Monday, June 29, 2009

Where in North America is Uncle Rod? Day 16

June 29, 2009
New Preston Connecticut
234 miles (4,024)
surprise stop
I left Danville, NH late this morning in pouring rain. I had to wear my jacket to pack the bike to keep from soaking my shirt. I headed west on four-lane 101 through Manchester, fast-moving, spray-spraying traffic. I traveled in fairly hard rain to Peterboro, and took 202 south into Massachusetts. Aubrey had checked the weather online before I left and told me the rain was supposed to become more intermittent toward the west. So I headed due west looking for a break.
About the time I crossed the state line, the sky began to lighten and a spot of blue appeared. For the next hour or so, blue turned to rain, turned to blue, until finally the blue sky and cumulus clouds won the battle, and the rest of the day saw only occasional showers. By then I’d rid myself of the jacket to let my shirt dry out, and the rain wasn’t enough to put the jacket back on.
I have to say that I cried when the sky cleared enough to show blue. Actual tears. Truth is, I rode the entirety of Friday with no rain, but not with blue skies. Honestly, I did have a night of flawless clearness and myriad stars, but daytimes have all been cloud and fog covered, whether or not there was rain. Today, I saw actual blue daytime sky, and it was more than my weary heart could take. First time in 12 days. Twelve days!!!

I entered Connecticut on the 202 and had no idea that Connecticut is just one huge small town. I carefully avoided four-lanes and tolls, but didn’t realize that I’d be riding down Main Street, Connecticut for hours. Truly, I came about 100 miles at 35 miles per hour. Once I got south as far as Hartford, I realized that all this was probably suburb world, once I turned east it began to wane the closer I got to New York. But you probably already know all that. I didn’t.
I felt confident enough about the weather to begin looking for a campsite, and after two tries found a State Park on a lake, that is quite beautiful. I have no firewood, but I’m sitting comfortably at a picnic table with my laptop wired into the bike battery while the western sky looks less and less promising. Actually, the clouds are rolling right overhead, and I think I’m probably going to get wet. So much for a change in the weather. Call it a respite afternoon.

Today, I remembered someone remarking before my trip to Canada, that I should be prepared for cold northerners. “It’s always a shock for us warm southerners,” they said. But, in fact, when I came into Maine, in the rain, last week, I thought to myself, “hey I think Maine gets put on the short list of friendliest states. My first stop in Maine consisted of two guys grilling hotdogs under a tent and giving them away free with a free cup of coffee. All during my long Maine stay, everyone I met was extremely friendly. When I left and entered New Brunswick, my first encounter was a teenage convenience store clerk, who was as friendly a girl as I’ve ever met. I walked into a restaurant in PEI, and the owner already knew my name, and why I was there. I had long, friendly conversations with countless people in Nova Scotia, ranging from a guy at Wendy’s, to the boat captain that couldn’t take me out to see whales. Instead of a whale excursion, we talked for an hour. When I came back into Maine, at both stops heading to Bar Harbor, I had wonderful conversations with complete strangers that struck up conversations.
All that came to an end when I entered Massachusetts and Connecticut. Store clerks, policemen, state park employees, all just cold business. Even when asked for help, they’ve offered as little as possible, in as few words as possible, hurriedly, with little eye contact.
The exception is the guy camped next to me. He and his family are very friendly, offering me help, stuff, and conversation. Perhaps it’s a work thing. Perhaps there’s a stark delineation between the work world and the personal world. I’ve thought today about how ironic that I finally got blue skies and warm air, and the people have turned cold. Thank God for warm people when the weather has been cold and wet. The friendly kindness of my camping neighbor is duly noted and appreciated.
It occurs to me. Hey, Canadians aren’t Yankees, they’re southerners. I read somewhere that X% of Canadians live within 50 miles of the U.S. border. Hey, for Canadians, that’s southern. I have no idea if you go far enough north in Canada, would you encounter cold, inhospitable Yankees?
Tomorrow I’m heading back into PA. Pennsylvanians are a strange lot. When I stopped along Rt. 30 on my third day, I met a guy from Sumter, SC. He’d been in PA 20 years. He said, “all the cities in the south are modern, but these cities up here think they’re living in George Washington times.” That roughly translates to, “we don’t care how you do it, our way works just fine.” Ironically, that’s exactly the way the folks in the South are. Probably, the civil war boils down to that.
I mentioned that statement to Jim while I was on PEI. I thought of a quote from (I think) Aaron Copeland. “The United States is the oldest country in the world because it was the first to enter the 20th century.” I love that quote. It is true that those who have lived in this reality longest are the oldest. When that quote was stated, that was entirely true. The United States seems to be the last country to enter the 21st century post-modern era, and as such, are green behind the ears. Ironically, those who have hung on to their previously cutting-edge ways, are not only last to take on new ways, but linger beyond the last. It’s a pride issue. And the result is getting left behind.
On the other hand, those who were slow to incorporate previously cutting edge ways, are often first to jump to the new. They skip a cultural generation.
The New South is this precisely. Perhaps they were slow to change from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy, but they were quick to jump into the informational economy. There’s a belt in the north, who still, despite waning opportunity, are proud to have jumped on the industrial bandwagon, and are terribly slow to move on. It’s a pride issue, and they still live in George Washington times, as my new friend stated.
Last year, I met cultures and people who are neither – who live completely in their own cultural world and are completely unaffected by all the worlds that turn in the United States. It’s not a pride issue. They just existed alongside everything else.

Anyway, that’s the kind of stuff I’m thinking about at my picnic table without a fire, and the cooling air as the waxing, half thunder moon, sets partially obscured by clouds. I can hear the water spilling out of the lake behind me as I watch the moon and clouds grow yellow through the trees.