Last August found our family on a blue highway tour of the Northeast, angling across some of the remoter parts of central Pennsylvania and upstate New York to Lake Champlain, crossing on the ferry for a few days in Vermont. From Vermont, we nipped up to Montreal to extend fraternal greetings to the Quebec secessionists.

Just kidding. They had their hands full with Mohawk irrendentists at the time. But whatever the outcome of Canada’s latest constitutional crisis, I do wish the Quebecois well. They’re absolutely right to be concerned about the threat to their culture from the surrounding Anglophone world. Quebec’s stringent French-only sign laws make it look as if you’re in a French-speaking country, but I was disappointed, on this first visit, at how easy it is to get along in English. Even the signs seem to compromise when it really matters. On the superhighway, for instance, perhaps wisely, signs explain in both French and English that some westbound lanes become eastbound for the afternoon rush hour. Similarly, a hand-lettered sign on a public toilet said both “Pas fonctionale, eh?” and “Out of order, dude.”

But not everyone replied in English to my halting French, and a fine lunch of sausages and pommes frites at a businessmen’s bistro in Vieux Montreal led me to wonder once again why the French from Saigon to New Orleans are so good at table. It’s still far more interesting to cross the border in Vermont than in Michigan, and although it’s really none of my business, I’d like to see it stay that way.

Most French-Canadians would, too, of course, but they’re now demanding protections that other Canadians may hot be willing to give them. As an Anglo reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation complained to me, “they want to be treated as if they make up half the country.” Well, a Southerner ought to recognize the doctrine of the concurrent majority when he encounters it, and this Southerner, at least, sympathizes.

If push comes to shove, will Quebec take a walk? Plainly some separatists have been looking for an excuse, and it may be that Canada is finally as untenable an idea as, say, the Soviet Union. Not long ago Time magazine was saying confidently that prosperity had undermined Quebec nationalism, but au contraire, mes amis, it may merely have given the secessionists the resources they need to pursue their goal effectively. Montreal is now an impressive city, Quebec is an impressive province, and far more sorry excuses for nations are voting in the United Nations. Americans should be grateful for the fact that Canada has been a good neighbor for a long time, but it’s not for us to say what’s best for another democracy. If Canada did dissolve into its constituent parts, would it be bad for anyone other than the bureaucrats in Ottawa? I wonder.

Coming back to Vermont from Montreal we stopped in St. Albans to read the historical marker commemorating the October day in 1864 that 22 CSA troopers appeared in that town to give some startled New Englanders a taste of what was going on in Georgia at the time, robbing three banks and stealing some horses before fleeing to Canada. (You take your victories where you find them, OK?) I’m sorry to say that in 1990 nobody in St. Albans gave our North Carolina license plates a second look.

Speaking of license plates, on that same drive I realized that I hadn’t noticed any vanity plates in Vermont. I was working up a theory about thrifty Yankees who don’t see the point of spending good money to tell strangers what wild and crazy guys they are, when I was passed at high speed by two cars in a row. The first said “SNAKE,” the second “OUTLAW.” I felt right at home. (Shortly after that I saw a pretty full complement of cutesy plates in the university town of Burlington. So much for my theory.)

Earlier, in Jonestown, Pennsylvania, after we’d stopped at the Buck Inn to drink draft Yeungling and eat fresh fish with my wife’s cousin, our teenager, who is only occasionally a good traveler, had grumbled from the backseat that we didn’t have to drive this far to see rednecks. Of course I made her wash her mouth out with soap, but she was actually on to something. It’s true that the whitetail deer hunters and their girlfriends at the Buck had funny accents, but the music on the jukebox and the humor at the bar were pretty much what you’d find in taverns from Southside Virginia to Texas. I didn’t meet Snake and Outlaw (they were moving too fast), but I presume they’re the spiritual—maybe the literal—descendants of the rednecks who constituted themselves the Green Mountain Boys and pulled off an operation at Ticonderoga that John Mosby wouldn’t have been ashamed of.

A Hank Williams Jr. song on the Buck’s jukebox reminded us that country boys come from “little towns all across this land.” And from Pennsylvania to Vermont, small-town G.A.R. monuments reminded us that these particular country boys, with their cousins from Ohio and Michigan, kicked Confederate butt in the early 1860’s—so effectively that one observer remarked that if he had Confederate cavalry and Union infantry he could whip any army on earth. But to judge from the number of rebel flags I spotted on pickups and T-shirts some of them won’t make the same mistake next time. (By the way, the flag is incorporated in the sign for the Fields Tavern, in Lorain County, Ohio, not far from Cleveland. When I passed by in September the Reverend Ed Wojnakowski was preaching at the “Independent Fundamental Baptist” church next door.)

North or South, Hank Jr.’s country boy is the small-town or rural version—sometimes found as a first- or second-generation migrant to some city, too—of the American “high prole” that Paul Fussell described in his book Class. These men have their skills: consequently “they have pride and a conviction of independence, and they feel some contempt for those who have not made it as far as they have.” They also feel some contempt for the middle class. As one said to Fussell: “If my boy wants to wear a goddamn necktie all his life and bow and scrape to some boss, that’s his right, but by Cod he should also have the right to earn an honest living with his hands if that is what he likes.” Fussell argues that high proles have much in common with aristocrats besides scorn for the bourgeoisie. He cites their lack of concern with social climbing, their unromantic attitudes toward women, “their devotion to gambling and their fondness for deer hunting”—in general, their tendency to make games and sports the central concern of their lives.

Be that as it may, V.S. Naipaul was certainly taken with the breed when he encountered them in his travels, described in A Turn in the South. A Mississippi informant helped him “see pride and style and a fashion code where I had seen nothing, made me notice what so far I hadn’t sufficiently noticed: the pickup trucks dashingly driven, the baseball caps marked with the name of some company.” At the end, Naipaul gets downright lyrical about this “tribe, almost an Indian tribe, wandering freely over empty spaces.” This view, he says, “gave new poetry to what one saw on the highway.”

Naipaul actually has a point (although it’s tempting to make fun of him), but it won’t do to romanticize these guys. They can be belligerent, sometimes for cause—and nothing makes them more belligerent than condescension—and sometimes just for the hell of it. A middle-class kid like me, growing up in East Tennessee, learned to be wary. Still, if there’s going to be a fight, you want them on your side. And it may be that, as a recent, belligerent Charlie Daniels song has it, “What This World Needs Is a Few More Rednecks”—that is, “a little more respect for the Lord and the law and the working man.”

I’m writing this from California, recently arrived for an extended visit, and I’m still on the lookout for the West Coast version. We stopped for breakfast one morning in Davis, in the Central Valley, and eavesdropped on a conversation between two working men in the next booth. As trucks loaded with tomatoes rumbled by outside, the one with the tattoos was saying that he used to be afraid of marriage because it was such a permanent commitment, but now that he realizes it’s not permanent he isn’t afraid of it anymore. Later, his buddy urged him to take some time to go fishing and get in touch with himself I don’t know about this.