We’ve spent the last three days with my parents in Birmingham. Athough I live a mere 150 miles away in Atlanta, Georgia; there are always a few cultural differences that sneak up on me whenever I go home.
Geographically and historically, Atlanta is a Southern city, but the sheer multicultural diversity (i.e. Northerners, people from California) plus the increasing number of folks from other countries have morphed it from a way-down-Dixie town to a weird and cosmopolitan hybrid.
Crossing the state line from Georgia to Alabama is crossing into another world, or maybe it’s the same world, just twenty years ago.
Let’s take fried food, for starters. Sure, there’s frying in Atlanta – Chef Ford’s famous chicken from JCT, fried pies from the Varsity, pommes frites from the Fry Guy food truck, but frying as a lifestyle has largely disappeared amongst a culinary mecca of arepas, tandoori, kimchi and anything sous vide.
Perhaps it’s a concession towards better health.
In Birmingham, I am surrounded by fried foods. Bacon for breakfast, naturally. And fried eggs and biscuits n’ gravy, which is made from fried sausage and cooked in a skillet “cured” with bacon grease. Fried squash, fried okra, fried turkey and fried creamed corn adorn our holiday table.
Fried cream corn, incidentally, is sold in the grocery store by the tube, which is called a “chub.”
No sh-t, Sherlock, a “chub” of creamed corn. This is what is also known as a “hint.”
Another mark of this alternative universe is the sheer preponderance of football and football-related activity. This should no longer startle me as I was raised in this state sharply divided by a Maginot line of allegiance to either Auburn University or the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.
Little Benedict that I was, I betrayed the family devotion to Auburn by attending the University of Georgia. Still a Southern school, but an entirely different state’s doctrinal feud. There are family members who to this day don’t speak to me.
Ensconced in my parent’s home in War Eagle country, I find daily life is saturated in the religion of Football. From my Daddy’s casual attire of eye-bleed orange pants worn with a blue and orange plaid shirt to whole weekends revolving around an Iron Bowl tailgate party, Football and its native colors shade the world in which my family lives.
While Atlanta has a professional (albeit questionable) football team, the Falcons; the only time I pay any attention to them is when I’m crafting curses trapped in Georgia Dome traffic leaving work.
Language is another hallmark of the great divide. I majored in Broadcast Journalism in college and actually had to pass a speech class designed to beat out my drawl and instill region-free pronunciation. This was primarily achieved by forcing me to fully sound out each syllable of a word including all constants (and! folks! gerrymandering!) My Granny later mourned that I sounded “like a Yankee,” and was ruined for life.
Here in Alabama, not only are final “g”s an endangered species, but a world of vernacular exists beyond normal American English. “There’s so many people in Walmart today you couldn’t cuss a cat,” “he’s drunker n’ Cooter Brown with a skunk in his pocket,” “I don’t got a dog in that hunt,” and “looks like he got beat senseless by an ugly stick and left for dead,” were aphorisms flying about my ears this weekend.
The older I get though, the more I find value in the spoken word, however oddly enunciated, over the lifeless and detached culture of acronyms, text messages and emails native to the city in which I dwell.
It’s been kinda nice, slippin’ back into y’alls, and s’posed tos and fixins and yes’ums and actually having a conversation with real, live people; of course between mouthfuls of deep-fried dinner and constant updates on the football game.
When I was younger, I believed the only good thing to ever come out of Alabama was Interstate 20.
Now that I’m older, maybe I’m not barkin’ up the wrong tree wishin’ that road crossed through my neck of the woods just a little more often.