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.


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, 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.


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.





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


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?


This part of Virginia once was the Wild West.


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.


Come back tomorrow for a first look at Tennessee!

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