Editor's Notebook: Travel notes, here and abroad, from Kansas mailboxes to local signboards

I just might call it “Houndlandia.”

That mobile little society, humorous and confounding by turns, known as traveling by Greyhound.

In the slim chance you noticed I was gone, I just spent the better part of two weeks traveling the United States, mostly by Greyhound bus and some by car. I will describe the 13-day journey in detail as a “Travelogue” in our May 25 Kaleidoscope. Fittingly, what I saw on my travels included the art of making kaleidoscopes — one of many nice touches to my trip.

This being a trip that combined bus riding and the state of North Carolina, I will get the topic of restrooms out of the way right here: restrooms on board interstate buses are, yes, an unpleasant necessity; the political subject of public restroom designations or design was not something that I ever heard come up while in the Tarheel State, though I am happy to report that the local papers were all taking their Gov. McCurdy to task for his stance on the matter.

I passed through 15 states and the District of Columbia, meeting family members and friends, some of whom I had not seen in anywhere between five and 35 years, and I revisited a formative place of my youth, Blue Ridge YMCA conference center in North Carolina, where I worked 40 years ago. I had a rewarding day in the nation’s capital, and a reunion with my friends, the Hargroves, with whom I enjoy an unusual double connection of Linfield College and Blue Ridge, 30 years apart.

Bus-board, I slept upright, ate a lot of trail mix and apple juice, witnessed mile after mile of exquisite scenery and a lot of boring ones, and endured bigots and loud talkers and met some genuinely good people. I saw how Greyhound service is now mostly freeway-and-fast food oriented, with waning connection to our town centers. I also tried to buy as many of the local papers as I could along the way (perhaps giving new meaning to the term “busman’s holiday”) and I wrote letters and postcards, yet had trouble getting them mailed: Once in a small Kansas town I asked a store clerk if there was a mailbox nearby. The racist and sexist things I constantly heard on the bus were usurped for saddest commentary by the man’s reply, “There used to be one across the street but they took it out. Those things are a thing of the past.”

I was impressed with the volume of news, and the quality in which the News staff put it all together in my absence. Many stories deserve comment, but I would start with a dual “sad goodbye/happy congratulations” to Buzzy Nielsen and Jeannie Vieira — Nielsen for stepping down as Library Director after five outstanding years and Vieira for the richly-deserved appointment as Providence CEO after a quarter-century with the hospital. One fine leader moves on, another stays.

I would also like to weigh in on the Belmont Drive Baptist Church reader board sign controversy. I empathize with those critical of the original message, which took such a wrong tone in trying to uphold Christianity while denigrating another faith. You never like to see that, but I also empathize with the church’s belief in its words, and with its right to say it.

I believe it comes down to a matter of freedom of speech. The signboard was not well-worded, even unclear in its wording, which tended to undermine its attempted message. But saying “Alla (sic) is not my God” is a belief that people have a right to express, albeit an under-informed one. I don’t question readers’ choices to express their disagreement, but it qualifies as over-reaction. I say this recognizing that there was a recent case of assault against a Buddhist man whom the idiot who struck him called a Muslim, and some misgivings are thus in order, but the assault and the signboard message are decidedly unrelated.

Further, it is wrong, bordering on vandalism, for people to rearrange the letters in the Belmont Avenue signboard. It’s private property, which gives the church the right to say just about anything, and that must be respected.

I collect church signboard messages all year, including Belmont Drive’s, and list them in the paper each December. It’s something I’ve done for more than 10 years, and will repeat it sometime around Christmas. So I know a bit about the pattern and pulse of these signs. They come and go, and 90 percent of them fall into the category of either spiritual or humorous. Hardly ever are they bombastic or pointed at another group, and when they are, I don’t use them. Not going to perpetuate things, but it’s rare that happens. Last week’s Belmont Avenue one would not have made the cut.

Seeing it online, I was disappointed that the Belmont Drive Church took the “Alla” stance, but it was likely something best left ignored so that the only people aware of it were those who have to drive by it anyway.

This is the same church that just weeks ago posted “Some minds are like concrete: thoroughly mixed up and permanently set. Colossians 3:2.”

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