My Way or the Highway

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By Douglas Hanks III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 23, 2001

I AM HEADING FOR RICHMOND TODAY, so there is no reason to be sitting here on an aluminum stool thinking about the baked country ham and pineapple ring supper, which comes with (pick one) soup of the day or tomato juice for $8.95.

I should be frantic down Interstate 95, cursing a gold Topaz for lazing at 70 mph in the fast lane, glancing at the white place settings on royal blue that signal a fast-food turnoff. Lunch today should be with my engine running.

Instead, I swivel around and squint through the cigarette smoke to peer at the four lanes of Route 301 about 50 paces away from the front window at Gerber's New Yorker Restaurant in Bowling Green, Va.

The road shouldn't be this close to food. Modern transportation doctrine calls for highways to be straight shots with no stops. Overpasses, not intersections. Exits instead of traffic lights. And service roads replacing restaurants like Gerber's that front the very asphalt.

Route 301 ignores all that. Built in the 1920s, it remains a pokey stretch of road between Bowie and Richmond still cluttered with roadside distractions.

Off-ramps and wooded berms isolate I-95 motorists from passing towns to the point that personalized license plates seem like scenery. On Route 301, there's a trailer park with a plastic horse out front that is anatomically correct and definitely a mare.

In short, there's something to see on Route 301. It captures what long car trips used to mean: watching towns roll past through the windows, stopping at a place that looked good, taking a gamble on the meatloaf. With this weekend's launch of the summer driving season, I decided to roll the dice for 100 miles along Route 301.

The rules: no chicken nuggets, no drive-throughs and no hurry.

And no staring at that horse.

CLEO'S RESTAURANT AND MOTEL

Outside the sign reads Cold Beer, Light Wine. Inside, Clementine Greenfield lights the griddle with a wooden match and puts on two sausage cakes. She is 71, and this is her 49th year on the job. The kitchen -- the griddle, a gas stove and fryer and a sink -- sits just off the linoleum counter with stools covered in aqua vinyl.

If the settings seem humble at Cleo's Restaurant and Motel just south of Upper Marlboro, the conversation this morning isn't.

"The state is all for it . . . I'm meeting with Wayne Curry at 10 . . . Remember that dinner for Al Gore?"


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© 2001 The Washington Post Company

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