jobs in northern industries such as the auto plants of Detroit.

    The Civil Rights Movement helped to make life better for African Americans. We still have a long way to go with race relations and equality in both North and South!

    Thank you, Joann, for sharing your journey with us. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for the history refresher. I really appreciate the comment although I have to disagree with slavery being complex. It’s actually pretty simple, one race or group of people having the audacity to believe that they are superior to other races or groups of people and that this gives them the right to enslave, sell, torture, conquer, kill, or do whatever else they please. It’s shameful and wrong. Even though people like to whitewash, literally, the cause of the war, slavery was the predominate reason why it was fought and I think it’s important for that to be remembered. Beyond that, yes, it does get quite complex but only because we silly humans keep making it so.

      Thanks again for the comment. Hope you are doing well!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. A shame, about the GPS leading you astray, JoAnn. Although…maybe it wasn’t, as it also increased your experiences. Plus, in the end, you still arrived where you were headed, and the trip there was much more illustrious.

    Reminds me of the year after my grandparents retired to Florida, when the family drove from the Northeast to visit them (we flew every year after that). Anyway, all the billboards were a godsend for a bored passenger who couldn’t wait to see Grandma & Grandpa, and to get to the beach and eventually, to Disney World.. The signs were ever-varied, and each was a colorful – if gaudy, sometimes – taste of local culture, amenities or treats.

    Some baffled me, of course. For example, what the Hell is a Stuckey’s? Maybe my ten-year-old vocabulary wasn’t quite so colorful, but you get the idea.

    Oh, neither here nor there, but signs that were low-key, but fascinating, were the Burma Shave series which used to line highways from the ’20s through the ’50s. They were clever, and on a completely human scale, imagined specifically for drivers and passengers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s funny the signs that will stick out in your mind. Like the “Bulls for Sale” sign… it seemed such an odd thing to be advertising along the Interstate. How many people have been heading down that Interstate and thought hey, that’s what I need right there: Bulls? Lots maybe, what do I know? Stucky’s is just one of those funny names that stick out in the mind as well as Stinky’s… not sure if you had any of those where you grew up or if that was just in the west.

      Going to see Grandma and Grandpa is fun growing up when you don’t have a single thing to worry about in life as yet! Too bad a person can’t bottle that stuff up like soda to drink on a bad day but then there is always the memories!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Bulls? We might be surprised. How many cowpokes passed the same sign you did and thought, “Aw shucks, I reckoned I forgot something.”

        As far as bottling the memories goes. you’re spot-on. JoAnn! When your story launched my own reminiscences, I forgot all about the impatience, the boredom and, most likely, the carsickness, and I remembered only discovery’s wonder.

        It’s not only childhood that has this effect. As your own memories of this recent trip evolve, eventually you’ll forget about getting lost and worrying about your destination. Soon, all that will be left will be the sights and experiences that stirred your heart.

        Funny (and gratifying) our minds work that way.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Lol, oh yes, the carsickness…. now you helped me remember that! I always liked it when my mother drove because she was steady at the wheel but of course back then it was mostly my dad driving. He had this tendency to press on the accelerator and then let up on it repeatedly. I got sick sometimes but mostly it was my brother, He was notorious for getting carsick wherever we went. We got a car with cruise control when it became popular and that helped on longer trips anyway.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Oh yeah JoAnn, cruise control definitely saved the day!

            We got our first car with it in 1984, and after that, carsickness faded to memories.

            Sadly, my parents’ choice of music (which most definitely was not my own) didn’t make things any easier. Thank God for the Walkman, eh?

            If you’re anything like me (And I suspect you are) what you wouldn’t give to relive some of those family road trip moments, car sickness, or no car sickness.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I know… it’s all so bittersweet.

              Out first car with cruise was our ’81 Bonneville. I’m just barely old enough to remember when we got that car. Seems like eons ago…. and of course it was!

              Now I’m curious about what music your parents listened to. My parents were big Elvis and Beatles fans but we all liked that kind of stuff.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Oh yeah, JoAnn, Beatles by the carful. Lots of Tom Jones too. I think there was a song or two by the Lettermen. There also was someone – I think his name was Johnny Tremaine – who sung about a guy who rode the Boston subway forever because he didn’t have a ticket to disembark. Good Lord, I heard that one about 5,000 times.

                Now bear in mind, this was when I was ten, and it turns out some of this wasn’t bad at all, especially the Beatles. Quite the opposite, in fact.

                Even ol’ Tom Jones who, in addition to having an awesome voice, did one of the Bond theme songs (“From Russia with Love”), so there it is.

                Question is, JoAnn, did your parents know at the time you were digging Elvis and the Beatles, or didn’t you tell them until later?

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Lol, I always remember loving the Beatles and Elvis but then my mother was a musician so we listened to all kinds of stuff. We all loved the Chariots of Fire soundtrack when that came out and the Rocky soundtrack when that came out. We never listened to Tom Jones though. I think that would get old fast.

                  Liked by 1 person

  3. You write a marvelous travelogue.

    I wouldn’t have a problem with a Jefferson Davis memorial if they would make it about all the evil that took place under him. History ought not be forgotten or you’ll repeat it. But people who raise memorials always want to whitewash to person being memorialized while I want the full truth out there good and bad. Under his term, 700,000 Americans died from combat and another million were maimed, all to preserve an institution so profoundly evil as to compare with the Nazi Holocaust.

    And in addition to being a wealthy slaveholder and a traitor to his country, he may also have been a good husband and loving parent and a creditable military commander in the Mexican American War. He was an important person and I want to hear everything there is to know about him.

    We can certainly take his name off the park. I doubt he was an environmentalist.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are so correct. Evil of that magnitude is difficult to even fathom.

      I’ve been hearing lately about how textbooks writers are having conundrums about how to revise such things as Christopher Columbus being considered a hero or that he discovered a “new world” when in fact it wasn’t. How does the truth get told to school children about slave trades or how the west was really won by the use of firearms.

      Or perhaps we should just go ahead and let children live in their wonderful sugar-coated bubbles until having to face the harsh realities of adulthood.


  4. I loved driving through TN mountains in the early mountain. My husband and I did this drive last year to go to Detroit. It’s was beautiful. As for the billboards, there are pros and cons to them, they can be distracting if there’s too many in one concentrated area, but generally that’s not the case. Jefferson Davis? Ammmm, nope, never heard of him – but thanks for the lesson. Can’t wait for the Divali photos and stories – FOOD!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, I get overwhelmed every time I think about doing a food post, lol. There’s just so much to include. I was watching a video about making doubles… that definitely seems like one of those things that is way better to buy! What a process but so delicious.

      Tennessee is beautiful. I’m truly sad I didn’t get more photos but it was still lovely!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And right you are! Doubles is much better bought thank you. It’s just too much – leave it to the professionals. I know about being overwhelmed about doing a food post, my friend in Trinidad always comments that I missed mentioning about the food whenever I do a post about Trinidad – no, I didn’t miss it, I purposely left it out, it’s just too much to mention and explain – LOL!!

        Liked by 1 person

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