Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Two North Carolinas

You hear not so infrequently that there are two North Carolinas. What those two North Carolinas are, though, is not necessarily precise. Is it Republican / Democrat? Rural / urban? Prosperity / poverty? Newcomer / old-timer?

Last Sunday I drove up to Pilot Mountain State Park for a day hike with a friend. I zipped north on Interstate 77 in my new blue Prius, exiting at N.C. 268 near Elkin and heading east. As I drove through a rural area of Yadkin and Surry counties, I was listening to WFAE, the Charlotte NPR station, particularly to a report on the fiscal problems of the Atlanta Symphony – you know, standard public radio fare.

But as I drove down into some low-lying areas, the signal faded and instead my radio was picking up a Sunday morning religious broadcast, quoting Bible scripture and urging prayer. Then I'd drive up a hill and NPR and its learned, muted voices would re-emerge from the radio. Religion. NPR. Religion. NPR.

As I looked out the car window, I could see the standard views of foothills Appalachia - some well-tended brick ranch
houses, then some less-well-tended houses with old trucks in the yard. I passed fields of fall-brown cornstalks, and still-green soybeans. But I also noticed a surprising number of vineyards, and signs pointing to other vineyards.

I rounded a curve heading up a hill and there, on the left, was a cluster of new, garish brick mansions, surrounded by a fence and a gate: Herrera Estates. A short time later I drove past what looked like an abandoned business, its sign still boasting of tobacco equipment. I saw, I think, one tobacco field in a part of the state where 30 years ago you'd have seen dozens. Was it the former tobacco farmers who were turning to grapes and wine? Or were those newcomers?

There were the two North Carolinas: the old rural farming properties, firmly rooted in tradition and traditional religion. But bumping against that North Carolina was the one of vineyards and mansions, and tourists driving Priuses (Priuii?) listening to NPR.

But it was tough to know, just breezing past, which were the newcomers and which the old-timers? Were the vineyards the new people, or the long-time farmers with a new crop? Were the people in the large new houses new to the area or local folks flush with new money? Would the newcomers be conservative or liberal? Looking out the car window, it was impossible to tell.

All I could see was evidence of some new fault lines cutting through those communities. But who was on which side? That was unknowable.

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