Chris Johnson

In Lee County, all roads lead to ... well, more roads. And all with the same name

I spent last week in Lee County, Alabama, among some of the nicest folks I’ve ever met — folks who live there and volunteers (hundreds of them) who came from all over to rebuild homes and lives shaken and shattered by the March 3 tornado.

These volunteers came from Opelika, Auburn, 30 different states and six different countries to work for free in surface-of-the-sun record heat. It was a fall build without the fall. And all of the volunteers had one thing in common besides their concern for other folks — at some point, they all took a wrong turn and wondered where they were.

The GPS can get you to a lot of places in Alabama, Georgia, Russia, Iran and the moon, but it has a little trouble finding some spots in Lee County. We can use satellites to find where Kim Jong-un is playing with nuclear weapons, but it cannot find every house site in Lee County.

I worked in downtown Columbus for 14 years. It was the last planned city in Georgia, though I doubt they had anywhere in those plans 200 years ago for 147 stores and 3 million restaurants in one area on the north side. I imagine the plan back then was, “Let’s leave that area woods. I like trees.”

The downtown, though, is well planned. See, Lee County, here’s how downtown Columbus works: First Avenue runs east-west, and is followed by Second Avenue, which is followed by Third Avenue. And then guess what’s next? That’s right Fourth Avenue. Well, actually they renamed it Veterans Parkway — unless you’re one of those folks who doesn’t understand grammar and refers to it as “Veteran’s Parkway” with a singular possessive as if it were named after one, single veteran. I’m just guessing, but I’m pretty sure it’s named to honor a whole bunch of veterans … like all of them.

The streets in downtown Columbus are similar. Tenth Street is followed by 11th, then 12th, then 13th and so on. In Lee County, though — especially in the rural areas around tornado-ravaged Beauregard — everything is Lee Road Some Random Number. There’s a woeful lack of creativity in naming the roads. At least name it after some of the common stuff you see around there, like Old Barn Road, Crushed Armadillo Highway and Yet Another Four-Way Stop Boulevard.

Now, I’m not against using numbers to identify roads. Heck, without roads named with numbers, we’d have never been able to sing “Route 66.” But there’s got to be some rhyme or reason. As I drove from house build to house build last week, I was on Lee Road 38, then Lee Road 741, then Lee Road 166, then Lee Road 40, then Lee Road 2198. And then I hit one with an actual name, Cave Mill Road, and it turns to dirt. Pretty sure there was no cave around that road, and I didn’t see any mill, and I barely saw road, so I have no idea where that name came from.

Google Maps helped me find some places, or got me close enough. Waze got me closer to some, but sometime would say, “You’ve arrived at your destination,” to which I’d retort, “Well, yeah, I was looking for a clump of broken pine trees. Thanks!”

Eventually, someone handed me something called a “map.” This is what pirates used to use to identify where they buried treasure and that used to cause divorces for people who couldn’t read it in a moving vehicle or fold it correctly to put it back in the glove department. But I did learn to rely on it instead of the fancy technology in my phone.

I’m sure folks who live in Lee County do not struggle with directions on a daily basis. They know how to get from Lee Road 38 to Lee Road 721 with the kind of directions we used to give in the rural area of Georgia where I grew up:

“Used to you could go yonder way a piece and then turn where Lester crashed his truck that time, then take a right where the Jenkins’ place used to be and it’d be just over the Possum Creek Bridge.”

“Thanks, that’s all I needed to know.” Vroom!

“Guess I should have told that feller those old directions ain’t much good since the bridge washed out, though. Honey, fire up the tow truck!”

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