Pilgrimage to WIlmington, N.C.

I knew it was going to be a good ride when the first line of directions read, “turn right on N.C. 58.”

See, there’s no major highway for miles and miles, towns and towns if I turn right on N.C. 58 from my house.

The next line indicated I’d spend more than 20 miles on a road called “Vine Swamp.”

Loved it. What a way to get to Wilmington.

New Year’s Day treated me with both ends of the “way people live” spectrum. My trip was 88 miles – 50 would be through some of the most rural parts of Lenoir, Jones and Duplin counties – none of which are exactly notorious for busting metropolises anyway – before reaching interstate 40.

I knew from experience what I was in for once the Lumina’s wheels graced I-40 with their presence.

Aside from Vine Swamp, there were Pleasant Hill and Taylors Corners roads; towns with names like Chinquapin and Wallace. Then on to a reminder of why I made no attempt to stay in Wilmington to begin with: places named “Brunswick Forest,” “Mayfaire” and “Forest Hills.”

Places with people, but with no personality. Just a golf course or two.

I stopped off at a gas station just short of Beulaville for a drink. It was a hardware store that sold cigarettes and other convenience store items. People who had to have been residents chatted about high taxes and the local government. The guy working at the register acknowledged me like I was a regular, though I knew I’d never set foot in the place.

Just down the road was an establishment advertised on its sign out front that cooked food and had a notary. A strange, combination indeed, but unique nonetheless. I appreciated it. Much more intriguing than Wilmington had become.

It was over as fast as it had begun. I hit N.C. 41 and proceeded to the interstate, keeping on pace to be at an old friend’s place when I said I would.

Sure enough, when I reached the city, I wanted to duck inside the residence I was destined for and not come out. Get absorbed in a college football bowl game and forget where I was at – this town that’d lost its identity a few years back.

I always sympathized with the old timers back when I was in college at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. What change they must have witnessed just by living there since birth. I’m sure some minded and some didn’t. I knew where I would have stood had I been in their shoes – whenever I return, I notice the place has disappeared a little more than before.

The developments are getting bigger. They’re building alike-looking homes on top of each other now, since it’s cheaper than buying more land. Then they have to deal with the environmentalists at the college, whom I’d imagine are about exhausted from waving their signs and sounding off at rallies on campus by now. They’re probably still a nuisance.

I was glad to return that night to Lenoir County, traveling through Duplin and Jones to get there. Seeing places where people actually live and have lived, taken advantage of and appreciated. The place has its own personality – paint’s faded on the roads making it hazardous to drive, dogs running free in yards. They don’t even realize they’re living in these counties – they’re just doing it without even trying.

Not forcing anything. The way life should be lived, if you ask me.

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