Notes From a Road Trip

Posted by By at 23 March, at 07 : 50 AM Print

You can’t look out a window from 30,000 feet and see a flame burning on a wastewater treatment plant in Richmond, Va. I wonder what a wastewater treatment plant would have to burn to make that much flame.

I made that note on a drive last week to Florida, a purpose of which was to gather some photos and maybe contact some people working to get better wages for migrant farm workers. You can’t do either of those things in an airplane at 30,000 feet.

I sleep when I fly. When I drive, I think a lot, and talk to a voice-to-text app to keep notes. Such as, in 2,600 miles of driving, how much construction is putting people to work. I’d prefer putting the money and sweat into laying high speed train track, but …

Trains are in some ways like buses, on which I loved traveling in my younger life. Fellow travelers talk with each other, after a few miles, and there’s a whole country on the other side of the window. It’s always fun to chat about the passing scenery.

The road south, away from the big cities and into the long-needle-pine-lined highways of North Carolina, were decorated with billboards for “JR, the world’s largest cigarette dealer.” And a little farther on, South of the Border, a tourist trap of world renown, a couple inches south of the border between North and South Carolina.

Back in the day, when Interstate 95 was being built and most of it was U.S. 301, it went through the middle of the village, between kids rides and T-shirt shops, a “Reptile Lagoon,” a collection of shops grouped within Fort Pedro, and an assortment of restaurants. Leading to it, from both directions, were a string of billboards, with “Pedro Says,” enticements.

“You never sausage a place,” says one.

Or simply “Hi!” from the only Pedro billboard mounted on a 100-foot-high post.

Then there it is, all yellows and oranges poking out of the almost flat green piedmont, looking stuck in the 1950s. The Interstate screams past it, now, rather than through it, but it’s worth a pause, even if only for a few minutes.

Later, I’m doing 70 and a guy from New York blows by me at a slightly faster rate, reading a paper map the way we used to do in the old days, before GPS. Are there any takers on a bet that if asked he would say texting and driving is a bad thing.

I think most things that are illegal are made that way by old people who can’t do them, and most progress and new inventions are made by young people who haven’t yet learned they can’t do them. The recipe for human progress is to get the oldsters to chill a little, and the youngsters to survive.

On the radio, a university history professor from Mississippi (I didn’t get his name) said his state “receives two dollars from the federal government for every dollar they send up there,” then notes voters in his state will oppose “big government” in November. But he noted many Mississippians will find themselves in a quandary come Nov. 6, when they have to choose between a member of the Mormon church, which they consider to be a cult, and the nation’s first African-American President.

We are indeed, all of us, studies in contradictions, though that is easier to notice on a road trip than when pushing through traffic jams closer to home.

In Georgia, the pine trees began to give way to palms; near Saint Marys, Ga. a billboard stood with a simple question: “Who is John Galt?”

Ayn Rand readers know the answer, and those of a political bent might even think the sign a commentary on the citizens who populate the cities along Florida’s perimeter, beginning a few miles south of the sign.

Even the pavement looks different in Florida. Maybe it’s the water. I was stationed five and-a-half years in Jacksonville, and I recognize the neighborhood names – Norwood, Brentwood, University Boulevard – but not the once familiar neighborhoods, cut as they are by concrete paths that from the air must look like a box of grey ribbon lying tangled atop the city.

The most significant feature of Florida’s terrain is its flatness, only occasionally punctuated by huge mountains of – Trash! Mention “Mount Trashmore” and nearly everyone knows of what you speak. The first time I heard that term was in Virginia Beach, where by the time I was there in the early 1980s, it was the foundation of a huge recreation park, with walking trails and skateboard trails. So Waste Management is building rec area foundations in Florida for future residential developments – recycling it forward, so to speak.

Change is happening all around us, but it’s particularly instructive to go back decades to find, for instance, sand dunes, beyond which young lovers once could go swimming, now privately owned, with wrought iron gates to keep out trespassers.

It was an instructive trip, one I highly recommend.

And there are some things I’d like to dig into a little deeper – that flame in Richmond, for one. And the situation with the farmworkers in southern Florida.

Photo by Bread for the World
This post was written by:
- who has written 169 posts for Rock The Capital
John Messeder is an award winning journalist with more than 35 years experience writing about education, environment and local government issues. He has lived in Maine, Florida, California and Alaska, and, by temporary turns, numerous places in between. John also is an accomplished photographer, and avid hiker, conservationist, oral history buff, and author of several books he has not yet got 'round to writing. He lives in Adams County, Pa., just over a hill from Gettysburg, with his wife and Golden Retriever. He may be contacted at - Email jmesseder

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