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Published: June 26th 2017
Geo: 33.5203, -86.8115
Leaving Asheville, even though it was going in the wrong direction, I decided to head southeast toward Spartanburg, South Carolina in order to do a quick sweep through some of the southern states. The moment I passed into this new state was a beautiful one - a passing rainstorm just starting to dissolve, revealing ghastly forms of footless mountains off in the distance. Greens and blues of all shades and everywhere in between, accented in a thin veil of moisture hovering in the atmosphere.
Within a few minutes, however, I was back in the rainstorm. The kind where even the highest wiper speed can hardly keep up. A few minutes after that... THWACK!!! What the...? Ah, damnit - a rock had been spit up into my windshield, creating a new little spider web, adding to the existing splinter and two cracks (time for a new windshield much? - Not till I'm done - why bother?) Ok, South Carolina, you're gettin on my nerves. Oh, but what's this, road construction? Awesome! Perhaps due to the humidity (or perhaps feeding off of my own angst), my clutch was slipping all over the place like trying to take hold of a fish after
greasing your hands in oil. I need gas anyway, that will give me time to breathe and focus again. Into the gas station. Hello? Marco? A teenage kid with hair the length of a mop but the color of mop water is sitting on the counter just looking at me. "I just need to get some gas." While he continues to stare at me, his lanky friend (the attendant) gets up to assist me, seeming to be mildly irritated by my hostile interruption. Thank you for your service, sorry to make you move. Now, everyone knows how, after some time, people start to look like their pets. I hate to say this, but this guy must have a pet catfish. He didn't have any kind of impressive handlebar mustache like a catfish does, rather it was quite depressing. Akin to a balding man's head, but he was trying to grow it nonetheless. Spits of hair here and there and elsewhere on his face, prairie dog hair patches, the opposite of people who have clumps of hair fall out. His face was... well... like a catfish. I don't know how to explain it. It just was. His speech was slow and
seemed to take a great deal of mental power to conjure, and of course was laden with a thick southern twang of the likes that even the best southern twang personifier cannot obtain. The complexity of our transaction seemed nigh overwhelming, but was finally complete and I returned to my truck to pump some fuel. The slowness of the attendant's every move should have prepared me for that of the pump. One cent... two cents... three cents... four cents... an elementary school child could have likely counted at a more rapid pace. Good lord. I sent a text to my good friend Jesse, who lived in the south for a number of years while in the military. "Are people around here all stupid or do they just sound stupid?" His response, quick and clever and probably quite close to home: "Haha. Almost all sound stupid, and I would guess that the majority are! It's an epidemic."
After taking a nap, brushing my teeth, sorting the truck, warming up with some calisthenics, and calling home for a long chat, the pump clicked and I hastily made my way back on the shitty roads, through shitty traffic and shitty semi trucks that wouldn't
let me over, passing by proudly displayed Confederate flags (do they not know they lost the war?)... wonderful state. Won. Der. Ful. Let's speed the fuck up and get outta here. Don't judge a book by its cover, I know. Hmm... perhaps I should write a book called Don't Judge a State by its Freeways. I'm sure... I know there must be some good out there in every state.
Next up. Georgia. Skirted the edges of Atlanta, of which I had ZERO desire to see. Of all the crappy places I have been or can imagine, I have pretty much always met someone who loved it, who resonated with it, who did not mind calling it home. Atlanta (I have nicknamed it Shatlanta) is one exception. That and Indiana. I have never heard anyone say "I love Atlanta!" And if you have (or if this person is you), I know some good therapists. While traveling this part of the country, I kept seeing signs for the 'State's Biggest Flea Market'. Why don't they call it a tick market?
Sorry, Georgia, you and your peaches will hopefully have a visit from me some time in the future, but I need to get to Birmingham in your brother state to the west. As was the theme of the day, Birmingham welcomed me into a mildly brooding storm, low clouds, and light drizzle. I knew nothing of the South; I knew nothing of Birmingham, nor of its people or economy of history or dynamics, but as I got closer and closer the air seemed charged, electric. Not from the storm, though - from tension. Like she was straining to keep it together, to keep from exploding and lashing out, like she had had it and was hanging on by a thread. Something was not right. This intensity was confirmed after doing a little reading (10th highest crime rate in the nation), and talking to a few locals through the night who confirmed the strain in the city, much due to racial tension.
The gents at the coffee shop referred me to the Five Points neighborhood. Safe, close to campus, lots of good bars and restaurants. And indeed a local pub, J Clyde, located in an alley boasted a hundred something different beers and a ridiculously tasty burger with a fried green tomato in the middle. In New Zealand, it is popular (or at least was 9 years ago) to include a slice of boiled beet root on a burger. Both like a regular tomato, adding a touch of sweetness, zest, and moisture. Normally $8, beers of 6%!a(MISSING)bv or less were half off. I can't remember what I tried, but it too, was a glory in palpability!
As far as cities or towns go, I found one of the best "camping" spots I'd had all summer. A long stretch of quiet road just a couple blocks of the main drag, good-looking apartments on the left side, and tall, sheltering trees lining the right with ample parking space underneath. As the evening progressed it grew calmer and clearer, relieving my concerns of sleeping under the slow drip in my camper. I've realized many things on the road these past few months, one of which is a bar is a bar. Especially after 11 o'clock. And Karaoke is Karaoke. I had, however, heard of an out-of-the-way downstairs bar that could heal my ailments of disillusionment. I thought I was on a wild goose chase at first. I knew the address, and searched up and down the street, circling the entire block. Walking by an odd mix of a parking garage and mini-walking mall, my ear caught the hint of debauchery. Like Toucan Sam, I followed my ear and made my way to the increasing noise. Success! I found the treasure! A hand-written sign marked the entrance:
No Bums, Hobos, or Transients Allowed
No Take Tops or Sleeveless shirts on Men
Must be 21 to ENTER
Oh my. This could be good. The "No Transients" line had me a little worried. I descended into the unknown, deeper and deeper into a sea of smoke and the smell of PBR and thrift store clothing lofting up to meet me. Now, while I was in New York, I helped define a "hipster" to a Brazilian: "Someone who thinks they are way cooler than they really are." If I was right, if I even came close to the mark, then along with with the overpowering smells of smoke and cheap beer was the stench of coolness. It reeked of coolness! I now know where all of my plaid shirts, thick framed glasses, and sister's pants disappeared to. Good lord. Denver - you have hipsters. You are menaced with them (yes, Sputnik, I am talking to you). And perhaps I have just never been to the Prevailing Denver Hipster Lair, but I can say with ease with what I have seen that Birmingham has you beat out by a mile. Out of fear I purchased a PBR (in a plastic cup, of course) and started some pool. Three games. By myself (I won every time!). I tried a few times to strike up a game with others or inquire about teams and was looked at through thick black frames of contempt-colored glasses, scorned and condemned as if I had just asked to borrow their underwear or engage their mother in sexual activities. Sorry. Shit. Three winning games, a PBR, and a cigarette later I made my retreat through the coolness back to the comfort of just being a nobody. A nobody walking contently back to his truck through the charged misty air of Birmingham, sending his good will and best wishes to her governor.
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