During our recent long-haul trip to Tennessee and Georgia (for the LDS temple sealing of Fiddler and Ginger), we had my parents’ GPS for navigation (my dad, always a gentleman, calls her Miss Garmin). Among other things, it told us just how far away from home we were, in miles and in hours of travel.
Because we haven’t used a GPS device very often, it was a new thing for us to have that kind of detail available. But Miss Garmin isn’t the only one who knows things. There are other ways of telling that you’re very far from home.
Stopping somewhere in South Carolina to fill the gas tank and visit the bathroom, we had a few minutes to stretch our legs in a large truck stop called “Love’s.” While I waited for others to finish their business, I wandered through the aisles. I heard a mom telling a child that they needed to go help Bubba–not a name we hear much in our neck of the woods. While truck stop food anywhere in the country is probably on a par in terms of being a danger to one’s health, the deep-fried things (maybe hushpuppies?) rotating on their contraption designed to continuously heat/rotate deep-fried things were completely outside my experience.
On a nearby shelf below the plush dogs and above the jelly beans and gummy worms I found the following: a display selling gut knives (only 9.95!), one offering 50 caliber bullet bottle openers, bullet hat clips (I failed to take note of the caliber for these), and decorative glass crosses with an inspirational message.
I can’t absolutely say that nowhere near my home in New England can you obtain inspirational glass crosses or handy gadgets made from bullets. I feel fairly sure that gut knifes are not unheard of. It just seems unlikely that you could find the gut knife, the bullet bottle opener, and the hat clip, all snuggled up with the plush dogs, gummy worms and jelly beans, plus the rotating hushpuppies and Bubba, all in the same spot. As it was, all these elements came together to make it feel like we were a long way from home.
On the other hand, odds are good that I could find a display at a highway rest stop within 20 miles of home that would present merchandise creating a similar sense of distance.* I guess to do a truly scientific study I’d have to match up various truck stops head to head. As that would involve a lot more driving that I’m prepared to do, I’ll have to file it away until the next enormously long road trip looms on the horizon.
One other thing the GPS claims to tell you is where to find gas. Just before our stop at Love’s, we’d followed Miss Garmin’s promise of gas to be found off the interstate at Fair Play, South Carolina.† Upon arriving at our destination, we found this:
While the satellite had been willing to provide updates to our device, apparently it had been some time since anyone had provided relevant updates to the satellite. Still, we got a fun photo, so we didn’t leave empty-handed.
I’m sure the trend has been going on for decades, but in the last several years I’ve been more aware of the way that chain restaurants and big retailers seem to swagger into a town, and there goes the neighborhood, so to speak. I don’t deny that they make it easy to find things that are familiar, but the sense of one place being different from another tends to suffer. It homogenizes experiences in a disturbing way. So on this trip I welcomed the sights and sounds that reminded us that we were far from home. It’s a French phrase, but say it with a southern accent:
Vive la différence
*When we first arrived in Spain last year I found myself making all kinds of observations about Spain compared to the US, but I realized that we’d not only moved from one continent to another but from one habitat to another–small town to city. Some of the differences I noticed probably had more to do with that shift than the national one. Read more about those early observations here.
†Fair Play is a Census-Designated Place, not to be confused with a town. Wikipedia says that except for not having a municipal government, CDPs might “otherwise physically resemble incorporated places.” I wonder whether CDPs have any trouble with geographical self image.