We are on a rural highway. We have a long drive ahead, but I could make this trip blindfolded.
Our journey starts in Defuniak Springs, Florida.
Defuniak is a lovely American hamlet. Before it was a city, it was a railroad stop called “Open Pond,” which featured a perfectly round spring-fed lake in the center of town, teeming with freshwater Baptists. The lake is still there. So are the Baptists.
After you leave Defuniak, you hit Mossy Head, Crestview, Deerland, and soon you’re riding through pine trees. Lots and lots of trees.
Which brings up an important point, I hope you like pine trees because you’re going to see a lot of them in the next paragraphs.
You’ll also see shotgun houses, rusty mailboxes, cows that stare, toddlers on ATVs, and speeding log trucks driven by adventurous men who steer only with their left knees.
Now entering Milligan, Florida. This unincorporated community used to be the county seat of Okaloosa County a hundred years ago. What will you find in Milligan today? Nothing.
That is, unless you count all the churches.
First Baptist Church, Shepherd’s Church, Milligan Assembly of God, Lebanon Baptist, a Church of Christ, Beulah Missionary Baptist Church…
Keep following Highway 4 until you get to Baker. Land of Dreams. Founded in 1861, shortly after the birth of Willie Nelson.
There isn’t much going on in Baker, Florida, and even if there were, you’ll probably never hear about it because the internet is slow.
Baker does, however, have a couple world-class restaurants. There’s the Gator Café—try the burger. And, of course, there’s Taco Town, which resembles a Third World gas station but once served exceptional fare. Sadly, they’re closed now.
So maybe you could get lunch at the high school cafeteria instead.
Baker High School is every small-town school you’ve ever loved. Their football team is bar none. Last year, for instance, their running back, Kayleb Wagner, made sports history by shattering NFL superstar Derrick Henry’s single-game rushing record.
What makes this so impressive? Two things: (1) Kayleb was a high-school junior, and (2) he was born without his left hand.
Moving right along.
Up ahead, turn left at the Baker Feed and Seed. Now you’re in Blackwater River State Forest. Prepare to lose cellphone reception. If, however, you happen to receive staticky calls from friends, tell them you’re near Baker. When they ask, “Where’s Baker?” laugh and invite them to Taco Town.
Next, you will ride through Berrydale. Pay no attention to the abandoned prison on your right. It’s just a rundown, overgrown, corroded, level-II medium-security detention forestry camp, clad in razor wire, which looks like it belongs in a B-horror movie.
Needless to say, standing within spitting distance from the blood-chilling prison is Pine Grove Missionary Baptist Church, Berrydale Baptist Church, Stump Springs Baptist Church, etc.
Make sure you stop by Country Express filling station. Tell them Sean sent you. Purchase some corn nuggets, collards, or taterlogs. And if you’ve never heard of the items I just named, you can stay in New Jersey and freeze.
Turn onto Highway 87. Drive past the vacated Whip R Wheel gas station, the the dead possum, and the 1,202,338 logging trucks.
You’ll see a lot of logging trucks here, because you’re approaching Alabama, a state that is 70 percent forest.
Logging is a huge business in these parts. You’re looking at 23 million acres of longleafs out there, and the forest is almost ALL privately owned.
Another common feature to this region is the Great American Trailer Home.
Ah, yes. The house trailer. I was born in one. Call them whatever you want: “mobile homes,” “manufactured houses,” “prefab estates,” “ambulatory mansions.” We love our trailers. Who cares if our house moves but our 13 cars don’t?
The last landmark before the Alabama state line is the Sanhandle Lotto store. This is a shack that sells nothing but lotto tickets. Here Alabamians can legally play the Florida Lottery before crossing back into their home state where there is no lottery; a state where, if you are caught playing the lotto, you will be dragged behind the nearest church and shot.
Golden Memorial Holiness Church, Full Gospel Community Church, True Worship Assembly of God Church, Fidelis Church…
“Welcome to Alabama,” says the sign ahead.
We’re almost there.
Up ahead is the booming metropolis of Riverview (pop. 184). Ride over the Conecuh River, and witness the lovely bridge construction which has been in progress since before the Dead Sea was even sick.
Welcome to East Brewton. You will see homes of all shapes and denominations. You’ll see cute houses with potted ferns, and you’ll see homes with plywooded windows, porch freezers, and blue-tarped rooftops. The people are friendly.
Mickie’s Barber Shop. Evans Carpet Cleaners. A John Deere Dealership. Pioneer Mobile Home Sales. There is a billboard for Wind Creek Casino located right across the street from the First United Methodist church.
The Piggly Wiggly is always slammed.
Congratulations, you’ve arrived in Brewton, Alabama. The blueberry capital of Alabama. Hometown of American legends Hank Locklin, William Lee Golden, and the guy who wrote “Beetlejuice.”
Turn onto Belleville Avenue where you’ll see Aunt Catherine’s house in the distance. All those cars littering the driveway belong to cousins. And the happy people waving at you, that’s your family.
“I’m home,” says your wife.
Not a bad place to be.