I remember sitting on an embankment on the side of the road watching semi-trucks pulling up the long hill on U.S. Highway 90 on the east side of Quincy, where I grew up. This was in the days way before Interstate 10 and four-lane highways were popular.
A group of us boys would gather there often to see the trucks as they struggled to climb that steep hill. The real thrill was when one, fully loaded, billowing out black smoke would miss a gear forcing them to go all the way back to first gear to get to the top of the hill.
Most of those trucks had airhorns and occasionally by pumping our arm up and down we could get them to sound off their horn.
Those trucks would be from all over the country traveling along U.S. 90. They would be going so slow by the time they reached the top of the hill we could read their tags and see where they were from.
Every day we would get a geography lesson when we saw trucks from exotic places like Iowa, Michigan or New York. They were from places we had only seen in books or maps. Watching them climb that hill was like watching the world go by for us.
Another thing we use to do is check out car tags as well. We memorized Florida tags which gave numbers for the counties.
Gadsden was 21 and Jackson was 25. There were 68 all together with 67 for the counties and one (68) for mail in tags.
Looking back, its funny – we could rip those county numbers off like a times table and struggled in history class remembering dates.
Sometimes we would see cars from places like Dade County (1) way off up here. There was a certain amount of bragging allowed if you saw a county far off or one like Desoto County (33) that no one had a clue where it was located.
Gas stations used to give out a card with all the county numbers on one side and the advertisement for the station on the other.
I got to be fairly good at naming the tags and the county they were from. When I was 12, I worked pumping gas at the KAYO station a few blocks from where we lived on Friday and Saturdays.
I was always amazed at the number of cars and trucks that came through that station from all over Florida. The manager knew a few of the county numbers. If one came through he didn’t recognize, he’d ask me.
Usually, when I would be washing their windshield I would mention where they were from. Not so much to impress them with my knowledge, but to garner a tip.
Well over half would flip me a dime when I finished their windshield, that would be enough to buy a drink or a pack of peanuts from the vending machine.
Many times, I remember lying in bed after working (12 hours, by the way) thinking about those folks traveling through town and wonder what it would be like to go somewhere exotic like Jacksonville or New Orleans.
Life sure was simple back then, wasn’t it?
Byron Spires is a retired newspaper editor. He has written dozens of short stories and serials in the Havana Herald. He recently published “The Curious Life of Marci Bell: Part I,” in a series of three books. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.