James Carville, the insane and evil looking Democratic strategist once said "Pennsylvania consists of Philadelphia in the East, Pittsburgh in the West and Alabama in the middle." What he was implying was that apart from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is mostly redneck land (land of Bushophiles). Philadelphia the city, is staunchly Democrat. It's suburbs are a mix of both working class Democrats and wealthy Republicans. I live in Chester county, which is kind of a dividing line between Democrat and Republican territory. Sort of an American LOC.
The weekend saw me venturing into rural south-eastern Pennsylvania to bike the Conewago Trail. This is deep inside the heart of Bush country. I made preparations accordingly. In Bush country, if you are stopped by the Law, a bible carries more weight than your driver's license. Attaching a Jesus Fish to your car helps. More on the Jesus Fish in another post. Trying to look as less Indian as you possibly can is a good idea. The best way to do this is to shave your head. You might be able to pass yourself off as a skinhead. So, having made all these preparations and after inserting the Reverend Marilyn Manson (religion outside, devil inside) into my cd changer, I was ready for battle.
Your first impression of redneck country would be "Goddamn it is beautiful". And yes, to the untrained eye, this place would appear to be heaven on earth, with its gently sloping hills, rolling farmland with high stalks of corn, cows grazing contentedly on vast expanses of green pastureland, picturesque farmhouses with tall grain silos. And those strange little villages with even stranger names : Bird-In-Hand, Paradise, Lititz and Intercourse (yes, really). But, look closer and you will see what the casual observer fails to detect. That this is a land of strong conservatism, seething religion and consequently, hardcore Republicans.
If one had passed through this area during the election months, one would have observed outside every house the crudely drawn sign "Bush Country". Although now the signs have disappeared, it is still easy to make out the religious and political affiliation of the denizens of this land.
There is mention of Jesus everywhere. Not just on churches, which are in abundance (probably one church per person on an average), but even outside schools, on grocery stores and on random roadside signs that encourage one to surrender one's body and soul to Jesus. Just as an example, when I was biking on the D&R trail in satanic New Jersey, the signs on the side of the trail gave the biker advice like "Make sure you hydrate properly" and "Observe the speed limit". On the other hand, in Jesus-loving rural Pennsylvania, a sign on the Conewago trail had this perplexing message for bikers:
"Jesus said : Come to me, all whose work is hard, whose load is heavy; and I will give you relief. Bend your necks to my yoke, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble-hearted; and your souls will find relief. For my yoke is good to bear, my load is light (Matthew 11:28-30)."
Mmmkay .. thanks for the advice .. I guess?
For the first 30 minutes of my journey I tagged behind an SUV carrying two bumper stickers that said : "I believe in Angels", which made some sense if you really tried hard, and "Never drive faster than Angels can fly", which might have made sense if you were really really stoned. I was hoping to find a third bumper sticker which might inform me as to how fast angels actually fly, but there was none. "He is the angel with the scabbed wings, hard-drug face wanna powder his nose", crooned the blasphemous Reverend in my ear.
Various strange places of business passed me by. A store specializing in selling baskets called "Basketville", the "Oh! Shaw Motel", a number of mobile home emporiums and an inordinate number of places selling gazebos. As I was approaching Lancaster, a sign proclaimed that Billy Ray Cyrus, the washed up country music star (remember "Achy Breaky Heart" on Pranoy Roy's "The World this Week" like 10 years ago? No? Oh well) was going to perform at the American Music Theater tonight.
I was fascinated by the gas stations. All of them were offering gas at a price 30 cents lower than where I live. Bush voters .. lower gas prices .. a conspiracy? I wouldn't be surprised. Various law enforcement vehicles passed me by. One tailed me for a while. I could see him in my rear-view mirror, running my license plates through his computer at a traffic light, just for kicks I guess. Finding me to be clean, he stopped following me.
Finally, I reached my destination at the Conewago Recreational Park and dismounted. After inspecting my car for any signs of musket fire or embedded arrowheads, I removed my bicycle from the rack and set off on the trail, confident in my ability to conquer the challenges of the wilderness after having safely managed to make it through perilous Bush country.