Today I got a look at the other America, the America that is not located along the Interstate highways. I took “red” roads, that are marked in red on highway maps. US-1 and US-301 are very lightly traveled and four lanes wide in some places. I rolled at a comfortable pace and enjoyed the relatively cool, sunny weather and sights along the way. There was no sign of smoke from the fires as the wind was blowing pretty heavily toward the west. It did take me about 13 hours to cover almost 500 miles, however. I encountered a stretch of highway about a mile long lined with magnolia trees in blossom. The scent made up for all the road kill, paper mills, and sewage treatment plants I’ve passed.
Most people now experience America at rest stops along the Interstates. The red roads are host to the other America – the one with many abandoned stores and businesses and plenty of pawn shops and convenience stores plastered with lottery posters. The red roads are the paths for cars rescued from extermination at junk yards. The family owned businesses that remain seem to be hanging on by a thread. I passed Belle’s Diner along the way. Out front was an enormous electric sign in need of sanding and a new paint job. I can’t remember where the diner is or even it’s exact name, but if I could find it again, I’d stop and photograph it.
One of the reasons I took so long today was that I spent time talking with a career soldier who is in the Special Forces. Matthew has been to Iraq several times. We talked about the soldiers’ frustration at not being able to engage, their anger at the way the civilian leadership is running the war, and his fear that those who have died thus far will have done so for no reason if we don’t win – and it may very well be a war we can’t win. His words struck me close to home as they expressed the same frustration, anger, and fears we, who are veterans of Vietnam, experienced forty years ago.