Southern Hospitality…

Too much time living the stories, not enough time to write them.  I know, it’s been almost 2 weeks since my last entry.  I apologize for my tardiness but we’ve been camping out on beaches and I haven’t seen much internet.  Oh the wonder of the wandering life…  I’m now backed up with several stories hand written in my notebook but none posted online.  I will attempt to remedy that in the next week or so with a visit or two to wifi coffee shops but I make no promises.   I will start with the brief story of our journey down here and in the coming days will add the more adventurous stuff.   The photos that follow are not really related to the story either, but I have to break up all this text with a couple of images.

Southern Hospitality

He doesn’t piss on the confederate flag… or even on the pole that holds up the flag.  But he does come close.  And it’s the metaphor that counts, not the reality.  He leans up against the small circular fence that surrounds the flag pole and unleashes it from there.  He is demonstrating disdain for the symbol which so undermines the reputation of his home state.  We are in South Carolina at the moment.  We’ve been hanging out at a bar across the street from the capitol building in Colombia, South Carolina.  I stepped outside for a smoke with a couple of locals and we got to talking about politics.  Who won the Republican primary here?  The confederate flag looked down upon us from its perch atop the flagpole in front of the government buildings and one of my new friends decided that a symbolic act of some kind was necessary to demonstrate his depth of feeling.  And so, we dashed across the street for a closer look and this small act of defiance…

The journey south was fairly uneventful.  With our vehicle fully loaded with camping supplies and bicycles, we followed route 81 all the way from NY to North Carolina.  No doubt, a meandering journey along winding roads is more our style but we wanted to get somewhere warm and fuzzy as soon as possible.   Accordingly, we followed the most direct concrete corridor that connects point A with point B.   I was, of course, aesthetically oppressed by the development style of the corporations that dominated the landscape.  The same ugly signs for the same big businesses repeated themselves over and over and over again; Walmart here and McDonalds there, Exxon Mobile and Sunoco; don’t forget the Dollar General, KFC and the ever present chain hotels.   This is First World America after all; the America of corporations and efficiency and energy consumption and concrete.   Theoretically, route 81 and the development along it is a manifestation of a successful free market.   Indeed, if our economy continues progressing on its present course, we can look forward to more and more and more development just like this… Wow. Capitalism?  Isn’t it great?

We stayed for a night with friends in North Carolina and then continued on to South Carolina.  It’s Super bowl Sunday when we go out drinking in downtown Colombia but we choose a place without a television.  As the Giants and Patriots square off in the battle royale… the ultimate expression of American culture… we are busy drinking whiskey and talking about travel.  The friends we are staying with are familiar with my travel stories.  Indeed, they have read my Timbuktu book and have even shared it with some friends.   One of the friends they shared it with joins us at our table.  Thus, in a new twist on my reality, I get to meet someone who has read my book who I never met before.   This makes me feel slightly strange.  Many people have read my book and complimented me on it but only people that knew me before they read it.    This is my first full response from a complete an utter stranger.   I’m slightly self-conscious about the whole experience.  Like any writer, I can’t help but wonder if my words conveyed what I wanted them to convey.  Does the story make sense to others like it makes sense to me?  I don’t know.   I’m used to being a stone mason who likes to travel but now I feel like a travel writer out on the road meeting my potential audience.  But this is a reality I will have to get used to if I am going to be serious about selling my books.   So what exactly does a travel writer do when he meets with readers on the road?

I tell travel stories.  Like usual, the ayahuasca in the Amazon with the shaman story is a big hit.  I’m tempted to re-tell it here on this blog but its very long and part of my epic novel anyway.   In response to my stories, my reader and new friend buys us whiskey and offers me a smoke.   I think I can get used to this role of travel writer.   As we stand outside the bar smoking, we look across the street at the confederate flag in front of the capital building.   The conversation turns to politics and we soon go closer to the flag for a demonstration of rebellion.  I can’t help but feel that the message of my literature is making its way out into the world.  The symbolism is overwhelming  That’s right, as the ultimate expression of the American Corporate Reality plays itself out on the big screen for hundreds of millions of viewers (the super bowl), one of Pat Ryan’s very few readers urinates on a confederate flagpole in front of a capital building.  It really is a beautiful universe…

Budget travel in the USA is no easy task.  Accommodation is always expensive so a certain amount of versatility and creativity is required.  When we head south from Colombia, we no longer have the welcoming homes of friends to rely upon for resting our weary heads.  From here on out, we have to wing it.  We’re hoping to find cheap campgrounds for the whole journey.  Ms. B’s Subaru Forester is fully loaded with camping supplies such that we are a self-sufficient contained unit.  With our little microcosm of a vehicle, we have all the necessaries for survival.  Thus, our main challenge is finding a place to park each night.  One would think, in a nation as vast and expansive as America that would be easy.  But this is a country that takes its property rights seriously.   You can’t just pull up anywhere that’s open and make yourself at home because everywhere that’s open is already owned by someone.  Yeah sure, Walmart lets you use their parking lot for overnight stays.  But does anyone really want to stay in a Walmart parking lot?  If only this country were really “free”.  Then this journey would be easy.

Thanks to our whiskey hangovers, we get a late start from Colombia and continue south along another corridor of concrete capitalism.  I’d describe it again but it’s really just the same as the interstate we started on; the same bright lights, the same golden arches, the same rest areas and convenience plazas.  It’s about 9 at night when we decide to exit the transport infrastructure and go searching for a temporary home.  We seek not hotels or guesthouses because our financially depressed reality disallows such an option.  Hopefully, that campground just ahead will be within our price range.

But it’s not really a campground.  It’s an RV Park with electric hookups and water faucets and a central compound with so many goods and service options that it might as well be a shopping mall.  I guess they call this “camping” in the 21st century.  No doubt they will charge us a pretty penny to sleep here and they don’t list prices for camping on their welcoming board.  The central compound and reception area is closed at this hour so there is no one around to ask.       We consider choosing a site at random and just paying in the morning when they open.  But given the super sized high end mobile units on the other sites, there is a fairly good chance we would awake to a big fat bill in the morning.  We can’t afford luxury camping.  We need primitive.  Accordingly, onward we go.

A half hour down the road, we find a state campground that is named after FDR.  The facilities here were built during the Great Depression.   As most people know, President Roosevelt was a big government democrat who taxed the rich and re-distributed the wealth.  In an attempt to stimulate the economy, he also invested large amounts of public funds in jobs programs that built infrastructure throughout the country.  Ultimately, it took World War 2 to stimulate the American economy out of the Great Depression because war is fundamental to the structure of capitalism.  But one of the many by-products of President Roosevelt’s pre-war investments is our state and national park system.  Somehow it’s seems appropriate that this year’s journey through Third World America should make a stopover at such a place.

It’s late, however, when we pull in.  The office is closed and there is no option for self-registration.  It also indicates that the price for camping is 25 dollars per site.  This shocks me.  Can they really charge that much just to set up a tent?  I thought state parks were supposed to belong to “the people”.  Aren’t we the “people” too?  No matter, it’s late, we’re tired and we have to camp somewhere.  So we pull in through the entrance and explore the campground.  It’s really quite wonderful with a central lake and a winding road through a forest of campsites.  We choose a secluded spot in the depths of the forest and back into the site.  We don’t bother to set up the tent though.  Instead, we move all our belongings to the front of the Subaru and put down the seats in the back.  We lay out the foam pad and put the sleeping bags on top.  It’s really quite comfy though about 6 inches short of perfection.  Oh well, I will just have to sleep diagonal.

It takes about ten minutes to transform our transportation vehicle into a sleeping shelter and afterwards, we settle back to enjoy the evening.  An almost full moon shines through the tree tops to light up our private forest sanctuary.  Our provision box is full of eatables, drinkables and smokeables.  We have background music if we want, but we prefer the silence.  We have books to read as well but we really need no entertainment.  We have each other; crazy me and the beautiful Ms. B. and that is all we need.  How good is it to be alive on this great planet earth?.

We awake early the next morning.  Long before park rangers or camp officials patrol for interlopers, we transform our sleeping shelter back into a transport vehicle and head for the exit.  If anyone sees us, we will feign innocence and pay the required 25 dollar fee.  But I certainly feel no obligation on that account and I hope we avoid detection.  Outside the camping area, there’s a right hand turn that goes back to the registration office and a left hand turn that leads to the main road.  We turn left and make a successful escape.  The best things in life really are free… or at least they should be.

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