Southern Sojourn

A visit to the U.S. South and South West in wintertime. Links to all pages:

American Towns

American towns are rather uniform. Most towns are founded between 1870 and 1900. The streets are wide, probably to avoid fires from spreading. Later, American towns have turned to be hollow at the core. There are vacant lots, few shops, no public transport and few pedestrians. Sadly, that also means that there are only few cosy places where you sit and enjoy life.

Below are sections on Homeless People in the Town and Obese People.

Downtown Plymouth, North Carolina. Plymouth has 4,000 inhabitants.

The Food Lion supermarket by the bypass road in Plymouth. All customers are expected to drive. There are no sidewalks along the bypass road.

Along Highway 64 through Plymouth is an impressing number of shops and other businesses:

Broad Street, Elisabethton, Tennessee, a bypass road with typical chain stores: Taco John, Family Dollar, Wendy's, McDonalds, Advance Auto Parts, Citizens Bank, Regions Bank, Walgreens, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Hardee's, Save a Lot (supermarket), Papa Johns Pizza, Title Max, Dollar General.

The only way that American towns will have business life in the center of the town is by letting the highways run right through downtown. Here is the intersection between Highway 27 and Highway 64 by Pope County Courthouse, Russellville, Arkansas.

Motorways pass right through the center of towns on long bridges without any kind of noise protection. Here Interstate 90 through New Orleans, Louisiana.

Boardwalk in the central Courthouse Square, Oxford, Mississippi, a city where the shops have survived at the city center. To the left is Lafayette County Courthouse.

The "Square Books" is a well-assorted bookshop on the Courthouse square.

When Joan Didion visited Oxford back in 1970, she was not impressed by the town's bookshops:

"In the university bookstore, which appeared to be the one place in Oxford to buy a book, .. the only books available other than assigned texts were a handful of popular bestsellers and a few (by no means all) novels by William Faulkner."

As only few people walk in American towns, you may use the sidewalk for obstacles instead. Photo from Lafayette, Louisiana.

The general pattern with wide streets and few pedestrians is broken in the old harbour towns New York, Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans. These towns were founded by Dutch, British and French colonial authorities. Here are pedestrians in Manhattan, New York. The green light for pedestrians is not green, but white.

Downtown Nashville, Tennessee, is another exception, where people get around on foot, often entire families in a group. The red light for pedestrians is red, actually.

"American cities are like badger holes, ringed with trash — all of them — surrounded by piles of wrecked and rusting automobiles, and almost smothered with rubbish." (John Steinbeck). Clarksdale, Mississippi.

"When a city begins to grow and spread outward, from the edges, the center which was once its glory is in a sense abandoned to time. Then the buildings grow dark and a kind of decay sets in; .. all the energy has flowed out to the new developments .." (John Steinbeck). Clarksdale, Mississippi.

Clarksdale, Mississippi.

"Nutbush City Limits": Nutbush is not a city with city council, city taxes, etc. In the US there are many unincorporated areas where only county rules and county taxes apply.

The citizens in the world's richest nation are rich on average. Some citizens are very poor. Around 500,000 Americans are so poor that they are homeless.

The United States is the only rich country in the world without a general health insurance where all citizens are covered by the state. Instead health insurance is offered by employers. If you lose your job, you have no health insurance. If you have a mental illness, you will probably lose your job, and then you have neither an income nor means to cure your illness.

Many homeless live in the large cities under the Interstates on stilts. They are protected against sun and rain, but very exposed to noise and dirt. I don't know which came first, mental illness or homelessness - but many homeless people are mentally ill. These people are begging in a menacing, shouting way.

The homeless people seem much more visible in American towns than elsewhere because the Interstates cut through every major town, and the combination of an Interstate and the homeless is like an open, festering wound. If you see an Interstate on stilts, you know where the homeless live.

A man is packing up after sleeping on the streets in New York.

Interstates 25 and 40 intersects in the middle of Albuquerque, Texas. Google Maps.

Interstates 64, 244 and 444 surrounds downtown in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Google Maps.

New Orleans: If you walk between French Quarter and Garden District you must pass below Interstate 90. Here the homeless will shout at you and ask for money. There is a tent visible right under the red traffic light.

Interstate 90 seen from the railway station in New Orleans. Under the bridge are 19 tents inhabited by homeless.

Downtown Tulsa seen from Interstate 244. The homeless live under the bridges - also under this bridge.

Livestock of the homeless: A dead rat near the tents under Interstate 90 in New Orleans.

There seems to be no solution to the problems of the American homeless citizens. As a homeless you can easily be arrested, and once arrested, it will be even more difficult to get a job.

My first impression of Americans was that they cough much less than Europeans, as fewer people smoke.

My second impression was that there are many obese people. Some 40 percent of all adults Americans are obese. You don't see these people on the street, because they don't walk. They sit, either at home or in their cars.

The obesity is likely for four reasons:

  1. Americans consume a lot of ready-made food. It makes you a buyer of dishes that are rich in fat and sugar, because fat and sugar are a cheap way to make a tasty product.
  2. If Americans cook themselves, they use ingredients that are much more processed than in other countries. Among the ingredients are too much fat and sugar.
  3. Lack of activity: Americans prefer to use the car, not walk or bike. Only 20 percent of all jobs require physical activity.
  4. Once hit by obesity, some Americans choose to view their weight as a proof of their personal freedom

Being overweight makes you use the elevator and escalator, not stairs.

Overweight is a heavy burden on your legs.

Processed ingredients with sugar: Cornflakes were invented by John H. Kellogg in 1894. The standard version contains approximately 10 percent sugar. Kellogg's Frosties contain 30-40 percent sugar. It is difficult to find the standard version in many smaller supermarkets in the U.S.

Processed ingredients with fat and sugar. Many prefer wafers for breakfast, but nobody seems to mix the dough by themselves.

As for the American homeless, it is difficult to see a solution to the problems of American obesity. Once obese, and it will stick. Severe obesity shortens your life 5-20 years.

In the 1960s only 13 percent of the population was obese, but John Steinbeck looked into the future and wrote ".. we have exchanged corpulence for starvation, and either one will kill us”.

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