Traveling north, on Interstate 75, through Georgia, through South Carolina, pushing through North Carolina nearing the Virginia state line, is the exit for Mount Airy.
Mount Airy, N.C., was the inspiration for Mayberry in “The Andy Griffith Show.” The small town is where Griffith grew up and was the basis for Mayberry, the fictional home of Sheriff Andy Taylor, Aunt Bee, Opie, Barney Fife, Otis, Floyd, Gomer, Goober, Helen, Thelma Lou, Howard Sprague, and so many other beloved characters.
Mount Airy, in turn, has been inspired by Mayberry.
There’s an Andy Griffith Museum and a Mayberry Museum. Several businesses are named after various Mayberry characters. Reminders of the show are everywhere.
And Raleigh, N.C., often mentioned on the show, is only about a two-hour drive from Mount Airy. Just like on TV.
Downtown buildings remain true to the turn of the previous century. There’s a main street and plenty of side roads.
On a recent fall morning, we exited the interstate and traveled along the streets of Mount Airy where we encountered a character we did not expect on the familiar lanes of “Mayberry.”
A fall Sunday morning is not prime time for an unscheduled visit to Mount Airy. The business of being Mayberry seems to have taken a break for being a small Southern town going about the business of church and breakfast.
And maybe, a few people slipping into the office for a couple hours of catching up.
Mount Airy on a Sunday morning reminds me of an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” spin-off “Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.” The one where Gomer returns to Mayberry and Andy, Aunt Bee, Opie, etc., are all out of town during his visit.
So, with exception of other cars cruising Mount Airy’s main drag, there’s little happening. Seeking a turnaround to take us back to the route leading to I-75, we turn down a side street.
Several yards ahead, a grey-haired man crosses the street. He’s dressed casually, giving the appearance of a professional stopping by the office for a little bit of work, or picking up a file to take home to review on a Sunday.
Except, this man also looks a great deal like the late Christopher Reeve, the actor who played Superman in the 1970s and ’80s movies. But he looks like an older, graying Reeve.
Wearing glasses, he looks like an older, graying Clark Kent, the alter ego of Superman.
He makes it across the street. He opens his office as we approach in our truck. He enters the building. The glass door closes. The truck windows are up. Several yards between the truck and building.
I say, “Look, it’s Clark Kent, hiding out in Mayberry.”
He looks up through the glass door as soon as I say this as if he has super hearing. He looks at all of us in our slow-moving truck, seems to make eye contact with each and everyone of us, and smiles a knowing smile. A smile that’s almost a wink.
Just like the winks Clark Kent used to give readers at the end of old Superman comics when Lois would say something about how Clark is never around when the action starts. And Clark would look at readers straight from the comic book page and smile a knowing smile and wink.
The Mayberry Clark Kent looks at us through the glass door and gives us the same smile.
Shoot, he may have even given us a super-fast wink and we were just too stunned to notice as we continue driving past the building toward the route to I-75.
We didn’t see Barney Fife, but well, we discovered Superman working undercover in Mayberry.
Dean Poling is an editor with The Valdosta Daily Times.