Last week I drove to Fayetteville with a colleague, for a training to stay up-to-date in our mental health profession. Along the way, I got a chance to admire some low-country deforestation just off Route 87. As far as I know, the trees are coming down so that a pellet plant can make fuel pellets and ship ‘em off to Europe, as it transitions from fossil fuel. If we had local investigative journalism, this might be something to look into. But with the Star News firing quality folks left and right, that’s unlikely. All politics may be local, but the news is being Google-ized and globalized.
Instead of admiring the pines, Terry and I talked the whole tiring drive. We’re both gray, so we were not at all uncomfortable with this arrangement. We’re used to talking without using our thumbs.
Terry was lured to NC around the time of President Obama’s first election by the promise of stable purposeful employment, progressive education, (apparently) progressive politics, and the fantastic climate. He was frustrated that in this right-to-work state, he and several other professionals were arbitrarily let go after a little while, just because. Terry’s well-educated, highly skilled, works hard, and has other unearned advantages, so he found work relatively quickly. But he was still disappointed at being recruited like a hedge-fund manager, and let go without a thought. He has not been disappointed by the climate.
Terry asked a lot questions on local matters other than the climate: “Do people really feel safer here sitting at the Burrito Barn across from a table of four young men with holstered Glock’s? Why do so many drivers love playing chicken? Why the number of suicide-turns on local roads and no public transit? Why are so many people proud they voted against their economic interests in the last state elections? Why have community health and mental health, public education, and most investments in a sustainable future been defunded? And why the reflexive rejection of anything Obama, particularly Obamacare?”
Terry also noted that in his dealings with locally bred professionals, alongside genuine welcoming kindness, he sometimes detects something else. “It’s like I get the hairy eyeball. Like why are you down here, anyway?” The hairy eyeball especially gets going when he pals around with an electrical engineer friend who happens to be black.
It felt good to be listening to these questions instead of asking them. I told Terry people I found people here are as loving and foolish as people everywhere else, and I loved it here. I then steered the conversation back to the climate, which is marvelous here. Winter’s cool but not cold. Summer’s warm, but not too hot. It was a glorious spring day, and our Carolina blue sky covers just about all our sins.
Terry went silent, and I felt the hairy eyeball thing. “OK,” I said. “I’ve only been here 20 years, but here’s what I got.”
With growing fatigue, I explained we vote values no matter what the cost. Burritos or not, we’re comfortable carrying to church on Sunday. (Not Wednesday night; those small discussion groups can get a little testy.) Jesus built the first internal combustion engine. WWJD means “What Would Jesus Drive?” Everybody knows Jesus would drive a big, honking pick-up, with gun rack in back and four PVC pipes in front, so he and his pal Jim Crow can fish. Jesus would never take the bus because public transit, public health, public education, and public anything are the work of the devil, as are labor unions and Obamacare. Even though the Affordable Care Act has helped over 15 million people get insurance, unemployment is 5.5 percent, the stock market is setting all sorts of records—suggesting that at least wealthy Carolinians should be singing his praises, President Obama is clearly the worst president ever—and that assessment is not about race. The Civil War, 1898 Revolt, Wilmington 10, and opposition to civil rights were all minor aberrations in an otherwise affectionate and righteous relationship between all races, colors and creeds.
Terry and I both sighed—satisfied with Carolina, with our career choices in the helping professions, and tired after a long ride. I guess if we get road-weary enough, we could quit speaking out for better education, social and economic justice, against racism, and go back to being well-educated white guys with health insurance and jobs. But we’ll keep going, knowing that not every road-weary traveler has that freedom of choice.