America. 2008. The summer of $4 a gallon gasoline, a mortgage crisis, expensive groceries and the stay-at-home vacation. As Barack Obama addresses crowds in Berlin, we are in a park in Clayton, North Carolina, a former farming community morphing into a suburb. The small park is full of families sprawled on blankets and lawn chairs listening to beach music. We are a good 120 miles from any beach.
The night is warm, but not too hot, with a soft, nostalgic sky and curiously, no bugs. The band plays the old stuff, the Temptations, the Drifters, and anyone over 50 remembers himself young. We sing along. Teenagers look pained. Little children gyrate and prance before the stage while their parents take pictures of them with cell phones. No one thinks about unpaid bills.
The crowd, as befits a town sitting at the intersection of old and new south, is a casual mix of races and cultures: good old boys and girls, African Americans, Hispanics, Yankees. Most people look like they work at tech companies, not on farms. You can buy liquor by the glass. There's not a mule in sight. And then, the lead singer announces that everyone must sing along and that anyone who doesn't is a communist. The crowd laughs because communists aren't threatening anymore. The Cold War is over, Senator Jesse Helms is dead and Joe Stalin has been run out of town by Osama bin Laden.
But no one seems to be thinking about politics on this fine night in Clayton, North Carolina. Close to an Interstate, full of new development, commutable to the cities of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, this is a town that senses it has a bright future, even as the economy collapses around it. New restaurants have opened beside such venerable institutions as the Jones Lunch Room where the finest hot dogs in America can still be had for under $1.75. There's a snazzy new tennis club with beautifully maintained clay courts and top tier instruction. There's a brand new bypass that get the Interstate traffic out of the town. Despite all the problems of this summer, Claytonians are an optimistic, forward looking and friendly bunch, at least that is the way they seem to this insider (related to lots of folks in town) and outsider (she doesn't even live in America).
NoCrowds has written extensively about holidaying in eastern North Carolina. It's not just that we spend every summer here, we think everyone looking for authentic travel experiences would love it too. Entering the United States via Raleigh Durham Airport still beats the socks off JFK or LAX. With new international arrivals facilities opening next summer, it will be even better. Eastern North Carolina barbeque is still the best in the world. Ask anyone. So are the beaches. (North Carolina has the east coast's longest stretch of undeveloped coastline) but the best reason of all to visit North Carolina are the Carolinians. The real ones, not the New York imports, are congenitally hospitable. Even if they have not a clue about where you are from or wonder why you would want to be from there, they will take care of you. It's just their nature.