Road Trip Day 2

When you take the hypotenuse through Virginia, it’s a long state.  We entered just north of Winchester and traveled I-81 south to Bristol.  That meant we spent about 320 miles in the Commonwealth, or one-third of our total trip.  We followed the spine of the Appalachians through beautiful countryside, but towards the end, I wanted Virginia in the past.

In many ways, Virginia is in the past, with historical stops at every exit.  Past Roanoke it became clear that we were in the South, with a capital S.  Having stoked up on coffee at breakfast, I needed a pit stop so we drove about a mile off one of the exits to a gas station where we saw our first Confederate flag displayed prominently, and proudly, next to the American flag.  From the outside, the U.S. flag was backwards, but I think it was intended to be seen from inside, specifically from the vantage of the cashier.  I’m sure no disrespect was intended.

We expected Civil War and presidential history in Virginia, but I was surprised to pass a sign for the Cyrus McCormack farm as well.  Who would have thought that the father of the mechanical reaper, whose invention made large-scale agriculture possible on the Great Plains, was a son of Virginia? 

As soon as we set off this morning, we saw that there was an Amber Alert; we watched for the white Chevy Blazer on the signs and tuned into the local radio stations for information.  We saw no Chevy Blazers — I wonder if every one in the state was stopped today? — but we did try to tune in to the local media for information.  And thus we had Sign Two that we were in the South:  every other radio station was a Christian station, and more than one mention of the Rapture was heard.

In case any doubt remained about the predominant religious culture, we began to observe the cross/crosses phenomena.   Every thirty miles or so we came upon a huge cross  along the roadside.  By enormous, I mean something that would stand out in Las Vegas.  We’re talking steel-structure crosses towering above the roadside.  The alternate version was a set of three crosses, Calvary-style, with the taller in the middle, and the two shorter ones on the side.  These were generally less substantial than the single crosses, but meaningful in their often-crooked sincerity.   I wondered if there was a schism between trinitarians and unitarians I should know about.

We didn’t see any Stars of David or minarets.

Shortly before we left Virginia I saw my first evidence of tobacco culture.  For miles upon miles we passed pastures, often snow-covered, with grazing cows, mainly black ones.  They were very picturesque against the snow.  At one point I saw a set of structures that looked like elongated saw horses, and upon them I realized, were sheafs of tobacco drying in the sun.   It was in the mid-50s today.

Finally, we left Virginia and entered Tennessee, another state we’d traverse on the diagonal.  The day was warm, and the sun had a glaring quality that made it tough to see and even harder to stay awake.  At some point I suggested stopping for coffee and, since I was driving, did so. 

We stopped at one of those Interstate interchanges populated by chain restaurants, budget motels  and gas stations/mini-marts.  After gassing up the car (more than 36 mpg!), we stopped into the Huddle House, a place that promised Any Meal Any Time.  I thought about having a second breakfast, but opted instead for coffee and sweet potato fries.

The waitress poured the coffee and brought the fries.  “You want some butter to dip those in?” she asked.  I demurred, but realized I was in new territory.  Mr. NYer later said, “Well, you looked like your arteries weren’t sufficiently clogged.”

At the Huddle House we sat at the counter.  The only other counter occupants were two men making small talk.  One was a local guy, the other a long-distance trucker.  They quickly found their common wavelength and entered into one of those political conversations where they agreed completely.  In five short minutes, we overheard three mentions of the word “sovereignty” (the loss of which, at both the state and national level, was lamented), agreement on the existence of an international bankers’ conspiracy (they must have already discussed the Jews before we arrived) resulting in “One World Order,” consensus on illegality of the president unilaterally providing aid to Haiti, an inaccurate statement about Haiti’s history with a conclusion about the attitude of Haitians towards all white people that defied logic, and general denunciation of the federal government and the chief executive in particular.

I very deliberately set my face into a neutral expression and focussed on being friendly toward the waitress.  And I prayed that Mr. NYer would not explode.  When we left, he suggested that we pick up some water at the adjacent mini-mart.  “Would you do it?” I asked.  “I need to make some notes.”

He arrived back at  the car with the water and said, “Why do I have a feeling that conversation is going to make its way into your blog?”

I admitted it was, and added that I suspected it was a conversation we’d hear again and again.  I cautioned Mr. NYer against reacting in the future.  “Me?” Mr. NYer said, “I was just glad that you didn’t decide to take them on, as I’ve seen you do in the past.” 

We agreed that we were both well-behaved, and that we’d continue to practice discretion — and silence — when confronted with more of the same.  But I have to admit that I had a sinking feeling about the world I was entering.

And so on to Knoxville along a not-particularly attractive stretch of road.  But south of Knoxville, before we hit Chattanooga, the land was again lovely.  The Smokies rose in the distance, pines lined the road, and the air was clean.  Approaching Chattanooga, I saw first a Porsche dealer, and then a BMW dealer.  Not guns, not trucks, but signs of affluent civilization.  

I breathed a bit easier.   We’re in a city tonight.  Tomorrow, a brief stint in Georgia and then into Alabama.


5 Responses

  1. Okay, so here’s where this whole ‘tolerance’ thing gets a little tricky. You’ll soon be ‘teaching tolerance’, so let’s here your perspective. Much of the noise focused on hate speech and hate acts is focused on being tolerant of those who have opinions and cultures that differ from our own. But there comes a point (and where that point is, and who gets to draw it is the crux) where ideologies can lead to actions that no one should have to tolerate.

    Your overheard conversation may be harmless chit-chat over donuts and coffee, but conversations like this take place all over the country and all over the world. We don’t all see things from the same perspective (which is probably good), but folks often act upon their beliefs, to the detriment of other individual’s rights or well-being.

    You believe the female body should not be portrayed in public, so if I come to your country (as a woman) I have some obligation to adhere to the norms of the society in which I find myself (perhaps… it’s arguable). I cover up to some extent, and try to fit in and not cause a stir.

    But if your culture believes that women raped by strangers have dishonored the husband and his family and that your ‘crime’ is punishable by caning, or stoning or death, is this something that we should tolerate?

    What about the culture the feels strongly that abortion at any point is a murder of a defenseless soul and therefore is it ‘necessary’ to eliminate those guilty of performing this crime. Do we tolerate this belief/culture. Do we tolerate the actions that come from this belief?

    Help me draw some lines here…

    • krmdgin, you raise the kinds of points I struggle with all the time. I’m a civil libertarian and support free speech, but I know the exercise of that right sometimes conflicts with other values I also hold dear.
      Tolerance means turning a deaf ear sometimes — for all I know about the chat I overheard, the long-distance trucker could have been a flaming progressive who just wanted to have some human contact, and who participated in a ritualized conversation in which none of the opinions were his own.

      The bottom line is human rights. Are the actions you are engaging promoting injury to someone else. The good thing about teaching tolerance is that you’re mainly trying to get young people who are still educable to understand what it means to understand another person’s point of view, and to understand that we don’t share the same set of experiences, beliefs, etc. But we all have a right to live in peace. Especially in this society, which is governed by a set of principles that embody the protection of rights and the promotion of diversity.

      As a social studies teacher, I often discussed the kinds of scenarios you propose. Do we respect other cultures even when they embrace a practice we think of as reprehensible. I think you need to understand where that belief is coming from, and try to understand the culture in its context and within its own history, but that doesn’t mean you endorse a practice that is abusive to human rights. So no, that’s not what I mean by tolerance.

      Americans have no unique genetic or cultural heritage, despite what some might argue. What defines us is what we believe and what we strive for; some have called it a creed. It has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with tolerance, freedom, and human rights.

      My skin is still gonna crawl when I hear complaints about the New World Order brought to us by a cabal of international bankers. But if you’re not hurting, someone … feel free to wallow in what I see as ignorance.

      • thanks for the reply. I don’t know how ‘serious’ you want these discussion to become. That may not be the purpose of this blog. Anyway, I do enjoy the conversation.

        Another idea that worries me about the term ‘tolerance’ is that it implies acceptance by permission. In other words, I will allow that you have a right to same sex marriage despite the fact that what we all know is that it is wrong. I tolerate your indiscretion, your misguidance, your ignorance, or your small world view, etc. – because I have a better education than you have and I am willing to accept your shortcomings.

        I don’t know a better option than tolerance. I certainly don’t like intolerance better. But there needs to be something more, I guess. Perhaps I need to get my thesaurus out…

  2. I take it back…my demand for photos. your written account is positively cinematic…but if you get the chance, I’m sure many would appreciate them.

  3. Huddle House? We must have passed hundreds of them on our various drives south and always imagined they were patronized by wretches slumped on hard chairs pulled up to a smokey fire and dining on gruel. Please sir, may I have some more? Your experience was worse than I imagined.

    Have you noticed that once you hit the Mason Dixon line, Waffle Houses appear at every exit? If you’re forced to listen to small-minded talk over fast food you may as well sweeten the experience with an order of their yummilicious pecan waffles. Bring your own maple syrup unless you have a thing for corn syrup.

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