Rose-Colored Glasses

Jeffrey here. Joey took the day off to sit in a plastic bag.

Nothing in America is real unless it’s validated on TV. Thus the Ride for Human Rights will become real on May 18, when I appear on Time Warner’s channel NY1 as New Yorker of the Week.

It’s not about me. It’s about WWJ&J&JD (see Joey’s post on the subject) and about the immigrants and refugees to whom Americans owe help and acceptance. It’s about Human RIghts First and its projection and protection of American values. It’s about getting donations so that HRF will receive a $25,000 matching grant!

Human Rights First, the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition, and the Nashville Institute for Community Empowerment, exist because Americans – not just in multicultural NYC, but in the Heartland – share their principles. I saw on the Ride that people from New York to Nashville are fairminded and kind. They support HRF and similar organizations once they understand how law, philosophy and religion require us to help the stranger, and how our community and our country benefit from these newcomers and would benefit from sensible laws.

To top off the Ride, I met some new friends of HRF here in the Land of Billy Graham.

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Almost 30 supporters of the Nashville Peace and Justice Center turned out today to meet Joey and me, to hear about the Ride, and to learn about the state of immigration law and policy in our country.

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After speaking, listening, teaching and learning with this group of activists, including Lindsey and Amelia from TIRRC

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– hearing about local problems, and telling them what I’ve learned – and after riding 1007 miles from New York to Nashville, I got off the Lightning and called it a day.

This year’s Ride, like last year’s, beggars description. The weather was better – less rain, no hail. The route was shorter (1007 miles [1621 kms] versus 1216). There were fewer mountains. I had more scares: The Philadelphia bridge. Being hit by a car that swerved onto the shoulder in Maryland (I suffered only a flesh wound, but it took days to settle my nerves). Vehicles whizzing by too close. (The vast majority of drivers kept their distance.)

The few dogs that chased me didn’t come close to catching me. Virginia and Tennessee are awash in concealed pistols, but I heard gunshots only once (at a distance) and never saw a weapon or felt threatened.

These tidbits, and the daily stories and photos I posted, help convey a feel for the journey. But you really had to be there.

From start to finish, I did not hear a harsh word about the Ride’s goals or HRF’s principles. Some people expressed fears or uncertainties, but no one said that our country should hurt or reject good people – and overwhelmingly, immigrants are good people.

The Ride leaves me hopeful. When we put aside loud talk, my unscientific encounters suggest that regarding immigrants and refugees, most of us Americans are on the same page.

Everywhere I went, I had offers of food and water, offers of shelter, offers of help, directions, discounts, friendly words and waves, and people’s time and insights. Strangers – some evidently poor – handed me cash totaling almost two hundred dollars, all of which went to Human Rights First.

My friends at Human Rights First, foremost among them Lauren Trinka and Justin Howard, kept information flowing both ways, and out over the blog to you.

Special thanks to Amy & Richard Glazier (DE); Irene & Mario Salazar (MD); Karen & Ned Wisnefske (VA); Barry & Heidi Allen (TN); and Jeremy, Robin, Charlotte & Julian Veenstra-VanderWeele (TN), for taking me into their homes. Even more than the wonderful food and shelter, I valued their company after days alone on the road.

My children – Deena, Rebecca, and Benjamin – helped me every day with logistics and encouragement.

The Experts say that a long-term relationship, such as a marriage, is healthier if the parties wear rose-colored glasses. That is, they see things not as they are, but as they want them to be. Sometimes seeing a partner in that rosy light is self-fulfilling; it makes hope into reality. Sometimes it is self-delusion. But without self-delusion, none of us mortals would get out of bed in the morning.

Nancy, who cheerfully puts up with my foolishness – riding cross-country with a kangaroo puppet is the tip of the iceberg – sees me through rose-colored glasses. How else could such a charming and successful person stand me for so long? (We’ve been friends for over 37 years, an Item for 32 of them.)

In contrast, my glasses are crystal clear. I see Nancy exactly as she is.

But the effect is the same. A rose viewed through clear glass is not only rose-colored. It is, in fact, a rose.

The self-delusion of a long-haul bike ride is addictive. Air, light, motion, are invigorating. Life becomes simple. One enjoys day after day of what Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (who was educated at, and taught at, The University of Chicago), calls “flow“. It is hard to leave that flow, hard to return to a place awash in things that conflict with our ancient hard-wired hunter-gatherer nature. But Nancy is back in the city. As long as Nancy, my friend, my rose, is there, I want to be nowhere else.

Leonard & Leonard

Jeffrey here. Today Joey is silent.

Another beautiful day in Nashville.

City.

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Country – specifically, hilly Warner Park.

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The rich places in between. (The mural is remarkable. The biggest Belle Meade, TN, houses were impossible to photograph behind their walls and trees. The horses are sculptures.)

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I didn’t talk as much today. I thought about Leonard and Leonard.

New Jersey Leonard was kind, dapper, charming, gregarious. A sage. A leader. A joiner. A social worker. A humanitarian. When he died, his widow gave me some of his shirts. Those shirts – including this blue one – went on the Ride to Postville.

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I knew this Leonard. I remember him.

California Leonard was a loner, and a man of action. He played guitar in a rock band. He played tennis. He was a park ranger, a chemist/environmentalist, fought forest fires. He rode bicycles. He died after a motorcycle accident in Alaska. His brother gave me some of his shirts. Those shirts – including this orange one – went on the Ride to Nashville.

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I never knew this Leonard. I remember him no more than I remember Abraham Lincoln. His brother remembers.

We pretend to own things. But everything is borrowed or rented.

Shirts. Land. Even our country.

Out here on the road, I can’t find a reference, but I think King Solomon advised us to move slowly, because soon the world will belong to others.

Travel by bicycle helps us to move fast enough to get somewhere, and slowly enough to gain perspective.

I wear shirts that belonged to men who are dead, in a country in which history is imagined, not remembered, because most of that history happened before any of us was born.

The things we fight about seem so petty.

Aristotle said, be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Our immigrant neighbors – particularly the unauthorized – are fighting as hard as anyone.

I think of Leonard. And Leonard. And their shirts. And I say, let all our neighbors live. Let them be. For soon the things we and they are so desperate to grasp, will belong to others.

Tomorrow I speak at a gathering organized by the TIRRC. To read about them, click on Davy Crockett in the sidebar to the right on the Website, rideforhumanrights.com .

“Music City” Snapshots

Chairs set up for graduation on the leafy Vanderbilt University campus.

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A Catholic church with what struck us as unusual architecture. We tried to see the inside, but it was locked.

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A cheery couple visiting from Lewiston, NY, north of Niagara Falls. You don’t have to be from Alaska to see a foreign country from your American living room! They were interested in the whys and wherefores of the Ride.

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There is visual art here, too, not just country music.

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There is rich history.

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Note the misspelling below.

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These gentlemen, Pete and Johnny, admired the Lightning and talked about how far we came and why we did it.

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Janet works for the police department. She likes that HRF helps refugees and with the support of retired U.S. generals and admirals, works to stop human rights abuses in the U.S. and worldwide. She snapped our photo by the Cumberland River.

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TJ, Rusty, and O were glad to hear about the Ride and wished us well in our campaign to get people thinking and to raise funds for HRF and TIRRC.

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Geshan Alwis, an American software designer, born in Sri Lanka, lived 10 years in New Zealand before moving to Nashville. He was curious about the Lightning and our campaign. He said our country is recognized as a human rights leader around the world, yet that sometimes we fall short. He is a true patriot, because rather than assume America has all the answers, he wants to make our country better.

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We ended the working part of our day with a visit to the Nashville International Center for Empowerment (“NICE”), http://www.empowernashville.org/ . There we met Kathy Edson of Nashville Public Television; Gatluak Thach, who at age 6 was a child soldier in South Sudan, at age 18 was an illiterate refugee in snowy South Dakota, who made the most of the opportunities offered by his new country (America) and 7 years ago founded NICE to help first women, then all newcomers, learn English and the skills they need to be part of American society.

Here we are with Kathy Edson, Gatluak, and some of the staff. The whole office turned out to welcome us and tell us about themselves – they come from all over the U.S. and all over the world – and their work.

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Below, L to R: Gatluak, Kerry Foley (Community Development Director), Kathy.

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NICE is short-staffed and underfunded. There is a waiting list to get into its English and other classes. There is a chronic shortage of transport for its clients. With the help of NPT, they are trying to educate the locals with videos

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and otherwise; a community that understands NICE’s mission will more likely provide resources closer to meeting immigrants’ needs. A surprising number of people in Nashville don’t realize that the city is an immigrant magnet. Many mistakenly assume that immigrants all are Mexican and unauthorized (“illegal”, to use the common, rude, and inaccurate term). Even we were surprised to learn that Nashville has the largest population of Kurdish-born people in the U.S.A.

Like other authorized immigrants – some would say, like all immigrants – Nashville’s immigrants have the right to be here. They also have responsibilities to the community. NICE is working hard to equip them to meet those responsibilities.

We enjoyed spending time among these new friends.

On the way back toward the city center, we met Charles Flagg.

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Mr. Flagg writes Gospel songs and humorous songs. He sang us one of the latter. A bicyclist himself, he was fascinated by the Lightning, and handed us a donation toward HRF’s work.

We met a lot more people today than we’ve told you about. Crossing guards, police officers, construction workers, tourists, local people – so many had kind greetings, warm words, wished us well. We don’t know if Nashville really is “Music City” – some might think the name pretentious – but for us, it has been “Friendly City”.

All this, and Elvis too!

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Nashville

We rode today on a mix of highways. Crumbling. Newly paved. Wide smooth shoulders. No shoulders. Designated bike lanes – the kind that make drivers think bicycles should be off the driving lane, even when the bike lane is too narrow to navigate, or not passable – due to cracks, gravel, potholes, debris, even an open rural-mailbox door that takes up half the bike lane.

From a country road, we glimpsed a white crane in a pond. By the time we doubled back for a good look, the crane had gone. We met Joey Click instead. (His shirt says Jim; that’s his brother in Arizona, who sponsors a bike team.)

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Joey and Jeffrey had a great chat about the joy of having enough – but not too much. Joey is a bass player for the Josh Turner country music band. The work is fun but requires travel; he takes his bike along for head-clearing rides, and his wife is a teacher who anchors the family in a regular schedule. Joey told an interesting story about a friend who survived a bike crash after a kid in a truck threw a water bottle at him; the friend refused to press charges and forgave his attacker.

We took a break at a convenience store. This place, like many others in this region, sells pure gasoline. We don’t know the effect on air pollution, but pure gasoline provides higher mileage than an ethanol mix.

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Like several other small-business persons we’ve met in this area, the woman behind the counter grew up near Mumbai. She lived in Georgia and Florida before moving to Tennessee to join family here. Like last night’s hotel proprietor, she had only good things to say about her America-born neighbors and customers.

Outside, Jeffrey asked this gentleman why he is barefoot.

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The man said he just likes the way it feels.

We continued through an increasingly crowded and suburbanized landscape until we encountered Barbara and Kenneth at the entrance to a bikeway along a busy highway. They pointed us to a path that would let us avoid the increasingly nerve-wracking rush of cars and trucks.

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Barbara grew up near Pittsburgh. Kenneth is in the landscaping and horticulture business. They are kind and friendly people.

Kenneth asked whether Jeffrey is Christian. Jeffrey has been asked that several times on this Ride. The question led to a discussion of the kinship of the Peoples of the Book. Kenneth expressed unease with American Muslim schools that, he and Barbara said, indoctrinate children with violent notions of jihad (which are associated with particular minority strains of Islam). Jeffrey told brief anecdotes about some of his Muslim clients – good, peaceful, hardworking people who love America and who reject the version of religion that upsets this couple.

None of us wants people in our community who promote violence. So far as we know, there are few-to-no “violent jihad” schools in the U.S. Our worry is that by mistakenly tarring the Muslim community with this brush, we could alienate that community and create the very problem that we seek to avoid.

Another person we met earlier on this Ride said he was worried about the 50 (fictional) American jurisdictions that, he said, recognize Sharia law. The power of these myths is sobering. Read our earlier post, The Backfire Effect, to see why.

Grateful for the food for thought, and for the route advice, we proceeded to the Music City Bikeway. We were in Hermitage – Andrew Jackson country – part of Greater Nashville.

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(Photo courtesy of a passerby.)

This bike path was great. Note the raindrops on the fairing – better on the Chopper than on Jeffrey’s legs. (The rain soon stopped.)

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But it wasn’t long before our GPS diverted us onto streets – the usual mix of good, bad, and terrible. Then we saw the Nashville skyline, distinctive with the building reminiscent of Batman’s cowl.

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We made our way through an industrial area to the Vanderbilt University neighborhood.

Tomorrow we’ll get our bearings and meet some local people to talk about immigrants, refugees, human rights, the TIRRC, and Human Rights First.

Over the Mountains

First, an apology. Evidently the Ride statistics on donations and mileage, updated daily, were changed on Jeffrey’s iPhone but were not recorded at WordPress for several days. You may have been misled to think that we spent 5 days in Abingdon, VA. The problem has been fixed. Fast forward to Rogersville, Knoxville, Kingston, Sparta, and Lebanon, TN.

We’ve mentioned that Tennessee bike routes are good in theory, but sometimes lacking in practice.

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Look carefully at the photo. Note the rock wall to the left, the narrow lanes, the narrow stripe with rumble strip, the few inches of pavement to the right of the strip, the crumbling shoulder, the rail at the edge of a dropoff. This road is a designated bicycle route! We ride (or in this case, we walk – we walked up this mountain, because there was no place to ride) on a knife-edge between one disaster or another.

Sometimes it’s better not to have a bike lane. Then drivers don’t expect us to stay in it notwithstanding its condition.

But one way or another, we are here to see the scenery and the people.

Look at this view outside Sparta. Jean-François Millet couldn’t paint such beauty.

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Even the soil is a beautiful color.

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When there aren’t markers for things like the start of Morgan’s Civil War raid on Ohio and Indiana, there are markers for military maneuvers.

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Jeffrey looked for breakfast, but there was none to be had.

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On an empty stomach, and braking to keep our speed under 35 mph, Jeffrey swooshed down into the Caney Fork River Valley. (The name is no match for two creeks we crossed yesterday – Mammy Creek and Daddy Creek – and the Calfkiller River.)

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Then we climbed that narrow mountain road . . .

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. . . to the plateau leading to Smithville.

In Smithville, Jeffrey spotted a Mexican store.

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Rogelio is from Mexico. Ana is from Venezuela, is a U.S. citizen, and speaks good English. They say virtually all the locals from south of the U.S. are from Mexico. There are local bigots – every community has them – but on the whole, they say the Old Stock Americans are accepting. Particularly the young people; Ana said that some of the American women dating Mexican men have learned good Spanish. As on many issues, young people seem more open-minded about immigration.

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Ana said the worst thing that happens to Mexicans is that they are exploited by local employers. She sees that as racism. But it could just as easily be equal-opportunity exploitation of the vulnerable.

Ana said that for a while, local police aggressively delivered unauthorized immigrants to federal authorities for removal from the U.S. Contrary to what we read in the papers, she thinks the atmosphere has been better lately.

Ana and Rogelio took a photo of the Lightning, and gave Jeffrey a cold drink, a donation for HRF, and their blessing for the road.

At the far end of the plateau, we quickly dropped over five hundred feet to Dowelltown, braking like mad.

We stopped at the post office

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and had a nice chat with the postmistress. A Postal Service employee, she could not let us take her photo. She spoke candidly about how Dowelltown has lost its firehouse and library, and she worries that without the post office (threatened by budget cuts), there would be nothing to hold the town together.

They talked about the Tennessee Valley Authority dams and power generation. Jeffrey is a fan of Robert Caro and his multivolume autobiography of Lyndon Johnson. In the first volume, Caro devotes a chapter to describing the hard and dreary life in the Texas Hill Country before electrification. The Tennessee Valley must have been similar. Today this area is not rich, but it’s not destitute either. People who say “government is the problem” forget that to bring rural Tennessee into the 20th century, government was the solution.

We followed empty roads

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and country roads

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and roads alongside cattle pastures.

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There was occasional light rain this afternoon. The heavy rain held off until a few minutes after we stopped for the night. The manager of our motel, Mr. Vinod, gave Jeffrey a discount, fruit juice, pastry, and conversation.

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Mr. Vinod has lived in the U.S. for a long time. Why Tennessee? He had family here (they had come for business reasons), went to high school and college here, and stayed. When he visits India, he misses the U.S. When in the U.S., he misses India. That is not unusual for immigrants. Neither are his children unusual; they are America-born and India holds no attraction for them.

Mr. Vinod feels very much accepted here. Other immigrants we’ve met in this region have been less emphatic. We’re now commuting distance from cosmopolitan Nashville; maybe that has something to do with it.

How Some Tennesseans See It

This morning, Jeffrey attended services at Heska Amuna synagogue in Knoxville. He got a warm welcome, enjoyed the services (four adult women who had been denied the privilege as children due to circumstances or custom, became bat mitzvah), and was given a few minutes to address the crowd during lunch. He picked up a point made in the day’s D’var Torah (sermon) – that Jewish law forbids bullying. To nods all around the room, he likened state and national immigration policies to bullying. This Jewish crowd is sympathetic to refugees and unauthorized immigrants – no surprise, given the vehemence of the Bible’s commands and the reality of Jewish history.

Because it was the Sabbath, we have no photos of the event.

One congregant said that Tennessee legislators are rivaling Florida’s lawmakers for “flakiness”. He referred to a newspaper chart listing crazy laws passed, and sensible laws not passed, in the latest legislative session. Another congregant said that Tennessee just enacted a law limiting the number of “foreign teachers” who can be hired by charter schools. Almost 90 years after the Scopes “Monkey Trial”, Tennessee now has a law obliquely encouraging “creation science” and attacks on scientific findings regarding global warming. (Science should be questioned, of course, but in scientific, not religious, terms.) Another congregant decried the small minority of lawyers in the Tennessee legislature; while lawyers shouldn’t run things entirely, it might help keep the legislature grounded if it had more broadly educated members who understand the state and federal constitutions.

We don’t live here, we’re not judging. We just tell it as we heard it.

In the afternoon, we hit the road for half a day’s ride. I sat with the cargo, as usual.

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We took a broad highway, U.S. 70, that soon became narrow as it wound up and down steep hillsides. We called it a day in Kingston, seat of Roane County

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and near a small lake.

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It being the 5th of May, the anniversary of a Mexican victory over French invaders, there was a celebration at a Mexican restaurant. Jeffrey ordered a delicious vegetarian dinner

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and learned from the server that she had no Tennessee accent because she is from Miami and ended up in Kingston for family reasons. She has Cuban ancestry and misses hearing Spanish, so for her, working at this restaurant is fun.

Antonio, another server, asked Jeffrey in Spanish how he liked his dinner. Jeffrey answered in Spanish, then apologized for not being able to hold a decent conversation, having taken only 1 year of high school Spanish decades ago. He offered to chat in French or Hebrew. At hearing “Hebreo”, Antonio’s face lit up. He reads the Bible daily and wanted confirmation of the words Jesus used to revive a dead woman. Antonio said “arise” correctly, or nearly so, allowing for a Spanish accent and the fact that Jesus spoke Aramaic; when Jeffrey understood the word, Antonio was delighted. Then Antonio asked some other questions. To a Hebraist, Jeffrey is no expert, but he was an expert to Antonio. They parted as friends.

Kingston. Mexicans and a Cuban serving Mexican food on a Mexican holiday to happy Tennesseans. Who’d have thought it?

“Stopped Into a Church …”

Tomorrow, at a local synagogue, Jeffrey is invited to make a few remarks after the morning service. It’s an opportunity to promote Human Rights First and the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition – that’s why we’re here! – so we’re staying in Knoxville again tonight.

Thus we had a chance to look around Knoxville a little, and for Jeffrey to stay in the shade on a hot afternoon.

We passed hundreds of churches and signs for churches – mostly Baptist – in the past few hundred miles. But we hadn’t yet asked a pastor about what’s on our minds.

Yesterday, Jeffrey was tempted to speak to a pastor attending the Prayer Day rally in Rutledge, but it was not the right moment.

Today, we set out to find a member of the clergy who could explain how Bible-believing folks in Tennessee can reconcile their faith with the mistreatment of foreigners that our government allows – even requires! – in their names.

Before we saw a church, we saw an old cemetery. It’s unclear whether it was sparsely used, or is so old that the open spaces used to be filled with stones that have crumbled or sunken.

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You can make out the name, but the inscriptions below it were impossible to read.

Some of the few legible markers were poignant.

The high point of this man’s life may have been his WWI military service. Almost fifty years later, that’s what his survivors chose to record.

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At best, this woman won’t be remembered much longer. The youngest person who could remember her – not her name, but her – is nearly 50 years old. (Is “Thy” an error or an unusual locution?)

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Thus fortified with anti-hubris medicine, we rode until we came upon Grassy Valley Baptist Church. A few cars were in the lot, but the doors were locked and there were no signs of activity.

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So we looked for another church. This Presbyterian church was open. Jeffrey walked right in.

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Meet Rev. Dr. Augusta B. “Miki” Vanderbilt. No, she’s not one of those Vanderbilts.

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Pastor Vanderbilt was preparing to conduct a funeral. Yet she very kindly took the time to talk about local pastors’ attitudes toward Tennessee’s ongoing “crackdown” on its small number of unauthorized immigrants. (It’s hot news around here. This is the front page of today’s local paper.)

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Pastor Vanderbilt shared a significant insight. She said local people take religion seriously. At the same time, they are intensely patriotic. They are uncomfortable when the demands of religion conflict with the demands of the state. Rev. Vanderbilt pointed out that Jesus often was at odds with secular authorities – but then, Jesus did not try to serve two Masters.

Asked whether local clergy protest national and state anti-immigrant policy as against God’s law, she said many pastors are vocal advocates of human rights and respect for all. But clergy are fallible like the rest of us, and some may fear telling truths their congregations – their employers – don’t want to hear. Some pastors may even support immigration “crackdowns”, although it’s hard to imagine on what basis. Many churches are independent, so there is some of this, some of that.

Pastor Vanderbilt made us a gift of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, The Cost of Discipleship. Pastor Bonhoeffer was imprisoned by the Nazis in April 1943 and hanged at Flossenburg concentration camp in April 1945, a few days before the camp was liberated. In 1940, when colleagues proposed that anti-Nazi activity be postponed “to avoid giving Hitler the air of a martyr,” Bonhoeffer said, “If we claim to be Christians, there is no room for expediency.”

One need not be Christian to understand Pastor Bonhoeffer’s remark.

The great USA is not execrable 1940s Germany – absolutely no comparison. But in every time and place, sincere belief must be lived, even at a price.

What we hope to see in this, our country of Believers, is for people of all faiths and philosophies to stand up and say, “We will have the same law for the alien and the citizen. We will not oppress the foreigner. We are better than the cruel laws – that contradict the Bible’s commands – passed by ignorant legislators and enforced by bullying executives.” When we say that, we will be better. And our country will be better too.

You Can’t See This Stuff From a Car

The hotel clerk in Rogersville gave us a 30% discount on our very fine room. Another kindness in honor of the Ride for Human Rights.

We rolled SW along U.S. 11W. Our first roadside encounter was with a gentleman we offered to help; he was leaning out of his stopped truck, hanging on the door. Turns out he was trying to find the lit cigarette he had dropped in the cab. Jeffrey made sure he had water aboard and wished him luck.

Just beyond the truck, these three big birds flapped into a tree. Vultures?

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The NE Tennessee countryside is beautiful.

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Welcome to Bean Station, TN.

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On the outskirts of Rutledge, seat of Grainger County, we stopped for ice cream. Here’s what $1.85 buys in rural Tennessee. Take THAT, New York!

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We had a nice chat with Brian, who arrived in this fine truck with tool box.

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Brian had friendly questions about the Lightning and about the Ride. Jeffrey offered the blog address; Brian took it and asked if there is a way to donate through the blog. (There is!) Another good soul wishing the best to strangers from far away.

Jeffrey, whose clients hail from over 100 countries and who is interested in how immigrants end up in obscure places, thought the cook might be from Afghanistan or Iran. He asked the cashier – who said she didn’t know, that she never thought to ask. That suggests that she doesn’t care where he’s from – in the context of the Ride and the politics surrounding immigration issues, a hopeful sign.

In downtown Rutledge, we passed the county building. A man was praying aloud to Jesus from a podium on the building’s steps. The man concluded by saying he had received letters from Iowa and California criticizing him, and that it was none of the outsiders’ business. Then the crowd of about 30 people broke up, some of them being wheeled to a nursing home van that brought them for the occasion.

Jeffrey asked one of the crowd to explain. Meet Charles Hickson.

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Mr. Hickson said the ruckus is about Grainger County’s Day of Prayer, which was today. He said he worries that 5 years from now, kids will go to jail for praying to Jesus. He recalled that when he was a kid, he’d walk to school and to see friends through fields and woods, and it was common to hear someone praying along the way. Now, he said, outsiders don’t want his community to pray.

Jeffrey said gently that maybe the outsiders take issue not with prayer, but (rightly or wrongly) with government involvement in it. And government prayer doesn’t mean a better country; remember, school prayer was legal in the era of slavery and segregation. Maybe, said Jeffrey, we need to remember that real prayers are said in one’s own heart. Maybe the way to respond to this outside criticism is to leave government out of it and go on praying in our homes, our churches, and within ourselves.

Mr. Hickson liked that idea. He wished us blessings on the road.

Here’s a bit of whimsy we passed near Blaine: a stable decorated to look like an Old West main street! Note the horse and burro.

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Does “Biker’s” (or Bikers, where we went to school) include bicyclists? No matter. I’m sure we’d be welcome.

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Most of our route through Tennessee has been on bike lanes. But it’s not all easy riding. Cracks and potholes, narrow stretches, places where the lane disappears (often on bridges), keep us on high alert. A significant problem is gravel that is dragged onto the bike lane from driveways and road intersections. Gravel can cause a skid. This photo was taken on a several mile stretch of gravel that looked like it was spilled from trucks. It was a bit like biking on marbles. Slow and scary.

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We’ll end today with a bit of local color. Come back tomorrow for more catfish, chick livers and sweet fries!

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Digging Deeper

Last night, at an Abingdon restaurant, Jeffrey bought a plate of spaghetti and vegetables so large that he could eat only half. He saved the other half for a late-night post-blog snack.

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Jeffrey met the Egyptian immigrants who own the restaurant and the attached karaoke bar. One of the bar customers is married to a lawful permanent resident, and asked Jeffrey questions about how her husband can become a citizen.

These were not encounters we expected to have in rural Abingdon, Virginia.

This morning Jeffrey had a nice chat with four Mexican carpenters. They had some legal questions, and one had a sad story to share. Later, Jeffrey asked Donna, the motel desk clerk, about immigrants in the area and the attitude of her church and her neighbors.

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Donna said much more than we will recount here. A few highlights: She’s a pastor’s daughter from Massachusetts, used to handle insurance for a doctor’s office, is raising 2 grandchildren, her son is in the Navy’s submarine service, she wonders whether those Mexican carpenters are “born again” and she wishes all newcomers spoke English . . . but she likes and accepts as hard-working family men the foreigners she has met, and has a friend who is teaching her some Spanish. She thinks Abingdon is split about 50-50 between people who accept newcomers, and those who don’t like “outsiders” or change.

We pondered this as we rode toward the Tennessee border. We passed this sign

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and others, reminding us that we’re in Appalachian coal country. Note the double entendre in the Website name, “faces of coal”.

After some ups and downs – it seemed that there were more downs, meaning we had ridden up pretty high from our start at sea level – we came to the border.

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We had more fast downhills, covering long stretches at 30 mph. Then long uphills at 5 mph. But the trend seemed downward as we came to Kingsport. We passed a few local eateries along the highway, but Jeffrey opted to stop at a chain. He doesn’t eat meat, which is the basis of the local cuisine.

As soon as Jeffrey walked into the Kingsport Applebees, he attracted attention. He was seated by Anastasia (seen below), who is fascinated by the idea of a long bicycle trip. She is busy raising two young kids, but as she said, when they’re grown she’ll still be young, and she does well at spinning class!

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Kathryn, the server, is from Wisconsin via California and Las Vegas. David, an Applebees employee from Paterson, NJ, and Queens, with family from Hoboken, was tipped off by Anastasia and stopped to shake Jeffrey’s hand and to chat. He brought a colleague along, a former “Army brat” who has lived all over the U.S. and in the Philippines, too. Each had a tale to tell of how Kingsport came to be home. It was refreshing to talk to all of them.

And all are supporting the Ride. They gave Jeffrey his lunch on the house, and offered whatever supplies he might need to continue our journey. (Kangaroo puppets need nothing, but today was a dehydrating day for humans.) As Jeffrey left the restaurant, he held the door for a man who had seen the signs on the Lightning; the man said, “Bless you for what you are doing.”

This morning’s talk with Donna had left us uneasy. The kindness of the people at Applebees cheered us back up.

The road rolled along with mountains on either side. To our citified eyes, it was a shame to see strip developments messing up the view. But Tennessee has so many mountains, so much greenery, that maybe it doesn’t matter.

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In Surgoinsville, we stopped at a convenience store for a drink, and met Hazel and Solomon. Here’s Solomon, the owner.

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He fled Ethiopia, lived in Atlanta for years, and with spouse and child, followed relatives to Tennessee for easier living and better business opportunities. He bought the store from Hazel, who stayed on as his employee.

Hazel, who hates to be photographed, is a real character. She moved to the area from Tallahassee, FL, in 1969. Nineteen years later, she ran for a local political office and was trounced, in part because people called her an outsider! (Even 43 years in the area is not enough for some people, who think you belong only if born there.) She accepts everyone who treats her decently, and answers locals’ questions about Solomon by telling them that he’s American, which he is. She said there’s a lot of bigotry in this part of the country. Solomon agrees, but it doesn’t bother him; in Ethiopia, he saw far worse.

Hazel thinks it’s crazy to waste our resources chasing and jailing agricultural workers and busboys and nannies. She scoffed at the Alabama “crackdown” on immigrants, talking about a farm that plowed under its cucumbers because the pickers had fled the state. But she despairs of having common-sense immigration laws. Officials, contractors, and jailers will refuse to give up the money and power they enjoy under the status quo.

Our takeaway from talking with Hazel and Solomon is that local people may not be against foreigners so much as they are against change and nonconformism altogether. If so, a more accepting society may require the replacement of this latest Generation of the Desert (every generation has its own desert) with kids who think it’s normal to shop at a place run by someone born in Ethiopia.

Til then, we hope good people like Solomon and Hazel will hold the fort.

At the edge of Rogersville, we saw this sign:

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The sign is correct so far as it goes. Theism also is illogical. What makes sense is agnosticism. No one has all the answers. Encouraged though we are by the relative acceptance of those foreigners in Abingdon, the warm support of our new friends in Kingsport, and by the intelligent common sense of our new friends in Surgoinsville, that Baptist church sign – one of hundreds of Baptist church signs we passed today – suggests that a significant number of people down here aren’t yet ready to concede that we can’t dictate the truth. Truth has to be worked out in each of our heads. In immigration policy, as in other spheres, truth may best be found by letting good people find their own way to making a life for themselves, without micromanagement by bureaucrats and cops and jailers.

Real People, Real Places

After another nice chat with Don the truck stop manager, and with two truck drivers (one of whom now drives car carriers, used to make meat runs from Denver to Hunt’s Point Market in the Bronx, and who made a donation to HRF on the spot), we headed south through what signs say is Virginia Rail Heritage territory. Freight trains and highways share the Draper Valley.

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After a couple of long, steep hills, the terrain flattened out a bit.

The sun grew hot. South of Wytheville, we stopped for a drink at Williams Orchard, http://www.williamsorchard.com. The Williams family grows fruit and vegetables, maintains a dairy, and specializes in local agricultural products. Beth, who works there but is not a Williams, kindly offered lunch, a shower, whatever Jeffrey might need. She summoned Bobby Williams, one of the owners, so we could talk.

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Beth, a transplant from Pennsylvania who uses religious references in conversation, is very supportive of HRF’s mission. She and we are on the same page regarding our duty to strangers and to the foreign-born who live in our communities.

Bobby, who always has lived in the area and manages the farm his grandfather founded, showed a nuanced grasp of his neighbors’ attitudes. He said a recent influx of American Mennonites has caused some friction. So have the city people who build or buy fancy houses. Change is coming to the Appalachians, and Bobby himself accepts it, although it makes him uneasy. Less thoughtful people blame newcomers – foreign or domestic – for their troubles. That’s human nature, overcome only with the help of religion or philosophy.

Jeffrey asked whether Bobby and Beth think their neighbors are waiting to be led by politicians who call for harsh treatment of unauthorized foreigners. They seem to think that recent hateful political rhetoric appeals only to the sort of hotheads one can find everywhere. They don’t expect the locals to go hunting foreigners with pitchforks.

Bobby mentioned that last year, a lot of American crops rotted in the fields for lack of harvest workers. He recently attended a meeting at which someone told of hiring two unemployed Americans to join a foreign-born crew. After a couple of hours of work, one American had to be taken to the ER. The other worker did not last the day.

Here’s the Dip Dog ice cream stand on the Lee Memorial Highway. (This far south, Stonewall Jackson no longer is a highway name.) The Lightning attracted a lot of attention. Jeffrey had interesting conversations with several families, among them this woman with her boyfriend and son, and the Bartley brothers (standing by the Lightning) who’d just driven up from Nashville. Upon hearing the short version of the reason for the Ride and what HRF does, all acknowledged that the Ride is a worthy cause.

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We didn’t expect to find a kangaroo image in this part of the American outback!

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Toward the end of today’s ride, Jeffrey was startled on a rural road by a driver leaning out the window of a pickup truck driving north (we were riding south) and taking Jeffrey’s photo with what looked like a disposable camera. Jeffrey snapped this photo a moment later; the truck was gone, but the photo’s GPS tag marks the spot. Did the driver see Jeffrey before and come looking for him – more than once, people have stopped us to say, “I saw you at ____ earlier today” – or does the driver always have a camera in hand?

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This part of Virginia once was the Wild West.

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Every day we bike in rural areas, obnoxious dogs bark at us. Only today did we stop to consider that the dogs might need counseling. In today’s Virginia, even in Appalachia, they can get it.

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Come back tomorrow for a first look at Tennessee!

A Hard Day’s Ride

One hundred and fifty years ago, when cavalries ranged up and down the Shenandoah Valley, it would be extraordinary to travel 50 miles on horseback for several days in a row.

On a modern road, the Lightning easily outdistances a cavalry horse. The rig is a small fraction of a horse’s weight. A bicyclist needs more food than an equestrian, but much less than a horse. A bicycle can roll downhill far faster than a horse can gallop. A horse makes a better military vehicle, though. A few potholes, some gravel, some debris – things a horse will step over – and a bike will stop or overturn.

Today, as we passed from the Shenandoah Valley to the Draper Valley, we encountered a mixture of roads. We made good time for a while. But for much of the day, we crept along at less than 3 mph.

While we were riding out of the Roanoke-Salem area, Jeffrey saw a woman taking our photo with a telephoto lens. It was Meg Hibbert, Editor of the Salem Times-Register and The New Castle Record. She gave Jeffrey a quick roadside interview. His photo, a caption about HRF – and perhaps the blog address – may be in the local newspaper. Sometimes there’s no substitute for shoes on the ground and bicycle tires on the pavement. No one in Salem would hear of HRF and its good work if we’d stayed in New York.

Soon the road turned ugly.

Construction on I-81 diverted traffic onto the Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway (U.S. 11), which in these parts has no shoulder. Tractor-trailer tires went right to the edge of the pavement – see the truck at the left in the first photo – and congestion and the “no passing” edict left them no room to avoid us.

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Jeffrey was reduced to walking the Lightning for miles up mountainsides facing traffic. Even that was harrowing. There was no shoulder, and dropoffs and rock walls left him little or no room to get off the pavement. He played a lot of “chicken” with cars and trucks: who would move out of whose way?

In a sector where he dared ride, construction workers called out a cheery greeting. Jeffrey turned his head to give them a nod and a wave . . . dropped off the raised pavement into a gravel pothole, and overturned. He was traveling slowly, and falls from a recumbent tend to be benign anyway. A construction worker ran over to make sure all was OK. And it was. The worker wished us luck, the men shook hands, and the worker took a card with the blog address.

After a while, we turned onto a country road. Hills were steep. Pavement was rough. But traffic was light and there was room for us to ride.

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During one 18-mile stretch, we crossed this river. Like many of the bodies of water we’ve crossed in rural Virginia, it had no name-sign. It might be the New River, one of the oldest rivers on earth, which flows into North Carolina. Later, after almost running out of water, Jeffrey stopped for refreshments and was told that the river across the road (was it the same river?) is the New River.

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We passed this pretty little Masonic temple in Snowville, Virginia.

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We had hoped today to reach Wytheville, birthplace of Woodrow Wilson’s second wife. Wythe was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and framer of the Constitution. (Speaking of non-Civil War history, yesterday we passed markers pointing out the birthplaces of Woodrow Wilson and of Thomas Lincoln, Abraham’s father.) At least we reached Wythe County, and we were lucky to find shelter at a truck stop in the unusually named hamlet of Max Meadows just before a thunderstorm hit.

Bristol, the town straddling the Virginia-Tennessee line, is now only 85 miles away. Donnie – a truck stop manager with whom Jeffrey had a fascinating discussion about child-raising, concealed-carry, second marriages, forgiveness and other topics – says the terrain is rough between here and there, so we don’t expect to reach Tennessee tomorrow. But Wednesday looks good.

Possum Hollow

Today we saw some beautiful country and talked with some real Virginians.

Not far past Greenville, we passed little run-down houses, at least two of which were flying the Confederate battle flag. What the flag represents to its owners, we can’t say.

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We can’t say how big this snake is either.

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We passed through Lexington, home of VMI and Washington & Lee University, where R. E. Lee is buried. VMI’s campus looked deserted, except for one white-clad officer or cadet you can see toward the right in the stands. Maybe Sunday the cadets are allowed to sleep in.

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Lexington has its share of beautiful old houses.

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Here are Zoey, Olivia and their mother, Trish. These Lexingtonians were on their way out of town to ride horses. Jeffrey had a nice chat with Trish. She said that the Lexington area is increasingly cosmopolitan and aside from the rabble one can find anywhere, diverse people largely get along. She was enthusiastic about the mission of Human Rights First and volunteered to use Facebook and friendships to spread the word.

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Then we left U.S. 11 – the Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway – for 18 miles of parallel side roads. There was very little traffic, and we were pleased to see the ‘bike route” signs, reminding drivers that we belong on the road.

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Possum Hollow Road took us alongside a small, swift river.

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This farm seems to have “watch roosters” instead of watch dogs. We heard them begin to crow in the distance when we stopped at the top of a hill.

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We saw livestock in pastures, and what may have been a “Sheridan Sentinel” – a chimney and part of a wall, perhaps from a house burned during the Civil War. There was no sign so we can only speculate.

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Beautiful.

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On Plank Road, we passed Marie and her dog, Smokey. Marie allowed Jeffrey to take Smokey’s photo, but did not want herself or her house photographed.

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Marie said that a sketch (words or drawing) is OK. Marie is short, wore one heavy glove on the hand that held Smokey’s leash, wore a brown knitted cap over a pink “hoodie” with the hood on her head, and was missing quite a few teeth. Jeffrey told her about our Ride. She was warmly supportive. Marie said there are good and bad people in every group, including citizens, foreigners, and every religion; we all must help one another; no one has all the answers; a friend who likes to call herself a good Christian is actually unkind; many years ago, she stopped dating a man when he told her that he made extra money in his auto mechanic business by falsely telling customers they needed work done; she had lived on this land (in Natural Bridge) since her mother bought the place in 1950 after Marie’s father was killed; she has no electricity and doesn’t want it; Smokey only bites if she tells him to; and more. Her house – if one can call it that – reminded us of how very little one needs. Marie said she always liked nice clothes, but never cared much for houses. She is not well supplied with either.

Marie refused our offer of food, saying that she should not eat peanuts, and that she eats chocolate only during the winter months. “It seems like a winter food, doesn’t it?” We left with her blessing – a gift.

A mile or two away, we met Marilyn, who called out as we passed and offered us water. That’s Roscoe at her feet.

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Marilyn has deep roots in the area. Her brick house has been in the family for generations. Jeffrey asked her about Marie. Marilyn said that people had offered to help Marie, to provide her with electricity, but Marie likes things as they are. Marilyn said that the McMansions we passed, which are interspersed with modest houses and with shacks, are “permanent blights”, while places like Marie’s are recyclable and will disappear after the owners die. (Jeffrey noted that Marie’s place already has begun to recycle.) Marilyn said the rich newcomers complain about the neighbors (who were here when the rich folks bought and built) without attempting to understand them. In one tumbledown shack, she said, lives a man and the disabled brother he cares for. Evict that man – she said “the law” has been after him, and after Marie – and the brother will have to live in an institution. Marilyn helps those poor people as she can.

Trish, Marie, Marilyn. They’re the sort who give one hope that kindness and good sense will prevail in how America treats refugees and the foreign-born who are part of our community.

From Plank Road, we made our way back to U.S. 11 for the last 25 miles of our long and interesting day.

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A Brighter Land

In Mt. Jackson (named for Andrew, not Stonewall) is Our Soldiers’ Cemetery, across U.S. 11 (a.k.a. Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway) from what had been a Confederate military hospital. In those days, 2/3 of military deaths were from disease, not battle, so both the hospital and the cemetery were kept busy.

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On the cemetery site is a statue erected in 1903 by the Daughters of the Confederacy.

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On one side is inscribed a fragment from Abram Joseph Ryan’s 1879 poem, The Sword of Robert Lee:

Nor braver bled for a brighter land,
Nor brighter land had a Cause so grand

Students of history know that Rutherford Hayes was anointed President in a dirty deal that involved the end of Reconstruction in 1877. In effect, the Confederacy was handed a victory. Slavery was abolished, but Southern institutions otherwise were allowed to revert to the old ways. A terrible war to defend the right to own slaves (which the slave states believed was threatened because Abraham Lincoln opposed the spread of slavery to other states and territories – they did not accept his assurance that slavery would remain Constitutional and protected where it already existed) had become a noble Cause. This myth would be taught to succeeding generations.

We thought about this as we headed south through occasional light rain and headwinds of up to 30 mph. We entered Rockingham County.

The turkey is bronze.

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The mountain is Blue Ridge.

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The show is for goats.

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Still pondering the meaning of Confederate hero-worship, we arrived in Harrisonburg and rode past James Madison University.

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You see just a bit of the beautiful campus. What a fine-looking arts center, hm?

Then it hit us. This place that so honored Robert Lee – a man known to be cruel to his slaves even by the brutal standards of the day – and “Stonewall” Jackson, also a bloody traitor – is now a place of culture, inclusion and safety. We saw exotic-looking people in some of the small towns we rode through – they looked like descendants of the Aztecs or Incas. We saw church billboards exhorting people to do good works. (And here’s a cool electronic church sign that didn’t photograph well; after notices of church activities, the time and temperature would be displayed, and the bright green frog’s hot pink tongue would snap out to drag them into its mouth.)

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We saw hospitals that, by law, provide emergency treatment without regard to origin or ability to pay. We saw arts institutions even in small towns, government offices for health, roads, public safety – not just for men, or U.S. citizens, or members of a particular religion – for everyone. We saw buildings owned by veterans’ groups (e.g., the VFW) and by organizations that want there to be no more veterans (several Mennonite churches and a Mennonite university). We used paved roads and bicycle lanes, open to all without fee. We saw Indian restaurants; a Mexican shop selling foods, music, movies, etc., where the signage is all in Spanish; and the manager of the hotel where we stopped for the night is from Fiji. Immigrants, foreigners, maybe refugees, doing their thing openly and without fuss. The kind of country envisioned by Human Rights First – if we could just get the paperwork straightened out.

Yes, we saw a bumper sticker: “Let’s load our muskets, get behind a fence rail, and take our country back!” (Take how? Back from whom? To what end?) But there are nuts everywhere. Everyone whom Jeffrey has told about our ride, or who has asked us about it, has wished us well. This is not the Lee-Jackson Shenandoah Valley. Not anymore. And a good thing too.

Some local color around Staunton, VA:

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Isn’t old Staunton pretty? There are some modern treats, too. These sculptures next to an underpass are huge.

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South of Staunton, we stopped to watch some beeves. This is a beef cattle area; we saw a sign for a Cowboy Church.

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We ended the day at the south edge of Staunton City (a large area that extends far outside the city proper), at the edge of Greenville. We’re staying in a motel adjacent to a house built by Hessian POWs presumably shipped more than 400 miles from their capture at the Battle of Saratoga in northern NY.

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In the hotel office, Jeffrey met a fellow guest, a German woman. Jeffrey mentioned that his parents-in-law fled Germany in the 1930s. The woman immediately said that her father, a metallurgist, had been forced to work in Hitler’s defense industries. “In those days, you had no choice.” Well, of course he had a choice. There always is a choice. The question is the price to be paid.

You might think we were troubled by this encounter. Not at all! That an innocent German woman, 67 years after the end of the Nazi era, feels the need to excuse her father – who may have had to choose from a universe of bad choices – shows that she knows right from wrong. She did not glorify collaboration with evil. She sought only to explain it. Some Americans, 147 years after the Confederacy collapsed, are not yet ready to acknowledge its evil and change their road signs. (How many German roads are named for the man who had the Autobahn built?)

Still, liberalism has won in this Valley. A significant level of diversity and government activism is accepted here. Judging from what we have seen, the community now has, more or less, a place for everyone. Notwithstanding the homage paid to those who fought to preserve slavery, it is at last A Brighter Land.

Bloody Valley

First, some housekeeping matters.

1. Remember, I, Joey, am a “kangaroo court” puppet. I am not a person. Except when the topic is personal and serious, Jeffrey gives a voice to the voiceless – to me. That’s what lawyers and nurses do.

2. Some of my fans follow us via Facebook or automatic daily emails. But if they don’t visit the blog site – rideforhumanrights.com – they will miss the updates on distance traveled, donors and donations, and will not have access to the Joey or the Tennessee links to donate to support human rights.

3. We’ve already given deserved praise to the Lightning and Zzip Design folks for their superior products. We now add a plug for My Trials: What I Learned in Immigration Court, by Paul Grussendorf. Paul plays guitar for The Speakeasy Boys, whom Jeffrey heard last night. Lots of people have told Jeffrey to write a book; it seems it already has been written:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0054S7G0U

“With a cast of colorful characters and compelling tales, [it] is both a scathing indictment of a broken immigration system that sends vulnerable immigrants back to the perilous situations from which they fled, and a heartfelt call for a return to the values upon which our nation of immigrants was founded.”

Life is all about values. That’s why we Ride for Human Rights.

Back to our story.

Minutes after leaving Harpers Ferry, we saw this sign.

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But strange to say, the Valley is higher than Harpers Ferry. By the end of the day, we had climbed many hills high enough for us to whoosh down the other side at speeds of over 30 mph (50 kph). We had so many long, fast downhill runs, it felt like our stop for the night, in Mt. Jackson, was lower than Harpers Ferry. In fact, it’s twice as high above sea level.

West Virginia has tons of Civil War history. Here’s the site of a brief, violent encounter, and the spring house that still stands across the road from the stone barn.

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A few miles later, we came to the state line. Maybe someone doesn’t yet accept West Virginia’s 1862 secession from Virginia; the signs suggest that one is passing from one county to another, not between states.

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Here’s U.S. 11 in Virginia. We’ll follow it to Knoxville. It stretches from the Canadian border with NY all the way to New Orleans, serving as Jeffrey’s native village’s Main Street along the way.

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Here’s the striking library building in Winchester, VA. This kind woman, who offered Jeffrey any help he might need (including lunch), said that of the 100 largest libraries in Virginia, the library (not the building!) is ranked 78th. Local people are campaigning to upgrade it. Winchester and most of the other towns we passed through today are almost painfully pretty and well-kept. An active citizenry must be commonplace.

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We shared the road with cars – almost all politely driven – and saw many churches.

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The sign below does not belong to the church above. The sign, which is by another church on U.S. 11 / Old Valley Pike, got us thinking. Note that this Christian academy’s sports teams are the “Patriots”.

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We don’t know, but it’s possible that some members of this congregation oppose leniency for refugees or for foreigners who reside here without government permission. If so, consider the irony of the other name for U.S. 11 / Old Valley Pike:

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The “Patriots” are based on a road named for anti-patriots R. E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, who died with the blood of hundreds of thousands on their hands. Their memory is honored in these parts, at the same time many object to mercy for a foreigner who lacks the “right” papers but otherwise is a constructive part of our community. Somehow, many people fail to grasp the illogic.

The local enthusiasm for honoring traitors is hard to miss. Here’s part of the Cedar Creek battle site. Only the rebel flag is flying. The rebels lost the battle!

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Here’s a motel that advertises itself as “American Owned”. Is that a code? What is the motel owner trying to tell us?

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The Shenandoah Valley is bloody because, 150 years ago, armed men hunted one another here, up and down, back and forth. There are Civil War historic markers at every turn. Towns changed hands multiple times.

The Blue Ridge mountains were beautiful in the 1860s and they still are. People play their cruel bloody games and disappear. The mountains remain.

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Remember the sabbath – whatever that means to you – and remember that refugees’ suffering does not take a holiday. So neither will we. We raised a bit of awareness today, and we hope to do the same tomorrow as we roll south.

We Ford a Stream and Cross a River

We didn’t get far today. Only 39 miles. Yet this was one of the most interesting of our days on the road.

The day began on another of those suburban Maryland highways. You know the type.

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Then we got on a small road, the Old Baltimore Turnpike, and followed it for many miles. It has steep hills, no shoulders and the pavement is rough, but traffic was light.

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Soon we found out why there was so little traffic.

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No, your eyes do not deceive you. The hilly road, which had turned from pavement to fine gravel and bridged many bodies of water, was bisected by a creek. In some places, that much water would constitute a river.

I stayed wrapped in plastic. Jeffrey took off his shoes and socks and waded into the rocky freshet on his tender feet, pushing the Lightning. The water was deeper than he expected; the clarity had fooled him. It came up to his mid-calf and covered the Lightning’s hubs. Once across, he dried his feet, dried the Lightning’s brakes, and we got ready to roll.

A pickup truck approached from the other direction. The driver asked about us, and expressed support for our mission. “Human rights!”, he said. He’s all for that. He was worried about fording the stream. Jeffrey told him how deep the water was where we crossed. The driver made it.

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Jeffrey picked up a foot-long turkey feather from the grass, stuck it under a bungee cord, and we took off.

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The scenery began to get hillier.

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But the road, which was hilly enough for us to have hit 37 mph today before Jeffrey applied the brakes, flattened as we approached the Potomac River and the abandoned C & O Canal, now a National Park. We got on the canal towpath at the Monocacy Aqueduct. Acqueducts were used to carry water, and river traffic, above existing bodies of water, so the canal water would not drain away.

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After crossing the acqueduct – the first of several on this 16-mile section of the abandoned canal – we got on the graveled towpath, with the Potomac to our left and the canal ditch (hardly wet, and filled with trees) to our right. For the most part, the path is in better condition than the Delaware & Raritan Canal path in NJ. And like any canal towpath, the route is flat. But even a good gravel surface is harder than pavement to bike on. We rode at only about 8 mph and Jeffrey had to pedal constantly – no coasting. This is what the path looked like most of the way.

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You see one of the few bikers we encountered.

At Point of Rocks, Jeffrey took Creed’s photo, and he took Jeffrey’s. (That’s Virginia across the Potomac.) Creed gave us valuable route advice, and told us about local American Indian tribes that had moved here from NC, hiking trails, terrain, and local history. He told us of the huge 1830s legal battle between canal advocates and railroad boosters vying for the same bit of land at Point of Rocks. The canal won in court, but legal fees nearly bankrupted it and the railroad had made the canal obsolete anyway.

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We learned a lot from trail markers. One refers to a ferry that carried British and German POWs being shipped south after the Battle of Saratoga. We had no idea that before the invention of the steam locomotive, such large numbers of people were transported so far – 400 miles! – within the U.S.

Here are some rapids on the Potomac. At this point, we were no longer across from Virginia. That’s West Virginia on the far side.

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At last we reached the bridge to West Virginia. On the Maryland side, the only access is via steep stairs. Josiah, an RN who was visiting from Charlottesville, VA, with his family (his wife grew up in Harpers Ferry), kindly helped Jeffrey carry the Lightning up the winding steel steps.

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Mini snapped a photo of Jeffrey.

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While Jeffrey was on the bridge, a train roared out of the tunnel. Here’s the hand of Lee, a local gentleman who was advising Jeffrey on the best route for tomorrow, pointing out which track the train was taking.

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This evening, we biked around Harpers Ferry a bit. Famous for the pre-Civil War federal arsenal that John Brown tried to seize so he could arm slaves for a rebellion, it has wonderful old buildings and historic sites.

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While biking past the Canal House restaurant, Jeffrey was invited to join a “green” group of entrepreneurs who meet for networking and discussion. The kind people offered Jeffrey wine, bread, and cake. A fine country (bluegrass?) band, The Speakeasy Boys (they are on Facebook), was playing.

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One band member is a lawyer who specializes in asylum appeals. He and Jeffrey have some mutual friends in the profession. Jeffrey had a nice chat about HRF with a former Peace Corps member who gave him a donation for the Ride. And these entrepreneurs, two of whom are from Missouri (show them!), said they or their Internet-savvy children will follow the Ride.

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Hard to believe, but this long post spares you the details! A lot of adventure was packed into 39 miles. Sometimes a slower journey is a richer one. That’s what bicycling into the Heartland is about.

Tomorrow we enter the South.

Small Towns, Broad Minds

We left Delta and Peach Bottom Township around 8 AM. A few minutes later, after climbing a steep hill, we were back in Maryland. The border is better marked at PA 74 than on Chesterville Road at Lewisville, the site of our first Maryland entry/exit yesterday. (The Mason-Dixon sign is leaning; that’s not faulty camera work.)

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We made good time on roads with broad, smooth shoulders, although many were hilly. Yet we encountered long stretches of rough, narrow roads that were harrowing to bike and hard to walk. Most drivers were very respectful of us, but that did not make the roads themselves bike-friendly. A tiring day.

But there were bright spots. The Maryland countryside is beautiful.

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More beautiful still was the reception we got from Jeffrey’s friends in Montgomery Village. They picked us up in Woodstock, fed Jeffrey a delicious kosher Chinese dinner, and were joined by mutual friends from Silver Spring. We were honored by the attention, and pleased that everyone there is a financial and philosophic supporter of the Ride.

It’s no surprise to be treated this way by friends. It can be a surprise – and heartening – to get a similar reception from strangers.

We bumped into Darlene outside Rising Sun, Maryland. Or rather, she bumped into us! Jeffrey told her about the Ride for Human Rights. Darlene is not a woman of means, but she handed Jeffrey a cash donation and promised to tell her friends and family to follow the Ride and to support it as they can.

Jeffrey met Robert at the Jarrettsville, Maryland, post office, where we stopped to buy a stamped envelope. Robert bought the envelope for Jeffrey out of his own pocket, then handed Jeffrey a cash donation. While they were talking, William walked into the post office and handed cash to Jeffrey “for spending money”; he had seen the HRF signs on the Lightning parked outside. (Like all donations, 100% of the money – 200% after the match! – will go to HRF.)

The rhetoric bandied about in this election year can leave the impression that Americans in the Heartland are heartless when it comes to welcoming refugees and accepting the foreign-born who already belong to our American community. An example is not a proof – but these three people, encountered at random, all “get it.” They make us feel a bit less worried about our country’s future.

We hope Darlene, Robert and William talk to their friends, and that they vote the consciences that they clearly have.

To and Fro

As soon as we set out from Amy’s & Richard’s this morning, Jeffrey’s iPhone’s software seized up. It took Jeffrey two hours and the help of a cell phone technician to resolve the problem. We had to do it then and there. The iPhone is vital for navigation – it shows small routes that don’t appear on standard road maps – and it’s our blogging device and our link to the rest of the world.

Then we headed west through a beautiful landscape of rolling hills. Here’s Jeffrey by the Brandywine Creek and views of the scenery.

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Then we reentered Pennsylvania, passed through more lush countryside, and soon reached the Mason-Dixon Line at the Maryland border.

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We rode over the Conowingo dam that controls the Susquehanna River. Ongoing construction makes it tricky to cross by bicycle.

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Various delays – caused by 20+ mph winds, conditions on U.S. 1 north of Rising Sun, and impending darkness – added to the two hours spent rehabilitating the iPhone, put us way behind. We had thought to reach the Towson area to spend the night, but that became impractical. Instead, we detoured back into Pennsylvania to Peachbottom Township, which has the only motel in a rural region notable for its hordes of dual-exhaust pickup trucks and its lack of tourist accommodation. We were on unlit, steep country roads long past dark. Most unpleasant.

Today’s border crossings – DE to PA to MD to PA to MD to PA – got us thinking about the meaning of law. In a few hours’ time, we subjected ourselves to significantly different schemes of taxation; alcohol, tobacco, firearms and fireworks regulations; and education, among other things. “Natural Law” may be universal. Civil law can be petty and arbitrary. Remember that when you hear unauthorized immigrants called “lawbreakers”. Sometimes that’s true, but it doesn’t make them criminals – some lawbreaking, such as overstaying a visa or feeding a parking meter, is a mere civil violation. And even when it is true, depending on the nature of the crime, it may be no reflection on the morals and worth of the perpetrator. Not when a mere kangaroo hop over an arbitrary imaginary line could change one from saint to sinner.

Tomorrow we plan to cross the Mason-Dixon line for the last time until after we have reached Nashville.

A Day in Wilmington

This morning, mostly on bike lanes and busy roads with wide, smooth shoulders, we rode to Springer Middle School. There was a good vibe as soon as we entered the building. The students seemed happy to be there.

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Jeffrey spoke to students from two 6th grade and two 8th grade classes. Their teacher, Mr. Glazier, has exposed them to controversial ideas, so the students weren’t surprised or offended to hear reasoned criticism of our country’s immigration policies. They saw the parallels between the bullying of peers (a big topic in today’s schools) and the hardships inflicted by law on those deemed to be Outsiders. Several asked insightful questions, such as about the role religion should play in public policy. (To that, Jeffrey answered that religion is one of the forces that influence a legislator, but one must not use the law to inflict personal views on others, and if one cites Scripture to justify oneself, there is no excuse to flout the Good Books’ bans on mistreatment of foreigners.) The teacher presented Jeffrey with a yellow (matches the Lightning!) school shirt quoting Ghandi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” And I was a big hit. One student guessed that I am not Australian, but Asian (she said Chinese and I’m Korean, but it was a good guess).

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This evening, Jeffrey spoke to a group of about 35 at the Siegel JCC of Delaware. The title of his talk: “U.S. Immigration: Sweet Philosophy, Sour Myth, Bitter Reality”. He discussed the noble ideals of the Declaration of Independence (America’s founding document), how hypocrisy and ignorance distort those ideals, and the real workings of the system that results. Audience questions concerned, among other things, the DREAM Act, industrial and academic efforts to attract the world’s best scientists, whether the immigration system does anything well, and possible reforms.

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Below you see me, Jeffrey, and Jeffrey’s Wilmington cousins (whose extended local family numbers 15). You have seen Bradford’s professional photos of President Obama and Vice President Biden. You have read Joel’s essays on The Beatles. You have seen Richard’s TV broadcasts from Delaware Park. We’re happy to count these men and their families as enthusiastic supporters of the Ride for Human Rights.

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Tomorrow, as the rain abates, we head southwest.

Mesopotamia


One last nighttime look toward Nashville from our living room. We won't see this view again until mid-May. The West Side Highway is in the foreground. Can you make out the ships in the river?

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Today we crossed the Land Between Rivers (the Hudson and the Delaware), otherwise known as New Jersey. Above you see nighttime and daytime views across the Hudson, from Jeffrey’s apartment. Below is the view back toward NJ across the Delaware as we crossed from Trenton to Morrisville, Pennsylvania.

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We got an early start this morning: 6:30 AM. The bright-eyed sendoff committee included Rob Friedlander of Human Rights First, Jenny Hamblett (whose presence we’ll explain another day), Rebecca Heller (Jeffrey’s daughter who graduated from Grinnell College, finished an AmeriCorps assignment working with the developmentally disabled, and will start grad school at Columbia University in the fall), and Nancy Freund Heller, Jeffrey’s brilliant, charming, and patient spouse – even when rousted out at the crack of dawn. Nancy rode her bike with us for the first 5 miles.

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HRF gave Jeffrey a snazzy new Jersey for the trip:

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Last year, to get on our NW route, we rode across the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey. This year, to get on our SW route, we took the PATH train from the World Trade Center site. We biked through downtown Newark, noting new brick pavers and the same old rundown commercial buildings.

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Here’s Newark City Hall. Like Newark, once it was grand.

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In Newark, we got on NJ 27, the beginning of the famous Lincoln Highway. We stayed on it most of the day, with a few detours when Jeffrey made wrong turns. Elizabeth, Linden, Rahway, Edison, Metuchen, New Brunswick, Highland Park, Princeton, Trenton. Sounds like a train announcement! Much of NJ 27 was fairly wide and not too heavily trafficked. It passed by historic sites (George Washington was here a lot in the “Cock-pit of the Revolution”) and through a bit of carefully preserved farm country near Princeton, but most of it looked like this. And true to NJ’s reputation as the Most Diverse State, we saw people of every description. In Highland Park, street banners welcomed us in Spanish and Hebrew. Look at the “sign language” visible in one photo: English, Korean, Japanese, Chinese.

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In pretty, rich Princeton, we heard the first angry honks. Rich kids playing with their toys, perhaps. Otherwise, today we had lots of smiles, thumbs-ups, whoops for “human rights,” etc. Just outside Princeton, we took a wrong turn and found ourselves passing Drumthwacket, the governor’s official residence.

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Outside Princeton, we rode for several miles along the Delaware & Raritan Canal. It was flat terrain like any canal towpath, and very pretty. But much of the trail was loose sand and gravel. It took all of our concentration and balance to stay up, and to avoid falling into the canal. We met some bicyclists and fishermen who gave us directions and talked with us about Human Rights First.

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Tired of the gravel, we finally got on U.S. 1, which has a wide smooth shoulder. We reached Trenton, navigated the crumbling downtown and the Soviet-style state office areas, crossed the Delaware, and met Pablo and Geisha, who took Jeffrey’s picture so he took theirs. Pablo is from Trenton, Geisha is from The Bronx. They said the meeting made their day, and they offered blessings and prayers, which Jeffrey did not refuse.

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All in all, it was a good day. Brisk headwinds did not seem bad behind the Chopper fairing. The bike and tires took potholes well. The road made long descents into the Princeton area, which means we must have ridden long uphills (having started at sea level!), but Jeffrey didn’t notice – the Lightning climbs well! There was sun, but it wasn’t oppressive. And we were happy to be back on the road.

Come back tomorrow!

Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition versus Human Rights First!

Click on Joey's Tennessee Rose to DONATE to TIRRC! (So far, 2 donors gave a total of $155.)

No, there’s no fight! No conflict!

That’s the point.

HRF helps individual refugees in New York City and in Washington, DC, by finding and training volunteer lawyers to help them win asylum. And it fights for human rights at home and abroad.

TIRRC helps individual refugees and other immigrants on the ground — specifically in Tennessee.

Beneath my mountain garb, I wear a “100% Attendance” Tennessee Lions Club pin to honor TIRRC. (My Kangaroo Club pins are on my other pelt.) Because TIRRC is in Tennessee all day, every day.

Perfect Attendance!

There are religious, philosophic, moral and legal reasons for Tennesseans to support TIRRC and its goals. We’ll address those another time. But for now, let’s be selfish.

In their own words:

The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) . . . empowers immigrants and refugees throughout Tennessee to develop a unified voice, defend their rights, and create an atmosphere in which they are recognized as positive contributors to the state. Since its founding in 2001, TIRRC has worked to . . . help immigrant community members understand and engage in the civic process, and educate the public about policies that would better promote integration of new immigrants and facilitate their full participation in US society.

This is important work.

Like all of us, immigrants (who in Tennessee are about half-and-half, authorized and unauthorized) have a responsibility to the community, and they accept it willingly . . . if we let them. According to the American Immigration Council, immigrants are more than 6% of Tennessee’s labor force. Asian and Latino immigrants own Tennessee businesses with annual sales and receipts of $5 billion, these immigrants spend $10 billion, and they pay hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes, creating and supporting thousands of jobs. Foreign-born Tennesseans age 25 and older are more likely than natives to have a bachelor’s degree; educated workers are particularly effective at job creation. So immigrants do their part! But like people everywhere, Tennessee’s immigrants — most of whom, even the unauthorized, have lived in the U.S. for many years and have American kin — sometimes need a hand. TIRRC helps make Tennessee safe and welcoming for these folks who enrich the rest of us.

So TIRRC helps you and me!

Support Human Rights First! And particularly if you’re from Tennessee, please click here to DONATE to TIRRC so they can continue to do God’s work to welcome the stranger and promote the social and economic well-being of all Tennesseans.