Good Ole Boys

In 1629 Charles Stuart, or Carolus in Latin, gave the colony of Cape Fear to his attorney-general Sir Robert Heath, who named it Carolina in honor of the monarch.

Whatever legal skills Sir Bob possessed, they were not enough to stop the king from being executed—Charles I was beheaded on January 30 1649, the first and only English monarch ever to be put to death. The king requested two shirts.

The season is so sharp as probably may make me shake, which some observers may imagine proceeds from fear. I would have no such imputation.

The Province of Carolina was then presented by Bonnie Prince Charlie to a set of English nobles known as the Lords Proprietors in 1663, as a reward for bringing him to power three years before.

Today North Carolina continues to represent the essence of the South, a place of genteel manners and unimpeachable hospitality. I still didn’t really see black people in prominent roles, nor are immigrants as much in evidence as when you come up the eastern seaboard.

We got pulled over by a state trooper, who told us we were “runnin’ a little hot.” But the driver may well get the ticket pulled, he seemed to have relatives in all the right places—a few decades ago burning the cops off in hot rods was standard Friday night fare.

Richmond is the major city to the north as you travel toward Washington DC—but despite the downtown skyscrapers, the one-time capital of the confederate states has a sleepy atmosphere you can’t seem to shake, as the James River drawls and serpentines its way southwest—I love it.

By the time you hit the beltway, a different kind of engine turns the axle of America. Outside Home Depot in DC the parking lot is busy on a Saturday morning—trucks, trolleys, and tools, but wait—who are all these guys squatting on the verges?

Not your regular do-it-yourself customers surely—clumps of squat, short men, ill-dressed, ill-fed, moustaches and cigarettes. Skin the color of bronze, men accustomed to hard graft in a foreign land.

This is an informal market of drywall workers, carpenters, plumbers, a tribute to American ingenuity—the would-be DIY shoppers, realizing they’ve bitten off more than they can chew, hire these Latino jobbers to do the work for them.

Somewhere down that line US contractors are losing business to an environment that brings together informal laborers and informal home improvers—I presume the tax element is missing, a sharp reminder of Southern Europe and grexit.

In my foray to a Home Depot store in Rhode Island three months ago, there were not enough day-jobbers in evidence to make me sit up and take notice—I had observed the incredibly rapid spread of Spanish signage, driven by the marketing men.

But apparently this outdoor employment agency is a fixture in major cities throughout the United States: similar in some ways to hiring grape-pickers, except that in this kind of work often both parties are ‘day-jobbers.’

As usual I’ve done a fair bit of driving—Washington does have a decent subway system, but if you need to be anywhere in the suburbs a car is the obvious solution. And everything about cars is cheap, starting with the vehicle and ending with the gas.

The world according to Capt. Tony, one of many amusing pictures that decorate the Tune Inn.

The world according to Capt. Tony, one of many amusing pictures that decorate the Tune Inn.

I stopped at the Tune Inn for lunch—one of my favorite diners, up on Capitol Hill. I had ambitions of eating at the Old Ebbitt, a legendary Washington restaurant just off the Mall, but the queue reached to revolving doors—like a cartoon character I swung in and straight back out.

I discovered the Tune Inn when I was researching The India Road in 2007—it’s a small place close enough to the Jefferson Library, friendly and unassuming, with the added attraction that they serve a reasonable glass of tinto.

It draws a mixed fauna, from congressional staffers to off-duty marines, and if you want a plate you need to ask for one. This is not a place for wimpy fish-eaters—if you are of the fin persuasion you can get a catfish sandwich, somewhere between the sloppy joes, the meatloaf, and the jalopenos.

The US is the usual land of contradictions, with Donald Trump running for president and Wall Street backing both Clinton and Bush. On TV, a religious channel runs a feature about a christian who actually believes in climate change. On CNN, a raging debate about whether a gay teacher was unfairly dismissed.

American television has always been ad heaven, but this time round I found it unwatchable. Serious-looking older men trying to sell you mortgages at 6 am is more than I can stomach, and publicity even found its way into my GPS—it decided to become increasingly chummy with me and began to recommend stores. I’ve no doubt that it’s linked to my programming choices, and every time I turned it back on my new pal asked me to rate my previous location—data is king, so I had to say no.

As I sign off to cross the Atlantic, I leave you with the immortal words of Capt. Tony: All you need in this life is a tremendous sex drive and a great ego—brains don’t mean a shit!

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

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