I was hungry when I woke up in Atlanta, and the only thing that kept me going was the thought that I hadn’t seen anyone as handsome as me in days. At 9:35 AM ET I left Motel 6, the nicest one I had stayed at by far, and went to the McDonalds directly across the street. It was 77 and overcast. I put on 790 the Zone and listened to Mayhem in the AM. They said a three-week stretch in October against Philadelphia, Dallas, and New Orleans would say a lot about the Falcons. They also talked about the mutiny happening in Boston, and I felt disgraced and didn’t want to hear any more about the Red Sox, so I turned on the Georgia playlist. The new Zac Brown Band album Uncaged is quite terrific.

I was in or around the Appalachian Mountains so Atlanta’s elevation is around 800-900 ft. I had left the lowlands for good. Driving through northern Georgia is not so different from driving on a road like 495 in Massachusetts. I found my mind drifting and was driving unfocused so I turned off the AC and cracked open the windows and soaked up the southern air. It was sticky and thick, and I loved it. We hit some traffic before the South Carolina border and I could tell Chevy was eager to cross over because it’s Chevy’s home state.

When we crossed a bridge into South Carolina I could tell Chevy was excited for Hootie and the Blowfish and the South Carolina playlist because Hold My Hand sounded extra booming and crisp. I also realized that, in a way, we were holding hands and we drove through South Carolina proudly, together.

The humidity tested my resolve to keep the windows down. It was 85 degrees in Spartanburg, SC when I stopped, and with the humidity that was the hottest I had felt all trip. I was sweating. At McDonalds when I was ordering a small coffee I caught two of the female employees whispering about me. I couldn’t blame them, I looked good in the Vaya con Dios tank top and flip flops and I was having such a good time that you had to notice my shine. Chevy may have blended in in South Carolina, but I didn’t, not at all.

We were nearly out of South Carolina so I listened to Hold my Hand one more time. The last thing I noticed in South Carolina was a giant peach in Gaffney, SC.

North Carolina is the biggest producer of tobacco in the country, despite this I wouldn’t recognize what a tobacco field looked like even if I was riding down Tobacco Road on a horse with the Marlboro Man, but I was struck with an irresistible urge to get some tobacco. I listened to Ben Folds and Funkadelic on the Nrth Carolina playlist. After seeing a Grand Marquis with a license plate SHOTCLLER, I saw a sign for Dairy Queen on the next exit so I turned off the highway to get a blizzard and some tobacco at exit 33 in Moorseville, North Carolina.

I searched for the DQ for about ten minutes without any luck. It seemed like a mirage in the desert that would never materialize, but then I realized that I had turned off in the wrong direction. I got another M&M brownie blizzard with chocolate ice cream and raced to eat it outside in the southern air before I had to drink it. North Carolina is a very nice looking state, and it seemed very clean and well taken care of. Then I went inside to get my tobacco. I don’t smoke so I bought a tin of Skoal for $1.99! At that price they were giving it away like condoms in the Olympic Village. I got back on the road and drove in silence for a few miles to prepare myself.

I got such a wicked buzz from that fresh cut 100% American grown tobacco, and with a live version of Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain playing on full blast, testing the Chevy’s sound system and probably damaging it, I was transported to whatever planet George Clinton was from. I was in such a bad way that I wondered if there was a Motel 6 close by with hourly rates so I could pull over and lie down. George Clinton was saying –Relax, slow down, take your time – and I wasn’t sure if I wanted time to stop or fast forward. I couldn’t decide if I was having a bad trip or if I was happy enough to die right there in the Appalachian Valley.

I crossed into Virginia with a dry mouth and tired eyes, my body temperature fluctuated wildly between 90 and 110 degrees, and I was completely out of sorts. The highway rose from the Appalachian Valley into the Appalachian Mountains and I had to refocus so I didn’t tumble down the mountainside, and never be heard from again. The elevation was 2400 and climbing, and would reach nearly 3000 ft when it began to rain, so I had to steady the Chevy. Timbaland came on the Virginia playlist and Nelly Furtado sang that she liked me the way I was, and I did too so I proceeded with the utmost caution. Climbing up the Appalachians in the rain, yellow and orange lights flashed on the dash, which I don’t think is ever good, and I could feel Chevy failing to grip her boots securely on the slick road. Shortly thereafter the rain stopped and the sky cleared, and I was alright with that.

I saw signs throughout the Shenandoah Valley that read –Speed enforced by aircraft. I felt like I was in Virginia, but whenever I saw those signs I thought that I could be Pakistan, due to the drone surveillance. My neck was stiff and my right foot started to hurt so I thought that my first stop back in Lowell might entail collapsing at Lowell General.

I stopped at the Quick Stop in Buchanan, Virginia for a Snickers and a V8 to straighten me out. The people that came in seemed to be making their daily trip to the store to buy more lottery tickets and cigarettes. As I ate my Snickers I booked my Motel 6 in Winchester, Virginia, which was 150 miles from Buchanan. Back on the road Dave Matthews shared his philosophy with me – eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we’ll die. True that.

I saw some great mountain views in the Shenandoah Valley that I wanted to take pictures of but I felt that if I took my eyes off the road or got tangled in cords and something terrible were to happen that help was very far away.

Later, but still in the Shenandoah Valley about 100 miles from Winchester I grew tired and had a hankering for more tobacco. One pinch of tobacco in North Carolina had made me addicted to nicotine. I was tired for the first time on the whole trip, and I knew it was because I had introduced tobacco to my body, but I wanted it. I fought to release myself from the clutches of nicotine and decided that I would eat instead. I turned up the music loud enough to shake the mirrors and rattle the doors, and drove until I found something suitable. The first few exits there was nothing that I wanted but things that I could have had. My patience was rewarded when I saw a sign for Waffle House. I had seen so many of these joints that by now my brain was saturated with the black and yellow signs for them, so I was curious what the big deal was.

I walked into Waffle House #589 in Harrisonburg, VA and I was the only person wearing a tank top. I ordered a waffle and a small chocolate milk. The waitress gave me a look so I asked what the look was for and she gave me the universal sign for small by pinching two fingers together and said it’s only this big. I insisted that I would only need the small milk. While I waited I learned that you can text WH and a zip code to 562283 (LOCATE) to find the nearest Waffle House. That’s cool, if it works, I didn’t care to find out though. I sat next to Eddie, who I was sure had lung cancer, but I also suspected he had never been to a doctor in his life. Who knows, maybe he was better off. He was retired and didn’t miss it, but missed the people. The waitress asked him what he did all day -Yard work? She asked. Eddie was not very forthcoming with an answer, but eventually said that he had had a –Stupid day.  I just assumed he was tugging his rope all day.  The waffle was pretty damn good, soft, fluffy and a chewiness that was just right, and the maple syrup was sweet and poured faster than typical breakfast joint syrup. I was tired and had 65 miles to Winchester, so I paid my bill and left, with the thought that this was not my last Waffle House visit.

Today was the longest driving day of the trip and here at the spacious Motel 6 in Winchester, Virginia I’m dead tired and ready for bed. I’ve seen a lot and I’ve seen many things that remind me of people from home. I need to rest up for the last leg of the trip because I have a feeling the best is yet to come.

Today’s index:

Miles driven: 609

Miles total: 3490

States today: 4

States total: 25

Cups of coffee today: 2

Cups total: 16

# of V8s today: 1

# of V8s total: 2

# of servings of vegetables claimed to be in a bottle of V8: 3

# of bags of junk food half-open and barely eaten riding shotgun: 3, Sour Patch, expired Bold Chex Mix, and Munchos, which were a huge mistake.

Flavor of Skoal that rocked me hard: Citrus

Atlanta

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Crossing into SC

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Giant peach

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Shenandoah Valley

ImageMen’s room at Quick Stop

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