For years, Cassville had absolutely no traffic lights. None. In fact, the road I grew up on was not fully paved until I was in 10th grade. We had that bootleg gravel, Sakrete and dirt mix for years, rendering car washes useless and causing some nasty scrapes when Matt and I would fly downhill on our bikes, shooting down imaginary Migs and "breaking hard left" ( 1 for Top Gun reference). I'm not sure who I was, Maverick or Ice Man, but I loved to say, "The plaque for the alternates is in the ladies room" after blowing Russians out the sky. I thoroughly enjoyed watching them crash and burn in Two Run Creek and then celebrating with a milkshake at Neen's.
The road that ran in front of the store, Cassville Road, was paved with actual asphalt. It may have had a thousand potholes, but the citizens living on its frontage enjoyed the perks of pavement. One of the perks of pavement is the speed that you can drive. This stretch of road was like a racetrack to be honest. The speed limit was 35 miles per hour, but it was hardly acknowledged. There were no stop signs, no traffic, no yields, and no police officers, so Cassville natives could travel at warp speed at all times. There were good reasons to be in a hurry up there. You did NOT want to miss the Evening Cash 3 drawing, did you? I think not! There was one sign close to the store indicating that a sharp curve was ahead (which it was), but it did not seem to slow anyone down. Further, somebody spraypainted "No Mercey" on the sign in 1994, so I guess the artist was telling us to put the hammer down. When I left Cassville for Athens in 1999, that sign was still there, a glowing sentiment to the local education system.
For years, the hammer stayed down. Guys in Camaros, fresh off the racks and the removal of the muffler, would fly by the store. For those who are unaware, taking the muffler off made the car louder, plus it's cheaper than Flowmasters. The T-Tops removed, the IROC-Z lettering glistening in the sun, mullet flying like a flag in the wind, Foreigner and /or Journey blaring out of the Kenwood. Nothing punctuates going 75 in a 35 like "Hot Blooded" or "Only the Young." Many guys would slide the transmission in neutral as they passed us, and rev their engine, and shift back into drive as they passed the parking lot. This was a Cassville man's way of saying, "What’s happenin’ y’all?!?” We would always throw up our hands and yell at them.
In the early 2000's, I guess the county had received enough complaints about the speed on Cassville Road to do something about it. Contrary to my personal opinion, no "death quota" had been reached. I've always felt that the DOT waits until 2-3 tragic accidents occur before traffic control is considered. However, as fast as people traveled on Cassville Road, I do not remember any serious accidents happening. I remember one man got his bumper knocked off turning left off Cass-White Road and the bumper skidded down the road, past me with sparks flying, and into the fence next to the store. The guys on the benches went crazy. I think one of them took it home. There was only one wreck I really recall, and it did not result from speed. One morning at about 6:30 AM, I was pumping gas and I was half asleep, when a van pulled up at the stop sign where Cass-White Road intersects Cassville Road. The windows were rolled down and there were two people arguing in the van. A very skinny man and a not-so-skinny woman tucked into this brown Chevy van that was about 37 different shades of brown. Apparently, he had come home a little late the night before and could not explain his whereabouts. "Who was she?!? You tell her anytime she wants some, she knows whar (where) to find me!" exclaimed the woman. As he was turning right, he called the woman a four-letter word that shall not be repeated here. I see the woman's elbow come out of the open window, as she cocked back and hit him with a right jab. He lost control of the van and smashed into a telephone pole. The woman got out (barefoot and only wearing an airbrushed "Gatlinburg 1984" t-shirt of course) and dragged him out of the van, punching and kicking. I was about twenty yards away, watching aghast, along with about ten other men. We all skipped coffee that day because we were wide awake after that.
Anyhow, that particular intersection was the focus of the DOT and the new traffic control device. Since there was already a stop sign on Cass-White and Jo-Ree Road (which both intersected Cassville Road directly across from one another), they decided to affix two new shiny red octagons on Cassville Road, making it a four-way stop. Just for good measure, they also added a blinking red light. This process took about 3 weeks to complete, and it was all the rage in Cassville. "There's our dang tax money at work!" exclaimed the men on the benches. They too noticed that it required 17 men to put a stop sign in the ground and at least 47 to get that red light up. I think between them all, those workers smoked 13,278 cigarettes, took 327 breaks and made 2,908 Nextel calls during that time. Money well spent.
I remember one day after the four-way stop was installed, I was standing out front with Billy, one of our oldest and most loyal customers. Billy had been in Cassville for the majority of his 76 years and had seen it all. He came up there every day and would hang around for hours, keeping us entertained and just generally overseeing everything. "The Mayor of Cassville" is what people called him. This particular day, Billy and I were watching the cars go by, talking about the Braves and how last night's game turned out. Billy had a love/hate relationship with them, and we bet on every game. If the Braves won, he bought me a Mountain Dew. If they lost, I had to buy him a pack of hot peanuts. I notice Billy looking at the four-way stop very intently and I could see his wheels turning. Billy chewed tobacco constantly and he was just standing there, working the wad in his mouth and looking at the "traffic." At the stop, there were a total of five cars waiting their turn to go, with maybe twelve people total sitting in them. Billy gets this disgusted look on his face, shakes his head and spits on the ground. He wipes his mouth, looks at me with his squinty eyes and says, "Good Lord, where'd all these dang people come from?" (edited for coarse profanity)
I don't know, Billy. I truly don't know. The urban sprawl shows us "No Mercey." God help us.