Fleeing Irma, Finding Southern Hospitality
We always try to plan our Simply Smart Travel trips well in advance.
We have found that it pays to do our homework and research the best places to stay and learn about our destination’s attractions and culture. However, long term advance planning is not always possible.
That is the situation we faced at our Sarasota, Florida, home as category five Hurricane Irma churned toward us, just days away.
The official message was clear: get out if you can or go to a shelter if you cannot.
The Exodus Begins
We heeded the advice and fled north. But planning and preparation still proved to be valuable and made our evacuation less stressful.
After poring over TV weather reports and downloading the Florida Storms app for our phones, we filled our gas tank, loaded our precious computers in the trunk, packed appropriate clothes and a few necessities and decided that Northwest Georgia seemed to be a good place to evacuate to, given the storm’s predicted path.
Knowing Atlanta would be mobbed by evacuees, we decided on Cedartown, Georgia, a town 60 miles west of Atlanta. We made a reservation for two nights at the Cedartown Best Western and hit the road four days before the storm was scheduled to hit.
We figured—and soon verified—that the highways would be clogged.
So we got on our phones and started to call hotels along the way since it became obvious that we would not make Cedartown in the normal drive time of nine hours. After getting a lot of “Sorry, we are full” responses, we found one in Tallahassee and arrived there after a ten and a half hour drive (normally about five and a half), mostly on secondary roads because I-75 became a parking lot.
The next morning, we set off from Tallahassee on U.S. Highway 27 toward Cedartown and arrived there in mid-afternoon.
After checking in to the hotel, the front desk suggested that we go to Jefferson’s restaurant across the street for dinner since they were offering free food to Florida evacuees. That was our first taste of southern hospitality.
What wonderful and generous people. We tried to pay but they would not accept it.
The hotel filled up fast and by the next morning, there were people sleeping in campers in the parking lot (provided gratis by people in the town) and the hotel even opened a room for evacuees without a hotel room for showering.
Even though we had reservations for two nights, the hotel accommodated us and extended our stay for four nights.
The lobby of the hotel began to fill up with huge quantities of food of all kinds, bottled water, diapers, pet supplies, toiletries and so forth, all donated by private citizens, stores and local churches and all available for the taking, no questions asked.
The local volunteer fire department showed up and made provisions to set up a huge tent if needed. Fortunately, it was not needed since the hotel allowed people to stay in the lobby and in the campers in the parking lot.
Soon, grills appeared on the lawn and the townspeople began grilling hamburgers, hot dogs and bar-b-que and urging evacuees to take their fill. They kept it up every day until two days after the storm, when we left to return home. Nobody would take any money for anything.
Cedartown’s Red Cedar
To put it mildly, the people of Cedartown stepped up and showed what hospitality is all about.
Since we had a car, a room, credit cards and adequate provisions, we decided to make the best of a bad situation and explore the region.
Cedartown, the county seat of Polk County, is a picturesque town with a population of 9,750.
The town was named for its Red Cedar trees and its downtown is full of historical buildings and listed is on the National Register of Historic Places because of its 1890’s architecture. Although the town was ravaged by the Union Army during the civil war, the coming of the railroad and U.S. Highway 27 helped it recover in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
We arrived back home in Florida to no damage; Irma had largely spared our town. Unfortunately, other places were not so fortunate.
Thanks for everything Cedartown!
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Cedartown is located on U.S. Highway 27, which is 27 miles north of I-20 and 60 miles from Atlanta and its interstate highway connections.
By air, the nearest major airport is Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) in Atlanta.
By train, Atlanta is the nearest Amtrak stop. Birmingham is 120 miles away.
Mobility Level: Public and commercial buildings are accessible. There is no public transit system. The terrain is flat-to-rolling and most places have convenient on-street parking. A car is a necessity.
When To Go: When you need to, in time to beat the throngs of last-minute hurricane escapees. Hurricane season is June through November. Georgia summers are hot and autumn turns cool to cold.
Where To Stay: Before you leave, make hotel reservations. Plan on slow driving since you are not the only one with plans to escape.
Special Travel Interests: Safety and a place to be comfortable. While you are away, be sure to explore your surroundings and enjoy its hospitality, history and charms.
For more in-depth advice on Georgia, check out LONELY PLANET’S SAVANNAH, CHARLESTON, & THE CAROLINA COAST guide from Amazon.com. Thank you for using our referral (“affiliate”) links to support our journalism.
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Have you been Cedartown? Share your favorite tips in the comments section below!
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