THE ALBEMARLE HIGHWAY
After one of the longest short river crossings I've ever been on, we eventually arrived at Bayview, as you can see here in the photograph.
I'm hoping, by the way, that you are noticing just how beautiful the weather is today. It's getting on for midday, and not a sign that the weather is going to break. That storm last night at New Bern must have done some good.
The reason why I'm talking about nothing in particular, by the way, is to divert your attention from the fact that I'm not saying anything about Bayview. And the reason why I'm not saying anything is because there didn't seem to be anything to say anything about. From what I saw, Bayview was just a dot on the map, and nothing more.
And here I encountered a slight problem. Like, it's only 40 miles to the ferry terminal at Swan Quarter, and the ferry leaves in 45 minutes. And although I can put the hammer down when the need arises (not for nothing did I spend 9 or 10 years as a minicab driver), I can't count on the roads being as they were just now, so it's not something upon which I'm prepared to gamble. In any case, there's more than one way to skin a cat and there are other plans I can set in motion to do what I wanted to do.
"Go North, young man!" as Richard Barnes sang. I was going to have to do make a major detour (so what's new when I'm on holiday?) and go like hell to get to Washington in time for my flight what with everything I needed to do before I finished. You might think that this is an enormous waste of time and effort, but who cares?! I was on holiday, wasn't I?
The road off the ferry heading north (or north-east, for the benefits of the pedants among us) is called the "Albemarle Highway", or rather the "Historic Albemarle Highway". I wondered if it was anything to do with the same Duke of Albemarle (or whatever) I'd encountered in Canada in 2003.
In actual fact, it isn't. What it relates to in fact (apart from the nearby Albemarle Sound) is a Heritage Trail, one of the earliest in North Carolina and dating back to 1975, and visits 32 historic sites in the state. It should be remembered that tourism is the second-largest contributor to the state economy and brings 45 million people to the state. How they must be regretting the restrictions on tourists that I talked about earlier these days. How many people come here now?
First thing I noticed over here was the farming - first actual signs I'd seen of farming. Talking this over with a friend of mine in Iowa later, she replied "that's not farming - that's dirt farming" with something of a sneer. It seems that the act of growing food is somehow considered beneath contempt over here. It's totally strange to me. Good job I didn't mention my orchard, isn't it?
While we're on the subject of "strange", what on earth is happening here? Just look at the sign here on the left
I have to say that this is one of the most bizarre signs I've ever come across in my life. Nevertheless, outside a trailer site in rural North Carolina it somehow seemed appropriate.
Having said all of this however, I should have mentioned that I saw this sign while I was driving along Highway 99 through what is known as Dismal Swamp. Bearing in mind that the early land factors in North America went out of their way to entice new settlers by making the most outlandish claims about the land they had to offer (who on earth gave Greenland its name, for example"") the fact that this place is known as Dismal Swamp says just about everything you need to know about here, doesn't it? But from a tourist point of view, I have to say that it was really beautiful round here. Cynics may recall one of my earlier comments that "everywhere looks beautiful under the sun".
What helped set the scene was that I was listening to the radio (the CD player having given up the ghost). You may recall from yesterday that I was mentioning that motor dealers were adopting all sorts of desperate measures to dispose of their overstocks. At Goldsboro, way out over near Raleigh, Goldsboro Honda were admitting publicly on radio that they had far too many cars and had run out of storage space. Hence "come and make an offer on any of our cars". There is certainly a crisis in the United States if they are having to resort to these kind of tactics to get rid of cars.
As yet another aside, while I was writing this up, I was contracting for a company of business analysts and was lucky enough to see a financial report of the top 1000 companies for 2005. During that year, Ford had plunged 215 places down to 406, and General Motors had absolutely plummeted some 270 places to 506. Hard times and slim pickings for the auto industry.
Back to the radio. They were playing a track by Led Zeppelin. It was early Led Zep, by the sound of it, and it was soooooooo good, yet it was one I don't recall having heard before. And that totally surprised me, because I can't think of any early Led Zeppelin that I don't own somewhere.
In actual fact the track is called "hey hey what can I do" which is supposed to be on Led Zep IV, but I don't know about that - it certainly isn't on my copy. I must have a different copy than everyone else. Anyway, this was apparently the "Led Zeppelin Hour", on 106.5 FM and I could quite happily sit and listen to this for an hour. However, it seemed like I'd missed maybe 55 minutes of the programme, which was extremely unfortunate to say the least.
Following that, as I hammered down the Albermarle Highway I was treated to a session of "The Who" followed by a session of "Tom Petty". I was finding the coastal areas of Northern North Carolina a very nice and interesting place to be, what with the music from yesterday.
WE'RE NOT INTENDING TO COMPLY WITH THE LAW
There were lots of signs around here saying things like "Fight for Justice. No-OLF", or "Save our Pilots. No-OLF", or "Pray. No-OLF". I wonder what was happening here? A few miles down the road I came across something talking about an "Outlying Landing Field". Now I know. But a landing field outlying to what? That was the question.
It turns out that it's an outlying landing field for the US Navy, and what has upset the locals is not necessarily the field per se but a quote from Admiral Michael Mullen, Chief of Naval Operations. When giving testimony before US Congress on the subject of this landing field, he is reported as saying We're not intending to comply with the law or whatever the courts have expected of us...". Well, I don't suppose you can accuse the US Navy of being unequivocal.
If anyone else had tried that on in any other civilised country in the world, they would have been slapped in choky for Contempt of Court long ago, or charged with Conspiracy to Commit ..... At least he didn't drop in any gratuitous reference to terrorism in an attempt to stigmatise the opposition as traitors. I suppose that's something.
When you have a country where the military says that is is "not intending to comply with the law or whatever the courts have expected of us", then it's time for the citizens to break out the arms and ammunition.
A little farther down the road I came across a cab-over Kenworth. Yes, it's Kenworths that have the traditional American truck fronts that I like so much. Must remember that.
In Pleasant Grove there was a funeral. The congregation was almost entirely African-American, and I have never seen such a crowd at a funeral in all my life. As Jackie Gleason said in smokey and the bandit - "this guy sure must have had a lotta friends".
I also saw a pair of cyclists along here too. Now that's certainly a rare sight in the USA. Long distance cyclists by the looks of things - all loaded up with camping gear and the like. What was even more unusual was that they were on these low-slung long-wheelbase foot-forward type of bikes.
THE ALBEMARLE SOUND
This garage here at the junction of Highway 94 and another road whose name I forgot (it is in fact Highway 32), where you turn to take the bridge over the Albermarle Sound, was "Irving's Auto Supplies". I hope they aren't going to supply me with any autos. Would you buy a used car from this man"" Well, come to think of it I probably would, you know. I've owned far worse vehicles than these and I'm sure there's bound to be something really interesting buried in the undergrowth here.
The whole of this area of rural North Carolina was like this, just like what you'd read in books or see on the television or whatever - all the trailers with the 20 cars up on blocks outside. Just absolutely typical of what you would expect to see round here. What with all the good music too on the radio, I could be really at home around here. How much would a trailer cost me? And would they throw the cars in with the sale?
This bridge over the Albemarle Sound is absolutely impressive. An enormous long pontoon with a small arch in the middle to give clearance for shipping with an enormous long pontoon on the other side. Absolutely amazing. And what was even more amazing was that there was no toll either for crossing it - it was absolutely free. Only thing lacking was a parking space where I could take some photos. That was sad. I don't know what this householder would have said if they had come across me parked in their driveway, but the views were so impressive from here. I was enjoying this drive - it was really interesting.
There used to be a ferry that ran across the Albemarle Sound just round about here but that was replaced by a bridge farther up the Sound in 1938. Much as I liked the bridge and thought that it was a splendid construction, I'd much rather have had the ferry.
While we've stopped here for five minutes to stretch our legs, let me satisfy your curiosity as to the Duke of Albemarle, upon whom I briefly touched a short while back. In fact, every good schoolboy (and girl) from Nantwich and Acton County Grammar School, as well as the bad ones, such as yours truly, can tell you about the Duke of Albemarle for he was none other than George Monck, born in Devon and former mercenary soldier for the court of the Netherlands. Having been recalled to England and having put down rebellions in Scotland and Ireland, he became a confidant of King Charles I and was given command of one of the King's armies in the Civil War.
This particular army confronted Brereton's army of Roundheads at the Battle of Nantwich in 1644. Just as the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, so the Battle of Nantwich was won on the playing fields of Nantwich and Acton County Grammar School.
Monck was defeated and captured, but was eventualy released on parole to continue his exertoins in Ireland. Later, he took up arms again against the Dutch. During the reign of Richard Cromwell, he sat firmly on the fence, but once he worked out which way the wind was going to blow he declared himself wholeheartedly for Charles II. His influence tipped the balance in favour of the Restoration.
As a reward for his efforts on behalf of the King, Monck was raised to the peerage as the Duke of Albemarle and showered with gifts, amongst which was a huge tract of land in what today in North Carolina. Just around here, in fact.
A little further on, I found myself back on Highway 17 along here just before Hertford, on my way to Elizabeth City. The Historic Albemarle Highway again - what a surprise!
First thing I noticed along here were lots more signs saying things like "we support our US Troops". I notice that their support doesn't actually involve them rushing off to the front line to carry their rifles for them or anything practical like that. Of course, we all know that talk is cheap. Action speaks louder than words.
I must admit that with all these bishops and priests and pastors preaching all this gospel and so on over here about "God Bless America", "God Bless Our Troops" and all of this, I just wonder if it's significant that they are the people farthest away from the front. It's not them doing the bidding of the warmongers, it's the poor innocents that are up there in the firing line doing that.
What happened to this idea of the Sermon on the Mount, or the ideas of "blessed are the meek" and "blessed are the peacemakers"? And what about some of these warmongering religious leaders rushing off to share the suffering of the afflicted?
Reminds me of Blackadder goes Fourth when General Melchett reminds the troops that ""if you falter, remember that I am behind you", to which Catpain Slackbladder replies "yes - 25 miles behind us".
Elizabeth City is the first place I've ever seen in the USA where there have been signs telling people how to get to the shops and other places by using public transport, such as the bus. I suppose that this must be indicative of the kind of area I'm passing through, because there aren't too many places in the USA where a significant proportion of the population needs to rely on public transport rather than travelling by car. Remember that, unfortunately, cars are seen pretty much as a status symbol in the USA rather than as a lifestyle choice.
Here on the edge of the city was a shop I'd never seen before, and I'm glad I came across it. Gretchen told me about Lowe's but I didn't have a chance to go to visit one of them while I was in Columbia, so I reckoned I'd make up for it now. Lowe's has the appearance of being more DIY orientated rather than the commercially-orientated type of store that is Home Depot, at least in this particular example anyway.
One thing they did have was a full set of blades for the "Scorpion" alligator saw that I bought a couple of weeks ago at a Brico in Belgium. It was an end-of-range, substantial markdown with no box and only one blade, and I doubted that I would find any more blades for it in Europe. The model is still sold in the USA, and as luck would have it, Home Depot, Wilmington sold me a wood cutting blade for it. Here at Lowes they had a full set for about a dollar more than the wood blade. Needless to say, they didn't after I had left the shop.
One thing they didn't have though was a sense of humour. And I don't know why I dictated that now. Obviously something must have happened inside the store, but I can't recall what it was now.
Having been able to compare Lowe's with Home Depot, the conclusion was that I don't think that there was one better than the other. Home Depot have a much greater range of products, but then again I don't need most of them. Lowes has a smaller range but more of the things I'm likely to need. You could live without one of them if you had the other to go to.
Looking around the store car park, I noticed that all the cars were displaying some kind of sticker. Cars in North Carolina seem to have to undergo a safety inspection, so it seems. But having seen some of the cars on the road here, I'd love to know what kind of inspection it was. Something like if the car had some kind of forward motion with four people pushing it, I suppose it was good enough.
I had to admit that looking around the shops gave me a totally different outlook on the inhabitants of the area. First of all, what the hell is Hair Mayonnaise, and secondly, what the hell system is there here in North Carolina where there are adverts in the local shops announcing that parents can take babies and hand them in, as long as they are no more than seven days old (one assumes they are referring to the babies rather than the parents, although given the present state of the Anglo-Saxon world, nothing surprises me any more). The notice incidentally goes on to say that whoever hands in the baby "can avoid prosecution". Prosecution for what? What on earth is going on here? if you know about this.
I took the opportunity to go into a thrift store (the American equivalent of a British Charity Shop) and came out with a damp-stained-but-otherwise-good-condition copy of Trail of Tears by John Ehle All for $1.95. Give me something to read at night. After all, the original home of the Cherokee included some of the territory now known as North Carolina. But what a shock that was in store for me! At the checkout I was told that there was a discount for the over-55s. Oh, the shame and humiliation!
So, back in the car, and off out of the city, heading east through the town. Much of downtown Elizabeth City had been demolished, which was rather a shame as it could have been quite nice along here. Seems like they concentrated on getting the new commercial centre up and running on the periphery of the city, and then simply ploughed up the old one. So much for history. In fact, it wasn't even worth stopping to take a photo, which was rather sad.
Further down the road near Currituck, I stopped for fuel and coffee. I was alarmed by the notice in prominent display inside the petrol station. Apparently shoplifting here in North Carolina carries a mandatory jail sentence, and armed robbery is a mandatory 14 years. I'm surprised that there's anyone still at liberty in the Carolinas, what with things like this and this.
But now, I know why this is. If you're poor, you're more likely to have a need to steal. And with these laws, you run quite a large risk of having to do time. During the 1990s, the prison population more than doubled, and, on a per capita basis, is over six times that of China. Over 10% of all black males aged between 25 and 29 had done some time in 2002.
Now here's the rub. Apparently, if you've done bird, you lose your voting rights. And the poor, especially the poor blacks (that is, those who are quite likely to have done time) have a tendency to vote Democrat. So under this law, the Republicans can disenfranchise whole swathes of the population. Simple, isn't it?
And how much does it cost to keep an offender in prison per week? And how many poor people are there inside? Well, that's how much you're paying to keep the Republicans in power.
I was always under the impression that the USA wanted to be known as a devout Christian country. Now most devout Christians tend to follow the teachings of Jesus who taught us to "forgive those who trespass against us". Surely you remember the Lord's Prayer? The basis of Christian teaching is all about love and forgiveness. I don't see too much of any of that here.
And what about Romans Chapter 12 Verse 19? "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay (requite), says the Lord". The idea of the people themselves wreaking vengeance on wrongdoers and miscreants is nothing but Old Testament ... er ... Jewish religious belief. And once you understand that, you begin to understand more about the USA's attitude in the Middle East and Southern Asia.
You could change everyone's lives for the better by spending that money on a decent social service that looks after the poor and disadvantaged so that they wouldn't need to steal to feed themselves by shoplifting. That's in everyone's best interests surely. That is - everyone except the Republicans.
Type "Albemarle Highway" into Google, and the first entry in the list is that for the Albemarle Correctional Institution (prison, for the ill-informed). It's this kind of thing that speaks volumes for this area.
From here, I went to look for the ferry that sailed out of here across the Currituck Sound to Corolla. But no luck. And I'm not surprised that I missed the signpost for this because there wasn't one - signpost or ferry. It appears that the ferry doesn't run until the height of the summer. That's why all of the people I asked where it was hadn't the first clue. Never mind - hit the road, Jack. But what do the people do when there's no ferry, then? Do they swim for it? But anyway we have a full tank of petrol (and gas, too) so no reason why we can't do this by the road.
One thing about the States, I noticed, was that there are no lay-bys to stop at the side of the road and have a coffee. I was getting hungry by now (it was late afternoon and I hadn't eaten my lunch yet) and the coffee that I had bought when I fuelled up at Currituck was going cold. I just had to keep moving. And all along this road that was leading me eastwards there were maybe a dozen or so cars from the 1950s all up for sale, all in various states of repair (or otherwise). There was even a half-cab double-decker bus down along here. Now why on earth didn't I photograph any of this?
Eventually, after something of a drive, I found a sort of pull in where I could eat my sandwich, drink my lukewarm coffee, read my new book, and close my eyes for 10 minutes. I mean it was almost 5:00 in the evening. I had started early this morning and accomplished a great deal already today.
Back in the car and down the hill. I could see the Currituck Sound in the distance. Across the Sound is an island. I came to the USA to attend the wedding of my friend Rhys, as well as follow the route of Grant's Overland Campaign. But apart from these, there was another reason for being here and it was over there. I was heading across the Sound.