Such a mad, mad dash I did just take across part of this beautiful country – these beautifully united States of America. So open and so dry-looking were the fields of Indiana, along with the crazy congestion of her largest city. So open, once again were the roads across Ohio, though they empty out on her eastern border into a land of excitement and promise and rolling hills that presage something more to come. West Virginia – once across her panhandle, once right up her entire length...what a place. My friend Ernie who grew up there just laughed and said “almost heaven” right after I said “West Virginia.” The two seem to go together ever since that John Denver song. He was right. Those ancient hills and seams of coal and smoky little hollows are almost on another plane of existence.
Virgina, Virginia, Virginia. The Old Dominion. When you drive through her in the early morning hours, you can see why Lee and his boys fought so hard to keep out an invading foreign army. She is sweet and lovely, like a beautiful southern belle at a cotillion, and any red-blooded American man would want to fight to defend her honor against any indignity. That long stripe of Interstate 81 running along her western backbone is nearer to heaven, perhaps, than West Virginia, although Virginia cries deeper, harder tears than West Virginia ever dreamed.
And there, deep below the tail of the Old Dominion, I found a small hillock in North Carolina, nestled within foggy, foggy mountains that reached up and up and up. There I paused and breathed in the fresh North Carolina air. I felt the cool raindrops on my face. I smelled the woodsmoke on the breeze. An elderly lady in a tiny thrift store told me “we don't get verruh mannuh visituhs from youah pahts 'round heah.” I am sure she was right. I felt ashamed, a little bit. I stood there in my chinos, tweed jacket and sweater vest, and I could almost feel a black Hardee hat sitting on my head. I am sure she never noticed.
The coffee was horrible all the way throughout the journey, and I was reminded once again that the American diner is getting harder and harder to find. McDonald's and BK have just about driven out the quaint little places called “EAT” as well as the ones called “GOOD FOOD” that used to litter the landscape. America is changing. America has changed. But if you look hard enough, she is still there, in her foggy mornings, her Blue Ridge Mountains, her Appalachians, her Shenandoah Valley. She sleeps quietly in a tiny holler' where wood smoke wafts out of that little shack and the coffee is just now beginning to perk.