Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It Ain't All Bad Here

As we slide slowly toward fall, we are coming to one of my favorite times of the year. My two favorite seasons are spring and fall. Never more so than now however, now that we're living in the South. Let me tell you, as the heat and humidity eke away and the leaves begin to fall, we'll still be wearing shorts and flip flops well into November.

The South has a long growing season, and short winters. Oh my, when its eighty degrees at Christmas, I could hurt someone singing about White Christmas, just beat them over the head with a wet noodle! If I never see snow again, ever, in this lifetime or the next, it will be too soon. If we never have to shovel snow, drag out the salt, worry about ice storms, and cold snaps not meant for humans to do anything but huddle around a fire, or stock up on perishables like we are preparing for an ice age, I will still be a very very happy camper.

Winter will really arrive in January, and by March it will be over. I LOVE IT!

As I started writing this blog about living in the new South, a number of friends have noted that they considered moving here but the fundamentalism of the bible belt, the political conservatism, and issues of race and racism are just barriers they could not overcome.

Clearly I understand, or as my girl in DC would say, I "overstand" their concerns. Having acknowledged that though, as one who has lived in New York, Massachusetts, California, Chicago, D.C., and New Jersey, there are trade offs no matter where you go. That's life.

Here is what the South offers that ain't bad by half. I love drive through everything, at the dry cleaners they see you pull up and they go get your clothes without the ticket because they know your name and your car. They bring them out to your car, put them in nice and neat, you pay and go. I've never seen so many drive through coffee shops. And a drive in movie that shows first run movies for $7 dollars thank you very much.

One of my daughters friends lives in Houston, she has her favorite drive through Daiquiri and Margarita place that she can hit on her way home from work. They have about twenty or so different flavors they'll mix up for you, put it in a plastic cup covered with plastic wrap so that you, wink wink, can't open it until you get home. Riiight!

Even though you can't buy wine and beer on Sunday in Georgia, the drive up liquor stores are a hoot and on some Saturday nights, it may be quicker to go inside the store than sit in line at the drive through. Of course restaurants do a bang up business on Sunday as you can get all the beer, wine or whatever you want at your local watering hole and favorite eatery!

When we first moved here, going to the grocery store was an experience. (Unfortunately I now take it all for granted.) They are so well laid out, clean, well lit, and I couldn't understand why everyone kept asking did I need help finding anything? Did I need help with my groceries, getting them out to the car? (No tipping allowed.) And there are the little things like canisters of hand cleaning wipes to wipe down the handle of the cart.

So there is an ease and civility here that helps to gloss over the other stuff. But hey, I was born and raised in New York City, and there are places in the big city that black folks just don't go. Think Howard Beach. Remember Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismand and Abner Louima? If you've read the book or saw the documentary, Traces of the Trade, about one of the largest slave trading families in the US based in New York, or saw the exhibit at the New York Historical Society, Slavery in New York, then we understand that America's peculiar institution wasn't peculiarly limited to the South.

And although there are many things I loved about northern California, there is no place with more natural beauty, there are also earthquakes, mud slides, and the annual fires. And I remember how Oscar Grant was murdered in San Francisco on New Years day. People tend to think of flower children, and free love and liberalism when they think of California, but it one the most progressive and regressive places all at the same time.

Chicago, oh but it is one of the most beautiful cities in the country, truly. Standing on the sandy beach at the lake you can really think you're at the ocean. The downtown is gorgeous, it is one of the few American cities with a functioning livable, walkable downtown. Between May and October that is. After that it is all over, forty five degrees below zero with the wind chill factor is usual. Take your battery out of your car on bitterly cold nights and bring it inside. There are a host of tips and tools you collect to survive winter in Chicago. And there are few northern cities that were as strictly segregated as Chicago.

Someone joked that you could go for days and days on Chicago's South Side without ever seeing a white person. It was one of the few places that Dr. King was unsuccessful, the racism was that deeply entrenched.

There are trade offs, no place is perfect. Not Chicago, New York, not the west or New England.

Here's what I know, the South is the bogeyman, our doppelganger for all the ills of our nation. It is an easy whipping boy or girl, a place in our national psyche that seemingly embodies all that is wrong, cruel, mean, spiteful, unforgiving, wrapped up in patriotism and blessed by the bible. And although it is many of those things, even most of those things, it is also a place where there are pockets of people who are doing the work of reconciliation around the difficult issues of race. It is a place where many people are running for their lives away from unthinking fundamentalism, seeking spirit, questioning authority, free to think.

Yes, there are issues here, but there isn't anything so different, or unique, or beyond the pale that happens only here. If there are a thousand stories in the big city, there are a million here. And I find that some of the absolute best story tellers live right here.


  1. I lived in California for years, miss my friends and alot of the restaurants, but what I do not miss is the hypocrisy.

    I'll never forget, one day in November I went to the poll and voted for Gray Davis. Gray Davis won. And then a month later some millionaire named Darrell Isa was passing around a petition to recall Davis. Thus, the recall Davis movement began and any idiot could run for govenor. And they did.

    Gary Coleman was on the ballot. Some ditsy porn star was on the ballot. And what I took as an even bigger joke an ex-bodybuilder, turned actor who never held a political office a day in his life was on the ballot.

    And what did those freakin' idiots in California do?

    They voted for the ex-bodybuilder-turned-actor. All on the strength of a movie role.

    Fuckin' idiots.

    In California racism isn't in your face it's institutionalized. Don't believe me. Catch BART to any downtown area and count the number of Black men going to work down there and then come talk to me about racism.

  2. The weirdness of California is crystallized in the geography; There are at least four maybe five California's, 1) Southern Cal, all glitz, glam, industry related, more liberal than conservative, 2) mid-State around Bakersfield, Fresno, blue collar, agricultural, religious, conservative, 3) northern Cal, more multi-cultural, multi-racial, more liberal than conservative but pockets of conservatives in the farming communities, 4) North Lake Tahoe mountain area, conservative, truckers, farmers, mono-cultures.

    It is an extraordinarily schizoid state. As black folks are not a significant part of the state in terms of numbers but there are enough to give folks cause to pause, there will always be backlash.

    It is a very very strange yet beautiful place.