Georgetown, South Carolina seems to embody the bipolar extremes of the South's economic reality.
Jazz drifts out from one of the bars lining the boardwalk, open to the night breezes stirring along the Sampit River. The setting sun sets the clouds alight above yachts and fishing boats anchored in the calm water. "Do Not Feed The Alligators" signs hang along the dock, where couples walk hand in hand in the fading light, the night air finally losing some of the heat, but none of its sultriness. The tourist trade seems to keep the lights on at half a dozen restaurants and bars, and the waterfront breathes a comfortably seedy prosperity.
Across the river, an International Paper mill looms spitting smoke and steam in to the sky. I caught small, inexplicable whiffs of it on the way into town, smelling like something threw up on my engine block. The plant's lights and billowing stacks dominate the western horizon, glittering almost prettily against the sunset sky.
Driving up to the gates, the smell doesn't get any better, but the light show grows ever more dramatic. The factory looms steaming and clanking above a dismal trailer park, and a warm, foul mist falls from the night sky, stinging my eyes.
The only signs of life beyond the swarming mosquitoes is the procession of cars lining up at the car wash across the street. As a concession to the town for fouling its air, the company does offer a free hose down for your car. After standing downwind for half an hour, I'm tempted to burn my clothes and walk through it myself.
Driving out of town and fiddling with the radio, I accidentally run over something in the road. Out of the corner of my eye, I can tell it's already dead, looking like a pile of white feathers or fur. A gull maybe, or a dog. I look back in the rear view mirror and an old man is slowly walking out from the road side. He stoops to pick it up, but before he does, I look away, ashamed.