"What do you call that, other than fast?" asks a biker with a row of rubber bands corralling his long, graying beard. Willie Robinson's Pecan House, a roadside stand hawking boiled pea-nuts, peanut brittle, and wild mayhaw jelly, is jumping. Bikers are filling up at nearby pumps. Chuck Hudson, on his way home to Alabama, tells us that eighteen people were killed during Bike Week. "We seen y'all pass down the road a ways. It's almost as badass as my Harley. It's bad, honey. Bad. Bad to the bone! How much is it?"
"A million three."
"That's what I'm talking about!" He shouts at a woman coming from the station. "You got a million three, honey? We can shove it in our saddlebag."
Carol Llewellyn, an older, gray-haired woman, steps from her Subaru Forester and asks if she can take a picture. Very sweet. "I never thought I'd ever see one of these," she says, raising the camera to her eye.
"What do you think it is?" I can't believe it.
"Isn't it a Bugatti thing?"
"I saw it on TV the other night. I told my husband I've always wanted a car that you can't take to the grocery store." Well, amen, sister. "I just never thought I'd see one."
I never thought I'd see Vernon, Florida.
On a map, it looks like all roads in Washington County lead to Vernon, not so surprising, given that there are only eleven towns in the county. It's warm, 80 degrees, and spring-flowering dogwood, redbud, and azaleas brighten both sides of the road as we head west through a flat, sandy landscape dotted with pine forests and lush farm fields. There is no traffic at 3:30 in the afternoon as we roll up to the Vernon town square and turn left on Highway 277, away from the sagging Dixie Dandy store.
Vernon, Florida, the movie, is everyone's little hick hometown laid open for all the world to examine, one interesting character after another. It can be painful to watch if odd ducks make you uncomfortable. It is hilarious if you can relate. Vernon, Florida, the town, is just another Panhandle burg, stuck between Alabama and the deep blue sea. I don't know what I was expecting. There is nothing weird or even that picturesque about the place. It's a little dilapidated, and there are fourteen churches, one for every fifty-four residents. The movie was made twenty-five years ago. All those old codgers must be dead. Nothing to see here. A church. The Dixie Dandy. A church. Hometown Automotive. A church. A tire-repair place.
Whoa. That tire changer was in the movie, I just know it. Our caravan makes a big U-turn, and we roll in like the outlanders we are.
"Sir, do you know why I'm here?" I ask an older man in a plaid shirt and blue work pants. He's wiping his meaty paws on a rag.
"No ma'am." Harlan Register has a hint of a smile for me and the weird-looking car."I saw this movie, and I just wanted to pass through. Would you like to see our car?" I sound like a stupid fool northerner.
"See that man working over there?" says Mr. Harlan, apparently forgiving me my atrocious Midwestern accent. "He was in it. That's my son. There are only four people left who were in the movie."
I knew it. Claude Register takes it all in stride as he comes out from under the car on the hoist. I think he's heard this before, and he cuts to the chase. "That movie, it was like Hick Town. My granddaddy was in it. He was the one talking about the parts of the brain. A week or two later, we found out he had Alzheimer's."
I suddenly wish it were just me and not the international cast of thousands, but the crew is moving the Veyron around town for photos while I settle in with the Registers. Every now and then, the car returns, trailed by local kids who use their cell phones to take pictures and then call more kids to come for a look.