Okay, because I was too lazy to get this all written back in December, I'm now picking up my story after the sim session in North Carolina. This is continued from blog entries made before my holiday break.
The next morning, John and I had been planning to meet up and go over to the local museum or something, but some colonel called him and he was swamped by work, so I was on my own. I could have gone to the museum, but I kept remembering the density of billboards along the highway out of Raleigh, suggesting that advertisers expected a large number of drivers to be sitting there with the opportunity to look around and read the scenery. My departure airport is on the other side of Raleigh, a large city, and I imagine there will be thousands of people trying to escape it at my early evening check-in time. I chicken out and skip the sightseeing so as to drive through the city before the end of the business day.
I do get a bit of sightseeing in anyway, as at least this time it's daylight for my drive and I can see some of the state. It has trees and farms and cotton fields. If you're from the US south, cotton fields probably are to you as wheat fields are to me: a generic farm-type crop. I can think of the early pioneers clearing trees and breaking their ploughs on prairie soil to plant carefully hoarded seeds from last year's crop. Or I can think of modern tractors with air conditioners and MP3 players trundling along sowing genetically modified herbicide-resistant triticale seed in precise GPS-determined lines. Any flight I go on, anywhere south of Prince Albert between Lethbridge and Kenora I'm going to see a wheat field. But I've never seen a Q-tip bush before. Honestly, that's what they look like: knee-high, fairly knarled bushes with big poufy globules of cotton on them. I think they're actually closer to fist-sized than Q-tip sized, and they are already pure white. I don't think the raw cotton even needs bleaching. I'm assuming that by late November the harvest is over and that I'm looking at the leftovers after the harvesting machines have been by.
My only mental association with cotton fields and cotton harvesting is in knowing that cotton was an important crop of the pre-revolutionary south, when slave labour was used for the harvest. If I condense foreign countries' history into famous snippets: if the French Revolution is Robespierre, guillotines, and Marie Antoinette and the Russian Revolution is Lenin, peasants with pitchforks, and red banners, then my images for the American Revolution are black slaves picking cotton, muskets, and horrific field amputations. This isn't meant to be a political statement of any kind, just a reflection of which history classes or History Channel specials I didn't sleep though. I shouldn't be surprised that people in North Carolina still grow cotton -- it's still a comfy thing to have ones undergarments made of -- and so I have looked up some modern cotton-growing facts online in order to reduce the percentage of things I know about cotton that are directly linked to slavery.
I started by Googling cotton harvester so I could learn a new image of how the cotton gets off the plants into the baskets. It turns out that I'm not the only one fixated on the colonial image of the cotton farm, as the Wikipedia article cautions me not to call it a cotton picker, because that's a racial slur. And it turns out that the delayed invention of a mechanical cotton picking machine is actually an academic puzzle. I tried to pull off the highway and photograph a cotton field, but I ended up at a swine farm quarantine blockade. This is why it takes me so long to write a blog entry. Or get to Raleigh.
I can testify that North Carolina is inhabited not only by the wide range of aquatic creatures featured at the Aquarium, but by many individuals of diverse land-dwelling species. I know this because hundreds of them are laid out in flattened display on the roads of the state. I honestly have never seen such high density of flat animals per kilometre of highway. I guess lots of woodland, lots of roads and lots of cars combine to make this the flat wildlife capital of the nation.
So I suppose that's a good way to start off the New Year: antagonize an entire state by reducing them to cotton, pig farms, roadkill and traffic jams. Don't worry, though, karma has already retaliated for my maligning your fine state. While I reached RDU without encountering a traffic jam, returned the rental car and got on the airplane, the sailing was not so smooth back at home. My car battery was dead. Not completely dead, but it seems that my car has a computer that looks at the battery charge and won't even let me try to turn over the engine when it's that low. In the airplane I'd at least be allowed to watch the propeller blades feebly flick around. In the car the dashboard lights came on, but turning the key just made a clicking noise. I had to pay $18 to extortionists for the use of a jumpstarter battery cart. That's almost as much as I'd pay for a diesel-powered battery cart for a plane, and that would include a guy in a parka to hook it up for me and then disengage it after I got the engines running.