Four Weeks (Part Three)

August 5, 2008, 12:00 pm; posted by
Filed under Articles, Featured, Steve  | 1 Comment

Read the series in parts: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

Some of my co-workers expressed unguarded alarm when I mentioned that my itinerary included visits to Alabama and Georgia. One confided, in all seriousness, that although she had once been forced to drive through Alabama, she had refused to stop in the state for any reason. “It’s scary down there. Everybody’s got a gun! I didn’t know what would happen.”

Veteran of a few prior trips to the region, I was a little surprised by the unveiled condescension aimed at the people of the South, and I noted the irony of judging a group to be ignorant and uncultured on the strength of a single drive to an airport. But then we all have our prejudices — I personally dislike Turks and teenagers. The important thing seems to be choosing the ones that result in knowing nods, rather than stunned silence, when you confess them too frankly over a second Heineken.

If anything, this trip helped to reinforce to me the tremendous variety and beauty of our land, and the unmistakable similarity of its people. Our outsides may be as different as the countryside of New Jersey and New Mexico, and our behavior and language may be a function of our subcultures, but the cloak of diversity does little to hide the universal human motivations. And there is too the homogenizing effect of capitalism: every Walgreens store I passed, from Phoenix, Ariz. to Phenix City, Ala., displayed the same message about gas prices in flashing red letters. Comforting, in a way. Also eerie.

A week down South is never enough. After three short days of four-square and fireworks, we were off from Alabama, driving across the heart of Georgia to the coast — where, it seemed, the next three days leapt by in a blur of alligator spotting on the dock and reading beside the pool. My respective Southern relatives are further ammunition for my claim: vastly different in the incidental (one living room packed full with four dogs and nine people; the other as sedate and collected as the oil paintings on its walls), yet so similar in graciousness and generosity.

Amidst the haste, there are times during travel when the moment freezes, and I am overcome with identification, imagining how different life could have been for me, there, then. And for this I will remember Fort Valley, Georgia: steering around a curve, I watched two children madly pedal their bicycles along the road in front of me, then suddenly dart off the side, onto a well-worn path that wound through the knotty pines and led to who-knows-where. I recalled the paths and bikes and forts and clubs of my childhood, and thousands of miles from them, sat struck by nostalgia for a life I would never know. For a moment, that town felt like home.

And — would you believe? — I never saw a single gun.


1 Comment to “Four Weeks (Part Three)”

  1. Chloe on August 13th, 2008 11:52 am

    Excellent article, Steve.

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