Or, as an alternate title, "Penguins Aren't Native to North Carolina?!"
Yes, I'm a city-born, city-raised Penguin. And yes, I'm now in the mountains of North Carolina. It is, to say the least, culture shock.
I found myself bored, so I ventured out tonight, with the WalMart Supercenter across the state line in Georgia as my ultimate destination. What I found, though, really makes me think...
I'm struck by the dichotomy of the region. I passed a college preparatory boarding school, situated on rolling hillsides. Large brick buildings with classical architecture and ornate white columns dotted a green, perfectly manicured landscape. Yet, just down the street, I passed dilapidated wood shops with little paper "Sorry, We're Closed" signs hanging haphazardly in the front door. From the looks of things, the shops hadn't seen customers in well over a year.
There were pole barns and sheds housing landscaping firms and plumbing supply companies. There were antiques malls and pottery shops peddling their wares to knick-knack-oriented tourists. And occasionally, appearing like a desert mirage out of the darkness, were brief meccas of brilliant high pressure sodium streetlights, towering signs advertising the Circle K and the Chinese buffet and the assortment of dive motels. There was a streetlight, perhaps two, and then, as quickly as the town appeared, it was gone again and my headlights continued into the pitch of night.
I rolled on down the highway, four lanes, barely speckled with cars. It was nowhere near capacity, and it probably never will be. Caught up in the moment, trying to absorb the sights that bombarded and bewildered my city-raised eyes, I missed my turn. Fortunately, I was able to make a U-turn at a convenient intersection under construction. At least, I assume it was under construction, and that the various concrete structures around it were simply not poured yet, because metal street signs sprouted straight from the blacktop... and that just ain't right.
The WalMart Supercenter itself was... well... an experience. I don't know if I feel comfortable talking about it. It was... traumatic. So much impervious surface... so much square footage... I feel ashamed.
When I walked out of the store, however, I was confronted by one of the most beautiful skies. I regret not taking my camera with me everywhere I go. I believe I shall start. The setting sun dipped behind the mountains and made the clouds along their tops glow brilliant yellow. The sunset faded into a darkening blue sky, with stringy black clouds passing slowly overhead. To my back, the moon shone with a brilliance I had never seen in the city.
I will admit, it's a humbling, bewilderdering experience. The lack of planning, the lack of development, the lack of... well, any real concept of organization, it seems... The absolute beauty of nature, rolling hillsides dotted with cows, mountains backlit by a winter sunset, and the harsh glow of sodium lights and neon signs. It's all so incongruous, and I found myself more than once wishing all the darn Waffle House signs would just quit clouding up the sky. But then, I think that down here, that Waffle House means jobs, and food, and a social gathering place to many people, and who am I to tell people to get rid of their lifestyle so that I may appreciate things from my own viewpoint and with my own set of values?