Tail of the Weak 3.28
Updated: Jan 25
Tail of the Weak is a series of insights and musical memories from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin, singer/songwriter and founder of the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, from Waycross, Georgia.
In 1927, the year my daddy was born, US Route No. 1 stretched from Fort Kent, Maine to Miami, Florida. A highway of history, US 1 grew from colonial footpaths to a hard-surface blacktop, providing an artery whereby industry and tourism flourished for many American small towns like Waycross, Georgia, my hometown.
Motels, gas stations, restaurants, and gift shops sprang up in abundance up and down the Atlantic Coast Highway, giving travelers plenty of opportunities to spend their hard-earned paychecks.
In Waycross, the highway entered town from the north, followed southward down State Street until it T-boned into Plant Avenue. A right-hand turn, followed a block later by a left-hand turn, led you right past the historic Green Frog Restaurant on Lee Avenue. One more left turn at the traffic light beyond the Green Frog put you squarely on Memorial Drive, which carried southward out of town and on into Jacksonville, Florida and beyond.
Opened in 1935 by 19-year-old Waycrossan, Bill Darden, The Green Frog started out as a 25-seat luncheonette. By the time I was toddling around Waycross in 1957, the place had grown into a sit-down restaurant with drive-in access. We would periodically eat out there for Sunday dinner or special occasions, ordering from the menu that offered Fried Jumbo Frog Legs on the Okefenokee Swamp Platter, along with Mammy's Fried Chicken, seafood, steaks, sandwiches, cold plates, and breakfast.
Darden, a restaurateur with a talent for success, founded the Red Lobster chain, opening the first seafood restaurant in Lakeland, Florida in 1968. Fourteen years later, he opened the first Olive Garden in Orlando, the company becoming the largest chain of Italian-themed restaurants in the U.S.
As a family in the mid-Fifties, we would head down US 1 South frequently to visit my Granddaddy “Rab”, James Robert Griffin, who lived in Starke, Florida. It was a good two-and-a-half hour drive past pine trees and palmettos, funky Florida-style motels, and colorful billboards advertising kid's sunglasses, Stuckey's Pecan Log Rolls, and alluring destinations, like St. Augustine Alligator Farm, Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum, and Storyland U.S.A.
Storyland U.S.A., a fairy tale-themed kiddieland located in Jacksonville, Florida, holds some of my earliest childhood memories—hazy, enchanted visions of breath-taking replicas of the Old WomanWho Lived in a Shoe's giant shoe and all her many children—the Three Little Pigs' houses complete with lifelike statues of the pigs and the Big Bad Wolf, frozen in time—Humpty Dumpty perched on a wall before his fall—along with a concrete pool filled with miniature boat rides sailing 'round and 'round.
The motels along US 1 were welcome havens for tired tourists traveling from northern states down to sunny Florida. Quaint and colorful, with neatly-manicured lawns surrounding pools, swing sets, and picnic tables, they bore the imaginative names of Siesta Motor Court, Desert Isle Motel, Palm Court, Dixie Motel, and Pioneer Inn.
Winge's Gulf, on the corner of Memorial Drive and Lee Avenue, was daddy's go-to gas station back in the day. Owned by Revenal Winge, his friendly, uniformed staff would smother our Ford station wagon with service and attention as one pumped the gas, another had his head under the hood checking the oil and radiator, while still another washed and wiped the windshield. Winge's was one of a slew of service stations up and down Memorial Drive where a motorist just might run out of gas for 15 seconds.
In 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed a plan called the Federal Interstate Highway System which, over a decade or so of construction, brought on the gradual decline of the beautiful motor courts, roadside attractions, and distinct eateries that catered to a generation of US 1 travelers.
Growing up in the 50s and 60s, we didn't have the high-profile theme parks of Orlando, high-rise condominiums, and convenience store gas stations. But, what we did have were healthy imaginations fueled by spellbinding billboards leading to magical locations that never disappointed—Pecan Log Rolls, fuzzy multi-colored rabbit foot keychains out of Mom and Pop store gumball machines, and red-and-white striped sunglasses adorned with smiling pig faces—and road maps you could unfold and look at to tell you where you were going compared to where you had been.
Honestly, I don't have a clue where we're going now; but, I do know where we've been—and I sure wish somebody else was pumpin' my gas and cleanin' my windshield.
American Spirit: Uncle Dave and The Younguns Download or Buy
Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin