|By G. Michael Dobbs|
As I write this column, I'm on vacation in Virginia visiting family there and, as usual, I am reminded just how diverse and different this nation really is.
There are many commonalities between the New England states shared history, food items, sports teams, dominant ethnic groups but go south a few hundred miles and one realizes that visiting a different state can seem like visiting a slightly foreign country.
Richmond is a city of great history and considerable culture the markers denoting spots of colonial and Civil War events are literally everywhere. The Civil War is a memory that is still very much alive.
Seeing a Confederate flag is not uncommon.
My mom lives on the same street as a historic site celebrating the first Presbyterian Church in this country the church that Patrick Henry attended. Her home sits in the middle of a battlefield.
At the same time, the Richmond area reminds me a bit of Las Vegas. The main shopping strip is Broad Street, an incredibly bustling thoroughfare, which is in constant change. A chain store or restaurant that is in business one year will be gone the next one.
The number of chain stores seems to outnumber locally based businesses and a trip to Richmond frequently exposes one to national businesses that haven't made the trip to New England.
Ever heard of Wawa? How about ChickfilA? Sonic? These are all chains that would be new to Reminder Publications readers who haven't encountered them in the South or the West.
Richmond, like many cities, has had difficulties trying to re-invent its downtown and miles from the historic downtown a combination condo/shopping center project is trying to develop a faux urban. The project features $300,000 condos, built in a style that reminds me of a theme park, over a first floor area with high-end shops.
The differences go deeper, naturally. While seeing a pub or tavern is common in New England, they're not as obvious in Richmond. Instead there seems to be a church on every corner down here.
This is part of the "Bible Belt" and people here are considerably more politically conservative than many of us in New England.
While one would think an area blessed with considerable agricultural land and a longer growing season than in New England would focus on fresh food, there are relatively few farm stands and farmers' markets.
Fireworks are on sale all over the place, including grocery stores, but regulations on them vary from county to county. The fact Virginia has county government is a significant difference from us.
Smoking is tolerated in more places than in Massachusetts. Smoking bans have been attempted but are not successful.
What really struck me was a newspaper report on a new state law that allows licensed gun owners to carry their handgun into bars and restaurants, but prohibits them from drinking. What the heck?
It's laws such as that one that illustrate the kind of differences from state to state. Whether one agrees with them, one must acknowledge one of the peculiar strengths of our nation is the diversity of lifestyles established in the 50 states.
This column represents the opinions of its author.
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