The worst parking job ever
You never quite know what you're going to find out in the woods
I’ve spent the week immersed in a very specific kind of Southernism: SEC Media Days. Over the course of 96 hours, I heard all fourteen of the conference’s head coaches tell me just how excited they are for this upcoming season, what a fine group of young men they have in their program — well, except for the one that got arrested just before he was supposed to come to Media Days, we’re not talking about him yet — and what a fine, fine time it is to be a member of the Southeastern Conference.
At the shindig — billed, appropriately enough, as “Talkin’ Season” — we had a reckoning over fake Southern accents, a debate over whether you should put mayonnaise in your coffee, and the debut of Marvel’s newest heroes:
Anyway, all those hours spent floating on hot air and coachspeak — you can read my full coverage here, if you’re so inclined — mean I’m a little tight on time for this week’s newsletter. So let’s riff a bit about the mystery that lurks on one of my favorite hiking trails.
The hills of Georgia hide hundreds of lost and abandoned cars. Long before Atlanta was a standstill traffic nightmare, Georgia — specifically the run between downtown Atlanta and the hill country up near Dahlonega — was home to a breed of racing daredevils, young drivers blessed with phenomenal reaction time, iron spines and an abiding sense of immortality. In the time between world wars, they’d run bootleg moonshine down from the hollows in north Georgia to the speakeasies in Atlanta, and they’d usually get away with it. Usually.
Now nearly a century on, most of the hulks of the old Fords and Pontiacs used for bootlegging have rusted into scrap — those that aren’t preserved in museums, of course. But every so often, when you’re out in the woods, you’ll come across a bit of incongruous steel, something that didn’t just grow there. Maybe it’s a relic of whiskey runners, maybe it’s one of the heirs to their balls-out, just-try-to-catch-me tradition.
The Gold Branch Trail in Marietta runs along the banks of the Chattahoochee River, starting high on a bluff and diving right down to the waterline. It’s a moderately demanding trail, one of my favorites to hike on weekends, and every time I’m there I’ll see a family who’s overestimated the willingness of their six-year-old to tromp over rocky pathways and up steep climbs.
I also pay a visit to the rotting hulk of an old car, just sitting in the middle of the woods like it was dropped there:
As you can see from my artistic photos above, its tires have long since rotted away, its windshield and windows have fragmented into dust. It’s been stomped, shot, scavenged and smashed so many different ways it’s impossible to tell just what the hell happened since the moment it left the road for the last time.
For a brief moment, there was a small card identifying this car as a 1963 Mercury Comet:
This particular Comet was an S-22; the holes where six bullet-shaped taillights once glowed are the tipoff. And while the Comet had its sedan variants, the two-doored, tail-finned S-22 was a young man’s ride. Whatever brought that car to this spot, there’s a story behind it. The 1960s were a little late to be bootlegging, but the perfect time to drive as fast as you could, either toward some promised land or away from your hometown. (If you’re writing about young people and fast cars, you lapse into Springsteenisms. It’s a gravitational pull that’s impossible to resist.)
Here’s what I love: that car is a long, long way from any nearby road. Whoever drove it for the last time really, really wanted it out this far away from civilization. The hills that driver would have had to crest, the creeks to dodge, the rocky bluffs to navigate … somebody was either very lost or very determined to get lost.
Whatever happened next happened slowly. The car obviously didn’t plow into a tree. Maybe its tires blew out, or its axle snapped, or it just ran out of gas. It came to a halt in the middle of the woods, and there it’ll stay, on federally protected land, until it disintegrates into the earth or Amazon buys out the whole place and throws up a warehouse.
I hike the Gold Branch Trail a couple times a year, and every time, I take a moment to check on the car and speculate on what brought it there. And then I head on my way. It’ll be right there when I come back, and so will its mysteries.
Thanks for hanging with me again this week, friends. Stay cool, in every sense, and I’ll catch you back here next Saturday —
This is issue #65 of Flashlight & A Biscuit. Check out all the past issues right here. Feel free to email me with your thoughts, tips and advice. If you’re new around here, check out some of our hits:
Chili, onions, pickles, oyster crackers … too much is never enough when you’re loading up a Scrambled Dog.
Elvis Presley gets one last comeback
An ode to an Atlanta landmark from the last days of disco
What’s in a Diablo Sandwich? Solving a “Smokey and the Bandit”mystery
What does “Flashlight & A Biscuit” mean, anyway?
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