Tallahassee is 52 miles from Perry.
Back in the day, when the speed limit was 55 mph, it was an hour’s drive.
Today, because feet are bigger and heavier than they used to be (and maybe because the speed limit is higher), the trip to Tallahassee has become a 45-minute drive instead of an hour.
I’ve traveled those 52 miles between Perry and Tallahassee more times than I can count.
Some trips were work related. I commuted daily for jobs at the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, Florida A & M University, and WTXL – ABC Channel 27.
Some were to take care of business. A few were for doctors’ appointments. But most were for social reasons: To go shopping. To visit family and friends. To attend concerts and sporting events. And to just hang out.
Perhaps, the most memorable of all of those trips to Tallahassee were the trips I took as a passenger on the back of my grandfather’s truck.
Every Saturday evening, my grandfather would pile eight or nine of us on the back of his truck then head to Tallahassee to the wrestling matches.
I still don’t know what my grandfather was thinking or why my grandmother and mother allowed us to ride all the way to Tallahassee on the back of a pickup truck.
The sun would be getting ready to set when we began placing several blankets on the back of the truck. After the blanket cushions were in place, we climbed on back. The smaller kids would find comfortable sitting places in the middle of the truck bed, and then the bigger kids would climb on and surround us.
When we were all seated, my grandfather would check to make sure we were safely situated. If he wasn’t satisfied with the seating arrangements, he would rearrange us.
“Tony, I want you to move up against the window so I can keep an eye on you,” he would tell my brother. “And Antmar, you get over there by your Uncle Mike, so he can knock you down if you try to move.”
When he was satisfied with the seating arrangement, he would secure the tailgate.
Before my grandfather drove away, my grandmother would ensure our safety by threatening to kill to anyone who stood up while the truck was moving.
“If you stand up and fall, you better hope it kills you,” she would warn. “If it doesn’t, I will.”
Tallahassee was 52 miles back then, but it seemed to be twice as far as we talked, laughed, and sang on the back of my grandfather’s pickup truck.
I can still see the concern on people’s faces as they drove past us. That same look was on people’s faces as we climbed off the truck at the wrestling arena on Apalachee Parkway.
After the wrestling show was over, we would pile back on the truck. But, this time, instead of sitting on the blankets, we covered up with them.
The trip home was long and cold. None of us spoke. We just sat there huddled together, shivering under the blankets, staring up at the stars sprinkled across the night sky.
It was the most unforgettable 52 miles I’ve ever traveled.