A road trip awaits me, soon. A few things must line up, and I’m ever hopeful that they will.
Alignments bring to mind the Age of Aquarius and Hair. (Younger readers: You had to be there, truly, but people took their clothes off on stage.) Unfortunately, I don’t know when the Moon will be in the Seventh House. (Seventh House?) And Jupiter and Mars? This man waits for no planetary alignments. Alignment for me means a week or so with no court appearances, no other obligations, and an available sitter for Max.
And the trip? I’m headed due east, to the Deep South. I want to understand, as well as anyone can in 7 – 10 days, race in America.
What’s this all about? Truly, I don’t know. But I’m drawn. Drawn as if a giant magnet was pulling at me.
In part I blame Greg Iles and his Penn Cage thrillers, set in Natchez Mississippi. In particular, the Natchez Burning trilogy—comprised of Natchez Burning, The Bone Tree, and Mississippi Blood—captured my attention, for its focus on evil. Pure. Evil.
Some fine thrillers don’t get me there, though. Deep down, I’m trying to understand why differences matter. I get scapegoating. The comfort and security which sameness brings. Even self-elevation based solely on race or ethnicity. But building a whole society on so little? Makes no sense, and I’m hoping a deep dive will give me a better understanding.
I don’t want to sound high and mighty, truly. I notice differences. They exist. They’re real. And they’re not going away soon, if ever.
Notions of a post-racial America represent a fantasy. Barack Obama = race, resolved. Check the box. Move on. Nothing to see here. Not so much … or even a little, as the past 20 months have shown us.
There’s more, though. With a president determined to take us backwards at full tilt, I think stewing in the history of moving forward will lift my spirits. Understanding the commitments people made when life became intolerable will rejuvenate me. And focusing on a time before Me, Me, Me will enrich me. (Yes, I get the inherent conflict!)
Finally, at least for here, I’m a bit bookish. Words on a page or screen matter. But when I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ brilliant 2015 essay, There Is No Post-Racial America, I think words take us only so far. For sure, I’ll be reading plenty of words on museum displays and monument plaques, but I believe reading in situ matters. Just being there, too.
My plan involves flying to Atlanta to pick up the vehicle which will take me through the Deep South, back to Tucson, and replace the Prius I’ve been driving for several years. My tentative route? Atlanta to Birmingham to Selma to Montgomery to Jackson to Natchez to Memphis to Little Rock to home. Alone I’ll be for the main parts, with a possible weekend meetup with my sweetie in New Orleans. (To old friends JWK and JB, who’ve told me I’m “too clean” for New Orleans, we shall see what comes.)
I’ve done a couple of solo road trips in the past few years. (Read about the first one here.) Both involved half of deliver and pickup services for my then-college student daughter. Interstates. Time pressure. No particular purpose, other than getting from one place to another.
This time, back roads. No deadlines. And a definite purpose.*
*Has anyone done this trip? I welcome any input, either on the comment page or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.