Thursday, September 26, 2013

Second Entry on a Long Journey

It is early Fall here and the tropical air mass has brought an unusual amount of rain. The ground is muddy, the air is humid and the low lying swamps have more standing water than usual. These inclement conditions are not putting a damper up on the start of huntin' season. I have seen more gun shops, taxidermists, meat packers, and sporting goods shops advertising great sales on deer paraphernalia than anyplace else I've been. Car dealership parking lots, adorned with large American flags, are filled with rows of pick up trucks that are ready to be purchased with no money down and e-z credit by burly looking outdoorsmen. Even the shape of the State of Florida looks like a pistol.

I have driven almost exclusively on rural highways. The original business district of most small towns has rotted away with few historic buildings gentrified. It has been replaced by one or two strip malls containing a generic gas station/"country" store and an assortment of pawn shops, gold and silver buyers, a Burger King, a beauty shop and, most important, the Dollar General. The surrounding land is either pine, cypress, or oak forested or plowed with crops of cotton, nuts or peaches. Interspersed among the scarcer brick or whitewashed-siding farm houses are countless single wide mobile homes, many in seriously shabby condition. It is confusing to me to grasp what goals and dreams their inhabitants have. Many of the residents are the people who attend  the hundreds of oddly-named churches which line the road which push goofy divine messages from plastic reader boards. I doubt these people are ever reached by Eastern establishment pollsters who ask questions to develop data on the nation's opinion of U.S domestic or foreign policy. Even though many are certainly eligible for public assistance and fall well below the poverty line, some pay dearly the costly price of participating in the system at large. Every bridge I crossed has been renamed and memorialized for a local fallen youngster, who saw his ultimate way out and to "salvation" by joining the military.

After covering many miles, I arrived late in the afternoon in Athens, Georgia, the home of the University of Georgia and immediately began experiencing a different environment than I watched roll by me during the day. I found it  pleasing and relaxing to see the stately antebellum buildings of the campus. I saw young people carrying books and heard them laugh. I saw billboards on telephone poles advertising dance troupes and theater productions. While I sought dinner last night in a local hangout, the waiter carried his Physics book along with my menu. These places produce people whose dreams I better understand. Tomorrow I leave for Tennessee and the Smoky Mountains. I'm curious about what I will find.


  1. I'm so glad you're having such a fun an fascinating trip! Enjoy!

  2. The top two pictures of "Cohen's Temple" are what really grabbed me about this post when I first read it last night, and then again when I read it just now. It isn't the sacrilege that offends me so much as the ignorance, and even that depresses me more than it offends me. Clearly no sacrilege or mockery was intended. If anything, whoever named that church intended the name as a compliment. You have to remember that the sum total of everything the pastor and congregation of that church know about Judaism comes from the Old Testament portion of their King James Bible, and the only Hebrew they know is from the footnotes. That's what I have to tell myself every time I pass one of the many storefront churches around here with a similar pseudo-Hebraic name. I was going to ask if you know whether that's a black or a white church--the congregation, of course, not the building! And then I wondered if it really makes any difference. Probably not nearly as much as the congregation thinks it does.

    The thing that impresses me more than anything about this post is how wonderfully you evoked the universalism of American poverty. I kept thinking about the business establishments in my own down-and-out neighborhood. They are all same: the Burger King, the places that buy gold and silver, the discount stores. We don't have Dollar General as far as I know, but we do have the Family Dollar and 99 Cents Only--and those are just the newer ones. There definitely seems to be more similarity between rural and urban poverty than differences.

  3. Hi're probably up in Tennessee by now having the time of your life! Just don't fall off any mountains!

    I'd guess that Cohen's Temple is not Jewish; or even Messianic; but plain ol' fundy Christianity! You got some great shots driving through Florida's hinterlands!

    Got to tell you, I love the book. I'm about 1/2 way through because I keep getting sidetracked with other "necessary duties." I shall write a thorough review when I'm done!

    Let me know if you meet the Buddha on the road or any more Cohen's! :)