Sunday, April 11, 2010

RIMBY (Right in My Backyard)

Why bother traveling to other countries to visit foreign cultures?  Save the airfare!  Save the environment! Right here in the USA we have cultures that are as foreign to me as any across the ocean.  JC and I are still in Northern Florida….we have been here for about 5 months and the culture shock is well beyond anything I have ever experienced in the Middle East or Mexico or Sweden.  A few days ago we drove our home on wheels to the national forest in the middle of the state.  The website for it made it sound wild and wonderful.  Dispersed camping means that it is not a campground.  We went to the dispersed camping area and it was, after all a campground.  We decided to give it one night.  Within 3 minutes of getting to our site, we realized we were in the middle of hundreds of acres of trails that were not hiking trails….they were ATV trails.  Every other campsite had at least four ATVs parked at them.  I approached one of the families at their site.  They looked shocked that I would walk into their holy and private hamburger grilling ATV parking spot.  I asked if they knew where the hiking trails were.  Silence.  Then, “None of those around here.” 
“Hmmm, that website must be a bit off”, I thought. 
According to grandma and grandpa campground hosts the sound of the giant bullfrogs in the lake turned out to be gators.  They ought to know…they have been campground hosts there for 13 years. 
Decision made…between the dog eating gators and the camouflaged families on their ATVs, we decided to head out the next day and camp in the quiet of a friends land near Gainesville.  Sweet space with a piliated woodpecker as the loudest sound…..
Today we went to what was supposed to be a 50 family garage sale.  Turns out it was at a church.  When I find church sales up north in the USA or in Sweden, I know I have struck the jackpot in terms of quality items I can’t resist.  Not so in the bible belt. I can pretty much resist everything at them…with no effort.
 One guy had tried his hand at painting, as his sign said, “Real paintings on real canvas”  The biggest of the paintings was a rough rendition of a pro basketball player on his knees praying to a giant bowl of tomato soup.   One booth sold the chemical Round Up in old milk jugs, some with their caps missing.  Right next to his booth was a woman in bulging pink spandex loudly spouting off to a customer at her table “My children are all saved Christians..WHO PRAY… living a wonderful life.”  The customer gave a resounding “YUP!”
By the time I got to the end of the tables (most of them filled with porcelain dolls that people had paid for in monthly payments after discovering their unique gem in the Sunday paper slicky magazine) I was ready to go home.  JC kept checking out the tables, hoping that something would appear, like a miracle, that would be just the thing he needed for our home on wheels. 
The last thing I saw as I went to get the dogs out of the car and walk them was a guy who had the most creative idea there.  He took old plastic cat litter containers and old automatic dog/cat watering containers and filled them with potting soil and aloe plants and marketed them to pet lovers. 
By the end of May we will have made our way north…we will leave this foreign land and hit some garage sales with our familiar cultural treasures.  Until then, I will just keep watching my foreign neighbors here and being grateful for their entertainment value. 
I would not call myself an expert in Southern Culture.  In the past three years I have lived in a house in Georgia, eaten lots of boiled peanuts, learned that bacon grease is actually a “seasoning” , seen more pitbulls on short chains than anywhere else, spent months in Northern Florida, seen barbeque served at peace events and animal welfare events, and done yoga with people who say “Y’all”.  None of this has made me an expert. 
I also am not sure where the south begins and ends.  When I told someone that a friend of mine from Oklahoma was from the South, I was told that Oklahoma was actually the Midwest.  I have also been told that North Carolina is the South, but Asheville isn’t. 
Travel is magical.  I actually got to visit the south recently while I was thousands of feet above New Jersey in a plane. 
I got my aisle seat and was amazed to see an empty seat between the window seat guy and me.  We smiled at each other….happy at our good fortune on a full plane.  But, just before they closed the cabin door, a loud voice boomed “I got here as quick as I could y’all.  I just gotta get to my sister’s 80th birthday!  I am so glad y’all waited.”  Enter Dixie. She waddled down the aisle, I got up, lifted both armrests up and let her get into the middle.  She took up about a third of my seat and her own.  “Darlin, I am sorry, but that arm thing is not going to go down again with me here,” she reported while beaming her big smile and patting my thigh with her thick wrinkled old hand.  “No worries”, I answered.
She introduced herself to me and the guy in the window seat.  He was some high-powered guy from Dupont trying to crunch numbers and get other work done on the plane.  There is certain plane etiquette…it is unwritten and unspoken as far as I know.  But, Dixie definitely did not have the first clue about it.  She leaned over to Mr. All Business from Dupont and yelled in his face, “WHAT ARE YOU WORKIN ON SO HARD?”  Then she actually picked up some of his documents and started looking at them!  Before we even took off we got to know that Dixie is from Little Rock Arkansas (is that the south?) and the names of all her “grand-babies” and every detail about the family she will see when she gets to her sister’s 80-th birthday party.  Dixie wore a giant gold cross around her neck.  She held it as the plane took off.  “This is my second flight in my ennnn-tire life and the first one was this morning. But, thank god the lord is with me.”  With that she shows me the cross up close….holds it right in front of my nose.  There is something about Dixie that I like a lot.  She is innocent.  She has even got the Dupont guy smiling and laughing.  She told the Dupont guy all about how she had her haircut and dyed it red to look more like the city people who will be at the party.  He stopped his work to listen and then told her it looked nice and he was sure she would fit right in.  She smiled like a grade school girl being told she is pretty.  She tells me she is so thirsty, she would love to “have me a Coke” but her wallet is in her checked bag.  I tell her she doesn’t have to pay for soft drinks on the plane.  “Are you kidding?  They are going to give me that for free?”  She gets her coke and tries to put the tray table down like the Dupont guy just did….but it won’t go down over her belly.  I bring my tray table down and tell her to put her drink there. 
Everyone in the plane can hear all of Dixies stories.  I wonder if they are enjoying her as much as me and the Dupont guy.  He and I keep laughing and winking and Dixie keeps telling stories and making my tray table and his shake when she laughs. 
I had planned on getting some work done….and my laptop is still closed on my thighs as the plane is landing.  I reach between my feet for my computer bag and Dixie grabs the bag and holds it open while I slide the computer inside.  Then she pushes my bag between my feet.  She then turns to her right and  neatly stacks the documents that the Dupont guy never got to and slides them into the folder on his tray.  “There you go”, Dixie says, “we are all ready now and I will see my niece right down there.”  At this she points out the window…and stares at the ground below.  She grabs her cross and prays for a safe landing, “Lord let me get there all in one piece.”  I am not the praying type or the religious type…I am more the anti-religion type.  It doesn’t matter….I have just visited DixieLand and smiled through the whole trip. 

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