Road Rules was first conceived back in 2004. If I recall correctly, I had a classic Cadillac with some sort of McGuffin in the trunk as my starting point. My insurance company job already informed the Nick Kepler stories, so naturally, I turned to it again to feed into the story. This time, instead of the Fortune 500 company I worked for, I modeled this one on a company that dominated my school district when I was a teen. Anyone who’s worked there, including my best friend from high school, would recognize some of the language and quirks in the fictional Walden Insurance.
But why Cleveland? And I-77? And Savannah, Georgia?
Cleveland is a no-brainer. In my original run as Jim Winter, I was known as “That guy from Cleveland.” Had I hit big, Cleveland would have been a huge part of my brand. But now that I’ve spent more of my adult life, and really more than half my life altogether, in Cincinnati than I did in and around Cleveland, it’s faded from my creative consciousness. But I-77? And Savannah?
Back in the early 2000s, my then-in-laws lived in Hilton Head, SC. Hilton Head is a mere 50 miles from Savannah. And the then-spousal unit and I were huge fans of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, set in Savannah. We went every chance we had. Eventually, I became familiar with two routes to Hilton Head and Savannah. One was I-75/I-40 out of Cincinnati. They other was I-77/US-52 via Huntington, WV. The latter we took for a change of pace. Besides, I-40 through North Carolina can be nerve-racking through all those mountains.
The Ohio section of I-77 I knew because my grandfather lived for a time in Marietta, on the West Virginia border. And we passed through Parkersburg across the river on our way to places like eastern West Virginia, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. 77 Also is the main drag from Cleveland through Akron and Canton. Yeah, not exactly exciting tourist destinations, but I’d made that drive several times in my misspent youth.
So I had the freeway setting for the car chase from Lake Erie to Savannah. I knew where my intrepid heroes and villains could stop and get into some trouble along the way. And I had this gorgeous Southern city where I could set my climax. All in all, the setting just fell into place, laced with places I knew and the rest I could look up.