” . . .With the help and the grace from above,
Save some money, get rich and old,
Bring it back to Tobacco Road . . .”
Although the song presents a generally bleak disdain of the impoverished stretch of U.S. Highway 15 that winds through the tobacco belt in North Carolina and points beyond, it remains a classic spark that ignites images of wooden carts piled high with the veiny leaf, on its way to fuel the fires of contemplation and inspiration.
I was transported by a remark my wife made after watching a Travel Channel feature on the Silk Road that once linked a veritable caravan of wealth seekers from China and India to the Mediterranean Sea.
“I’d like to travel that road someday,” she sighed dreamily, “and the Tobacco Road too, where is that? Is there really a Tobacco Road we could follow?”
Indeed! But we had already touched upon that sojourn a few years back on a road trip vacation to Graceland and Vicksburg. We circled up through Louisiana onto the outskirts of Saint James Parish, and stopped for souvenirs at a quaint pharmacy along a rural roadside, just shy of the southern Arkansas border. As we entered in, it was immediately clear that we had somehow been transported back to the early 1970s. A middle aged man in his blue pharmacist’s smock leaned over his ledger and updated a tab for an elderly man’s prescription. An equally elderly but elegant woman walked out from a back room and took her place at the register up front, sensing a big sale. The shelves were full of well dusted but otherwise undisturbed merchandise that seemed to have been resting peacefully for the last forty years. Not a bar code in sight. As my wife held up a solidified bottle of nail polish, my eyes grew wide at a sight on the wall behind a counter.
“Can I see those two boxes of London Dock?”, I asked the gentleman.
As he handed them down, the original price sticker boldly announced “$1.79″.
Had naught but blind pipe smokers wandered through these aisles in the last four decades?
“I’ll take ‘em!”
Before I could catch my breath from this great vintage score, my wife motioned me toward a glass case and pointed to a pair of Dr. Grabow Meerschaum pipes. A Bacchus and a Claw, nicely boxed and of admirable size. I nervously asked to see them to inconspicuously search out their price.
“74.95 each it says, right?”
There was hushed conversation between the good sir and the older woman.
“But mother, this is the price marked, I can’t very well ask for more now.”
So as we drove away from this lovely oasis of antiquity, past the new Sonic Drive-In they had built just down the road, I thanked my wife for the Anniversary present of the Bacchus. Six months later, I unwrapped the Claw from beneath the Christmas tree.
Yeah, Tobacco Road is real.
“Build a town, be proud to show,
Gives the name Tobacco Road.”