Friday, November 17, 2006

M - I - crooked letter - crooked letter - I - crooked letter - crooked letter - I - humpback - humpback - I!

"Calluh... you on they ayuh."

The talk radio host's voice droned through the car speakers while cruising the highway in Jackson, MS. It was, perhaps, the 20th time we had heard it uttered. I was simply tickled.

"What's wrong with this gentleman? Has he had a stroke?" I turned and asked Miss Goofus, sitting in the passenger seat.

"Now, now. He's from the South" she replied, as if that explained everything, "we do things a little slower down here."

She was right. Granted, Mr. Talk Radio Host spoke even more slowly than many of his fellow Southerners, but to say that the pace of things below the Mason-Dixon is more leisurely would be the understatement of the year. In the Deep South, people move sloooooooow.

Or, it could just be that I move fast. I do everything quickly - sometimes too much so. Even other Bostonians occasionally take me to task for speaking too fast and they, irony of ironies, can't understand me. Whatever. Slow Southerners plus a fast Eric makes for a certain degree of confusion. But it was confusion I enjoyed, because like the Southern stereotype, it came with a certain amount of charm and hospitality.

I guess I should explain. Last week, in between the end of my previous job and the start of my new one, I ventured down south to New Orleans yet again to see the aforementioned Miss Goofus and embark on a road trip. Destination: Memphis, Tennessee where two friends of the Goof-monster were getting married. Several months ago, she'd received the invitation addressed to "Goofus and guest" and she asked me to play the role of "and guest." I had second thoughts about attending a wedding for two people I didn't know, and didn't particularly relish the idea of "making new acquaintances" (so, I'm a selfish isolator. What do you want from me? Huh? Leave me alone) but the idea of hanging out with m'girl Goofus in warm weather AND a subsequent road trip proved too much to resist. I arrived on Wednesday, enjoyed New Orleans for a few days, had some stupendous New Orleans cuisine at Jacque-Imoe's, and even attended a class at Tulane university (I am now qualified to tell people why they should/shouldn't make 'college professor' their career of choice - my advise to everybody would be 'run') before jumping in the car on Friday and hitting the road.

To be honest, I didn't expect much - not because I had low opinions of the South (although c'mon... Duck Hill, Mississippi? Why the hell would I want to go there? Charming town to drive through, as it turns out - and it has a kick ass name) but because we simply didn't have much time to do anything but drive and go to the wedding. But, we made the most of what extra time we did have. Our first stop was at Shoney's Restaurant in Jackson, MS. We stopped there largely because we were both starving, and we weren't exactly sure where else to go. Plus, I had fond memories of growing up and hearing my Dad talk about the Shoney's in his native Pennsylvania (back when it was called Shoney's Big Boy) and having never been to one before, I thought it worth a visit. From the get-go I was very pleasantly surprised. We were greeted by an extremely friendly waitress with a wide gap-toothed smile who exclaimed, "Hi there! Welcome to Shoney's! Two? Alrighty then, come with me. Here're your menus. Would y'all like any sweet tea or anythang?" This alone made it worthwhile. If such an encounter were to take place in Massachusetts, you'd be lucky to get waitstaff who did more than grunt and hack up a lung on your menus. (I'm exagerrating, yes, but the friendliness of this waitress was genuine, to the point where I started getting suspicious. I'm such a typical New Englander.) For dinner, Goof got the fish and chips and I.. heh.. well, I ordered the wondrous cheeseburger you see in the post below this one.

Now, let me set the record straight. I had NO idea I'd be getting a two patty grease burger smothered in processed cheese and fried in lard. The menu had two different types of burgers - the Grizzly Burger, and the Giant Grizzly Burger. Thinking the Grizzly your typical standard cheeseburger I ordered it and was greeted with the culinary delight you see below - and that was the smallest "adult" burger they offered. To get something normal, I suppose I should have gotten something from the kids menu. No wonder we have an obesity epidemic in this country. Anyway, I ate the whole thing - because I was on vacation and all. Not only was it delicious, but I could hear my arteries clogging for two hours hence.

The rest of the drive up proved somewhat uneventful. It was nighttime after all, so there wasn't much we could stop and see. We got caught in a VICIOUS thunderstorm with crazy rainfall (we found out later that there was a tornado watch in the area we drove through) that slowed our progress to that of the average Mississippian, and ended up getting into Memphis at around 1:00 AM.

I'll skip the gory details so as not to sound redundant (Goofus covers them in her own post, and really, I just wanted to write about the burger) but I'll just say that I enjoyed the few hours before the wedding when we got to explore Memphis a little bit and visit the Peabody Ducks, the Memphis Redbirds ballpark (where I got a medium long sleeved shirt), and Huey's, where patrons are encouraged to throw their toothpicks at the roof and see if they stick (our waitress there was just as friendly as the previously mentioned one, but the woman didn't provide us with any damn toothpicks. I tried to throw a carrot instead. It didn't work.) Sunday, we had lunch at Molly's La Casita with Goofus' best friend from childhood and her fiance, and then hit the road once again to go back to New Orleans.

The highlight of the trip back was cotton pickin'. In Sardis Lake, MS we passed by numerous cotton fields and after waffling back and forth on the idea, we finally decided to pull over to the side and pick some cotton (I did most of the waffling - I was envisioning us going into the cotton field, only to have some elderly Southern gentleman come bursting out of his cabin with a twelve gauge, screaming at me to "get off'n his here land, you no good Yankee boy" before taking a shot at us. No such event ended up occurring but I made sure to choose an isolated field all the same.) I grabbed a couple of swabs (or tufts, or whatever they're called when you pick 'em) and threw them in a baggy where they sit on display on my bookcase. Honestly, I don't know why this made me so happy. I can't imagine a cotton farmer getting this worked up about a visit to Boston in which he got to eat a baked bean. Anyway, we took our time getting back to New Orleans and arrived at around 10:00 PM. Sadly, I flew back to Boston the next morning.

But, it was a fun trip for lots of reasons, not least of which was the companionship. Fifteen hours driving in one weekend and not a single nasty glare. Pretty impressive, wouldn't you say?
And, in the extremely short time I got to see a few odd places, I was able to thoroughly enjoy myself while doing away with a few misconceptions. I still can't do a Southern accent (as Miss Goofus will remind anyone who comes within earshot) but that's OK. Even if I could, I'd probably speak too fast for them anyway.


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