In digital age, real travel is valued

Oct. 26, 2017 | G. Michael Dobbs

I’m one of those people who believe that travel has the capacity of making you a smarter person, a more introspective person and perhaps a better person.

That is, of course, if you open your eyes to the sights and people who you encounter.  You have to give yourself over to the experience.

I was in Virginia again this past weekend to attend my nephew’s wedding. The ceremony took place at the home of the bride’s mother deep in a rural area close to South Boston, VA.

South Boston is a few minutes from the border of North Carolina. Traditionally it was tobacco country, according to the historic markers I saw along the roads, and now many of the fields we passed are used to grow soybeans.

What struck me was the homogenization of American culture. As we traveled down US Route 360, I saw how one could easily avoid the flavor of the area by simply sticking to chain stores and restaurants.

While one of the advantages of chains is consistency – and therefore familiarity and comfort – while the disadvantages are the safety and mediocrity they represent. Why travel 700 miles to a wedding and dine at McDonald’s or Burger King?

I’m happy to say we ate at non-chain places, including one small eatery somewhere in Halifax County. The menu was simple but covered the bases of breakfast and lunch. I had the meatloaf plate that came with two choices of sides from a long list of choices. I selected pinto beans and deviled eggs. It was delicious.

On the walls were photos of winning school athletic teams and two paintings depicting the characters of the venerable comic strip “Snuffy Smith.”  Clearly someone had a sense of humor. On the counter was a two-page newsletter from a local church in which the author was trying to put into a conservative Christian perspective the recent mass shootings in Las Vegas.

“Why would God allow evil? Wouldn’t that cause Him to be evil?” the newsletter’s author Carolyn Winstead Bagley asked.  Answering her own question she wrote, “God is perfect, holy and good. He is not the author of evil but He does promise that He is working all things together for the good of those who love Him.”

People flowed in and out. This was definitely a cornerstone for this community and I was very happy we didn’t stop at a fast food chain.

A choice my brother made for breakfast the next day was equally as good. In the oldest downtown area of South Boston was “Southern Pride,” a combination restaurant, coffee house, bakery and store featuring crafts, wine and other items. It was wonderfully eclectic with a large selection of pickled products made exclusively for them – pickled watermelon rind and okra, real Southern items.

Again the food and service were great. I bought a few items and saw how buildings that were built just after the Civil War were finding a new use.

We picked up my nephew Stephen and his bride Cheyenne at their hotel, an estate called Berry Hill Resort, which is a 650-acre plantation dating back before the Revolutionary War. What we saw was pretty spectacular, although all I could wonder was how many slaves lived here, worked her and died here. Interestingly enough the history section on its website doesn’t mentioned slavery at all.

I appreciated, though, the opportunity, even fleetingly, of seeing another aspect of the history of the area.

Unlike my trip earlier this year into Tennessee, I didn’t see too many Confederate flags flying at homes or businesses. My brother did see one, though, with a drawing of a hand with the middle finger extended in the center of the flag. Somehow that didn’t convey much respect for the history and heritage supposedly the flag represents.

Virginia is one of the states that offer a license plate with the curled rattlesnake of the Gadsden flag that reads “Don’t Tread on Me” that was adopted by followers of the Tea Party movement. I saw a few of those.

At the wedding reception a man close to my age struck up a conversation with me and I followed my nephew’s advice – “Uncle Mike, don’t talk politics.” I allowed myself, though, with this fellow guest, to offer an observation after he noted the country is divided. I floated the notion that ideologues on the extremes of both sides had hijacked the conversation to the detriment of actually getting legislation passed that could help the nation.

He readily agreed. I have no idea on which side of the aisle he would sit, but we reached an accord that is lacking in the halls of Congress.

With the demands of the new editions and added coverage areas, there are no additional plans for trips in the near future, but I appreciated the opportunity to experience something new. I hope you take a similar opportunity soon to do the same.

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