The telephone poles were like a picket fence..... Words from a song that dates back to the 50's and written by the late Charlie Ryan, describes a nighttime ride in a Hot Rod Lincoln.
In the headlights the Carolina pines fly past on a long country road that has few turns. The windows are all down and the sunroof slid back as far as it will go.
The summer sun has long since vanished over the horizon in a display of orange and red that makes South Carolina tourists stop and pull out their cell phone cameras in pointless hopes of capturing post card like masterpieces.
Its well after midnight but the road is as bright as the beach at Cherry Grove during midday, thanks to a full moon and a cloudless sky.
I'm driving fast, as a opossum meanders across the road 50 yards ahead of me, I tap the brakes just long enough to spare his life before I rush past him a burr of speed and metal, my radio blasting. The opossum’s speed never falters, and he doesn’t even bother to look up before vanishing into the tall grass and the night.
Country Roads and Moon Lit Nights are a match made in heaven, and the sounds of crickets and frogs fill the car with the rush of endlessness that you don't find out on the interstate. That four lane divided highway I know as I-26 is just plain lonely at night, but here on 601 just outside of Camden where the road runs straight as a school teachers ruler for nearly forty miles, the road is alive.
I kill the headlights just long enough to feel young and reckless, I know better since the deer are thick as ticks on a hound dog in the Midlands.
Turning off the headlights is like holding your breath underwater, it just takes a little courage and then the road comes into view under the white glow on the moon from above.
I put the lights back on and thanks to the technology of xenon halogen bulbs I can see a dozen deer nearly three miles away. Noting that the headlights do nothing but make them stand still on the side of the road until the last second when they scatter left and right. I'm glad the headlights work as well as they do and instinctively slow to the speed of someone’s grandmother on a Sunday morning coming home from church.
Just in front of the Welcome to the City of Camden sign there is a police car, a black and white that from about 1 am on is always covered in dew. I forget if they still put the manikin in the car or not. One year someone stole it, or that might have been Gaffney or Kings Mountain. I'm not sure.
I wonder if those who stole the dummy cop noticed the sign for the Church of Christ nearby and had any remorse.
While I know the cops are all sleeping comfortably at home, I still drive the speed limit through town and wait for an eternity at the stop light at the corner of Broad and Jefferson Davis Highway which becomes the more politically correct Dekalb Street inside the city limits.
The light is stuck on red and I know it is not going to change, its red glow reflects on the post office windows, the mercury vapor street lamps humm like cidias over head and the air is warm and the night still, and I wait just because I can.
Boredom sets in and I long for the wind to fill the night again, so I break the law in Camden.
At the other end of town, the Episcopal Church welcomes me in the rearview mirror, and I’m reminded that the Rotary Club meets on Tuesdays at Noon, Lions Club meets on Wednesdays and the flowers are sponsored by the Women’s Garden Club of Camden.
Towns like Heath Springs and Lancaster are next on my route but already the nighttime glow of Charlotte fills the horizon.
I take the short cut, I remember that no so long ago the South Carolina Highway Patrol called it a night around 1 AM and didn't roll again until 6 in the morning.
Those days are gone too.
In Charlotte folks are out at all hours but in these parts if you're driving down the road at 2AM on a Monday night you're either up to no good or someone’s daddy has just stuck a shotgun in your pick up truck window.
I make a mental note to not turn off the headlights in Lancaster as not to call attention to myself anymore than necessary.
I must drive on to Charlotte, for it’s my home and where my heart belongs, but my soul belongs to small towns and country roads at night.
My pappy said, "Son, you're gonna' drive me to drinkin' If you don't stop drivin' that Hot Rod Lincoln"