I-95 South

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I-95 South

Photo credit: Ian Underwood

     One of the curses of living on the eastern Seaboard and wanting to embark on a north-south road trip is the fact that you’ll probably have to use Interstate Highway 95 at some point. This stretch of road is great for travel between DC (where the South really starts, right?!) and northern Florida (south Jersey, as I call it) – in terms of convenience – but much of it has a tendency to be poorly paved, over traveled, and lacks visual stimulation. But if you keep your eyes open and your taste for kitsch piqued, you can spice up your trip a bit.


     Since I find myself a resident of Virginia at present, we’ll start there. Once you escape the madding crowds (and traffic) of DC and northern VA, you’ll find yourself rolling through farmland where the South was born. Many of the furniture and antiques made during the 19th century when this country was coming into its own are still found and even offered for sale at the flea markets and antique shops not far from 95. Our first evidence of this is at the Virginia Bazaar at exit 110, to the east of the highway. This is one of the hybrid indoor/outdoor flea markets, with an even spattering of used junk, new Chinese-made crap, and more than a few gems in the rough. Reserve at least an hour for this one and don’t pass the booths too quickly – lots of junk vendors have the occasional cool old article. I found a silver “tea spoon” from 1914 for $15! [pic 2471]


     Southbound once again, take a side trip at exit 60 and head west a couple of miles. At the t-intersection, take a left for a half mile to find PG BBQ Shack on your right. After filling up on green beans, cornbread, shredded pork, and sweet tea, head back the way you came and park at the enormous Bellwood flea market you already passed. This one costs $1.50 per person to get in, and it’s probably worth it. I wish I’d planned ahead a little bit – I had to leave some really classic NES games where I found them, as I spent my last cash getting in! This is all outdoors, and takes over an hour to walk around, but since you just filled up on high-calorie goodness, you’ve got some energy to burn off! This market offers quite a bit of junk, but makes up for it with fresh produce stands and pure quantity of vendors.

Photo credit: Ian Underwood

     Forty five minutes later, you’ll have a great opportunity to slow down, as you’re passing through Emporia, where the main money maker in town is your silly self getting speeding citations from Virginia’s finest. You’ve been warned. And don’t get gas here – it’s the most expensive you’ll find around, even heading into North Carolina, where gas taxes are higher. If you really need gas-o-hol, head east on US 58 for about 5 miles, to a little station on the right where the prices are more reasonable – don’t worry about missing it, as it’s the only thing around besides farmland.

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     North Carolina offers the best driving on the trip, as the roads are fairly well paved and there’s little traffic and rolling hills and farms to keep your eyes busy. If your stomach needs to be entertained again, exit at Roanoke Rapids on US 158 east for half mile to Ralph’s for the best southern buffet on the trip – hands down! The little town of Selma was once a highway hub between central and eastern NC, but with the introduction of I-95 and I-40 not too far to the south, it found itself drying up and being forgotten. The town got together in the late 80’s or early 90’s and decided to reinvent itself to bring life back to their community. The passing of Ava Gardner’s biggest fan gave birth to the Ava Gardner Museum, putting on display this man’s life-long collection of Gardner memorabilia, right there in her hometown. Antique shops abound, and there’s also a JR Outlet if you need…well…anything else you could possible want! Your time in this town starts at exit 93, and if you spend a whole day here, you won’t see it all, or be disappointed! If you’re planning a trip along this section of 95 and want to minimize your stops, stop here. ‘Nuff said.

Photo credit: Ian Underwood

     South of the I-40 intersection, there’s not much for the traveler save the US Army museums in Fayetteville, home of the Green Beret special forces and the All American 82nd Airborne. These are all certainly worth visiting to honor the lives of the men and women that have gone before us to defend our freedom abroad, but there’s no point in stopping here for quality used goods unless you don’t have pawn shops in your hometown. And at this point, you’ve been seeing billboards for South of the Border for a hundred miles, and this marks the half-way point of I-95 through the South. The stuff for sale here is all trinket-stuff and fireworks, but you pretty much HAVE to stop here to stretch your legs and explore the bizarre statues, if nothing else! That and you’ve entered the land of cheap gas and whiz-bang fireworks – a great combination, by any stretch!

     Like its northern neighbor, South Carolina has made an antiques mecca of the town of Waltersboro. Situated between exits 53 and 57, downtown is a great little walk of shops and eateries, framed with live oaks and Spanish moss. Signs promise a Rice Festival in late April – which I cannot vouch for at present – but do not advertise how closed the town is on Sunday – which I can vouch for. Go on a Saturday.

Photo credit: Ian Underwood

   The stretch of 95 through Georgia is not long, and, though scenic, doesn’t have much to offer for the used goods shopper. Exit 49 sports the most expensive gas on the stretch and a run-down outlet mall that promises an antique mall, Southern Picker. Skip this place. There aren’t many items marked with prices, a great opportunity for the owner to make statements like “this piece is worth $2800, but I’ll take a thousand off”. Right. We also found a set of genuine Hermes Paris boxes that he wanted $15 A PIECE for, and a cool pair of portraits of John and Yoko, that he professed were from the era and wanted $125 a piece for, though he could not prove that these weren’t painted a week before. Just keep driving.

Photo credit: Ian Underwood

    A bit further south, on the outskirts of Savannah (but you won’t hear mentioned on the pages of Garden and Gun, I promise) you’ll find Keller’s Flea Market just east of exit 94. Wow. This place is set up like a drunkard drawing a maze, decorated with old cars, farm equipment, steam engines, and a propeller from a wrecked World War II bomber. I can’t make this up. Free to get in and free to park, this place is worth at least three hours of aimless wandering, between the booths and the weird stuff on the grounds. If you don’t find what you’re looking for there, perhaps the Shell station by the interstate will have it, offering peaches, fireworks, and adult DVD’s labeled only “black”, “white”, and “asian”. Again, I can’t make this up.

Photo credit: Ian Underwood

     Coming into Florida, you immediately enter the second-largest city in America by land mass, Jacksonville (the largest is Anchorage – the more you know!). While this town has a lot to offer, like any big city, I preferred to end the trip in St. Augustine, an hour to the south. This city is great – there’s plenty of parking downtown by the old district, and a night walking the dirt pedestrian-only streets will show you cigar and wine bars (Stogies), sangria bars (Sangria’s), pubs (Prince of Wales), live music, clothiers, and plenty of good company. The beach to the south is a great spot for spending the day, with uncrowded beachfront, great bars, and laid back atmosphere. Our trip ended at Café 11 with a sriracha burrito and chicken pesto quesadillas, with local brew 1595 Brewery Red Lager on the side. Dog friendly and sporting great music, they’re on the south end of the US A1A strip, across from the beach.

Photo credit: Ian Underwood

     While I’m a huge proponent of taking the back road, sometimes you’ve got make time, and the interstate is a must. I’ve traveled 95 for years, and don’t relish the journey, but maybe you can share some solace in good grub and knick-knacks. Depending on where you’re headed, you’ll need a load of music to pass the hours, and one of them needs to be the Dirt Dauber’s 2011 album, Wake Up, Sinners. Pack your sunscreen, take your time, and always use your blinkers – see you on the trail!

 

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