“After Durham the sun came out and shone heavily down upon the worst roads in the world….If you can imagine an endless rocky gully, rising frequently in the form of unnavigable mounds to a slope of sixty degrees, a gully covered with from an inch to a foot of grey water mixed with solemn soggy clay of about the consistency of cold cream and the adhesiveness of triple glue; if you drove an ambulance over shelled roads in France and can conceive of all the imperfections of all those roads placed with forty miles — then you have a faint conception of the roads of upper North Carolina….”
— From “The Cruise of the Rolling Junk” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a somewhat fictionalized account of a road trip the Fitzgeralds took from Westport, Conn., to Montgomery, Ala., in 1920. Serialized in Motor magazine (March-May 1924)
Although the Good Roads Association began pushing for improvements early in the century, it was the 1920s before the state wrested control of highway construction from the counties and began authorizing unprecedentedly large bond issues and gasoline tax increases to finance its ambitions.
By the end of the decade Scott Fitzgerald would have encountered considerably fewer challenges motoring through the “Good Roads State.”
“P.S. There is a poor, desperate, unhappy man staying at the Grove Park Inn. He is a man of great talent but he is throwing it away on drink and worry over his misfortunes. [Maxwell] Perkins thought if Mama went to see him and talked to him, it might do some good — to tell him that at the age of forty he is at his prime and has nothing to worry about if he will just take hold again and begin to work.
“His name, I forgot to say, is Scott Fitzgerald, and a New York paper has just published a miserable interview with him — it was a lousy trick, a rotten…piece of journalism, going to see a man in that condition, gaining his confidence, and then betraying him. I myself have suffered at the hands of these rats, and I know what they can do. But I don’t know whether it’s a good idea for Mama to see him — in his condition, he might resent it and think we were sorry for him, etc .— so better wait until I write again.”
— From Thomas Wolfe’s letter to his brother Fred (Oct. 7, 1936)
On Fitzgerald’s 40th birthday two weeks earlier, a reporter from the New York Post had tracked down the drunken author in Asheville and brutally described him under the headline “On the other side of paradise… engulfed in despair.”
“About the time we crossed the white chalk line which divides Virginia from North Carolina, we became aware that some sort of dispute was taking place in the interior of the car….When we reached a town of some size we sought out the largest garage and demanded an inspection….
“[The mechanic] glanced in at the knickerbocker-clad Zelda, seated in nonchalant gravity in the front seat….
” ‘It’s a pity that a nice girl like you should be let to wear those clothes.’
“It was fifty years of provincialism speaking; it was the negative morality of the poor white — and yet it filled me with helpless and inarticulate rage…..
“We got ourselves eventually from the garage…but we could not erase it from our minds that, so long as Zelda wore her white knickerbockers, the surrounding yokelry regarded us with cold, priggish superiority, as ‘sports.’ We were in Carolina, and we had not conducted ourselves sartorially as the Carolinians….
“At twilight we came into Greensboro, which offered the O. Henry Hotel, an elaborate hostelry, at sight of which Zelda decided to slip on a skirt over her knickerbockers….”
— From “The Cruise of the Rolling Junk” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a somewhat fictionalized account of a trip the Fitzgeralds took from Westport, Conn., to Montgomery, Ala., in 1920. Serialized in Motor magazine (March-May 1924)
“In Hendersonville… Today I am in comparative affluence, but Monday and Tuesday I had two tins of potted meat, three oranges and a box of Uneedas and two cans of beer… and when I think of the thousand meals I’ve sent back untasted in the last two years. It was fun to be poor — especially if you haven’t enough liver power for an appetite. But the air is fine here, and I liked what I had — and there was nothing to do about it anyhow….
“But it was funny coming into the hotel and the very deferential clerk not knowing that I was not only thousands, nay tens of thousands in debt, but had less than 40 cents cash in the world and probably a deficit in the bank….
“The final irony was when a drunk man in the shop where I bought my can of ale said in voice obviously intended for me, ‘These city dudes from the East come down here with their millions. Why don’t they support us?’ ”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, writing in his diary, autumn 1936
Scott vs. Ernest over fame’s long haul