Nearing New Orleans, marshes, swamps, rivers, streams, and flooded fields border billboard-lined Highway 10. Those billboards, perched so high up they block the sky, ceaselessly blare at me: Eat here! Sleep here! Get gas here! Gamble here! (Those include a toll free phone number where compulsive gamblers can get help.) Get a no-contest divorce for only $499! Cremation and embalmment services available here!
I finally train my eyes not to look up and, after passing car dealers on the edge of town where helium balloons float from the side mirrors of each car on the lot, I’m finally out where I can see the horizon. That vision alone makes the soul stretch. Bhaktivedanta Swami writes, “The need of the spirit soul is that it wants to get out of the limited sphere of material bondage and fulfill its desire for complete freedom. It wants to get out of the covered walls of the greater universe. It wants to see the free light and the spirit.” Barreling down the interstate, the sky clear, now only electric poles and wires accompany the roadway. Finally crossing the Florida border, I accidentally look up to see a huge, one-word billboard: “PRAY.” Okay, I think, that’s an improvement over the other screaming signs, but pray to whom and for what?
On the side of a grassy hill in Atlanta a plaque tells me I am standing on the same spot where, in the summer of 1864, General Sherman directed the Union army as it battled the Confederates. That summer 9,200 men died here, including the Union General James Birdseye McPherson, whose bloodied body was carried past the very spot where I stand.