October 01, 2006

From Washington to Knoxville

Washington Monument.jpg

After the Pajamas Media conference ended in Washington it was time to make my zigzagging way back to the West Coast – by ground. I bought a car out east, a 2002 Acura RSX. I can’t really afford one of these, but I managed to get one anyway because I bought it on eBay. I saved 7,000 or 8,000 dollars by buying on eBay because I got the cheapest one in the entire country. So I could afford one after all. And, hey, I get a road trip out of it too.

Acura RSX.jpg

(For those curious, no I did not just blindly buy a random car on the Internet. I hired a local mechanic to take a look at it for me and tell me whether I should do it or not.)

My first stop on the way home was Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to see newspaper editor and former guest-blogger of mine Callimachus. I was late getting to Cal’s house because the hotel in Washington held my laundry hostage for more than 36 hours, but I finally made it around midnight.

Cal and I sipped scotch on the back porch, bemoaned the sorry state of journalism and politics, talked shop, talked travel, and went to sleep around 4:00 am. He just about knocked me out of my chair when he told me you can buy one of these fine old houses in Lancaster for just 75,000 dollars.

Lancaster Pennsylvania.jpg

The next morning we had breakfast at a diner out in Amish country. Amish country diners are far indeed from the rarefied air of Manhattan. A sign taped to the door said “We do not have a non-smoking section!” Ha ha, I thought. Just like the Middle East. They smoke in hospitals and schools in the Middle East. Maybe they do out in Bumpkinville, Pennsylvania, as well.

I couldn’t stick around Amish country, though, much as I would have liked to. It was time to drive south and west. First stop: Knoxville, Tennessee, to see Glenn and Helen Reynolds.

Aside from some of the airports, I had never been to the South. Not once for any reason, not even briefly. It’s not because I avoided the South for some reason. I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

While driving in Maryland I felt a slight tingle of anticipation as I approached the Virginia border. There I would cross a line for the first time. Maryland and Virginia don’t have (or at least have not always had) the same kind of relationship with each other that, say, Oregon and California have. Oregon and California were never at war with each other. The southwest never tried to violently break from the northwest.

Driving in Maryland.jpg

In the modern era, though, I suspected Maryland and Virginia wouldn’t look different from each other at all. At least not from the Interstate. You can’t see much from the Interstate anyway. The same Shell stations and McDonalds grease pits clutter the exit ramps from Miami to Seattle.

It was irrational to expect everything, or even anything, to suddenly change once I crossed from the North to the South. I knew it, too. But as I drove toward the state line and toward the old Confederacy I also drove toward a storm.

Sky Over Maryland.jpg

And I reached that storm the instant I reached Virginia.

Welcome to Virginia.jpg

Rain spattered the windshield. The sky went almost black. Ferocious wind whipped leaves around in cyclonic patterns across the road. Traffic came to a stop. Welcome to Virginia.

Evil Weather Driving Virginia.jpg

I got an occasional glimpse of what the Virginia countryside looked like. It’s lovely, I’m sure.

Virginia Countryside from Interstate.jpg

But mostly what I saw in Virginia was the backs of the cars in front of me in bumper-to-bumper stalled traffic.

Virginia Traffic.jpg

At one point I thought I saw a small patch of snow. How could that be? Snow? In September? In the South? I figured it must have been something else.

Sure enough, though, a guy got out of his car in stalled traffic, ran to a snow patch, and made a snowball to throw at his friends.

Snowball guy in Virginia.jpg

The rest of the trip to Knoxville was in the dark. I called Glenn to tell him I would be late, that we would have to meet the next day.

The picture below was my first real view of the South that was not from an airport or a car. It’s from the window of my hotel room in Knoxville at midnight.

Knoxville from Hilton.jpg

Here is Knoxville again in the cold light of dawn.

Knoxville Dawn.jpg

The next day I met Glenn and Helen in their spacious new house. They have a special studio just for podcasting, and they use serious professional equipment. I didn’t go there to be interviewed, but I didn’t mind being interviewed either. So they plunked me down in a chair, stuck a gigantic microphone in my face, and prompted me to blab about the Middle East for half an hour. You can listen to the interview here if you’re so inclined.

Later Glenn took me to one of Knoxville’s microbreweries downtown. He likes to bring his law students here during class on occasion. They seem to be prefer that to the classroom.

Knoxville Microbrewery.jpg

Glenn in Knoxville.jpg

The next morning I toured downtown Knoxville myself on foot.

Tennessee Theater.jpg

I recognized the Downtown Bar and Grill because Glenn has posted photos of this place himself.

Knoxville Grill.jpg

Knoxville isn’t a big city, and it’s mostly pretty quiet. But it’s a pleasant enough place to spend a day.

Outdoor restaurants and cafes line the edges of Market Square.

Knoxville Market Square.jpg

A band played live salsa music on the square itself.

Knoxville Hispanic Festival.jpg

Since Knoxville is in the South I would have expected, oh I don’t know, a statue of a Confederate something-or-other in the middle of the city. Instead of a monument to anything old, dead, slave-holding, and male I found a memorial to women’s suffrage.

Suffrage Memorial.jpg

Welcome to the New South.

Suffrage Memorial 2.jpg

Posted by Michael J. Totten at October 1, 2006 08:23 AM


Wow! That is one of the best pictures of downtown Knoxville at night ever! And too bad you couldn't have stay on another night, we had a local blogger get-together last night ... it would have been awesome to have had you there as a guest!

Posted by: LissaKay at October 1, 2006 09:36 AM

The next morning we had breakfast at a diner out in Amish country. Amish country diners are far indeed from the rarefied air of Manhattan. A sign taped to the door said “We do not have a non-smoking section!”

I'll bet they didn't have free wi-fi, either.

Thanks as always for an informative account of your journey. I caught your G&H podcast this morning (and recommend it to other readers!). Have a safe and pleasant trip home.

Posted by: Asher Abrams at October 1, 2006 10:19 AM

Beautiful pictures indeed. What a contrast with the drab decay of Europe, though I'm sure one can find less prettier spots in Knoxville as well.

Posted by: Kim Hartveld at October 1, 2006 10:33 AM

What a coincidence - I think I was stuck in the same Virginia-based rainstorm, during a drive to North Carolina.

It started the minute we drove into Virginia too. The last time I drove across that border, a few weeks ago, the rain didn't let up for days. I suspected some area-based karma.

Did you also try to wait out the storm by stopping at a Mexican restaurant, eat too much ceviche and taquitos, then step outside to find that the rain was worse than before? If so, weirdness abounds.

Posted by: mary at October 1, 2006 12:43 PM

Michael, it might be that one reason you didn't see confederate symbols in Knoxville because before and during the Civil War eastern Tennessee was a hotbed of Unionism. They were dragged into the war by the Western half of the state. The mountainous sections in the east weren't inhabited by slaveholders for the most part.

Andrew Johnson was a Democrat from Tennessee.

Posted by: Stuart at October 1, 2006 01:02 PM

And Maryland was actually a slave state that was just barely kept in the Union. :)

You know, a good reason to be optimistic about the long-term prospects for Iraq is that, even after a long, bloody war, and an eleven-year occupation, a hundred and twenty-nine years later, most Southerners will happily tell you that they bear almost zero animosity towards the North for what those goddamn Yankees did to their country.


Posted by: Ardsgaine at October 1, 2006 06:31 PM

There are a few statues of confederate soldiers in downtown Knoxville (mostly around the court house at some of the historical buildings dating back to that time). If you wish I suppose you can call it "a monument to anything old, dead, slave-holding, and male" but that type of thinking tends to make the locals not like you very much (Kinda like if I went to Portland and expected to see everyone in tie-died clothes with long dreadlocks smoking marijuana while complaining about the corporate fat cats stealing from the proletariat - as it turns out we are no more stuck in the 1800's than the west coast is stuck in the 1960's).

Anyway, if you had time you should have went into the mountains a bit. There is some really nice scenery there. From my experience they have a different look than the mountain ranges I've seen out west (at the very least signifigantly different geological processes created them). While it is somewhat prettier to see them when the leaves are changing colors right now the traffic was light and the weather is better. If your back through here again I would try and schedule at least some time to see it.

Plus the little towns you go through to get to them are signifigantly different culturally than downtown Knoxville.

Posted by: strcpy at October 1, 2006 06:47 PM

The mountain regions of the South were anti-seccessionist. That's how West Virginia was created.

Posted by: SWLiP at October 1, 2006 07:23 PM

If this was Saturday then besides the rain you may have hit football traffic, especially if you were anywhere near Roanoke after 2pm. It's a feature, not a bug :-)

It is too bad that it was dark and rainy, as you were passing through some of the most beautiful country on the eastern seaboard. If you get a chance you should come back and see it on a sunny day. Meanwhile, here's the best substitute I've yet seen: http://www.fragmentsfromfloyd.com/

I'll be looking forward to "seeing" the rest of your trip in coming days. Drive safe!

Posted by: Stacy at October 1, 2006 07:36 PM

"(Kinda like if I went to Portland and expected to see everyone in tie-died clothes with long dreadlocks smoking marijuana while complaining about the corporate fat cats stealing from the proletariat - as it turns out we are no more stuck in the 1800's than the west coast is stuck in the 1960's)."

If they lost the tie-die, dreads and weed they would pretty much be stuck in the 1800's also.

Posted by: Mike at October 1, 2006 07:54 PM

The last bit reminded me of this youtube movie.
Ms Dunaway would be spinning in her grave if she saw it.

Posted by: MamaWombat at October 2, 2006 02:59 AM

Israel is still in the Middle East, but they don't smoke in hospitals and schools there.

Posted by: zm at October 2, 2006 04:06 AM

It's no mystery why fine houses are available in Lancaster, PA for $75K. That town has unfortunately become a pit - there's lots of crime and it's economically depressed. It has also suffered from "white flight" in the last few decades and the economy and infrastructure continue to spiral downhill. It's very sad because it is a pretty little town in a pretty area of the country.

Posted by: vanya at October 2, 2006 07:45 AM

I live in Arlington, Virginia and I love pointing out that the Potomac is the line between hostile countries at war a century and some ago--while we are CROSSING the river. Cannons facing each other and raiding parties at night...

And the Memorial Bridge between the Lincoln Memorial in DC and the Custis-Lee Mansion at the top of the hill in Virginia's Arlington Cemetary is a symbolic "joining" of the two sundered sides...

Posted by: Jeff at October 2, 2006 08:26 AM

I just so happen to be an RSX owner that lives in Virginia.

First of all, the RSX is a great car. I think the 2002's had some maintenance issues (being that 2002 is the first model year). However, the RSX is a great car. Plenty of "go" and great handling at 30mpg. I thoroughly enjoy zipping around on the winding, hilly virginia biways.

Second, Maryland and Virginia have some similarities and some differences. Both states were tobacco growing states before the Civil War. The landscape is very similar between the two outside of the DC area. The more mountainous areas (covered by I-81, which is where I assume you drove to get to Knoxville) are pretty similar between the two states. The area around Frederick, MD, and Leesburg, VA share the same styles of small, irregular-shaped farms and hilly, winding roads.

However, there is a striking difference between the Baltimore-Washington corridor and Northern Virginia (Virginia's suburbs of DC). Maryland is much more "metropolitan" in atmosphere, while Virginia retains a more suburban feel.

The farther south you go in Virginia in areas like Richmond and Norfolk, you see alot more piney forests with rusty red soil along with more swampy areas. The west side of Virginia is dominated by the Appalachians - villages crammed into valleys and the agrarian plains of the Shenandoah valley.

One interesting side of Virginia/Maryland that alot of people don't see is the DelMarVa Peninsula on the other side of the Chesapeake bay. It's very flat and it almost reminds me of the midwest. The flat farms dissipate into dense woods and then into weedy tidal marshes.

Posted by: Derek at October 2, 2006 09:49 AM

As a southerner, it's informative to hear of your biases and expectations about the south. Yes, southerners have a fierce independent streak and still resent being told what to do by outsiders (like Yankees and the federal government) which is why most southern states tend to vote Republican. However, we find it funny and a bit insulting to hear of Yankees (anyone north of Kentucky or west of Texas) who expect to be attacked by KKK thugs when they step outside of the airport. That's not true now and wasn't even true at the height of the race tension in the 60's. It's like most Americans stepping off a plane in Beirut and expecting to be blown up by a suicide bomber while waiting for a cab at the airport. Not true. Never was.

Posted by: 61north at October 2, 2006 11:40 AM

Awesome pictures, as always. The South is pretty interesting, huh? I've enjoyed my few visits down there, personally.

PS: Where do I sign up for the $75,000 homes? :)

Posted by: Bad Vilbel at October 2, 2006 11:47 AM


Have fun. Enjoy your travels. I get a kick out following along.

Not to send you back to work early or anything, but I do feel a little guilt giving you this link.

I think the CURRENT loading up of modern big scale weaponry going on as we speak, into the Gaza from Egypt is only part of a much bigger mess to come.


Damn! = TG

Posted by: TG at October 2, 2006 01:30 PM

Being a native Knoxvillian, I am somewhat offended by your "Yankee" bias regarding statues, etc. If you study the history of Knoxville and East Tennessee, you will find it was strongly anti-slavery and tried to remain in the Union by forming the state of Franklin. We wear shoes and have telelphones, too.

But I did get married at Confederate Memorial Hall on Kingston Pike.

Alas, I now live in Ohio a few miles from where U.S. Grant grew up.

Posted by: DADvocate at October 2, 2006 01:32 PM

About the Knoxville pictures at midnight and dawn.
Why do the buildings in the midnight photo look so much closer then the ones in the dawn photo?

Posted by: Terry at October 2, 2006 02:57 PM

Nice pics, welcome to the South. There is one thing, I don't won't to follow you on your trips. Look what happened in Lebanon after you left, now in the Amish area. Nope not following you. :)

Posted by: Jimmy at October 2, 2006 05:24 PM

Nice pics, welcome to the South. There is one thing, I don't won't to follow you on your trips. Look what happened in Lebanon after you left, now in the Amish area. Nope not following you. :)

Posted by: Jimmy at October 2, 2006 05:24 PM

Mr. Totten, you entered the south when you crossed the Pennsylvania-Maryland Stateline since that is the Mason-Dixon Line.

Posted by: James at October 3, 2006 01:48 PM

BTW If you like to be pre-warned about up-coming surprises, be sure to check:


It*s the post I wish I had written..= TG

Posted by: TG at October 4, 2006 11:48 AM

I found evidence of Indiana's unofficial Southernness even at a rest stop on the Interstate. Three flags flew from the pole: the American flag, the state flag, and the Vietnam "Prisoners of War" banner that I otherwise saw only in Southern states (and also in Missouri which, like Indiana, is sort of Northern and also sort of Southern.)

Um, Michael? The city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, flies the black MIA flag beneath the American Flag on a pole that stands right outside Harvard Yard. (By coincidence, I noticed this just this morning as I waited for my bus, because both were flying at half-mast -- I'm not sure why, but I do know that there have been plenty of local servicemembers lost in recent weeks, so ... )

Posted by: DIL at October 10, 2006 06:08 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Pajamas Media BlogRoll Member


"I'm flattered such an excellent writer links to my stuff"
Johann Hari
Author of God Save the Queen?

Andrew Sullivan
Author of Virtually Normal

"Brisk, bracing, sharp and thoughtful"
James Lileks
Author of The Gallery of Regrettable Food

"A hard-headed liberal who thinks and writes superbly"
Roger L. Simon
Author of Director's Cut

"Lively, vivid, and smart"
James Howard Kunstler
Author of The Geography of Nowhere

Contact Me

Send email to michaeltotten001 at gmail dot com

News Feeds


Link to Michael J. Totten with the logo button


Tip Jar


Terror and Liberalism
Paul Berman, The American Prospect

The Men Who Would Be Orwell
Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer

Looking the World in the Eye
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

In the Eigth Circle of Thieves
E.L. Doctorow, The Nation

Against Rationalization
Christopher Hitchens, The Nation

The Wall
Yossi Klein Halevi, The New Republic

Jihad Versus McWorld
Benjamin Barber, The Atlantic Monthly

The Sunshine Warrior
Bill Keller, The New York Times Magazine

Power and Weakness
Robert Kagan, Policy Review

The Coming Anarchy
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

England Your England
George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn