Having spent the last week traversing the south east, an area of the country relatively new to me, my previous experience only being flying over to destination points much warmer than home, I am left with several impressions, generally positive.
As we were promised, the drive through the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee was lovely. Sadly we raced through, ears popping with only mild screaming, on interstate highway, but the view from our windows was really spectacular. Not winding and nauseating like the Rockies can sometimes be, these mountains are somewhat squatty and easy to manage, with abundant trees and greenery, just wonderful to see.
The Gulf of Mexico has, without a doubt, some of the nicest beaches I have ever seen, and while I am not an expert, I am somewhat well beach traveled and was really overwhelmed with the sand and the clear water, simply beautiful. And as a bonus, we saw dolphins frolicking around just off shore on many days, whole families of them just dancing about in the water; the girls, and I, were enchanted.
For years I have lived under the delusion that I hail from the strip mall capital of the world, the Midwest. This is just not true; in four days I found myself trapped no less than four times in parking lots large enough to land planes, possibly an option as there were few cars using the vast space suited specifically for them, ironically in a community that accepts golf carts as a viable means of transportation . Clearly designed to alienate and confuse people, strip malls leave me bewildered and longing to use my feet. A quick trip to Walgreens stretched into a long afternoon when I decided, foolishly, to pick up sandwiches to take back to the beach. From the parking lot I could see the Jersey Mike's sign, only one strip mall over, closer than the distance I walk to the train in the morning. In no time I realized that making this trip on foot would be at great risk to my continued ability to live. Begrudgingly I got back in my car and immediately found myself in the drugstore drive-thru. Waving as I passed the window I turned out, where a no left turn sign sent me into the strip mall on the other side of the strip mall where Jersey Mike was making subs, or did it? There was a nail salon, a shipping place, a liquor store, and...a Subway, wrong chain. Walgreens was now behind me, a beacon offering a point of reference in a land where everything looked exactly the same, and I was lost, or more accurately trapped.
Aside from the beaches, the panhandle of Florida looks just like the suburbs of Chicago, or St. Louis, or Kansas City, with palm trees, convertibles, tan people, and, yes, golf carts.
Most noticeably, I am left to wonder what has happened to all the G's? In one weeks time we saw signs imploring us to go fishin', swimmin', and drinkin'. Flying behind a plane over the beach, a banner invited us to " a foamin' party". We were offered some good eatin' and dancin', and my very favorite, a restaurant whose name was Grillin and Cookin. This place didn't even bother using an apostrophe, to hint that another letter might have once existed at the end of the word, confidently asserting that grillin and cookin are actual words generally accepted in an English speakin' country. What have they done with all the G's?
My mother's mother, from Dallas, spent years begging me to slow down, my speech was too fast and hurried, she couldn't understand me at all, and I spent years trying, while quietly hoping that she could speed up, maybe take less than 7 minutes to describe tuna salad on wheat toast, but it never happened. I should have listened, foreseeing that one day I might like to have a cup of tea somewhere in Alabama.
Me: A cup of tea please, black.
Me: Yes, a cup of tea, just black.
Me: (slowly) Just a cup of tea please.
Manager: Aaaaahhhh, ti. Sweetin'?
Me: (lost) Right, tea? Sweetin'?
Manager: Mmmmmm, ti. Yew whant that with the sweetin'?
Me: Sweetened? No, no, just plain black tea.
Manager: Yew fram round hair?
Me: Pardon me?
Manager: Hmmm, I kneew that, I did. Evryone fram round hair prefirs sweetin' ti.
This was quite possibly the most patient person I have ever encountered. He made every effort to find me a plain black tea, which was no small task, and then we the tea actually appeared, delivered by another, it was, of course, sweetin'd. He apologized profusely and set off to fix the mistake himself. Black tea, while readily available in Chicago, is not usually delivered with this much personal interest and never with a smile so large.
Beautiful beaches, miles and miles of strip malls, no G's, and some of the kindest people I have ever met. Incredibly friendly, and genuinely interested in our family and curious as to what kind of insanity brought us to drive over 1,000 miles to their alluring corner of the country. We'll be back, and we'll pack our own G's.