America

Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together
I’ve got some real estate here in my bag
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner’s pies
And we walked off to look for America

Cathy, I said, as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh
Michigan seems like a dream to me now
It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw
I’ve gone to look for America

new_river_gorge_bridge

Whereas Paul Simon was looking for America, over the past five days, Betty’n’Earl were returning to Ontario, sans Mabel, to spend Christmas with family and friends. Despite this, they felt they were leaving something behind when leaving Mabel in Buda, Texas. The folks at the dealership were amused to see Earl winterizing the trailer, emphasizing that they were in Texas, not Ontario. Seems Betty’n’Earl had the last laugh, as three days later, the largest winter storm in 125 years (Benji) dumped snow and freezing temperatures from New York City down to the gulf coast, with Texas getting particularly hard hit.

In contrast, Betty’n’Earl’s route home only received a dusting.

The northward trip had a different focus than when towing Mabel southbound. Heading south, the goals were (1) keep above freezing (2) spend time experiencing the land, and (3) keep the time towing to a minimum. Now, their priorities were (1) get home ASAP (2) spend time experiencing the land, and (3) don’t fall asleep at the wheel.

Betty’n’Earl drove through Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where uranium was purified during WWII’s Manhattan Project. They were unable to tour any of the sites, as all tour participants must be US citizens. They did at one point pull onto an uncharted road to which their GPS guided them, but the duo quickly realized that they would soon be surrounded by troops in Jeeps with semi-automatic weapons, so they rapidly retreated. Weapons-grade nuclear elements are still being produced here. No-one seemed interested in Earl’s qualifications from his undergraduate course in nuclear radiochemistry, so they moved on.

After a sleepover in Kingsport, Tennessee, they headed north and stopped at the New River Gorge Bridge, which used to be the longest single-span arch bridge in the world. From the visitors’ centre, they took the original road which was the only crossing available before the bridge was built. The drive was narrated by a CD describing the old route, which featured old towns and coal seams long since abandoned. The bridge, completed in the 1970’s, reduced a 45-minute crossing to 30 seconds. This reminded Earl of a brief scene from the movie Margin Call where a polymath civil engineer, now a derivatives trader, laments about leaving the engineering profession, where he used to improve people’s lives by building bridges.

Betty’n’Earl ended the day’s journey in Bridgeport, West Virginia.

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