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Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Blue highways of America

Part 2: I think the Allman Brothers sang "Ramblin' Man" just for me, 'cause I swear I was born a ramblin' man. Perhaps my concept of rambling (travel) is not akin to yours, but four blasts of a ship's whistle still raises the hair on the back of my neck.

Last week I wrote about our road trip across the blue highways of America. It's our 11th day on the road and I have to tell ya that Dr. Seuss was right when he said, "Oh the Places You'll Go." However, he implies that to do so you have to leave the "Waiting Room," defined as a state of paralysis where nothing happens.

The preponderance of America lies between the left and right coasts. The small towns define the origins of what our country is about. These rural towns are connected by the blue highways, the old roads that are the fabric of America. Blue roads always take you deep into the unknown; they've always seemed to be a path of greater discovery.

In the past 11 days, we've sojourned through countless towns in the rural South. There the sense of Americanism is not as diluted as it is along the coasts, the great population centers of America. Talking to the locals, reading their literature, listening to their songs and just keeping one eye open has shown me that the virtues of courage, honor, justice, truth, sincerity and hardihood are alive and well in the heartland.

America was not built by people who relied on someone else to take care of them. It was built by those who relied on themselves, who dared to shape their own lives, who had enough courage to blaze new trails, and enough confidence in themselves to take the necessary risks.

While driving through the Dust Bowl region, one understands life and circumstance by reading its literature and listening to its music. Willa Cather's "My Antonia" speaks of the struggles of immigrant farmers in rural Nebraska. In conjunction, the greatest musical troubadour, Woody Guthrie, expressed the essence of rural America. His folk songs tell of hardship, struggle and depression, but there is an undertone of hope that weaves its way into the nuances of his verse. "Ain't that America?" (John Cougar).

In Springfield, Ill., we experienced a literary evening showcasing the poems of Vachel Lindsay, called the Prairie Troubadour. His tramps across the prairie were his signature, defining rural America and the resilience of those who lived there.

I've gained a million memories along the blue roads of America. But let me leave you with two recent favorites. While searching for a respite from the road and for some good country ice cream, we stumbled across SLO's Diner in Junction City, Ky. The place was unpretentious and filled with down-home people. We met a lady who has breakfast, lunch and dinner there daily and shared the secrets of the town. Interesting enough, the nonsmoking section of the restaurant was outside on the porch. If you are ever through that part of the country, remember every Friday night there's all the catfish you can eat, and the best homemade ice cream.

In Corinth, Miss., steeped in Civil War history, we had lunch at Martha's Menu. It was obvious that we were not locals because everyone else in the restaurant knew one another. Believe me, Southern hospitality is alive and well in Corinth. I was treated like royalty even though I was a Yankee. At Martha's I had the best tuna sandwich ever for $1.75. We ate like fiends, and the bill was $12.35.

In Cherokee, N.C., we headed west into the sun. Along the blue roads of America, if you pay attention you can hear Woody Guthrie singing; "This land is your land! This land is my land! This land is made for you and me!"

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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