For two weeks, I was off across the country–two very hot weeks. This trip was, unlike my others recently, heading east–across the south. In all, we traveled through 13 states and the District of Columbia. One was a bit of a cheat, Ohio, as we purposely drove over a river for about a mile or so, to just add one more to our total!
The first day of the trip was sort of normal in that it is the day when there aren’t any planned stops or wanderings, just get out of town far enough that you haven’t been there before. That was Mt Pleasant, Texas this time, just north of Pittsburg and west of Omaha and Naples and we stole a Friday afternoon that wasn’t planned to do this. The next day was off into Arkansas. I am always amazed at the similar names of towns across the country and the international connections that abound. One night we stayed in Stuttgart and a day later had lunch in Glasgow and dinner in London only to later travel through Lebanon, Rome and Carthage sequentially.
As usual, the trip was planned along the secondary highways (even that first day gave no other option), those roads that used to shuttle us across the country before the super highways were built and through the cities and towns along the way, rather than skirting them. Then, in places, along some smaller back roads to connect with the next highway. Having a navigator who loves working a map, even though she has a computer gps system at hand, there were more back roads to be found than had been planned. We traveled just under 3900 miles and did it at an average of about 25 mph for the number of hours on the road (gps calculates this based on the time it was turned on–leaving the motel in the morning–to the time it is turned off–when booking the evenings lodging even if we continued to explore after that)
I guess there are a few outstanding observations that I made along the road. First, I believe that we could probably feed our hungry with the amount of roadkill you find once you come to the lushly vegetated areas of the south. Second, unlike in the north, the bugs here must have evolved to the point that they know how to avoid the windshield as we never once “had” to clean it because of them. In fact, I don’t remember even one bug smash the whole trip–but maybe they have more sense than to be out in that sort of heat. Third, the post office must have money to burn as there were new post offices in towns that didn’t even exist anymore and in places where most of the town was vacant buildings. Fourth, Kudzu is really overrunning our country!
But maybe the most disconcerting to me in many ways, and consistent with my travels all over this country, is the decay of our small towns. Even some of the larger towns, over 5000 population, the downtown areas are full of empty buildings and little hope. Every town had one or two or both a Family Dollar or Dollar General and maybe a gas station convenience store and that was about it. ( I think these Dollar stores may become our national icon if my recent trips are any indication of their prevalence. ) What it made me think about is how you could photograph many of these downtown areas today and compare them to shots from the 50’s or 60’s and find nothing different other than the vibrance of that earlier time to the state of disrepair and the generally vacant or missing buildings today.
More than on other trips, I also saw these old grand homes, some of the antebellum sort, that were crumbling from our memories and were in places where it was obvious they were not going to be saved or were already beyond being saved.
If there was one regret about the trip, I think it might be that I don’t know enough about either the civil war or the civil rights movement to have fully appreciated all that I saw or passed through. But later, after being home for awhile, I did have a thought, where my travels in the north intersected with the south, was just how much war actually has transpired in our country and on our land. We generally don’t think about it–at least not a west coast city boy like me– because it is so far in our past, but there has been much blood shed on our land. Even driving out in the middle of Montana or in the Dakota’s, you often run across an obscure roadside marker where some massacre of indians or settlers or soldiers took place–places not memorialized like the Little Bighorn or so many civil war battlefields. In the south, almost everywhere there was some skirmish or battle indicated, especially when you are near a river, of which there are many.
Honestly, I didn’t really photograph too much on this trip. Dynamics are different when traveling with family and you have a pretty aggressive schedule on top of that– and then the record heat we encountered everywhere just wasn’t conducive to too much roaming outside of the car . But I have been contemplating another fall trip and this was to be a sort of scouting expedition in some ways. I think it did work to stimulate my interest in a southern trip rather than the more northern trip I had been contemplating. So, we will see.