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From Young Earth Creationists to Drum Circles – Driving in the South: 44 Days

24 September

So I missed a day, it was inevitable.

I’m writing from the dining room table of my Couchsurfing host in a suburban development outside of Asheville, North Carolina.

Yesterday I was first awoken before dawn by two men greeting one another in the car park – strangers saying good morning, and one of them saying something about it all being in God’s hands and the other saying, “Well, you have that right.” I’m in God-fearing country that’s for sure. Trump-country too. And that, really, doesn’t make any sense at all.

I stopped into a Baines Books and Coffee in the old downtown of Appomattox and, for the first time in a while, felt like I was, maybe, among my people. I just don’t want to think there are good-for-America-coffee drinking, book reading/selling, good-music-listening Trump voters. The contradiction is too great for my mind to take in.

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I drove into Lynchburg to visit the Hillary campaign office there. I had hoped to lend them a hand with a volunteer shift but with my wrong turn Thursday evening and my night in Appomattox I didn’t have time. Still, one of my contacts in Northern Virginia had email introduced me to the organiser here so I wanted to say hello and deliver greetings and good wishes from deeply blue Alexandria.

Downtown Lynchburg seems midway down the track of revitalisation – there are some funky businesses in repurposed older buildings, some mainstay operations like banks and tax agents, a lot of empty shop fronts – some decorated with art courtesy of a project to enliven things.

The Hillary office is in a hollowed out shopfront – it’s actually a pretty cool space. There I found two Emilys and a Tyler. One Emily is from New York and has been in Lynchburg since May, the other is from Charlottesville VA but had been born in Michigan and Tyler is from Connecticut. These folks have a very hard row to hoe – they are truly labouring in the fields down here. This area has patches of reddy-purple surrounded by deep red turf. Tyler, who’s working the county, said his turf is like 70/30 Republican. I asked if that followed racial lines and he said no – maybe 10 -15% of white voters lean Democratic.

Lynchburg is home to Liberty University – that is Jerry Fallwell’s evangelical university. Their school of government is named after Jesse Helms – the now dead racist-asshole of a senator from the state of North Carolina. They teach “young Earth creationism” – which is to say that, as per the Bible, the earth is 3,000 years old.

In 2005 prominent biologist Richard Dawkins said: “If it’s really true that the museum at Liberty University has dinosaur fossils which are labelled as being 3,000 years old, then that is an educational disgrace. It is debauching the whole idea of a university, and I would strongly encourage any members of Liberty University who may be here, to leave and go to a proper university.”

Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for the presidency here. But Bernie Sanders and Ted Kennedy have also spoken there – presumably tilting at windmills.

I drove through to gawp – I probably should have gotten out of the car to look more closely but just driving through was enough. Hordes of students were emerging from an assembly hall – I’ve just learned that all students who live on campus are required to attend convocation three times a week – for worship and speakers. It was at one of these that Jerry Fallwell Jr encouraged students to get concealed weapons permits so as to be prepared to be the “good guys” when Muslim terrorists attack.

And gawp I did – open mouthed and everything – because, aside from being very white (but not entirely at all) the students looked every bit like students on any university campus. Some 15,000 of them on campus – university students being taught the earth is 3,000 years old.

When you can have a university degree from a school which doesn’t accept basic tenant of human knowledge it goes a long way to explaining Donald Trump. Truth is what you say it is. Proof is in the belligerence of your belief, the volume at which you assert it, and in being surrounded by others whom share your belief.

I sped out of there and headed for North Carolina. I spent the rest of the day driving through increasingly hilly and pretty countryside befouled by Trump-Pence signs. In North Carolina I was grateful to find National Public Radio and listened to classical music, Fresh Air (a long-format interview show) and All Things Considered (the afternoon news).

Asheville is the counterbalance of Lynchburg. It’s a mostly liberal, tolerant, artsy, micro-brew-loving, outdoorsy, foody, place. It’s like a town from Oregon in the mountains of western North Carolina. Or so it seems from the 16 hours or so I’ve been here.

My host, in his semi-retirement, is an Uber driver so he spun me downtown at the start of his night having loaded me up with tips and maps. I went to Buxton Hall Barbecue. It was packed and pumping – but an advantage of solo travel is being able to sidle up to an empty stool at the bar and tuck into my BBQ sandwich in no time. I couldn’t resist the lime/watermelon chiffon pie for dessert and was waddling in fullness when I left. I had planned on hitting a couple of the microbreweries but was really just too full so I walked around town for a bit – window shopping and people watching.

Waiting for my BBQ.
Waiting for my BBQ.

I spent some time at the weekly drum circle my host told me about. It’s been going for years. When they first started putting in fancy apartments in the downtown area a woman in one of them complained of the noise (sure to be a familiar story to my Sydneysider readers). That first night the police shut them down – even though they have a permit to be there every Friday from 7 – 10 pm. The city rallied around the drummers and said “Hell no” to the new-comer NIMBY-ism.

This felt like a nice bookend to a day that started with people who don’t believe in science.

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