Monday, October 09, 2006

DRIVIN' THRU DIXIE, CHAPTER III

Continuing coverage of our jaunt through The South:

So we left Asheville with the general sense that the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Area of North Carolina would be the next destination. But that was as far as it went. Now, as you all know, I'm the geeky kind of guy who'll drive 50 miles off course just to go through the periphery of an extra state, so I can tell myself that I've been to such-and-such state.

(I'm figuring a few of you are the same way. And I'm figuring the rest of you think I'm really silly. Both groups are permitted to remain anonymous.)

So, after sitting on the motel bed, sipping coffee as Mrs. Mike got ready, looking at the map of the Southeast, folded open, covering about three feet across, I determined that we could drive south from Asheville, angle through the northwestern reaches of South Carolina til we reached Greenville, at which point we could turn northeast and head for Charlotte, NC. From there, either later that same day or the following morning, we could head to Raleigh-Durham.

We ended up that night in Atlanta.

But that, my friends, is another chapter. We made it easily to Greenville (that's this chapter), and continued southwest by design. I may . . . ummmm, veer off course from time-to-time, but I do not get lost. And even if I did --theoretically -- it wouldn't be of the Atlanta vs. Charlotte magnitude!

Anyhow, the drive through the Blue Ridges into South Carlina was stunning. Once again, I spent so much of the trip just gawking at how beautiful the southern Appalachians are. I've hiked in the foothills of the Rockies (Hiking may not be the operative word when you're 25, hungover, stoned, and so cold you just want to get back to the car, but since my friends & I were on foot, not sure what other word to use). I've driven through the Sierras. I've taken a train through the Pyrenees on a few occasions. I've been in the Adirondacks more times than I can count. But I can't honestly say any of them are as beautiful as the Blue Ridges, the Old Smokies, or any of the other small chains within the southern Appelachian region.

They're obviously not like the Sierras, Rockies or Pyranees in terms of snow-capped peaks, giant pine forests, glaciers, mountain lakes, etc. It's not like that. There's just something . . . special about this region & it's mountains. The green is somehow greener there. The woods are just so lush, the trees crammed together. Plus, the land surrounding those woods is covered in fields of thick, healthy grass. And, especially in South Carolina, the trunks of the trees themselves are completely covered in foliage, apparently from other vines or ivy-like plants. All together, as you drive through windy mountain roads, local streets on the edges of the small towns, or even the interstates cutting broad swaths through the forest, the image is one of endless, rich green. I'm no travel writer & I've never been too gifted at vivid, descriptive prose, so I know I'm doing this no justice at all.

But I'll say once more: it's truly something to behold, and I can understand the lyrical pull that nature has had on southern writers, artists, musicians and folklorists through the ages. There's something in those hills, and it's something very beautiful. I hope to return some day. And I hope that something's still there.

Apart from the jaw-dropping vistas, however, I have to say there ain't to much to lend itself to South Carolina, from what I saw. Every few miles we passed yet another in a long string of similar looking towns: churches, pre-fabricated shopping centers, stuffed full with fast-food outlets, chain pharmacies, homeware & lawn care retailers, and gas stations.

Greenville, itself, added something else to the mix though. Something entirely unexpected: a thriving Mexican community. Maybe I'm just an ignorant New Yorker, but I had no idea that the Mexican immigrant population in America existed in any kind of numbers outside California, Texas, New York, New Mexico, and Arizona. I'm used to seeing (and patronizing) taquerias and restaurantes in my own neighborhood. There's nothing particularly shocking to my eyes about shopping centers filled with Spanish-language signs, or shops employed with Spanish-language speakers.

I just didn't expect to find them in the heart of the Old Confereracy. These stores were literally two miles down the street from road-side Baptist churches, and houses flying the stars & bars! But there they were. A friend of mine said that as one drives from state to state, the United States is one country now more than ever before. And he meant this exactly as it sounds, as a very good, and very bad thing. The Latino community in Greenville, SC looks like one of the good examples, but who knows? I have no idea how assimilated the community is, nor do I know whether the locals accept them, or how much if they do. Nonetheless, it's another example of the changing face of the US, right in the middle of one of the reddest states on the map.

And finally, speaking of politics, that was the other notable thing about the region encompassing Northwestern South Carolina, Eastern Tennessee, and Western North Carolina: the Election Day commercials on the radio. They're constant, they're aggressive, and they kept talking about Heath Shuler.

Say what? That's right, Heath Shuler, failed NFL quarterback, now running for Congress in Western North Carolina's 11th District as a Democrat, against Charles Taylor. The radio ads -- mostly for Taylor -- were on nearly every radio station I heard in that particular tri-state region. Shuler, it seems, owns shares in the stocks of companies like Exxon and B.P. Therefore, Taylor's ads insist, he can't complain about oil companies or corporate profits. Whatever.

I don't know shit about Taylor, but he's an incumbant & a Republican, so it seems worth rooting for Shuler. And after the flop that was his pro football career, I guess he's due for a victory.

To be continued.

2 Comments:

Blogger Thrillhous said...

Hey, go easy on Shuler! Yes, he was a major failure in the NFL, but he was a star at Tennessee. That's good enough to make him a permanent legend in NC.

The guy he's running against, Taylor? Yeah, that's the guy who came up with "freedom fries." Pantload needs to go.

5:57 PM  
Blogger DED said...

There's a thriving Brazilian and Ecuadorian community up this way in Danbury. Unfortunately, thousands of them (one estimate as high as 20,000) are illegals.

The illegal immigrant problem is a national one, not merely confined to southern border states.

10:52 AM  

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