Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

Cutting Across The State
by James Glaser
May 16, 2008

If you Map Quest how to get from Tallahassee to Gainesville Florida, you are instructed to head east on interstate # 10 and to turn South on interstate # 75. That is easy and direct, but it sure isn't any fun.

I had a VA Hospital appoint at the Gainesville VA yesterday, and rather than spending six hours on the freeway, I opted to spend about seven and half on State Highway # 27 for most of the way and jumping on the freeway for the last 17 miles.

You always read about how veterans get free medical care, but it really isn't free. First off you had to put your time in the service, and if my memory is correct, the first year I took home $54 every two weeks. In my forth year I was getting $365 a month.

Then there is the fact that you can go to the VA Medical Hospital or clinic for care, but that hospital or clinic might be a hundred and fifty, two fifty, or even five hundred miles away. It might take as long as a year to get an appointment, and there is nothing that says that the appointment you have been waiting for won't be cancelled the week before you are to be there.

Yes, depending on what you did in the service and what was done to you, you can call VA medical care free, or you can call it the most expensive medical care in the world.

Back to my trip. I was lucky Wanda could take the day off and ride down to Gainesville with me. We headed out early and stopped in the town of Perry for breakfast. The restaurant was right on the town square and was locally owned. The coffee was good and I had a short stack. You could tell the batter was made from scratch, and the pancakes were good. Small town eating either in the South or in the North is very inexpensive, and the two of us had breakfast for less than eight dollars.

We were cutting cross country and had lots of small towns to look at. We headed out early so we could goof off, and we stopped at antique shops, a gun store, and had a nice time.

We got to Gainesville early and checked in at the hospital. I was telling Wanda that sometimes if you got in early, they take you sooner, but not yesterday. We sat in a waiting room listening to a really huge vet snore away the afternoon. He was asleep when we came in, all during our one hour wait, and he was still there when my name was called.

The appointment went fine, and we headed out. Gainesville, (for you who don't know is the home of Gatoraid, and the University of Florida) is big enough to have a rush hour, and we drove right into it. We jumped onto a crowded freeway and jumped right off again, on to our back road adventure.

On the way down we picked out a place to have dinner in the town of High Springs. The sign said "Happy Hour and Live Music." Well, they didn't have live music and happy hour didn't start till way after we wanted to get out of there. Also, they were not serving food at that time. That would be about 4:30. They started serving at 6. We had coffee and chips and headed out to find someplace else.

Twenty miles down the road was a steak house, but they didn't have steak. I had pot roast, and Wanda had shrimp. It actually a very big restaurant with tongue and groove pine walls and exposed timber beamed ceilings, very rustic and pleasing. In fact, for just a moment I shut out the sounds of the Southern voices, and imagined myself at a typical rural restaurant in Northern Minnesota — pot roast is pot roast no matter where you are. Anyway, we were hungry, and though not really very good, it filled us up. Like many out of the way places, it wasn't expensive, in fact, cheap, and we will never go back again.

We did have a great time though and just having eight hours together with uninterrupted talk time is a real treat. Remember, we are newlyweds. The trip was nice because all the people in those small towns were nice. Even the place with the less than excellent food had very nice people working there. The people helping me at the VA as usual were great. However gas was up to $3.89, so filling up the truck was a real bummer. Over thirty eight dollars, and you still have less than ten gallons and about a half tank.

All in all I would recommend the back roads if you are not in a hurry. The people you meet are friendlier, the shopping is way different, and the food might not be all that great, but for sure it will be less expensive.

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