Here we are, skirting along the bottom edge of our great nation, deeper in the South than we’ve ever been before, past the ramshackle hunting shacks of Georgia, through the football crazed state of Alabama, and yes, against our better judgement, spending a few days in Florida before continuing on to New Orleans.
Our short time in central Georgia was spent at the start of hunting season, and the once shuttered deer processing shacks were just opening their doors and sharpening their knives to carve away the appropriate parts of the freshly slain animals.
Be sure to wear bright clothing if you decide to enjoy the woods in a less invasive way like cycling or running.
In Georgia while the boys are out hunting, the girls are growing up young. Grandmothers are surprisingly young, often the age that mothers would be. Pregnancy is not necessarily an early mistake, but the normal way to fit in with the rest of the girls in your class. I can’t pass judgement, only present the facts of this apparent social anomaly, which I find fascinating given the widely available knowledge of preventable measures. Also it certainly would not be fair to single out parts of South for the habit of early parenthood. We had it in the suburbs just outside of Seattle Washington as well. I guess I thought women’s liberation would have sunk in by now.
I spent a few hours at the mall North of Atlanta and I have to say, the ladies of the South sure do like their make up. Maybe it’s just the mall types, but boy, there was not one natural looking women in the building. I walked a little too close to one of those internal mall kiosks where a darling young man gave me the hard sell on a very expensive curling iron. He straightened one side of my hair, curled the other, showed me the quality of the straightening iron then told me the price, $189 where of course I said “No way.” Almost in the same breath, he offered to sell me two for the price of one, “for a friend for Christmas,” he said.
I didn’t budge so he told me a little secret, but he made me promise not to tell anybody, “I can give you a super special discount,” and he pointed to a screen which showed the curling iron with a price ,”$89.”
“I’ll have to think about it,” I said.
“Well, I probably won’t be here when you get back.”
And I walked away and chuckled at him behind my back.
Atlanta itself was a great city, good for cycling and it reminded us a lot of Portland Oregon. There are a lot of little country markets scattered through the city where we picked up a bite to eat plus a delicious chicken pot pie that we baked when we got back to the camper.
Athens held great promise, but the college vibe had too much of a stronghold on the town, and the cycling wasn’t great enough to make it a cool place to spend a lot of time.
From Georgia, we spent just one night in Auburn, Alabama at an RV park where most of the spots were rented out for the entire year so the campers could guarantee they would have a space to park during football season. Flags demonstrating pride for the local team were hung in front of just about every business in the area. The fanaticism of the South made it confusing and difficult to find a place to park our camper if like us you have no idea what games are when and where.
I am sure there is a true love of the game itself, but the real story seems to be that football is a masquerade for the other big thing in the South, Christianity. Actually known as Muscular Christianity, football likely inheriting the link to holy pursuits from English rugby, maybe even earlier. Apparently, watching men tackle each other might be a good way to reinforce the word of the Lord. Plus, there are organizations like The Fellowship of Christian Athletes which support this mission. With about 8,000 chapters in high schools and colleges nationwide, the Fellowship provides funds for sports camps that simultaneously recruit players for the game of football and Christians for the game of life. Like angels that oscillate between the real and the spiritual, football players are kind of like sacrificial lambs that reinforce our proximity to death.
It’s a good story well washed down with a large bucket of fresh sweet tea, which is not an exaggeration of the standard serving size. Sugar is not the devil in the South, it’s just standard operating procedure, and honestly, not everyone is fat in the South like they try to say up North.
Chicken is fried like a steak and served drowning in country gravy. Potatoes are stuffed with margarine that melts all over the plate. Taking with us a giant slice of sweet caramel cake, we licked our fingers clean and headed further south into Pensacola Florida, through fields of cotton ripe for the picking, where we finally saw our first palm tree.
My Aunt was hosting Thanksgiving this year. It was really great to finally make sense of the mystery of where she lived after all these years talking about it. Pensacola is pretty much right below Alabama and right next to Mississippi, so it’s technically not like the rest of Florida.
Even though hurricanes don’t usually hit the West coast and Gulf side of Florida as bad, the entire area seems to be under construction. My cousin said that they’re almost always reworking some road or another. Still, it just doesn’t look like that much progress has been made, although it’s really hard to make that assumption with just a few days in the area.
The weather sure was extremely pleasant, and the pale blue waters and crystal white sands at the beach were spectacular. Basking in the glory of the deep South, we ordered Mullet, the local gutter fish you eat, not the haircut. Though I might have seen a few fellows still sporting a mullet so rest assured it’s alive and well.
Our Thanksgiving in the beautiful “Redneck Riviera” led to more ham than turkey, delicious chicken and dumplings, lima beans of course, and more servings of pecan pie than were practical. Coors Light was served appropriately in bottle shaped cans. All in all, I was glad we could technically say we visited Florida and even saw a few “silver alerts” on the highway, but also glad we didn’t venture down to it’s dangling protrusion, where we have heard most of it is paved.
From Pensacola we headed West to Louisiana, below sea level, where the real bottom feeders dredge along the muddy waters of the oozing lands along the swamps and bayous before spilling out into the Gulf.
The trees shifted into those that grow low with wide spreading roots hunkering down in the mud and waters that rise and fall with the rain.
There is flatness as far as you can see because below sea level, the water fills in the gaps. I ran through the bayou, through trails of not always dirt, not always sand, not always water, not always mud. I passed a few armadillos burrowing for beached water bugs, but they were almost blind and didn’t notice me at all.
A pelican cruised along the river and dunked it’s giant beak into the water for a fish while I reached down to the ground to stretch. A moment of pure poetry passed through me, but was very brief. As soon as I placed my hands in the grass, a fire ant started burrowing into my finger, burning with it’s red hot choppers. By the time I caught up with him he was about half way through my skin. I thought about how things along the bottom just won’t lie still, and I wondered why everything down here wants to be part of something else.
Like the slushy drinks along Bourbon street, neither ice or water. Like the hard boiled eggs added to the tuna salad.
New Orleans is filled with constant reminders of the struggle to keep the water out, large pipes and giant pumping stations, stout levees guarding against the encroaching Mississippi river or the vastness of Lake Ponchetrain. Houses raised up on brand new cinder blocks.
Sure the catfish tastes like dirt and bugs, and the alligator smells like chicken marinated in old fish, but they say the bottom is where all the good stuff is, and it might just take some getting used to. Honestly, life should be a daily celebration and you should be allowed to drink in the street if you’re about as far down as you can go before going underwater.
Because after what happened with Katrina, the people know that nobody will pull their hurricane soaked bodies out when the streets turn into rivers. We can try to resist, but things will eventually blend together, and the beauty of the bottom is that’s where everything just settles into place.