Last Updated on February 26, 2021
By Jim Ferri
Whenever I’m taking a trip and driving, I like to set out really early in the morning, at least an hour or two before dawn.
I like it not just because I’m on the road when there’s less traffic, but also because by the time the sun comes up I feel as though I’ve just set out even though I’m already 100-200 miles along on my way. Odd for some, perhaps, but it works for me.
But there’s another special benefit to setting out early – what you see at dawn. It’s unlike anything you see at any other time of the day.
A few months back I was driving in southern Georgia at dawn, crossing little creeks and small rivers and grassy swampland, as the sun slowly began to float above the horizon, turning everything golden. Wisps of fog drifted up off the water, giving everything an ethereal effect. It was almost as if Hollywood special effects people were hidden off on the side of the road playing little tricks on me.
You rarely find these sights on expressways and Interstates, and you don’t often find the real America there either. It’s on those little winding roads, and in the small towns the Interstates now pass, that you find the real America. Real Americans too, especially when you stop in a little Mom & Pop restaurant somewhere just because the place looks so old the food must be good enough to keep people coming back for more.
In our rush to go from here to there in our travels, we often bypass these little places as we fly along the Interstate or from airport to airport. And it’s a shame, because we never give ourselves the opportunity to savor a region and meet the people who live there, even if it’s only for an hour or so.. It’s like going to France and only eating in fancy restaurants in Paris. Rent yourself a car and get off the Autoroute and out into the countryside to places like Normandy and Brittany and experience how the real French live and eat.
Years ago I remember stopping alongside a country road in Normandy, one of the best places to visit in France, when I saw two Frenchmen playing boules, the French version of bocce. I was with another American, a hitchhiker I had picked up, and after watching them for a few minutes they invited us to join them. The little restaurant was next to a vineyard and we drank their local wine out of old jam-jar glasses as we learned the right boules technique. A woman, who was probably the chef of the restaurant, sat over on the steps about 50 feet away, watching us play as she plucked a chicken.
We couldn’t speak a word of French nor they any English, but for about an hour we had a great time communicating with gestures, groans and facial expressions. At the time I was a budding magazine photographer building up my portfolio on an extended trip about Europe, but I became so engrossed in that chance meeting on a country road in Brittany that I never took a photo.