The weather forecast called for heavy rain. We decided to get as far as we could before it began. We hit the road about 7 AM.
For a short time, there was sun. It came from behind us. Drivers – less numerous than the previous evening, but still out in force – saw the trike brilliantly illuminated instead of silhouetted. We felt safer.
We reached Camp Lejeune without incident.
Soon we came to a commercial strip bursting with tattoo parlors, barbers offering “high and tight” $5 haircuts, shops that alter uniforms and sew on military patches, shops selling gear and souvenirs, and other businesses catering to a military clientele. Jeffrey thought of getting his coif neatened up, but most places were closed at that early hour, and at the one just opening, the woman (the barber?) hanging out the U.S. flag had a lit cigarette in her mouth. No thanks.
This Lady Liberty imitation is in the style of the giant rats inflated in NYC in front of establishments that have offended one of NYC’s labor unions. Liberty Tax: odd name, that. Taxes actually do buy liberty, and civilization, but it’s not fashionable to acknowledge it nowadays.
We continued into downtown Jacksonville. It was Sunday-quiet on a Thursday. The base must be where the action is.
We pulled up in front of the city hall to examine a Confederate memorial with a crowning pyramid of mini cannon balls. Jeffrey is fascinated by these relics, and amazed that they remain in public places without a plaque of apology for a Confederacy that was created to enslave others.
Just then, Raoul walked by.
Raoul rarely allows himself to be photographed, but he gave Jeffrey permission. Raoul grew up in Washington, DC, and came to Jacksonville when his brother joined the Marines. They got an apartment together. Raoul didn’t join the military; his grandmother called it a “cult”. His brother completed his enlistment and went back to Washington. But Raoul stayed on, married to a local woman. Jacksonville isn’t too exciting, but he didn’t want the kind of excitement he remembered from Washington, which he called the Murder Capital of the World.
Jeffrey asked about the Confederate monument. Raoul talked about how important family and history are to the local people, and said there still are a lot of Confederate sympathizers among them. Their influence is diluted by the outsiders attracted (or ordered!) to the area by the Marine Corps.
Jeffrey asked whether foreigners are accepted by the locals. Raoul is a taxi driver and sees everything. He has no problem with Mexicans or any other people who came from abroad. If they respect him (evidently they do), he respects them. The only problems he has had, he said, are with his “own people”.
Jeffrey told Raoul about Russell Shorto’s theory that it was not the English, but the Dutch idea of “let’s put aside our hatreds and make money together” (we paraphrase from Shorto’s The Island at the Center of the World) that made America a place where people from the world over get along. In exchange, Raoul told Jeffrey (who misses a lot of news when on the Rides) that the “gates of Hell” were just discovered in Turkey. Jeffrey checked, and it’s true! Raoul was referring to a cave that emits lethal fumes and may have been regarded by the ancients as a portal to a netherworld.
We emerged from Jacksonville and headed toward Wilmington. Soon we heard booms and saw these signs.
We never encountered smoke, although we heard more explosions and saw a tilt-prop airplane and several helicopters overhead.
Right on schedule, the rain began. The wind picked up, but it was a tailwind – a nor’easter – for a change. Cars and trucks roared by, most giving us room, a few passing inches away, tires flinging up clouds of water. Jeffrey took a lunch break at the Sawmill Grill in Hampstead, NC, a real local establishment where he had a tuna wrap with a blackberry cobbler “side”. Way to make dessert part of the main course!
We reached Wilmington in the wind and rain, greeted by hoteliers and fellow guests who are fascinated by the trike and curious about the Ride.