in the south

I step out to a gray afternoon; queerly, white flakes fall from the Atlanta skies. It’s been snowing about an hour. The black roofs are now speckled grey and slowly turning white, yet dark streaks run their length telling of their poor insulation. Over the lawn, a thin blanket of snow leads to my car, a couple frozen blades still stick out. I look back at my footsteps; they only sink about a half inch. A smile of childhood emerges, as I recall how I loved to go sledding.

Through the stillness of falling snow, “You better get a move on,” said my co-worker who scurries back and forth, loading his truck, like an anxious mouse.

I notice the road as I open my tailgate: a black line cutting through the white landscape. Water pools at my feet. “Were only supposed to get an inch,” I call out, but turn to see his break lights at the far stop sign.

Half an hour later, I lock the tail gate; snow now crunches under foot as I walk around to the driver side. It’s coming down pretty heavy, I say to myself as I look to the solid white roofs. The motor rumbles, and I chuckle thinking about how fast my buddy left. It was so out of his nature, so out of his southern way, to hustle along like that.

snowmageddon 2014 CropYou just got to know how to drive in snow, I said to myself laughing, and turn the corner to a stalled line of red tail lights; its length extends over the crest of a far off hill. Uh-oh, I say and quickly swing the other way, but there too, around the next bend, another line of cars. I cut through side streets to another artery of the city; there stand more tail lights, and a fleet of yellow school buses.

“Geez!” Maybe I should of left. It’s like everybody in Atlanta is on the road; I didn’t know there were so many people. Who’s the bonehead who let all these people out at the same time?

It looks like I’m gonna be here awhile, I think, looking at the GPS for help. Then my thoughts, in the hours of waiting, turn back to my buddy and how his actions caught me funny. What is it about the southerners that we think of slowness: is it the way they move; is it their drawn way of speaking; is it their demeanor?

I grew up hearing the expression that the South offers a slower way of life; who is to say how this expression started? Most likely, it was probably sensed in its perspective from a traveling businessman down from a bustling city of the North; perhaps coming to view while conducting affairs with a potential client on the sprawling veranda of his estate, sipping sweet tea or lemonade, as formalities were addressed at a far slower pace than that accustomed too.

Here, under fan, sipping beverages in a rocking chair, the affairs of the day can be observed tapering off as the day passes. Here, where the southern sun seems just a mile away, during mid day-when the sun is the strongest-all things take comfort in shade, tucked under bush, under tree, or on porch escaping the heat that saps the energy of life. Even the cool glass itself sweats-losing its energy to the heat-as with any being under this summer sun. About the only thing heard during height of day, are the loud complaints of crickets, screaming their discomfort. Have the people just become accustomed to their environment; have they slowed because that is the way with all things here?

That could be it, I am thinking, but there is another, more subtle meaning of the word slow that might have something to do with the expression. It resides in the mindset of some of these urban southerners, as they refer to some of the more rustic country folks of the mountains and coast. I myself, after moving down here, allured to this slower way of life from that of a bustling northern metropolis, have found myself guilty at times teetering to this same mindset.

Under breath, in the confines of closed circles, behind shut doors, a prejudice of airs, if you will, spoken of and cast out, held in regard to these country folk, these simple folks; or, as they prefer to boast pompously to each other, these simple minded folks. There is a phrase that denotes this feeling, used on called occasions. It is usually brought out when asked by an old colleague how they like living in the south. But they do it in their southern hospitality, where the true meaning of what they say, where the bitter of their words is smothered in the honey of their charm: we do like the southern lifestyle, it is slow, just like the people.

Southern cities are becoming increasingly more transient each year. Most of the people are coming down from northern cities in search of career opportunities and a cheaper way of life. With them, they bring their own unfavorable impressions of the South, thinking of the southerners as overweight, lazy, prejudiced, undereducated dunderheads; a Wal-Mart clientele that can be easily stepped over, taken advantage of to advance their careers. They boast about it openly. Ironically, even these transients, that have only been here a few years, having adapted to some of the southern ways, are looked upon in this same regard by the newer arrivals.

In my rear view mirror, like a skating demon with white glowing eyes, a sliding car barrels out of control towards me, the headlights drifting side to side. My hands, like a marble statue, stiffen to the wheel waiting for that awful crash sound, but it occurs just to the right. I turn. A street pole wobbles.

It took nine and a half hours to drive just eight and half miles. All highways are at a standstill. All main streets packed, and the intersections full, no one willing to obey the traffic lights in their selfish quest to get home. Only the side streets offering help for the adventurous in their need to just move in a futile attempt to beat traffic.

I sit at the bottom of a hill, down a side street, just a half mile from home; I’m thinking I only got another forty five minutes. The solitude of my house so close I can envision opening the door to the bath, but that just makes me tap my foot faster, as I toss down an empty two liter of coke. But six cars are in front of me, and we sit motionless watching the red tail lights of a single car jitterbug across the steep incline of a hill, then slowing half way up until it stops.

In each attempt to advance its position up the hill, the rear end slips further off-line, until the whole car, with the persuasion of gravity, slides backwards and off to the side, wedging itself to the curb. Oddly, here stands a group of people-their own cars trapped earlier further up the hill, when the roads were not so bad-now gather like spectators at some strange sporting event, some cheering, some mocking, but all helping to turn them back around and clear the hill.

To the crowds delight, another car starts to climb, and again halfway up the red lights begin teetering back and forth over the road. The driver desperately white knuckles the wheel hoping to gain to the top. At the exact same point as the other had, the car stops, turns sideways, and drifts to the side; again the people turn the car so the driver can try another futile way home.

By now I’m punch drunk and speechless as I see another car attempt to climb the hill. For another hour I sit in my truck watching one car follow another with the same results, each one getting turned as the one before, until my headlights shine up the hill.

I sit there, pondering what was going on in their minds. What were these urbanites, these fellow Atlantans, these new members of the southern regime thinking? Albert Einstein said it best: to do the same thing over and over again, expecting different results, is INSANITY. Here we have the perfect example. These are the very ones tagging the others as slow?

Now it’s my turn. The trucks engine revs heavily. I stare up the hill.

From the top of the hill, I look back at the faltering masses. Ironically, a few more cars have lined up to attempt the hill. As a set of headlight begins to rise on the hill a humorous thought comes to mind from another famous southern saying, a southern saying in relation to this comical, sad situation of the ascending car in its determination.

I bring on my best southern drawl as I drive over the crest in triumph, my legs twisted around like octopus tentacle hoping I make it to the bathroom.

“The south shall rise again,” I said aloud with a chuckle, thinking of the officials responsible for this cluster %&#*. But not with these idiots in charge, and damn sure never, ever when it snows!

Image; Snowmageddon 2014 by marcus oh via his flickr photo stream and used under creative commons license.
Gordon Anderson

Gordon Anderson

I graduated WCU with a BFA in 1987. My focus was more towards design, and after graduation I pursued architecture; however, life has a way of moving on, and I soon found myself following the standard route with wife, kids, and the white picket fence. Never once did I think about writing. In fact, though coming from a family of avid readers, I hated anything to do with reading and writing; maybe because I was the black sheep, or simply because I had trouble focusing on it, finding it boring. I was always on the go; sitting down with a good book was like watching plaster set when the fish were running. As I got older I ran a construction business, so about the only thing I read was technical jargon. At 45, being stricken with cancer, my mother passing from it, going through an awful divorce, and losing my business, my life quickly changed directions. A few more things reared their heads, and then my life started to turn for the worse. It was like being pushed out of a racing car at 80 MPH and tumbling down the freeway, but I wouldn't trade the experience of the tumble for anything. We all have pain from old wounds, it's how we define the scars of our past that defines our character today. For a long time after I had troubles sleeping, constantly tossing and turning in thought. Then one night, I just got up and wrote a short story, as if it had been there the whole time. Ironically, during the same week, I came across a book of collected short stories of well-known authors. What compelled me to pick it up I don’t know, but I couldn’t put it down, each night reading more until it was finished, though never quenching my thirst for it. On my bookshelves today stand the majority of works of many of the greats. I also have read many how to write books; they all basically say the same thing: you either got it, or you don't. So then, why write a how to book if you can’t teach it? Isn’t that like giving a paddle board to a person with no legs? I thought I like to ponder as I observe the masses: Do most people focus on a path that they perceive to be their route towards happiness, but in their pursuit they are blind to the simple things that reward it?