The whispered words “country drive” right before lunchtime could bring chills to your spine and goosebumps to your flesh. Especially on a warm spring day, when the smell of the blossoming trees and plants and damp earth told you simply had to move, to explore, to do more than just sit at lunchtime. Of course we would end up sitting, because a country drive involved cramming into Fred’s ancient rust-fused yellow sedan and taking in whatever sites happened along the way.
There was always the promise of a “Deliverance” style country store down the gravel edged secondary roads. If we found one we’d stop, go in, and buy Moon Pies and a six-pack of Milwaukee’s Best. We’d covertly observe the obligatory homage to America’s hunting heritage: perhaps a glass case of rattlesnake’s head earrings, stuffed rattlesnakes coiled around ashtrays, or a variety of cobwebbed animal heads on the walls. It seems those of us who have been in the animal keeping vocation have a morbid fascination with how far humans will go to exploit animals. While we don’t condone it and will sign petitions, walk in protests, and give our own pets the most intensive loving care, we can’t help visiting roadside zoos in Florida with a sad, tired tiger panting in his cage with a rusty metal coffee can filled with dirty water. We then try calling the Humane Society, or ASPCA, feeling like we’ve done our duty as watchdogs of the unprotected, but somehow, those roadside zoos never seem to get closed down. As for the country stores, no one ever really seems to want to save the poor rattlesnakes. We just made a point to look at their dried out, frozen fangy faces and acknowledge that they once were alive, once they could have bitten the crap out of any idiot who tried to grab them and stick them on a belt buckle.
When our booty was duly purchased and we had made a mental survey of the store’s inhabitants (clothing, number of teeth missing, whether they were playing checkers, eating pork rinds, or just sleeping), we would jump in the car to digest our lethal snack food and to seek out other roads in the area that might lead to anything, anything of the slightest interest. From gigantic Muffler Men dethroned and reincarnated as Paul Bunyan in a farmer’s field, to abandoned old mills or pump stations along creeks, we sought out the camp, the historic; it really didn’t matter as long as we saw something worth discussing on the long drive back to work. At some point, some idiot in the car would start jabbering about how much they had to do today, or how this drive was taking too long. We would soon thereafter pull into the dusty and furrowed parking lot of the center, the magic spell of the country drive broken. An occasional burp from your beer or moon pie as you raked up lemur poo would bring back fond memories of a lunch worth remembering.