The Trip Home

By Andrew Scott

At its quickest, three hours and fifty-eight minutes. At its slowest six hours and thirty-six minutes. On average, four hours and sixteen minutes. These are the approximate lengths of time that I have spent traveling Highway 64 east and west getting from home to school, and vice versa. Living on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and going to school at Elon University in Burlington, there is virtually only one way to get to these destinations. It’s a straight shot. Seventy miles per hour through rolling farmland, flat plains, and swamplands long forgotten. At dawn there is a faint glow that harkens a new day, but you won’t see a single commuter. At mid-day, the sun melts down a depressingly eerie bright light across the asphalt that has seen better days. At dusk the sunsets in a tapestry burst of heated colors behind the sink trees across the farms mile long fields. And at night there isn’t another light for miles and miles, while insects the size of your fist pelt the windshield of your car. This road shoots straight across the state, fast and furiously; I have traveled it numerous times, yet have never taken the time to slow down and greet the quieter walks of life that inhabit it.

The road from my home in Dare County, cuts through towns that have been all but forgotten like Plymouth, Tarboro, and Nashville. These last remaining pinnacles of the pre-urbanized eastern North Carolina, live and die by the interstate. Once, the highway used meander straight through their quaint towns; but now it flies by them, leaving only quick fast food stops and gas station fill ups. This is all these towns were for me, my four years now traveling back in forth from Elon to Kitty Hawk. I knew I’d stop for food in Nashville, and then quickly fill up my tank in Rocky Mount. If I felt like going the North route I could go through Williamson to Elizabeth City, but most often ride 64 straight through to Manteo. This experience never changed. There wasn’t any exploring or searching for what lay beyond the highways path. Up until now…

The Highway 64 project has given me a new sense of appreciation for the area that I travel numerous times every year. There is heart and soul in these old-timey towns. The quaint brick housed Main Streets where people wave to everyone. The quiet and tranquility of these back-farm roads can’t be beat. The people you run into are even a complete representation of this style of life: slowly-talking, purposefully-driven, and sincerely-hospitable. When you enter these true Mom and Pop shops, the appreciation displayed is unlike any experience found within big city-limits. These transportive Highway 64 experiences flash one back to the mid 20th century America where things moved slowly and lights were out at nine. Towns where everyone knew everyone, and the world was just as big as your county lines. When missing church on Sunday morning was a gossip worthy offense. When high school football and baseball teams dictated the entire talk of the town. Despite these idealistic and often fond memories through the lens of a metropolitan dystopia, when we pass through places like this one can’t help but remember the long, tried, and rough history of diversity and income inequality in these lands. This drive through the “down-” town feels like a jump straight through time, an experience completely ignored by the four-lane strip.

Traditionally, as I’ve climbed the bridge over Mans Harbor into Nags Head, I’ve always rolled down the window to smell the salt air of home. No matter how hot or cold. Now, as I travel back through eastern North Carolina I roll the window down to smell the plowed fields and swampy forests. I drift off the main road, in search of a little soul to the speedway.