Down the Road from Charlottesville

1. The Land of the Free

As a young boy, he would go into the woods to hunt squirrels and rabbits with pellet guns. He would fish in a river right next to the family home. His father wasn’t an especially passionate hunter, but they would go together once a year, in deer season.

“I grew up in nature,” Scott Mercer said. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted my own kids to grow up with acreage around them.”

It had worked out like that: His own family now lived on 50 acres, on a mountainside 1700 ft above sea level, amid the majestic terrain of the Shenandoah river valley – the corner of Virginia where Appalachia seems to spill, topographically and culturally, over the state line from rugged West Virginia. They were about ten miles outside Charlottesville (population: 46,000), and not far from the smaller town where Scott had grown up.

“We’ve got a creek on the property, we’ve got mountains. It’s not unusual to be woken up with a black bear being on the back deck, looking in the door,” said Scott. “The occasional mountain lion. Deer, wild turkeys…”

He wasn’t boasting – I’d asked him to describe that country to me, who knew it only by legend.

“It is beautiful,” he said reverently.

Scott was a tall, strongly built man in middle-age, his salt and pepper hair closely cropped. He had served in the Navy. I didn’t ask what job he’d had exactly, and he didn’t volunteer anything except to say that he’d been a diver. When he got out, he’d kept diving, recreationally, and when he met Kristen he’d started teaching her. She’d got certified; they’d got married. And before the children were born they would take frequent excursions, diving together with mixed gases at depths of over 100 feet.

Now that the kids were getting older, Scott thought that they might get back to taking those trips again, some day. Twenty miles off the coast of North Carolina is the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” where treacherous but clear blue waters embalm the wrecks of several hundred sunken ships, including German U-Boats that Scott had swum through himself.

“I’ve found,” Scott said, “that the things that are sometimes the most fun in life are some of the things that are the most dangerous things in life.” He shrugged. We were at a Greene Turtle, a chain Sports Bar and Family Restaurant native to the suburbs of the mid-Atlantic region. Scott nursed a Crown Apple.

One of his sons had taken to hunting, and accompanied Scott on frequent trips each winter. The other wasn’t so keen: “He doesn’t like loud noises. But that’s fine, he’ll find his own path,” Scott said. Both boys (13 and 15 years of age) rode quad-bikes around the property, “and if they wanna walk on the back deck and take a pee off the back deck as boys,” Scott said, “there’s no neighbor that’s gonna call the police on ’em.”

“What man doesn’t like to take a leak off his back porch?” he asked, laughing, almost bashfully. “I can see that in a magazine in print now.”

But taking that leak was Freedom – off that back porch, where black bears also roamed free. It was as good a way as any of encapsulating the version of the American Dream that the Mercers seemed to have attained quite comprehensively.

“I’m not loyal to the flag, or the country,” he said. “I’m loyal to the ideals on which this country was founded – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – and if there was another country that had the Constitution we have, I’d gladly move there.”

“You take what America accomplished since its founding,” he continued. “In the short period of time this nation has been around, we became a superpower. We created more wealth and more prosperity for more people than any other system in the world, and in such a short period of time. People would come here and have the freedom to be the best that they could be without any government interference. And now they wanna change it? Change it to what? Until you can show me a system that’s gonna yield more results and more personal wealth and more freedom than capitalism, that’s it baby!”

Kristen was with us at the Greene Turtle, and I asked whether they saw eye-to-eye on such matters. Scott said that they did, having often discussed them before getting married.

“She knows my viewpoints. Then when you try to raise children,” he continued, “you want your children always to turn out better than you. You want their education to be better, you want them to be more successful, what parent doesn’t want that? We’re no different than that. We don’t want cradle-to-grave government, telling me where I can live, what bathroom I can use, or what bathroom I should use, if I feel like – if my sons feel like they wanna be a girl, today, in this society that’s considered completely acceptable. They’ve blurred the lines of the sexes. I think the percentage of transgenders, I think I saw the statistics and it’s less than one percent. But yet the news media pushes not only transgenders but same-sex marriage, and all these progressive ideas as being mainstream, and a social experimentation in our military…”

“I don’t think it’s the government’s business what’s being done in the bedroom,” Kristen added. “It’s personal business.”

“If you wanna have sex with an animal, or you wanna marry your brother, your cousin, or your sister – that’s up to you.” Scott resumed. “Keep it out of my schools, keep it to yourself.”

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