When you spend eight hours a day on the road, you get a good idea of what's out there to see. Verizon Wireless is famous for their high-quality cell phone network, and they maintain that quality by putting wheels to the road: having their "test men" cruise highways, streets and country lanes throughout America to make sure everybody's phones work.
No, alas, they don't make a whole bunch of calls asking, "Can you hear me now?" That guy's an actor. The real test people use automated computer routines that each take about an hour to run. In the meantime, the test guys are keeping an eye out for enjoyable places to eat lunch or take their families as their PCs chug away, making sure that you can connect calls from sea to shining sea. We talked to a few of them to get their on-the-ground tips.
Georgia On His Mind
DeAnthony Norwood spends his days on the roads of Georgia, sometimes ambling down tracks so obscure, they don't show up on his GPS maps. Sticking to the speed limit on country roads gives him time to do some sightseeing, he said.
About an hour east of Atlanta, the serpentine Lake Oconee is worth a look, Norwood said. It's narrow, but deceptively long, with a golf or country club twined around many of its branches. Norwood's favorite is the golf resort Reynolds Plantation (100 Linger Longer Rd, Greensboro, GA; tel. 888/298-3119; www.reynoldsplantation.com), "a nice little getaway not far from Atlanta where you can rent a cottage for the weekend." The plantation has its own golf cottages and also a lodge run by Ritz-Carlton (1 Lake Oconee Trail, Greensboro, GA; tel. 706/467-0600) where rooms start at $249/night.
Jackson's recommendations also reminded us that if you really want to see America, get off the Interstate. I-75 from Atlanta to Macon is a fast ride. But take US 23 through Flovilla instead, and you might pull over at a quiet little park with a creek running through it to take in the air.
"It's not a huge park, but it's really nice and quiet," Norwood said.
Grab something tasty at Fresh Air Bar-B-Que (tel. 770/775-3182; www.freshairbarbecue.com), where a barbecue pork sandwich is only $2.49, to take to the park. This "really great" barbecue place has two locations in Jackson and Macon, GA. And we'll trust Norwood: if he drives through Georgia all day, he probably knows his barbecue.
Out of The Office in Pennsylvania
Northeast Pennsylvania is now best known for the industrial city of Scranton, site of the TV show The Office. But as a Verizon test man, Aaron Gill works out of the office, and he says this region a few hours from both New York and Philadelphia is full of the great outdoors.
US route 209, running from Strousdburg through the Pocono Mountains to the New York State border at I-84, is the prettiest road he's driven down, he said.
The region's downtowns are also worth a look if you're passing through, Gill said. Hershey, Carlisle, and Gettysburg are all particularly pretty in the fall, he said.
"As soon as you come into the actual town of Hershey, the smell of chocolate is very strong," he said.
Between the Freeways of LA
Steven Wood drives around the suburbs of Los Angeles for Verizon Wireless every day, though apparently, another guy gets to drive around the city itself. Wood spends a lot of time on freeways, but he's found some interesting things off the road.
"There's a place off the 5 freeway, a hole in the wall, that's got the best carne asada burritos I've ever had," he said. He's talking about Sergio's Tacos, at 2216 S Atlantic Blvd in Commerce (tel. 323/261-3364), a hut that sometimes also has a taco truck out back. The tacos at Sergio's have gotten great reviews on the Internet, but the place doesn't look like it's been discovered by the mainstream crowd.
You may think of Wood's route as suburban, but Southern California can get rural fast, he said. Just a few minutes north of the I-10 freeway in Monrovia, Monrovia Canyon Park (www.cityofmonrovia.org; $5 per car admission) has 80 acres of trails, with an easy 1.5-mile hike leading to a 30-foot waterfall. "I took my wife and four kids, and there's a little pool the kids can wade around in. It's pretty spectacular," Wood said. If that only whets your appetite for nature, the Angeles National Forest -- 655,000 acres with some actual mountains in it -- is nearby.