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America's back roads with Gramps
Joe Gillam
Joe Gillam, a military retiree, is a retired Hinesville Police officer - photo by Photo provided.

My grandmother passed away at an early age, leaving Gramps alone. So, Jody, as I was called in those days became his number one buddy.

Gramps was the building manager of the Buckeye Building in Columbus, Ohio, now a historic landmark and an interesting Google.

He took me with him on his two-week vacation every August, and we traveled America, first in his 1950 Mercury, then later in his 1955 Buick. Of course this was pre-interstate highways so we were on America’s back roads, the only roads.

Today, a trip from Ohio to Florida is one day’s hard drive. In the ’50s it was a three-day trip. Gramps introduced me to road trips and I have made them my life’s hobby.

We covered a lot of ground through my early years, almost all of the eastern United States. In those days there were few "chain" or "franchise" businesses. I recall only two, Howard Johnson’s, which has all but disappeared today, and Holiday Inn, which is still going strong. MacDonald’s, Burger King, Olive Garden and the rest were still just dreams.

Back home, Gramps would pick me up almost every Wednesday night and we would go to Ho Jo’s for the all you could eat clam strips. That added my love of sea food to my travel bug. When we were on the road we would search out Ho Jo’s on Wednesdays for the clam strips, a nationwide special.

When I was maybe 7 or so, we stopped in Virginia for Ho Jo’s clam strips one evening. Being a young boy, I ran from the car to the restaurant. Gramps called to me to wait for him and I stopped just at the front door.

My reading skills were just blooming so I started reading the signs at the door. I did not understand one; "No Coloreds Allowed." As Gramps walked up I asked him what that meant. He said he would explain it to me in the car.

He took my little hand and walked me to the car, and I got my first information on race relations and equal opportunity as we looked around for a more accommodating eatery.

For the rest of his life, Gramps never took me to, nor did he patronize another Howard Johnson’s. I had learned at an early age that Gramps was quite a guy.

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