Strange and Wonderful Sights in the US of A


A young man walking down Haywood Street in Asheville, NC, with a snake wrapped around his arm. He looked pleased with himself, to be shocking passers by – the man, not the snake. The snake was maybe five or six feet long and hung its head out from his hand, sniffing. I wondered what it was thinking. Mind you, the snake looked better than some of the tattoos we’ve seen on people here. Ó, mo léir.

A truck on the I26 heading north around Spartanburg with a full fifty foot trailer load of beehives and honey bees. Maybe 120 hives on the long trailer covered in a netting. I could see the bees whirring in and out of the hives, what must they be thinking? How many of them were heading north to God knows where?

A tiny little snake about a foot long, maybe a grass snake, swirling its way across the wet road outside the house on Hilton Head, SC, in the dark. Only when the front porch light came on did I notice it. Anna and Ciara nearly stepped on it. When it reached the other side of the road, it struggled to get up the little rise.

An African American man outside the Information and Welcome Centre in Asheville opening the passenger door of his car for his partner. When she sat in, he closed the door gently and moved around to the driver side. As genteel and graceful and natural as something out of the early part of the 20th century.

The alligator sunning himself on the back of the lagoon in Hilton Head, fine fat fellow. Then the one in the water, where you can only see its eyes and a little bit of its snout. As old and as still as time and in South Carolina long before us and hopefully long after us humans. And the birds! Don’t start me about the birds. Pelicans diving by the beach just 5 yards from the shoreline. Amazing. They twisted just before entering the water, they didn’t go deep like gannets, but there must have been fish there, all the same. What a wonderful bird is the pelican, his beak holds more than his belly can. 

The King and I showing silently on the big flat screen in the Stony Knob Café in Weatherville, NC, with the sound turned down. Then they switched it to Fiddler on The Roof, Topol giving it all to the camera in silence. Girls in their elegant flowing prom dresses wander by to admiring comments from diners. A gormless looking boy in a dickie-bow among them (who looks half their age) says: ‘Nobody told me I looked beautiful.’ One of the young women replies: ‘Oh, but you are to us, Brad.’ Topol is hiking hay now to a horse. My burger is good once I remove the bacon. The IPA, as ever, is excellent. The restaurant had a Greek vibe going on, all the waitresses had Greek writing on their T shirts, the name of the place, I guess.

The homeless men in Asheville and their dogs. The dogs were big and healthy pit bulls with shiny coats. The men, many of whom were tragically young, were all bearded and stoned. They spoke to themselves or to passers by in rambling non sequitors – all except one who sat soberly in the same doorway and smoked a cigarette or just looked sadly into the distance with his clear brown eyes. I wondered what his story was. I wondered if the homeless men had the dogs for company or protection; maybe for both.

Santa’s Land Fun Park and Zoo between Maggie’s Valley and Cherokee, NC. When we saw the sign first we assumed it was a Christmas park closed for summer. But no, when we drove past there was a little young woman heading in, wearing her red elf outfit and sporty green cap. Open from May, children can meet Santa and get their diploma of good behaviour, all summer long. It’s been running for 50 years, apparently. Why have Christmas only at Christmas when you can have it all year ‘round? Just to prove it, there’s a Christmas shop by the water at Shelter Cove, Hilton Head. Looked like it was thriving. Ah, now, Ted.

In the Galax Smokehouse, in Galax, VA, they have four sauces to choose from: on your ribs, burgers, beef briskets, pulled pork, sloppy joes or doggs. The sauces are (and I quote): House: Texas-Style Tomato-Base Black Pepper Hot n Spicy; Tennessee Sweet: Tomato-Base Brown Sugar & Honey Sweet; Mountain: Vinegar-Base, Sweet & Tangy (Little Bit of a Bite…not Enough to Hurt Ya); North Carolina Lexington: Vinegar Base with Tomato & Spices. The sherriff’s officer opposite us decided to have all four, he slathered the stuff all over them ribs, boy. I had the North Carolina on my pulled pork; ’twas alright, like.

Trailer parks, low houses, single storey Waffle Huts, ‘produce’ shops, motels, tat shops and cafés coming into Cherokee, along the valley after Maggies’ Valley, then a 12 storey Casino monstering up over them all, it all. Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort must have 400 – 500 rooms and it’s booked out next Saturday. Holy Moley! Follow the money …

Watching the hurling match between Clare and Cork on my phone, at the back of the Cherokee Visitor Centre, while first peoples gave a demonstration of a ceremonial war dance on the dais twenty yards away. Me, in the shade, on a rocking chair in the balcony, overlooking the Oconaluftee River. At one point a man came in with his grandson, excited. He’d caught three trout in the river and wanted them measured – there was a competition. The bean an tí obliged using a plastic device specific for that purpose. He  didn’t win, a longer fish had been measured earlier that day. Five little first peoples children playing chase, one of them (about six) in an unlikely onesie, two more very overweight – until they were all ran off by bean an tí who looked at me askance, with my earphones, staring lost at the phone screen, no doubt rapt.

The humming bird at Lake Junaluska. We had just walked around half the lake and I noticed this little thing flitting back and forth around some bushes by a large lakeside house. I thought at first it was a dragon-fly but something in the forward backward motion took my eye and sure enough, there it was. Its wings going twelve to the dozen, so quickly that you can’t even see them. And how can they fly forward and then back, horizontally? Even butterflies and dragonflies with their four wings can’t even do that. Amazing, only my second time seeing this wonder of the world, after those times in Peru.

A few drops turning to rain turning to torrential rain turning to deluge in a minute. And continuing to flow down for an hour, so heavy you can’t see through it. And then stopping like it never happened (you never saw me you can’t prove a thing), and the sun is out and it’s warm and then it’s hot and then roasting the white skin off you. And everything is as dry as vermouth and it’s business as usual. Rain? Was there rain? Really?