Southern Poverty

I saw a lot of heavy things last week. Most of which are not bloggable. One thing I want to talk about is the drive though North Carolina.

On the way down to my in-laws shore house, we took the smaller highway along the DelMarVa peninsula and then the smaller roads in North Carolina. We bypassed the large vacation homes and resort areas near Nag’s Head. Their house is way below the Outer Banks, almost near the border of South Carolina.

That drive is tough. It’s very long. We left Friday night and didn’t arrive at the house until late Saturday night. We got out of the car cramped and sore. On the way, we passed through some poor areas of the country. DelMarVa is mostly filled with chicken farms and horrific chicken processing centers. We’ve done this drive often enough, so we know of a few fun places to stop along the way. There’s one or two nice restaurants that cater to the wealthy retirees who live on large boats that travel up and down the intercoastal waterway. Crabcakes to die for. We were full of optimism about seeing relatives and bathing in the warm waters near their home.

The way back was tougher. We had a three hour drive through some very, very poor areas to get to Route 95, the big highway that took us to Washington, DC.

On that three hour drive, we passed towns with sagging churches, rusting trailers in the middle of soy farms, Hardees with fat people. Convenience stores that sell cigarettes for a $1.99, microwave pizzas, and AIDs tests. Hand made signs of Obama looking like a monkey.

I took some pictures from the moving car. I haven’t downloaded my camera yet, but I’m sure they are too blurry to show on the blog. I thought it would be too rude to stop the car and take pictures of the people and their homes. I wish I had the guts of a Walker Evans who recorded Southern poverty so many years ago.

When we arrived in DC, six hours later, we felt a moment of culture shock — neatly trimmed lawns, restaurants with outdoor dining, trim joggers. It felt like whiplash.

Inequity in this country has strong geographic boundaries. Sure, there is poverty here. My dad runs a food pantry, so we know that poverty is everywhere. But there’s something so oppressive about the poverty on the drive to Route 95. It’s everywhere. You can feel the depression in the air. It’s heavy and humid.

7 thoughts on “Southern Poverty

  1. I was never near the coast in NC, but I remember the shacks that started just a few hundred yards outside of the nice parts of town. And the chicken processing. Everybody at the Catholic Church was either a Yankee or a recent immigrant, most of whom were involved in chicken farming.


  2. We drive that same route through south east NC every year and every year I hope the gps will just put us up to I40 (30 miles longer). Its extremely depressing and gives you a real perspective on how NC is completely a Rural vs. Metro voting state. Last year, outside of Lumberton, we noticed a HUGE 8 foot stucco wall and a GIANT mansion, in the middle of NO where. Giant Marble Statues, Gated, It was just about the epitome of the divide. (you can google, its ridiculous).

    We live in downtown raleigh, basically liberal UMC heaven. We’ve got great schools, lots of access to food, jobs, culture. All I think of when we drive to the beach and home is “there is no way out”. The poverty rate in raleigh is the highest its been in years, folks coming here looking for a way out, but without education, there really is no way.


  3. I bet the poor NC schools are a better place to send your kids than the non-NW schools in DC.

    There’s rich DC and then there’s the rest of it.

    I think that when we’re in our normal environment, we automatically get really good at avoiding the less savory areas. It’s often only when out and about away from our usual haunts that we find ourselves well outside our comfort zone.


  4. We used to make that drive from Boston to Kill Devil Hills every summer. We’d stop and have dinner with friends in beautiful summer places in Ocean City and then head down the peninsula. It was an education..

    But I’m not sure it was any worse than the former-manufacturing towns in the midwest. Hang out in Gary or South Bend for a few days if you want to get really depressed.

    It’s an ugly moment in America, for sure.


  5. We are there now (Holden beach – almost on SC border). My parents said the same thing on their drive down from MD. (We flew in from WI) We had a very interesting discussion on urban poverty vs. rural poverty.

    And we don’t avoid the urban poverty in our respective cities. (Dad runs a homeless shelter, we are involved in BB/BS and send our kids to schools with 70% free/reduced lunch). It’s just very different, the rural poverty.


  6. I saw some of that this past winter when we took the auto-train down to Florida. It was very jarring to passively sit in a train passing shacks and ramshackle churches.


Comments are closed.