Southern Discomfort

Most of my field trips keep me local, partly because I'm too lazy to plan ahead, partly because I'm too loathe to give up the rare morning when I can just lounge around in bed with cats, book, and-if we're being honest here-Candy Crush, and definitely because I'm too cheap to pay for a way out of here. Besides, there's plenty to do right here in Baltimore without going to the trouble of packing a bag just to eat my pizza a state over. This week, though, my driver-I mean, girlfriend-was headed to South Carolina for a wedding, and my desire to spend the weekend sitting next to her outweighed everything but my cheapness, which kept me from even looking into the possibility of buying a plane ticket south. Nope, we loaded up the podcasts, toothbrushes, and our sad attempts at dressy-dresses, and got in the car for a very, very long drive.

We left late on a Friday evening, hoping to avoid the traffic that goes by the name, "Virginia." Back when I had a car, I made the mistake of taking a field trip to Mount Vernon on a Friday afternoon and trying to get all the way to Richmond at quitting time. I thought something must have happened to clog the roads like that, and how did those cars get in the middle stripe where there weren't as many cars? It got so bad, I considered just parking and walking over the wall to see if I could find some froyo and a gun-they have those things in Virginia, right? And then it occurred to me: Some people make this drive every single day. Like, every day. They probably decide to live out in Northern Virginia in spite of the hours they have to spend in traffic to get to work in D.C., and probably not because they are all history buffs living between the capitals of the Union and the Confederacy to increase their choices when it comes to reenacting the pivotal Battle of Fredericksburg. I'm guessing, rather, they want to live in a house with a yard and fresh(er) air, and they've got these ribbons of highways that make it possible to go to work waaaay over there. Or maybe they just can't afford to live in D.C. As we idled, sped up to 25, slowed down and idled again, South Carolina seemingly just farther and farther away, I wondered what work goes into making this sort of life seem normal, a good choice from among other good choices, just "the way it is." In my classes, we call this "hegemony," but I was off the clock and went with "fucked up" instead.

Things let up in south central Virginia, and we made it all the way to a hotel off I-85 in North Carolina, sadly missing the DJ who graces their conference room on Friday nights. This state's highways were nice and empty on a Saturday morning, and the medians were filled with brilliant wildflowers, a nice break from the solid walls of I-95. And then the road surface changed, and the car jumped with holes and crevassed layers of asphalt, the likes of which I hadn't seen since I lived in New Orleans. Ah, South Carolina. Yep, we were in the deeper South, and the roads almost immediately showed the effects of empty state coffers and disinvestment from basic infrastructure. Sure, we've got that in Baltimore, too-I pass the Neighborhood Gathering Hole at 26th Street between Charles and Saint Paul almost every day, and the steady hum of construction keeps my neighborhood plenty aware that the streets are crumbling from underneath us. Oh god.

The trip had a quick turnaround, and soon we were headed back up the same route, bumping over I-85 and past the tire plant and the luxury car factory-both places that are in South Carolina partly so they can keep more profit to themselves instead of dumping it into the state bank account-and then it was a smooth ride again as we crossed back into North Carolina. We hit the returning-from-the-shore crowd just past Richmond. I had plenty of time to meditate on how when I'm in the car, I'm pretty sure they should just build more lanes, but when I'm out of the car, I understand that if you build them they will come, and there will be even more traffic, and finally concluded that what we really need is an airlift over the whole state of Virginia. That's probably what the super-rich Northern Virginians secretly have, right? Otherwise they would have figured out how to build some public transit infrastructure to take care of all this, at least for themselves. I cursed the roads for the rest of the ride, until we hit Baltimore. I know our I-95, and on this night, it was lit up with Camden Yards. The next field trip will keep me closer to home, where I know my potholes more intimately.

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