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Posted: January 20, 2010 12:01 a.m.

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Riding the High Lonesome

On a Georgia backroad — there are only two sounds out here. Four tires are humming as they hug the taxpayers’ asphalt on Georgia 15. And the radio — God bless and automobile radio — has me in touch with you wouldn’t believe the faraway places.

I am constantly turning the dial. Voices with no faces fade in and voices with no faces fade out. But at least there are voices, and without them the loneliness would creep even closer.

I have just departed from Sandersville, northbound through the deep-hole blackness the night brings to middle-eastern Georgia. There was a shooting in Louisville, clear-channel WHAS reports, but invading static keeps me from the details.

Dallas comes in loud and clear. It will be nice in Dallas tomorrow, with highs in the mid-70s. I even pick up Cleveland.

You know they tried to recall the mayor in Cleveland. Now, the city council has been charged with accepting kickbacks. Things are tough all over.

Chicago’s country WMAQ, an old friend, is beaming to 38 states and Canada. A man sings a song that includes the line, "Plant them ’taters, and pull up another tomorrow."

It is difficult to avoid a hockey game, turning the dial on late-night radio. Hockey is enough of a problem for me in person. On the radio, it might as well be the noon news from Mars.

"Ro-jay brings the puck to center ice! Marchambo checks him there. Jablare intercepts, and there is a whistle for icing the puck!"

I am on the fringes of Hancock County, Georgia, listening to a man from Fort Wayne, Indiana, describe the actions of 12 foreigners on ice skates, chasing a rubber disc.

I turn back to Cleveland.

My headlights tunnel through the darkness. The tall pines frame the road, and two beady pearls of light suddenly appear in the distance.

A stray dog crossing the road has simply turned its head toward the lights of the car, and its eyes reflected back.

Give me a dime for every stray dog on every Georgia back road, and my creditors can relax. I’ll take a quarter for every dead possum.

I am trying to make Atlanta and home before sleep takes me over. Interstate 20 is somewhere ahead, just out of a place called Siloam in Greene County. The interstate is an auto jet-stream after crawling over two-lane. There is not other traffic because of the late hour and because country people have been in bed for hours. They get up early out here, you know. Don’t let the sun catch you a-restin’.

There are tiny frame houses here and there, but not a sign of life to go with them. I grew up in a frame house that went dark at an early hour. The peace and comfort it held until morning has been difficult to relocate.

Downtown Sparta approaches. There are street lights, but no people. The old tavern in the middle of town, a historic landmark, looks haunted. It probably is.

Sparta lasts 30 seconds. The village of White Plains will be next. I cross Copeland Creek and Whitter Creek. There is a newscast coming in from WCAU, Philadelphia. Damn, I’m a long ways from Philadelphia.

What I am thinking is maybe everybody ought to do this occasionally. I am at least free with my thoughts here. Out like this, a man can talk to himself and it seems perfectly natural. You can ask yourself a question on a Georgia back road and get an honest answer.

Finally, Siloam. Siloam won’t awaken for hours yet. The interstate approaches, laden with 18-wheeled monsters with big eyes and loaded backs bound for the city.

Parting with Ga. 15 is more difficult than I figured it would be. I will be home in just over an hour, but I realize that out on that primitive stretch I had maybe stumbled upon one of the modern urbanite’s last escapes. I had ridden about all that remains of the High Lonesome on a pony with automatic transmission.

Cleveland has faded off the radio. I turn the dial again and a preacher is chasing the devil out of Tulsa. "Be saved or be damned!" is his warning.

Rolling along the interstate, I search for another hockey game.

Lewis Grizzard was a syndicated columnist, who took pride in his Southern roots and often wrote about them. This column is part of a collection of his work.

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