For a million reasons, or maybe 4 or 5, I am planning a trip to the south in the heat of summer. One obvious reason is to visit my oldest son, who currently lives in New Orleans. I like him a great bunch, so it'll be good to see him. After visiting for a couple of days I get to throw him in the car and drive him back north so his little bitty brother and his itty bitty sister can see him too. They aren’t itty or bitty but they do like to see their great big older brother. They don’t particularly need to drive in a little bitty car with me to go get him a couple 1000 miles away. When he returns with me, we will all spend a good deal of time together. We’ll laugh and yuck it up. We’ll do some fun stuff together, hike, go to my daughter’s art show as a family unit, rather than fractured offshoots, we’ll cook and eat, and partake in merry making of one sort or another. We’ll bring up good times, maybe some not so good, share our successes and silly stories, vie for each others attention, perhaps have our feelings hurt and our words misunderstood, and love each other deeply. Good old fashioned family time. Then about the time we all get a little more snarky and a lot more snippy, we’ll get to throw him in the car and drop him off at the airport and send him on his way, all full of joy and sorrow, back to New Orleans.
Another reason I am taking this trip in the summer is because I am a teacher. Being a teacher sort of limits the time of year I get to travel. Being a teacher without a paycheck in the summer also limits the way I travel in the summer. So somehow or other packing my car with bottled water, some bread and peanut butter, Twizzlers and granola bars, and rolling my loose change for gas money and the occasional sundry items and heading south to see my son is my way of enjoying life, throwing caution to the wind, and seeing the south, or punishing myself in a rather draconian style full of heat, white knuckles, stiffened legs, heat rash, and glazed over vision.
My younger son is going off to Germany for a High School music exchange program that at one time or another was a quasi openly acceptable under-age introductory alcohol exchange program where German host families happily demonstrated the joy of beer drinking, the German children shared loud raucous Euro-techno-electro-muzak infusion mosh-pitted dance clubs and everyone was the happier. It might help to think of it like a step-back in time when American families enjoyed beer drinking and American children went clubbing well before they graduated college. A time long ago and far away when America and her parents weren’t quite so uptight and hovering around their children so diligently forcing us to pay tons of money to send our children abroad in hopes that they will learn how to drink and move awkwardly to bad music.
I had actually worked myself into a frenzy becoming one of those uptight parents that damned the past and all it’s freedoms, the drinking and debauchery. The type of parent that promoted the crying out of hell in a hand-basket and just say no to sex, and drugs, and video games if not videotape. Suddenly I am rather nostalgic for it all and almost ready to state with reverent affirmation, “I turned out fine! Let them eat cake and drink beer! And by all means let them have sex, freely with abandon, often!” With the understanding they are old enough and consenting maturely and responsibly and being safe. OK maybe not that ready…. It might be worth noting that I am freer of late because my own children all got through without doing any time in rehab or jail. Ah but I digress…
So, back to my trip. My older son is in New Orleans, my younger son is off to Germany to play percussion with his signed code of conduct vowing his due diligence against drinking, my daughter is on her own and taking care of her business rather nicely, which leaves me- alone for a couple of weeks. I am about 30 seconds or 5 months away from having divorce papers signed, stamped and filed by a judge, and ready to do something to honor and mark this modern-age rite of passage. With time, some assorted sundry items, peanut butter and Tiger’s Milk bars, the loose change and the open road calling out to me in the suffocating heat of summer, I am planning this journey.
I love to travel, I enjoy driving, unless it involves endless car-pooling at inconvenient times that are rarely adhered to. I love to see new things. I now have freedom, I am embracing my openness and ready to explore. I might have a couple of beers along the way, but they probably won’t be of German origin. Maybe in an attempt at thematic, cultural experiences, (I am a dorky teacher.) I might have a bourbon, a scotch, and another beer, if I feel like it. (well that’s not so dorky or teacher-like...) I am going to eat cake! And peanut butter, granola bars, the Twizzlers and a big, powdery, honking plate of beignets at Café du Monde at some point when I am in New Orleans. I am not entirely certain what I will do between my first stop, a pre-planned wild raucous night in Washington DC with my dear friend from college, and my trip to New Orleans. I am sure my wild raucous dear friend from college will take good care to make certain I remember that particular part of my journey with equal amounts of pleasure, head shaking disbelief and a very fine memory of I-still-got-it swagger.
I have been reviewing maps in an effort to plan this trip. I LOVE maps. But it’s harder to explore maps these days. We are so accustomed to GPS and Google earth. I want the opportunity to open and unfold big giant maps and trace roads and find parks and figure out the most interesting way to get from Washington DC to Myrtle Beach and then Charleston to Savannah. Does it make sense to go to Atlanta at this point? What can I discover along the way? It’s difficult to see so much space on a screen the size of a baseball card or even one the size of a notebook. Maps are meant to be the size of a beach blanket or at least the size of the New York Times unfolded and flapped and flitted a few times. They are supposed to be interactive in such a way that one can never quite fold them back to their original size, much like attempting to get a tent back into the itty bitty little bag it came in. They are supposed to help slightly, and then infuriate and frustrate so that when you can’t find your way you can curse the gods and the maps for being impossible to fold or follow. I will need to find a few real, old-school, paper, folded maps of the way, deep south to ensure this predictable and comforting piece of travel frustration. Simon, my Austrailian-accented GPS guide will fill in the details that are lost on the ripped and unfolded map. He has a very strange way of calling the SuperDome, the "esperadome", but I accentuate most of my vocabulary on wrong syllables and say stupid with a second t (stupit) causing my younger son to smirk every time, Simon and I, we get on quite nicely.
During Spring-Break, that other school teacher assigned vacation allotment that has since become Spring Extended-Weekend, I had the great pleasure of driving, umm being driven, down to Myrtle Beach. Driver, aka BFF, and I talked about my dream of being journey bound in celebration and testing out of my newly shined and sparkling brass tacks, if not balls. I am excited about the thought of this adventure. I have not been on my own since I was 21. I never did the wild European back-packing tour, study abroad stint, gone cross-country to see the Pacific Ocean or California. I’ve never been to me, but I’m working double-time in this locale of late. At 49, I am ready to discover a thing or two and add three or four new memories to my repertoire. As we drove down some major 4 to 6 lane thoroughfare, we passed Best Buy, Gander Mountain Sports, McDonalds and Target over again several times in assorted variations of line-up order. I laugh at the concept of the Great American Road trip.
A few years back my family took a trip through the South West. It was incredible. We saw so much splendor and beauty. I planned that trip with maps and guidebooks and internet search engines. I dreamed of Santa Fe and saw pueblos and mission style casas and town squares in almost every guidebook and website I viewed during the planning stage. I was truly amazed and a bit broken-hearted when we got there, checked into the Holiday Inn and stopped at the “Walmarts” for our refill of assorted sundry items and Twizzlers. I really expected and imagined seeing tumble weeds, mission-style casas, some small wizened, black-garbed, lace-shawled, elderly, Old-School New Mexican style abuelas, maybe a mule or two, and a few vaqueros as I munched my “Walmarts” purchased Twizzlers.
After deliberating whether or not I needed to see every Target or Michaels from New York to New Orleans, I decided to go for this big open road trip in spite of the suburb-banality of the USA. I am prepared to take some back roads and stray from strip malls and fast food establishments. I am hoping to discover some examples of deep southern natural beauty. Camping in the Great Smoky Mountains is one of my planned destinations. I want to slow down and photograph some old weathered porches, porticos and antebellum architectural marvels. I would like the opportunity to spread out a blanket, maybe right close to some bare-chested, grass-chewing, over-all’d banjo player at an impromptu bluegrass picnic of sorts. That happens right? On the town square with the pretty little gazebo and old swing? I’m going to pack some biscuits and grab some barbeque and just see where the misty evening leads me. Oh that’s smoke from the pig roast pit? Oh yeah, they do that up in the North Country too. I knew that, the misty evening doesn’t start until 9:15 and it’s 1:00 in the afternoon? Where does the morning go? I am hoping to bag HotLanta, Savannah and Charleston. Possibly Okefenokee National Refuge, Tallahassee, Nashville and some sweet charming towns in between.
Lastly, I want to see some regional art, maybe set up a makeshift easel and do a little painting. From somewhere in my own deep south, I want to paint purely and simply with shape and color and express some of those cellular origins not yet identified or understood. Purely, southern-like, I wish to paint or capture a part of me, and my own deep, balmy, southern disposition.
But here is my deep down home, not southern, dark, inside story that has softened a great deal making this trip truly possible. I am a northerner. A New Yorker. A yankee. I grew up within close proximity to the coastal get-away-in-a-jiffy-if-ever-need-be shoreline. Being far from the coast or the mid-atlantic states is a bit frightening to me. Maybe as the granddaughter of immigrants, I want to know that I can go back to the homeland just as easily as they came here. The North has a great many immigrants providing all of that distinct diversity. I am a left-leaning liberal, and fiercely liberated woman. I value diversity of culture and viewpoint. I have been spoon-fed the idea that my very own place of origin, New York City, is the very center of the universe and anything beyond a subway ride away is too far from home.
It turns out, I haven’t been embracing the possible, probable, and certain diversity of viewpoints and cultures south of my location until fairly recently. I haven’t been mean spirited or harmful in my beliefs. I have maybe just drawn a line or adhered to the one already in place. As the highways and bi-ways become one large and vast strip mall with very similar offerings in uniformity and blandness, so has the sense that we are not so different anywhere. As a nation, and a global community, we aspire to mediocrity and it is available in massive amounts. This news was at first somewhat striking and quickly became eye-opening in its obviousness. I have started to seek out the differences and the sense of regional pride that exist away from the highways and one size fits all conformity togs at the local mall in a variety of sizes and colors. The difference between mediocrity and magnificence, however, can still be found within small towns and urban centers developed long ago. My road trip will bring great findings.
We, as a people, are all basically the same, except where we are different. In my strongly opinionated northern mind, I believe the differences should be honored and celebrated, or extinguished if they are harmful and rooted in archaic, and senseless origins. Southern hospitality, honored. Northern ego-centric sense of entitlements, extinguished. Southern conservative policies aimed at demeaning and devaluing women need serious exposure and debate or quick and thorough extinguishing. Northern pizza, delis, and bagels, celebrated. Southern fried anything, sticky dripping pralines, sno-balls and cornpone, celebrated. Dripping glazed donut-bunned burgers are just southern fair gone amok, so just stop, really. You get the point. My northern sense of being frightened by the south needs to be dropped. My northern sense of time can also use some tweaking. I move quickly through a day, a Walmarts, a task. I need to slow down and feel the heat and slowing of my mind, or feel the gentle breeze that only occurs when Miss Cindy Lou slams the back door with a squirrel in her clenched fist to throw on the stove for dinner. Cindy Lou? She’s one of my student’s parents in rural poverty stricken upstate New York.
I think this quote submitted in an article about the South found on ULOOP.com by Kalin Dingess, sums it up best, “Growing up Southern is a privilege, really. It’s more than loving fried chicken, sweet tea, high school football, hunting and guitars. It’s being devoted to God, front porches, moonlight, and each other. We don’t become Southern- We were born that way.” If you haven’t already, come experience the South, where everyone’s darlin’ and someone’s heart is always blessed.
I suppose if I were to change it to reflect the North, it might sound like this, Growing up Northern is a privilege really. It’s more than loving the spectacular changing of the seasons, freshly picked apples, every ethnic cuisine imaginable, urban centers and rural farm markets, concerts, theater, and snow covered mountains. It’s being devoted to the concept of possibility, new beginnings, autonomy and always coming together in times of need. We don’t become Northern- We were born that way. If you haven’t already, come experience the North, where everyone’s babe’ and someone’s heart is always blessed.
I would have to add my ties to the North and South make me twice blessed.