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Thoughts on new interchange

Staff column

POSTED: July 14, 2017 6:30 p.m.
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Jeff Whitten is managing editor of the Bryan County News.

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It’s getting so you can’t ride around state highways on the hood of your grandfather’s car with a slingshot and a can of marbles, hunting rabbits.

There’s too much traffic, too much law enforcement, too many rules these days. Too much of everything. Besides, a kid might get broken that way.

Yet that is one of my earliest memories of my father’s father — me being armed with the aforementioned weapons, plopped up on the hood of his giant mint colored car and driven around Pendleton, South Carolina.

We were presumably hunting rabbits, though I don’t recall seeing any. The occasional passersby would honk and wave. Nobody seemed unduly concerned, or even duly.

My grandfather — his full name was Henry Grady Whitten, but he went by Grady and we kids called him Papa — was babysitting, and what better way to keep a kid occupied than to put him on the hood of your car and drive him around hoping for a crack at a rabbit?

Years later, when I was up for a visit and in my 20s, Papa hooked up a lawn-mower trailer to his four-wheeler, put a lawnchair in the trailer, bade me sit on it and then towed me around the mill hill on a chilly upstate morning.

Both instances came to mind after hearing news that both Richmond Hill and Bryan County have committed millions of dollars to ensuring a third interchange will be built on I-95, thus making it more than a likelihood.

I consider another dagger in the heart of what’s left of what used to be the South, where rural roads were lonesome and you could move about without getting run over by someone in a hurry to get somewhere first. That was especially true here, where a quarter century ago you could practically drive across entire counties in coastal Georgia without coming across a paved road if you didn’t want to. Those roads are mostly buried in asphalt now as we race to a future that will, as ever, line some pockets and empty others.

Papa, who left an Upstate farm to join the Army and fight the Japanese and then came home to work — first as a farmer and then in the cotton mill while raising a family — often said he admired the Cherokee, thought they had the right idea about things like property and work. He loved baseball, called Tommy Lasorda "old Satchel Butt" and enjoyed bluegrass music and gospel. And he hated Clemson and outlived three wives.

But as Papa got older, his driving got scarier and he took, as my father put it, "his half of the road in the middle" routinely ignoring stop signs and red lights. At the same time, much like the South Carolina Lowcountry and Georgia’s Coastal Empire, the Upstate experienced a population boom.

I felt bad for Papa, who without knowing it had grown obsolete in some eyes. A new faster world was sprouting up fast around him at the same time his ability to cope was fading. Roads were different, traffic was heavier, there were intersections and signals at places where once there was nothing but fields and cattle, and everywhere, it seemed, people who had no patience for him.

It’s the way of the world. The South’s lonesome places are going as fast as we can kill them, and what’s left in their stead is not necessarily better.

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