In Search of the Deep South

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    Sep 13, 2011 6:29 PM GMT
    My latest post:


    In Search of the Deep South
    Dixie Always Seems to be One Town Away

    The Deep South has become the boogeyman of my walk. Everywhere I go, people try to scare me with it. “You’re fine here,” people say, “but just wait till you get to the Deep South. You better be careful there!”

    Whatever. I’m beginning to think that I’ll never find this mythical Deep South.

    The fact that no one seems to know where it is doesn’t lend any credence to its existence. Up in Jersey, people seemed to think it was literally below the Mason-Dixon line. But guess what? Tea is served unsweetened by default as far south as Arlington, Virginia. It wasn’t till Ashland that I had to specify how I wanted it. And it wasn’t till well south of Richmond that it dawned on me that what I drink is “unsweet,” and not “unsweetened.”

    My last day in Virginia, just a few miles from the North Carolina border, I met a friendly shop owner. She had the most pronounced Southern accent I had heard up to that point, and was full of advice. She told about the existence of this thing called “the wheel,” and the many different vehicles humans have devised with it. She heartily encouraged me to get my hands on one of them as quickly as possible, and speed my way through Kakalaki. I thanked her, got a hug, and kept on walking.

    The people in the Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham triangle were friendly. “But don’t get the wrong idea,” I heard. The triangle, of course, is full of educated people with fancy degrees. And it’s very international. “Just you wait till you go a little further!”

    Well, all I can say is that I had so much fun in Charlotte that it is now on my list of cities to visit on a regular basis. Richmond is also on that list. DC, where I spent my early-to-mid 20s is most certainly not. But I won’t digress into a rant about Swamp City.

    So there I was, having a good time in what happens to be the second largest banking center in the U.S. after New York, when the boogeyman came up again. “The Carolinas are very different from each other,” said a bartender who heard about my trek. “There’s a reason we’re ‘North’ Carolina. You’ll see what I mean when you’re in South Carolina.”

    Even a native South Carolinian friend in NYC whom I texted when I got to his state replied with a “Turn around!” when he got my message. Yet here I am, sitting at an awesome coffee shop in Greenville, having an egg white omelet for dinner. My host here seems to think I’ll hit the Deep South in Georgia, just past Atlanta. And forget about Alabama and Mississippi. “Those are the states that even South Carolina gets to make fun of!”

    We’ll see. I have a dear friend waiting for me in Tuscaloosa, so I think I’ll be alright.

    Constantino Diaz-Duran is a fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University. He is chronicling his walk from New York to Los Angeles to celebrate his eligibility for American citizenship. Follow Constantino’s progress.
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    Sep 13, 2011 7:17 PM GMT
    It's funny how there's plenty of argument among Southerners about what exactly is "Southerness". Now people make the distinction between the Deep South, Real South, and Old South.

    Maryland and Virginia are historically Southern states (part of the Old South). However, very few people in the 'real' South think of us as Southern. Then you have people in the western parts of VA and MD who usually identify themselves as Appalachian rather than Southern (Appalachian and Southern accents do sound different from each other). It gets confusing!

    I have no idea if you'll find out what it truly means to be Southern, haha. It's a difficult identity to define these days. Just think that in recent years, many Southern states have been getting an influx of Northerners.

    Enjoy the grits.
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    Sep 13, 2011 7:26 PM GMT
    Former partner was from Roanoke, Virginia, and youngest brother lives in northern part of S.C. (unfortunately he, like many other military people, has become rabid conservative Republican, etc.). I've always heard (maybe incorrectly) that the Deep South of Alabama and Mississippi is where you have to watch your P's & Q's - and anything else that's attached. I am trying to be funny but 'you be careful out there, you hear?'

    Posts: 641

    Sep 13, 2011 10:29 PM GMT
    You ARE in the deep South as evidenced by the friendly persons you've encountered as well as their love of 'scaring you' of the other horrible areas, as you will come to find out, we ALMOST ALL to a tee are very friendly and PROUD of where we are. When you get that new fangled device with those mythical wheels, come see us in the Hi Country of NW NC!!

  • commoncoll

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    Sep 13, 2011 11:00 PM GMT
    Thanks for the update and the amusing post.
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    Sep 13, 2011 11:20 PM GMT
    There is Charleston.
    And then there is the rest of the South.
    The Recent Unpleasantness started there, after all.
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    Sep 13, 2011 11:25 PM GMT
    And you ain't even had cheese grits at a Waffle House yet...
  • Greygull

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    Sep 13, 2011 11:32 PM GMT
    I'm about to leave san antonio for Florida and I am most excited about being able to get hashbrowns and cheese grits at waffle house again.
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    Sep 13, 2011 11:35 PM GMT
    Hopefully you're going at 1am...cause that's Waffle House time.
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    Sep 14, 2011 12:02 AM GMT
    rowbro92 saidHopefully you're going at 1am...cause that's Waffle House time.

    Yes, it is!

    I love the south. Born in Alabama, traveled all through the state (beautiful state. Trees, green, and green everywhere. Very serene.), moved to GA, and my Dad's family is from Mississippi. I have been there a bunch of times, too.

    Enjoy it. It can be very relaxing.
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    Sep 14, 2011 1:20 AM GMT
    I must say, I went through AL, MI, and AR this summer for the first time, and I was a bit worried. My New Yorker sister told me "please just don't be flamboyant or anything" before I left, and several friends mentioned watching my Facebook posts for evidence that I was not tied to some fencepost.

    I proceded to encounter nothing but friendly folks in all three states. Of course, I was solo, and not "obviously gay" by virtue of hand-holding with someone or acting incredibly femme, but I think that my encounters in the Deep South (not just this summer but many times in GA or rural FL) have shown that most people are just fine one-on-one. It's us as an "Other," a group of people they don't know, that causes those very hospitable, charitable folks to suddenly demand constitutional amendments stripping our rights. Smart politicians convince them that a way of life is going to meet its demise if X, Y, or Z happens, and mobilizes humans against faceless, nameless fellow humans who have been demonized. Put us together, and we're people again.