‘I want to live in a world where a chicken can cross a road without having its motives questioned.’
Sign in a bar in Virginia
We spent last week on the road…down the US 95 to Florida. And back.
We had business to attend to in Florida. And the thought of getting on another aeroplane was just too depressing to face. Instead, the wheels under our Ford F-150 pick-up rolled along nicely. The cab was comfortable. And we could stop along the way to visit friends.
Thank God for the Industrial Revolution. Before railroads and highways, it would have taken weeks of hard travel to go from Maryland to Florida and back. Today, it’s easy…and can be enjoyable. As we passed towns and monuments, Elizabeth checked them out on her phone — the history of the cotton trade…the origins of Savannah…the Indian Wars; we soon realised we were following in the footsteps of Jefferson Davis. When the war was lost, he and a small escort of soldiers headed south…from Richmond, Virginia, to Irwinville, Georgia, where he was captured.
Virginia’s ‘Northern Neck’ is a pleasant area. It’s far enough away from Washington to maintain a little dignity. There are a lot of pick-up trucks and churches. Many of the houses are old, and the small towns have a rural charm.
It’s here where the first US settlers made their homes, down near the mouth of the James River. It was a clumsy project. Though the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries were then rich in fish and oysters, the settlers didn’t know how to make use of them. In the ‘Starving time’ of 1609–10, four out of five of the colonists died. Bones found later suggest that the survivors resorted to cannibalism to stay alive.
End of an era
When the going gets tough, people do tough things…things that they would find disgusting or immoral when the going is good. By 1610, the Virginians were getting on their feet and soon began a disgraceful series of wars, massacres, and murders with the local Indian tribes. Women and children were killed in the hundreds, by both sides.
It was also during these early days that John Rolfe, a settler who had brought with him a few seeds of a ‘sweet’ strain of tobacco, showed the way forward for the colony. The plants flourished and tobacco quickly became Virginia’s leading export, guaranteeing the financial success of the colony.
More settlers came. In a few years, they were spreading out. The first bunch arrived in Maryland in 1634. And as late as the 1960s, we were still planting tobacco, much as it was done 300 years before. We had tractors, rather than horses, to do the ploughing and pull the wagons. But most of the work — ‘topping’ the plants, cutting and spearing them onto ‘tobacco sticks’, hanging them in a barn, and then ‘stripping’ off the leaves…tying them up into ‘hands’…and packing them into ‘hogsheads’ or ‘burthens’ — was done by hand just as it always had been.
In the 1970s, though, tobacco farmers’ motives came into question. Were they just trying to make money? Or were they trying to kill people?
Prices fell…farm labour became difficult to get…and governments began paying farmers not to plant tobacco. In the space of about 20 years, the tobacco economy all but disappeared.
Driving further south, the flags become bigger, while the trees grow smaller. North Carolina is the ‘tar heel’ state. We wondered where the ‘tar heel’ designation came from. A couple of explanations were offered. The most plausible is that making turpentine in North Carolina was a good business. It was made from pine sap that was known locally as ‘tar’.
Stars and Bars
Driving on, we noticed something missing. People used to fly the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy from their pick-ups and front porches. They were proud of their southern heritage, and perhaps eager to show that while they had no animosity towards the Yankees passing through, they would prefer that they just kept moving.
No more. We saw only two Confederate flags along the way.
With so many northerners moving to the South, maybe the culture has changed…or maybe people are now embarrassed by the Confederate flag…or perhaps they’re intimidated by those who see the flag of the Confederacy as a symbol of slavery or racism.
At the very least, anyone who flies the ‘Stars and Bars’ today will have his motives questioned. He risks being regarded as an unreconstructed racist…or a white supremacist. Some people will say that flying the flag is a kind of ‘hate speech’ and wonder what it is that its owner hates so much.
A private conversation:
‘I’m becoming a racist. I never thought I was a racist before. I’m from New York, not Alabama. And I take people as they come; I really don’t care what race they are.
‘But now, I’m told that treating people as individuals is racist…being ‘color blind’ is supposed to be racist…That’s what they tell me. And if I notice that most professional basketball players are black while most mathematicians are white — it’s a racist comment. Everything is racist. So I must be racist too.
‘And you want to know why the chicken crossed the road? Because it was a racist chicken.’
We stopped for the night in Savannah. During the pandemic, we spent a night there and found it delightful. But now, the crowds are back. Savannah has become a big convention town, like New Orleans, with tourists filling up the hotels and lining up at the good restaurants.
Finally, in Florida, the cars are all fast and new, while the people are slow and old. At a sidewalk coffee shop in Delray Beach, Florida…the following conversation was overhead:
‘I’m leaving Florida’, said a well-tattooed young man. ‘I can’t afford to rent a place anymore. These old bast**ds come down from New York and Chicago, driving up prices.’
‘What about your job?’ asked his companion.
‘F**k that. I don’t go into the office anyway. The boss is a racist a**hole. He wants us in the office because he thinks we’ll work better. He thinks we’re just goofing off.
‘I put in a good couple of hours every day. For what they pay me, that’s all they deserve. And I’ve got my own life to lead…’
While we were wondering what kind of life he led…and what kind of office would want him…a woman walking down the sidewalk suddenly slipped and fell. We rushed to help.
‘Are you OK’, we asked, helping her to her feet.
‘Yeah…but they ought to fix the f**king sidewalk.’
For The Daily Reckoning Australia