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Posted: December 27, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Opening a stretch of memory lane

They opened a new stretch of Georgia 316, a four-lane highway that runs between Lawrenceville and Athens last week.

What that means is you can drive on four-lane highway all the way between Athens and Atlanta now. From Atlanta, take Interstate 85 to the Lawrenceville exit and then 316 the rest of the way.

"Athens-Atlanta motorists can make the commute in under an hour," a report said.

Twenty-seven blankety-blank years too late, I said.

I was 19 and a sophomore at the University of Georgia in Athens in 1966. I was also in love, but she lived in Atlanta. We were apart for the first time since the sixth grade.

I had a job in Athens. I worked for The Daily News, a fledgling newspaper we struggled to deliver six mornings a week in competition with the afternoon paper that had been in town since movable type was invented.

I worked full time. I went to class, and then I actually worked more than full time. That's because they couldn't run me out of The Daily News newsroom, a converted automobile dealership. It remains the best part of my journalism career.

On Saturdays I would go to the newspaper at 2, and I would still be there at 1 the next morning when the Sunday edition was finished.

Then, I would get into my blue VW bug and head for Atlanta and my girl. Each week we had from about 4 Sunday morning until 10 Sunday night together. I hated that drive. It was all two-lane from Athens until outside Lawrenceville where I could pick up I-85.

It was 45 miles of small towns and bends and curves.

Out U.S. 29 through Bogart and Statham. And then into Carl and Auburn, Winder and the infamous speed trap Dacula.

They never got me in Dacula, but about 2 o'clock one Sunday morning the night cop got me in little Auburn. He was wearing his pajama top.

But he didn't give me a speeding ticket. The reason he didn't was I gave him the two Georgia-Auburn football tickets in my glove box.

I would fight sleep all the way. A week of classes, studying and work can exhaust even a 19-year-old.

Every Saturday night for months, I made that drive. The TLC at the end was worth it, but I still wonder why I didn't doze off one night and run into a tree and kill myself.

We decided to get married the summer of '66. It made a lot of sense. We knew we would marry one day anyway, and I didn't know how many more times I could survive that drive.

So we up and did it. Mama said, "Just make sure you finish school, young man."

My pretty blond bride got a job at the paper too, and they gave me a raise after we married - from the minimum $1.25 an hour to $1.30. I would have paid them.

When I read about the four-lane being open all the way between Athens and Atlanta, I wondered what if it had been that way back in '66? The drive would have been a lot easier and quicker. Maybe we would have waited to get married. And if we had waited, maybe it would have lasted.

Nineteen is too young to get married. Especially if you're a blindly ambitious, selfish fool. My wife wasn't the one who was the blindly ambitious, selfish fool.

There is a move afoot to give the new 316 connection a name. "University Parkway" has been suggested.

Somebody else will offer "Bulldog Boulevard," of course, and "Dawg Alley" must be considered, too.

Whatever they name it when I drive it - and I will drive it often - I will think of her and how I blew it and how perhaps a little extra concrete 27 years ago might have kept something that was very good intact. You tend to think that way as you get older.

All that's left to say, I suppose, is drive carefully on Nancy's and Lewis's Road.

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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