My first introduction to the south was during a book tour for my (then) latest book, 37 Cents a Fart (And Other Infamous Animal Stories). We flew down to Asheville and my first book signing was at a Barnes & Noble in Biltmore Village, a very up-town plaza close to Biltmore Estate. We had zero idea what to expect and crossed our fingers.
All during the signing, Pam and I kept exchanging glances and smiling. We both had the identical question marks on our faces. What’s up? Why is everyone so incredibly friendly? Six hours later and completely exhausted, we walked over to a restaurant and collapsed. The waitress seemed incredibly friendly, just like at B&N and we ordered dark beers and something that sounded interesting : Shrimp and Grits with Cheese. Wow…
Then things started getting a little weird, a word that I’ve used often in the past year. A couple at a table across from us asked where we were from and pretty soon, we invited them to sit with us. More beers, and a little later the manager wanders over…really friendly, orders another round (on the house) and sits down with us. I thought, maybe it was because of the book signing and we were getting the “royal treatment.” Nope. They’d never heard of us or the signing. When the bill finally arrived, I glanced at it, slid it over to Pam and she looked at it with huge eyes. Something was wrong…..to the extent that we called the manager over. I said, “Uhmmm… This bill. I think there’s been a mistake. Maybe there should be a one in front of it?” He scanned it. “Nope. That’s the bill, all right.”
We flew home trying to figure out what had happened. Arriving back in Philly International, everything returned to normal. The pace was fast again and everyone seemed extremely guarded by comparison. Traffic out of Philly was as usual. Fast, aggressive, lots of road rage, beeping and bird-flipping.
For what it’s worth, we later drove back down, still curious about this strange friendly place, only this time I was determined to get to the nasty hidden underbelly of the south. I spent ten days researching an article, the goal: to interview people to find out what they didn’t like about the Asheville area. I interviewed 97 people, and never found one who disliked the place. Not…Even…One….until the last day, in Black Mountain, where we met an old gal, who said, “Okay, there is one thing I don’t like.” I thought, “Bingo! Here we go!” But then she said, “I’ve been here 7 years and my only regret is that I didn’t move here twenty years ago.”
Mom and Dad
Some little observations: Having driven in Bucks County, Pa, for the past 30 years, I’d become accustomed to the increasing road rage, and rudeness driving around. You see people flippin-the-bird all the time and car horn blasting a daily occurrence. In the past year, the only car beeping is when you see a friend and give ’em a toot. Yesterday, working on the sculpture garden we got the finger over twenty times……but it was the other finger, the thumb, pointing up and broad honest sincere grins…from people we don’t even know. Just mind-boggling.
We used to watch The Waltons when I was in the Air Force, and always loved the integrity and warmth of small-town living. …I think I learned some of my ethics watching that show. Used to watch Oppi and Andy Griffith on Mayberry RFD, too, and thought, Boy, I wish things could be a little more friendly, a little more graciousness, manners… Didn’t think it existed.
Yesterday, we were in a Walmart going down the aisle and at the intersection, a great big mountain of a man with a beard and tattoos came barreling into the middle just about the same time. We stopped, looked at each other. And then he said…and I quote: “Excuse me, sir,” and began backing up. That never happened in 30 years. It happens all the time down here, on a road, down an aisle, in a hardware store, grocery. Pause to get your breath and there’s someone more than happy to swap a story or a joke with you.
I’ve always said, “There’s no Nirvana.” I think I’m going to have to re-think that.