Road trip to Pittsburgh

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I drove U.S. Hwy. 15-501 to Interstate 64 to U.S. Hwy. 421 north — all roads that were very familiar to me from growing up in the Tar Heel State and living here for the past four years. In order to break the monotony of this eight-hour drive to Pittsburgh, I decided to go old school and flip on the FM radio. I found a Top 40 station and boogied down the road, chuckling at that part of myself griping about the kids these days who don’t play their own instruments. And thinking, “When did grunge music become classic rock?”

I took U.S. Hwy. 52 across the state line into Virginia and past the billboard declaring “Virginia is for Lovers.” This is the state where I was married and our three kids were born. At the rest stop, another family’s toddler plopped down on the asphalt and refused to go any farther, causing my fellow father to sigh, “But we’re almost there!” I was sympathetic to his plight, but unlike him, I still had a long way to go on my trip.

On Interstate 77, still driving north, I let my mind drift east, along the New River in Virginia — ironically the oldest river in the U.S. — and the previous church I served, which was named after the Dublin across the pond. I remembered the babies I baptized in a holy trickle, who are now immersed in childhood, and the older people I still love, now buried in the old churchyard.

After going through a tunnel, I realized I was now in “Wild and Wonderful” West Virginia. I made a game of counting the Jesus and strip club billboards. The tally was even until six signs in a row, all for Jesus, tipped the balance right outside of Craigsville. Ironically, Craig is my father’s name. Eight years earlier, he and I drove the same U.S. Hwy. 19 on our way to see the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago Cubs play baseball.

I went back to the radio: “Not everything is beautiful in the world, but there is beauty in it.” Even the banal sounds lovely in the voice of Fiona Ritchie, host of “The Thistle & Shamrock” on NPR, which played a wee bit of songs from the old country on one of West Virginia’s public radio stations. Then I heard a familiar Beatles tune, but this blackbird flew in Gaelic! The song was written during the struggle for Civil Rights, and I thought about how far our country had come and how far we still had to go.

With the sun setting behind the green hills, I finally crossed the Pennsylvania state line. Heading north on Interstate 79, I thought about my country — this land that I love, from its superhighways to dirt roads, bustling downtowns to busted-down barns. These supposedly united states are now so divided and full of hostility.

Yet, for all its faults and complexities, its contradictions and cruelties, my country is still the grandiose idea of liberty and justice for all. In 1630, John Winthrop caught this vision when he proclaimed, “We shall be as a city on a hill.”

Almost 400 years later, I took the North Shore exit under the Fort Pitt tunnel, which opened to a view of the Steel City’s towering skyscrapers, all aglow. I was glad for the journey and hopeful for the way ahead.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church. His newly-published book is a collection of his columns for the Chatham News + Record titled “Hope Matters: Churchless Sermons.”

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