Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy


Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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Kentucky: The Land Before Craigslist

| Mon Jul. 12, 2010 6:17 PM EDT

Sunday Best: Sometimes "God Bless America" just isn't enough. The Lancaster, Kentucky Church of the Nazarene demonstrates the advertising prowess of the nation's spiritual marketplace.Sunday Best: Sometimes "God Bless America" just isn't enough. The Lancaster, Kentucky, Church of the Nazarene demonstrates the advertising prowess of the nation's spiritual marketplaceCrab Orchard, Kentucky—Looking back on it, I'm not sure what part of my arrival in Kentucky was more of an affront to Daniel Boone's legacy: The fact that you can now take a tunnel under the Cumberland Gap, thereby rendering the most historically significant crooked smile in eastern North America totally useless; or the fact that his famed Wilderness Road into the Bluegrass, where Boone fought off bears and Indian raids, is now the site of a gimmicky campground where novice campers and RV-ers can set off $28 fireworks and play mini golf.

Whatever the case, we've made it into Kentucky, and we'll be staying for at least a few more days. We're hoping see Rand Paul while we're here, but more broadly, because this is the first state on the schedule that I'd never so much as stepped foot in, I'm just looking to absorb as much as I can—so today I've shut off the iPod and cranked up the radio.

On one end of the dial, an evangelist is crusading against, of all things, the WE show Bridezillas. Turn the knob a bit, and there's country, more country, some Top 40, and Glenn Beck, talking up the New Black Panther Party and Goldline (remember, kids: gold isn't an investment; it's an "insurance policy.") And then, just like that, we hit "The General Store." "The General Store" is Craigslist, if Craigslist were just one giant free-for-all hosted by a middle-aged woman named Renee; it is QVC, except you're usually selling, rather than buying, and there are no complimentary fax machines to sweeten the deal and clutter your living room. It is like nothing I’ve ever heard.

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The View From My Windshield: Free Speech Zone

| Mon Jul. 12, 2010 8:43 AM EDT

America's Best Idea: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee—Who drives halfway through the Smoky Mountains to protest government spending or raise awareness of the coming apocalypse? Apparently no one—at least not for the hour I spent in the "Expression Area."America's Best Idea: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee—Who drives halfway through the Smoky Mountains to protest government spending or raise awareness of the coming apocalypse? Maybe no one—the "Expression Area" was largely devoid of expressions for the hour I spent there, save for hundreds of sightseers snapping photos, and innocent questions about whether the Smokies are actually "on fire" (they'e not).

Tales of the Last Moonshiner

| Sun Jul. 11, 2010 10:46 AM EDT

Bybee, Tennessee—The road to Cocke County from the Great Smoky Mountains takes us through Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, the Crabbe and Goyle of modern American tourist sprawl. You'll pass by, in no particular order, a "Ripley's Believe it or Not!" museum (ubiquitous wherever geographical oddities and commercial zoning coincide); a "Hollywood Wax Museum"; no fewer than 15 places to buy moccasins; frontier-themed amusement parks; fake waterfalls; "Hillbilly Golf"; some place called "Magiquest," which I think has something to do with magic; a dinosaur museum; a store selling nothing but "As Seen on TV" products; and Dollywood, the world's only Dolly Parton theme park. It's the real-life equivalent of an avalanche of pop-up windows, made all the more jarring by the fact that it immediately follows the serenity of the Smokies.

But the roadside SPAM ends by the time you get to Cocke County, an hour up the road. Cocke used to be the moonshine capital of the United States, but now, with bootlegging no longer worth the risk (for the most part), younger generations have turned to more modern occupations: White lightning was replaced by marijuana, which was replaced by cocaine, and now that, according to Ray Snader, who covers the area for a local radio station, has been replaced by chop shops and salvage switch operations—a process in which car thefts swap vehicle information numbers of a stolen car with that of a wrecked car. Those lines of work, coupled with perpetually high unemployment figures, lend themselves to a distrust of government and anyone who comes between you and your community, which is part of the reason why Eastern Tennessee is one of the more conservatives regions in the United States. As Ray puts it: "You talk to some of the old people, and they say, 'You can say it was illegal and we don't like to break the law, but when it comes down to breaking the law and feeding the family, or not feeding the family, we feed the family.'"

Moonshine may be entering its twilight—the Tennessee legislature recently passed a law legalizing moonshine distilleries, which means that pretty soon it'll be just another piece of roadside kitsch you can buy with your moccasins in Gatlinburg. Ray tells me the story of "Popcorn" Sutton, a notorious moonshiner who committed suicide in March of 2009 before he was set to begin serving an 18-month prison term. Popcorn, says Ray, "was the end of an era." Here's his story:

A Sense of Where We Are: Going West

| Fri Jul. 9, 2010 11:49 AM EDT

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Now Entering the Barbecue Belt

| Fri Jul. 9, 2010 8:59 AM EDT

This Little Piggie: North Carolina vinegar-based pulled pork with a dollop of cole slaw: First-hand evidence that the terrorists have lost.This Little Piggie: Vinegar-based pulled pork with a dollop of cole slaw, from Louise's Famous Restaurant in Linville Falls: First-hand evidence that the terrorists have lost.Asheville, North Carolina—Ever since we accidentally met Robyn, the "Need a Prayer? Stop Here!" sign-holder from Athol, Massachusetts, my friend and I have come to think of every fluke occurence on our trip as the work of, if not God (who presumably has better things to do), some sort of lesser deity like Walt Whitman. 

For instance, if we knew anything about cars, we might not have driven 2,000 miles with a leaking radiator cap, which meant we never would have broken down outside of Wytheville, Virginia, and been forced to spend the night at a campground/spiritual retreat with members of the Last Days Gospel Church band. They hold services every Saturday, but on Wednesday they were just there for a birthday party, when a jam session broke out. Last Days is a a "Cowboy Church,"which means its evangelical and very informal—"come as you are in the eyes of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior," as Patti, the group's guitarist, explains to me. She's practicing what she preaches, wearing green crocs and a Tweetie Bird t-shirt. Patti invites me to stop by on Saturday, and to be honest I'd love to, except it'd mean another four days in Wytheville.

We made it to Asheville, though. Finally. And on our way we discovered that the Highland Games, a sort of Scots-Irish Olympics, are being held this weekend outside Linville. One of our few rules on this trip is that any time we have an opportunity to watch competitive sheep herding, we can't pass it up, so expect a full report tomorrow. From there, it's up into the Smoky Mountains, through the Cumberland Gap, and into the Republic of RandPaulia.

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