18 May 2011: Travel helps provide perspective: A jaunt through the South

Travel helps provide persepective

It’s been 14 years since I flew somewhere, although that will change when I travel to Greece this fall. Road trips rather appeal to me for several reasons including avoiding the TSA grope at airport security lines and taking in sights unavailable 10,000 feet up.

At exit 272 of I-70, Kansas offers a bit comic relief that breaks the monotony that might’ve set in. In front of a massive sign announcing to eastbound travelers an adult entertainment site is another oversized billboard proclaiming pornography destroys and Jesus saves. I like having choices. In this case, there’s a third one: neither.

Not yet connected 24/7 vis-à-vis an iPod, I remain dependent upon Internet connections at motels and at friends’ homes to keep up with local events when on the road. But as doing so became more a hassle, the thought that I was traveling to see and learn more about the world outside Clear Creek and Colorado and remaining tethered to thoughts of one’s home base interfered with if not defeated the purpose of going crept into mind.

Thus, I entered a state of cluelessness, which I’m sure a number of my critics hold is a permanent condition, about Clear Creek, the state, and even the nation save President Obama doing that which George W. Bush could or would never do: take out Osama bin Laden.

Once out of this universe, events of that in which one travels begin to take precedence. Local energies take hold. It was fascinating and somewhat exhilarating to have been so close to the tornadoes that swept from northeast Alabama through northwest Georgia across a stretch of road I had only 26 hours previously driven down and a town less than 8 hours earlier my friends and I visited.

The Atlanta stations provided non-stop coverage replete with high-tech radar graphics indicating with darkening shades of red where tornadoes were touching down. Quickly though, excitement subsided into sadness as photos of the heartbreaking destruction appeared. Being in proximity to Tuscaloosa, Alabama gave the plight of the storm’s victims, with hundreds of people who had likely enjoyed their day dying violently and leaving thousands of others to pick up the pieces of crushed lives, all the more meaning.

Mother Nature is the most non-discriminatory of all forces, although living on the lowlands near the Mississippi is a decided disadvantage. But that ill fortune has more to do with discriminatory economic forces than water’s proclivity to obey gravity.

I wrote last week’s column about the Civil War after touring Ft. Sumter. The operators of the ferries give visitors a whole hour to ingest arguably the blackest hole of American history. Move them in and move them out, a gloss-over sufficing for the masses. Fortunately, my host and niece knew the drill and arranged for us to have four hours to savor the power of the April 1861 events.

Although no one died in the actual battle—the only recorded Union death coming as a result of misfiring canon while in the process of surrender—it was, nevertheless, a hill to die on, or actually an island, which served as a symbol of the nation’s fate.

Originally, I-40 through Memphis was to be my return route, but having had enough of steamy climes and ubiquitous confederate flags, I decided on a direct path home, following the same route I had initially traveled, so bypassing Tuscaloosa. The last thing those folks needed was a voyeuristic Looky Lou ghoulishly surveying the devastation from the safety of an air-conditioned car. If I couldn’t lend a hand, and it was University of Alabama students who by and large stepped up, there was no point being there.

Accordingly, I missed seeing firsthand the devastation wrought by the flooding to that sad land along the Mississippi River, a land of cotton, jazz, blues, sweet iced tea, and zesty but too often unhealthy cuisine. Until I’m able to return, William Faulkner and Tom Wolfe will continue to serve as my guides.

Reconnecting to local affairs, I recall Ft. Sumter as a hill to die on if ever there was one and am reminded of Clear Creek, from Floyd to the heights above Georgetown, having none, or so I hope.

Traveling helps put stuff in context. While in the county, its borders can define one’s universe. Outside it, Clear Creek is at most a blip on essentially everyone else’s radar screens.

A true journey contains an irony: the literal becomes symbolic with the symbolic being ultimate reality. If it isn’t, it means you didn’t really go but only relocated your body with your mind resting at home.

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