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    On the Road
    by Jack Kerouac
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    Blue Highways: A Journey into America
    by William Least Heat-Moon

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Entries in internet (2)


Blue Highways: Alexander City, Alabama

Unfolding the Map

Click on Thumbnail for MapWe enter a new state with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM), Alabama, and make a quick stop in Alexander City to spend the night.  The course of a conversation there will send him to the epicenter of the American Civil Rights Movement, Selma.  We'll stop along with him.  If you wish to see where we currently rest, click on the thumbnail at right for an interactive map.  If you have any comments about this or your own literary journeys, please feel free to leave one.

Book Quote

"The woman was an authority.  Whatever there was, she knew it.  Her face, pallid like a partly boiled potato, looked as if carved out with a paring knife.  She was a matron of note in Alexander City.  Two other women, dark in eighteen-hole tans, sat with her on a bench alongside the tennis courts, while their daughters took lessons under the lights.  The discussion on the bench was Tupperware.  The potato had just said, 'for a shower gift, you can't do better than a Pak-N-Stor.'  Another explained how her eldest had received an upright freezer full of nesting food containers from the Walkers.

Blue Highways:  Part 3, Chapter 2


Downtown Alexander City, Alabama. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

Alexander City, Alabama

Every town has one, at least if you want to believe the movies or television.  It's usually someone who has access to everything that has happened to everyone in the town because of his or her ability to inhabit many different social circles, or his or her way to get access to what is usually privileged information.  It could be the town barber or hairdresser, the corner grocer, the trash man, the babysitter to many different families, the local banker.  It could be a fortune teller, or the wise woman or man that everyone goes to for advice.

Sometimes these people are motivated to do good things for people.  Mr. Oleson in Little House on the Prairie was one of those grocers who had the best interests of people at heart, even though he occasionally was swayed by his shrewish wife to use his knowledge for something hurtful.  Sometimes the person might be motivated by pure evil; Mr. Potter, the banker in It's a Wonderful Life, used his knowledge of the pulse of the town to try to run George Bailey and the Building and Loan out of business, and then get his revenge on George Bailey.

Many times, however, the motivations of the town gossip, know-it-all, maven or patron, whatever you want to call them, are more complex.  Marie Laveau, the Creole fortune teller used her influence with the Creole, Black and white populations of New Orleans to build her reputation and power, simply through the force of knowing, through her many networks, who was sleeping with who, who had committed what crime, and other good tidbits of information.  She could tell a mean fortune with that kind of knowledge, and she was not a woman to be trifled with.  In fiction, Yente in Fiddler on the Roof was another of these people whose motivations were good. In keeping with the tradition of her village, she knew the situation of everyone in the village so that she could arrange matches.  Unfortunately, sometimes the matches, though practical, went against the true feelings of those she tried to pair up.

That being said, that person in the town who knows everything has a role.  They can be loved and admired and eagerly sought out for their advice and knowledge, acting as an unofficial counselor or therapist.  They can be avoided or warily sidestepped, and the person who is avoiding them can try to keep their business as private as possible.

I think of the town gossip as a sort of pre-computer combination of Google, Facebook and  The town gossip, like Google, has all the information one needs to know at hand.  Using such a tool of knowledge, there is usually a price.  One price might be privacy, as once a person's needs become known to the town gossip, their business might be made public.  Like Facebook, the town gossip makes their opinions known and encourages the opinions of others, so that a conversation becomes sort of like a town Facebook "Wall."  Like, a town gossip will know who is looking for what, and may under certain conditions bring people together.

I wonder if, in these days of 24 hour online information, the town gossip is disappearing?  If we can arrange dates, broadcast our thoughts, and look up all the information on anything we need on the internet, does anyone under 60 years old really listen to such people any more.  Do the town gossips sit lonely in the town square, remembering a time past when they were needed and wanted and hoping that someone will listen to them, seek their advice, or ask for their help?

If you want to know more about Alexander City

Alexander City Jazz Festival
Alexander City Online
Alexander City Outlook (newspaper)
Wikipedia: Alexander City

Next up: Maplesville, Stanton and Plantersville, Alabama


Blue Highways: Corydon, Indiana

Click on Thumbnail for MapUnfolding the Map

William Least-Heat Moon wants to put the miles between him and his troubles, and we're going along with him like a fly in his van riding shotgun.  For a reference point on our journey, click on the thumbnail to get to the interactive map.

Book Quote

"...through the old statehouse town of Corydon, I drove to get the miles between me and home.  Daniel Boone moved on at the sight of smoke from a new neighbor's chimney; I was moving from the sight of my own.  Although the past may not repeat itself, it does rhyme, Mark Twain said.  As soon as my worries became only the old immediate worries of the road - When's the rain going to stop?  Who can you trust to fix a waterpump around here?  Where's the best pie in town? - then I would slow down."

Blue Highways: Part 1, Chapter 5

Marker commemorating Indiana's first capitol at Corydon. Photo by Kathy and her Buckethead H., on Click on photo to go to site.

Corydon, Indiana

The quote above cites one of my favorite authors, Mark Twain.  The idea that the past does not repeat itself, but rhymes, appeals to me on so many levels.  I've faced this in many aspects of my life.  You hear the phrases "the more things change, the more they stay the same," or "we are doomed to repeat our mistakes."  I think that these phrases touch on part of Mark Twain's idea.  For me, when it seems that I finally get a handle on things, especially those situations that really set off negative reactions or times of self-despair or even self-destructiveness, I go through a learning process.  I think to myself okay, I know how to handle these situations in the future and I will never go down that road again.  But other situations come up that bring on the same negative consequences in my life.  The situations seem different, but once you peel through layers of disguise, connections begin to reveal themselves.  Only after I've gone through the whole damn process again do I realize that indeed, I was just relearning what I already learned.  It can be very frustrating and maddening, but after the fact, I realize that Twain's rhymes were there if I'd only recognized them.

I don't know about any of you, but I have some of the spirit of moving on when one has the "sight of the smoke of a neighbor's chimney."  I am an introvert, and am often uncomfortable around large groups of people.  In addition, I grew up in a small town, and it's taken about twenty years for me to get used to living in cities.  My wife despairs of me sometimes, because she loves to take advantage of cities and I, if left to my own devices, usually don't do the things that cities offer best - live music, theater, restaurants and other activities.  Were I living in Daniel Boone's time,  I might have done what he did and moved on when people got too near.  But I'd probably come back from time to time, because I like people.  As did Daniel Boone, who was largely responsible for settling Kentucky and served in the politics of the state in his later life.

Don't we often do that, whether or not we live in a city, or on a remote ranch somewhere?  Humans seem driven by the need for people, and companionship, but also a need for our own space.  This causes some interesting clashes, especially in our society where the old frontiers defined by seemingly limitless geography have given way to the new frontiers defined by how far we can go in the electronic, virtual world.  People immerse themselves in computer activities, such as I do in this blog.  It's a solitary thing that divorces us from the reality around us.  A young man plays World of Warcraft and doesn't talk to another live human for weeks.  A woman builds an avatar and disappears into Second Life.  Yet even as they divorce from reality, they seek community in these places.  Facebook is the most popular social networking site on the internet, with millions of people seeking companionship in their Facebook friends.  World of Warcraft is interactive gaming with others, all solitary, sitting at their computers and connected to each other in the game.  We don't often hear of the Daniel Boone's of this frontier, though some have decided to chuck it all and go "off the grid."  We tend to think of them as a little crazy.

I don't know whether this aspect of our society is bad or good.  I think the lack of real community is a negative, but you can't help but admire the new and innovative ways people are finding each other.  Someone like William Least-Heat Moon, even as he drives to put the miles between him and home and the problems he is running from, can't help but pass through towns like Corydon, reminders that the world exists and that we can always plug back into true reality when and if we must.

Ho about a little information about Corydon?  It was the second capitol of the territory of Indiana, and the first state capitol.  It was also the site of the only Civil War battle in Indiana.  For those of us into 70s television, the town was the birthplace of James Best, better known as Roscoe P. Coltrane, sheriff in the Dukes of Hazzard (the original TV series).  The town is also known for its festivals and town activities.  So, there's a bunch of reasons to stop there!

If you want to know more about Corydon

The Civil War and Corydon
Corydon Democrat (newspaper)
Corydon, Indiana (PDF from Center for Minority Health at University of Pittsburgh)
Historic Cordyon
History of African-Americans in Corydon
Wikipedia: Corydon
Wikipedia:  Images of Corydon

Next up: Louisville, Kentucky