Last week, I swept across the American South like the needle on an old-time radio dial – tracking west from about AM 650 to 1500. Starkville, Ms., to Amarillo, Tx. Nine hundred miles in one throw. That’s an adult portion. Whew.
There’s an interview segment in The Last Waltz, Martin Scorsese’s epic film of The Band’s farewell concert, when he asks Levon Helm to talk about how the rural Southland that raised him up shaped American music. Helm, the good old boy Arkansas polymath-singer-drummer extraordinaire, drawls: “That’s kind of the middle of the country, you know, back there…
The Nachez Trace Parkway is a miracle. So is finding it with your phone’s GPS. Since the Trace doesn’t have a route number, Siri sent me to and fro, to this side and that side of Nashville. Finally, after two hours of tracing and retracing interstates to the east, west and south, I got off the highway and asked an old farmer how to get there.
With the exception of Pittsburgh, where inter-generational families cling to each other like refugees in a lifeboat, a preponderance of Americans, particularly the college-educated, eventually leave their hometowns behind. You can find no end of sociological studies (and lamentations) online about the decline of the geographically proximate extended family.
In popular culture, youthful freedom begins when one is handed a set of car keys (or today’s far-less-romantic equivalent, a fob). But those of us of a certain age know that the car is only a promotion: Our first real taste of freedom had only two wheels.
When I moved a bit farther out into Pittsburgh’s southern suburbs just ahead of the 2016 election, a fair number of my new neighbors’ yards sported Trump/Pence signs, with one lonely Clinton/Kaine sign holding down the corner. Eighteen months later, as the special House election between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone looms, campaign signs have sprouted in many more yards and Lamb is definitely leading in my very unscientific sign poll.