Another version. (Can you imagine keeping everyone waiting while on national television?)
Jacksonville, North Carolina, population 70,000 is the largest city in North Carolina that I had never visited. Its location is remote, Down East near the coast, but still not at an actual beach. It is a military town dominated by the Camp Lejeune U.S. Marine base. I was intrigued by the Whiskeytown song Jacksonville Skyline, written and sung by Jacksonville NC native Ryan Adams, with his haunting description of “neon signs, car dealerships, and diners” and “soldiers filled the hotels on the weekends.” I had learned of the song from a mix CD made for me in about 2002 by my late great friend Don Hankins. Whiskeytown was based in the Raleigh/Durham area and had played near my house in Carrboro many times, although I never went to a show. They broke up about 2003 and Ryan Adams moved to New York City, where he made successful solo recordings. I do know that people from Jacksonville, FLORIDA have adopted this song as their own, thinking these descriptions applied to their town.
Jacksonville, North Carolina was not likely to have much of a skyline. Before Camp Lejeune opened in 1940 Jacksonville had only 750 residents. Jacksonville does not resemble what most people think of as a town; it is just a bunch of sprawl around the entrance to the large Marine base. To check it out, I put the my bicycle in the trunk of our Honda and drove the 147 miles over for a daylong bicycle tour on a Saturday.
Any bicycle tour of a town like this should start in the Walmart parking lot, where I parked my car and pulled the bicycle out of the trunk. They had a small section on the northwest corner roped off, to sell recreational vehicles.
As predicted, Jacksonville was not much to look at, at least in a conventional sense. Near the Walmart, there was this Volkswagen repair place with an impressive collection of vehicles.
This other guy has an obsession with circa 1964 Mercury Comets.
Crossing the bridge into town, there was a nice view.
There were lots of weapons for sale
And other stuff
I saw several mid century modernist buildings, including one that is now a tattoo parlor.
Like in most of America, not only is sprawl a problem, but the older sprawl is being abandoned for the newer sprawl.
I biked through nice looking conventional neighborhoods in Jacksonville; neighborhoods that went on for miles. I stumbled onto this nice bike path, a converted rail line that goes about seven miles from downtown Jacksonville to the main gate of Camp Lejeune.
I got off the bike trail to look for something to eat. The highest rated restaurant on Yelp was in a strip mall along a highway, a Middle Eastern place called Marrakesh. After a delicious lunch, I got back on the bike and pedaled onward.
In some places the bike path paralleled the Camp Lejeune fence, and I could peer into facility. There was a long stretch of contemporary suburban neighborhoods and elementary schools, all within the confines of the base. Through my travels I have been reminded that so much of America looks torn up and down on its luck. However, based on strictly appearance, there are five parts of America that tend to look beyond fully funded, maybe gilded. These are rich neighborhoods, anything to do with the criminal justice system, college campuses, hospitals (or anything to do with health care), and military bases (or anything to do with the military.)
The bike trail ended at the main gate to Camp Lejeune.
I wanted to keep bicycling into the military base, but not passionately so. I have bicycled through Fort Story in Virginia Beach many times and it can be quite pleasant. I went up to the guard, a young woman.
“Is it OK that I keep going here? I do not have a military I.D.”
(smiling) “Sorry, sir, you have to have a military I.D.”
Just then, a woman about my age appeared on a bicycle. She must have been traveling behind me on the trail, but I had not seen her. She spoke with the poise, self confidence, and disdain for authority that made me later imagine her as the wife of some high ranking officer. She pressed her I.D. into the face of the guard.
“It’s OK, he’s with me.”
“Ma’am do you understand that you are responsible for this person while he is on base? How long have you known this person?”
She paused for a second.
“Oh, he’s my doctor, over at the hospital”
A second guard, a young guy walked up to join the conversation. He looked at me.
“Sir, what happened, did you just forget your I.D.?”
I really appreciate what this woman was doing. She knew that bicyclists had to stick together. Still, I was not going to lie to some military guy, for a bike ride that could have gone in either direction.
I mumbled something about not having my I.D., then turned around and biked off in the direction that I had come. I looked back. She had already ridden into the base, but was looking back. I waved.
I got on the bike trail and rode back into town.
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