The South in the spring is
stunningly lush and green. The balmy humid air, the scent of
bug repellent, and the vibe is hype with anticipation of the
impending NASCAR season. The South is a world unto its self and
an interesting place for a tattooed negro gal from Cali such
Recently a dear pal of mine
had settled back into Kentucky life and my cousin was getting
married in Charleston, so I packed a bag and headed down Dixie
First stop Cleveland for a
brief layover. Only two cool things ever came out of Ohio. Chrissie
Hynde and Devo. Okay, three including Drew Carey. An hour later
I'm in Louisville and greeted by Miss Tish. This is her land
and her folk. In the next several days she'll teach me cool phrases
like "cold-natured," which in Tuckian means one gets
the chills; the opposite of which is to be "hot-natured."
I also discovered there is
such a thing as frog-giggin.
Giggin' requires a canoe and
3 people -- the paddler, the light man, and the gigger, who holds
a pitchfork for spearing da froggins. In Tucky, Spring is the
season for frog legs, deep fried and succulent, as I was told.
Tish and I took a day trip to Marshall County where her folks
live in a passive solar house on 40 acres of emerald pastures.
Her mother, Mary, is a charming and gracious Christian woman,
who said things like "the dickens" and made a pecan
pie for our visit. Her dad, Dick, a retired professor, wore skinny
dark Levi's and converse, just as he did as a young man in the
50s. While I nibbled my catfish and hushpuppies, Dick explained
his frog-giggin mishap the previous day when the pitchfork went
through his hand. Ok, too country for me!
The Tucky accent has a cool
lyrical lilt. The only time
I had a hard time understanding someone was when Tish's friend,
Charlie, was chewing kaw and was talking to his daughter. Couldn't
grasp a word except "girl." Tish would tease me and
call me "city mouse."
The other accent I could hardly
decipher was Gullah; a Southeastern dialect black folks speak
that has roots in West African languages, primarily from Sierra
Leone and Ghana.
The Gullah to this day do basket
weaving with palm leaves and indigo batik passed down from the
slaves that came via the Caribbean. I was considering checking
out an old plantation during my trip before I passed a billboard
along a highway into Charleston depicting a smiling blonde holding
a parasol, an epic antebellum house in the background. It made
me want to barf. What the fuck is that shit?!
There's nothing remotely romantic
to me about the Good Ol' Days of Dixie. To me it represents subjugation
and the degradation of my people; of suffering and bondage, and
racial dissention that still exists to this day. So, Lil' Miss
Blue Bonnet can shove it up her petticoat and fuck off.
I found it more positive to
celebrate a culture heritage which spans thousands of years,
which endures despite being taken in chains from one continent
to another by Evil Whitey.
At the people's market in downtown
Charleston -- the same area slaves were once traded and sold
-- a merchant peddled Confederate flag swimsuits, belt buckles
and shot glasses. I thought to myself that some of this shizzle
simply would not fly in California -- except maybe a biker gathering
outside Modesto at 2am, with lots of beer flowing and George
Thoroughgood's "Bad to the Bone" blasting.
During my trip, I heard mention
of Hardee's. I assumed it was some regional fast-food chain,
like White Castle. It's actually Carl's Jr. -- same logo, same
shit food, different name. Just as Best Foods is called Hellmann's
east of the Mississippi. I personally think this is an ongoing
conspiracy to pit East against West.
"Hellmann's, Western bitch!"
"Best Foods, Eastern punkass!"
The coolest market name is
Piggly Wiggly but the stores are dwindling in the South, being
bought out and acquisitioned by another larger regional chain.
I checked one out. No big deal, just a cool name, and they don't
sell Piggly t-shirts, dammit.
Southern cuisine is, for all
intents and purposes, the same thing as soul food. The staple
of "country cooking" is to fry practically anything
edible. Creamed corn balls, fish, hushpuppies, shrimp, chicken,
pork, beef -- you name it, they fry it up. Then there's BBQ,
various kinds of woods for smoking, and meat stock is commonly
used when cooking vegetables for flavor. Tofu and soy protein
it ain't! You're hard pressed to find lean yoga-stretching, gonzo
mountain-biker folk here. Land of the corn-fed hefties, but farmer's
markets are also plentiful for getting fresh local organic produce.
Generally, Southerners are
friendly, charming people, but I did have that sense at times
of being a fly in the buttermilk before I met up with my relatives
in Charleston. I did get an email from Tish recently that Kentucky's
governor signed an act into law prohibiting gay and transgender
discrimination -- the first state in the South to do so.
Other than tobacco, pot is
also a plentiful crop due to the climate and soil. It's called
Kentucky Bluegrass round these parts and it rivals anything this
side of Humboldt County.
I did come across some stereotypical
images on the road: The beatdown shack with a rusted pick-up
in front, double-wide mobile home tracts, rifle-racked trucks,
United We Stand/Support Our Troops billboards, and Jesus Saves
bumper stickers. That may not be my scene (in whole or in part),
but I dig the fact that I could order my bacon "fried soft"
and I didn't get that crosseyed look a Californian would give
me. "You know... like, not crispy?" Take me home, country
-- Badass Blue
June 18, 2003