Geographic Gymnastics

Someone posted something on Facebook recently indicating that a sign that you’re from NC involves the song Wagon Wheel:

32. “Wagon Wheel” will never, ever get old.

Whenever this song comes up, you turn the radio (or your iPod, you techies) up and sing along because it reminds you of home.

You’re also territorial about it and don’t appreciate non-North Carolinians loving it so much.

However, having lived in two of the places that song sings about, my head still can’t wrap around the geographic gymnastics used in the lyrics… this, in particular is patently impossible (unless you’re driving the long way around the earth):
“Walkin’ to the south out of Roanoke
I caught a trucker out of Philly had a nice long toke
But he’s a-heading west from the Cumberland gap
To Johnson City, Tennessee”

First, lets consider the premise of the song. He’s headed south towards his baby in Raleigh, NC. Fair enough, I’ve done essentially that many times coming back from Boston, DC, Baltimore, NYC, Montreal and parts of Virginia.

He’s “walking to the south, out of Roanoke”. That means he’s on one of two roads. Interstate 81 South, or US 220 South. If he’s as familiar with how to get to Raleigh as the song indicates, then he HAS to be on US 220, because ANYONE who knows where Raleigh is in relation to Roanoke, or SW Virginia in general, knows that I-81 doesn’t take you anywhere near Raleigh, especially if you hope to get there anytime soon.

Next, our narrator says that he “caught a trucker out of Philly”.

If you’ve done ANY sort of road travel at all, you know one thing. Truckers know where the fuck they are. And they know how to get from Point A to Point B the fastest. And a trucker headed out of Philly, passing through Roanoke, only really has one choice considering the rest of the lyrics. He has to head south on I-81. Unless he’s gone the long way around town through Charlottesville and US 29 south towards the lake, or south via Richmond then US 460 W.

But the song indicates he was out of Philly, headed to Johnson City TN… and there’s no way a trucker headed to Johnson City from Philly would be on 220 South. Well, there’s a chance, but slight.

Then we REALLY take some leaps on the map. It turns out our friendly, Ganja smoking trucker (and perhaps this is why he’s so lost) is “a-heading west from the Cumberland gap To Johnson City, Tennessee.”

Really? Because it’s impossible to meet a trucker heading west out of the Cumberland gap, if you’re in Roanoke, since Roanoke is better than 210 miles east of the gap.

And Johnson City, TN is 78 miles ESE of Cumberland Gap, so if you’re driving west from Cumberland Gap and headed for Johnson City, you’re going to be driving essentially all the way around the globe before you come back to JC, TN.

And if you’re walking south out of Roanoke hoping to make Raleigh, you’re on 220 headed to Greensboro, NOT I-81 headed to TN, as I-81S actually runs WEST through VA, and 220S takes you even farther away from the Cumberland Gap where the mysterious trucker is supposed to be driving from. Even more so if that Trucker is out of Philly, and if he’s headed to TN, he’s on I-81 South, not 220 South.

So anyway, while I LOVE that song, and I love Old Crow Medicine Show, and that song really does make me feel homesick when I’m out and about in the world, as someone who notices little details like that, (You should have heard my wife’s reaction to my picking apart the show “Bones”), the lyrics make me cringe every time I hear them…

Sometimes I really hate being a pedant.

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