You know you're in the South when...


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June 7th 2009
Published: June 8th 2009
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-you see your first Waffle House
-you drive through Christian County
-you see mega church...after mega church
-you spy your first Confederate flag
-you see the 10 commandments in neon in front of a motel
-the Bible is open to the motel housekeeper's favorite passage in your room
-everything is fried on the dinner buffet, including okra and catfish
-the front garden statuary outside the trailer includes two toilet bowls planted with plastic flowers
-the lawn sprinkler at the motel is a cow with the water coming out of the udder
-you can't find an NPR station

This is too much fun and I could just keep it up for another two days but enough - more interesting things to write about.

Saturday, June 6
Up early to get to the Truman Library. It is a very government looking complex of buildings in Independence, Truman's home town, to which he returned in 1953 when he left office. The museum has the same type of impact that the Eisenhower Museum did - perhaps because for both of these presidents we have enough distance to understand the historical impact of their years in office. The exhibits are very well done and engage you, as the viewer and listener, is a very interactive way. The take away sense is of Truman's long term impact on future legislative directions of the US, on key social issues such as health care, that we are still wrestling with today. Truman was clearly a values driven leader - maybe something we all need to think about today. When Truman left office he did not even have a presidential pension, only a small pension from his WW I Army service, and he refused to enrich himself from his office - interesting lesson for today. The exhibit has a number of interactive pieces in which you get to weigh in on important decisions that were made during his time, such as dropping the atom bomb and desegregating the armed forces. The exhibit on the atom bomb is particularly interesting since it includes pro and con comments from a variety of politicians and scientists as to whether it should have happenned or not. The section on the desegregation of the armed forces made me think about a forceful and articulate letter we had seen just the day before at the Eisenhower museum - from Jackie Robinson to Eisenhower in
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Lauren, this one if for you!
the mid-50's. In the letter Robinson refers to a speech he had heard Eisenhower give recentlly in which Eisenhower said that blacks had to be patient for integration and Robinson passionately comments that blacks have been patient too long and it is time for the president to act - and this letter came nearly a decade after Truman had integrated the armed forces. Truman's funny, poignant, outspoken letters and handwritten commentary are sprinkled throughout the exhibits - he may be one of the last politicians who actually said what he thought ( but then again, there's Joe Biden...). One of the most interesting points of the exhibit is the question that is asked at the end as to whether you, the visitor, felt that a fair view of his presidency had been presented - not too partisan, acknowledging the challenges and questions - I thought it interesting that this was a key sense that Truman wanted to have the visitor take away from their visit.

On the road again, heading south to Branson. Stopped in Clinton, MO for a picnic lunch in the town square - it looks like something time forgot - the dusty courthouse in the middle of the park, an old bandstand, the dry goods store...but then the coffee place did have lattes! On to Branson and the Baldknobbers Jamboree. Interesting town...we stayed at, ate at and enjoyed the show at the Baldknobbers Jamboree. The Mabe family, who started the Baldknobbers Jamboree 50 years ago, is one of the old musical families in town and they put on a great show - silly hill billy comedy, great country music, gospel, patriotic songs, etc. And Lauren, really good looking guys with cowboy hats and boots - you would have loved it! The motel is vintage 1950's and the food is heart attack on a platter. A friend had recommended the show and she was absolutely right - it's a must see. Two hours of fun entertainment - and you get to let go of your cynicism and just enjoy the evening. It included the requisite recognition of audience members, including the couple celebrating their 63rd wedding anniversaries, the judo champion from Japan and the young Marine just about to ship out to Iraq. We made friends with the folks sitting near us - a couple of Huey Long's hometown in Louisiana on the 16th visit, a couple from Minnesota who do the day and a half drive each year, and another couple from Huntington Beach, CA who take the train. Of course, the first two couples were politely amazed and interested in knowing how things were in CA - our state is getting quite the press nationally - everyone wants to know if we see Arnold regularly when we tell them we're from Sacramento. I liked Branson...but one night was plenty.

Sunday, June 7
Up early and off to Little Rock. We stopped in Greenbrier, Arkansas for breakfast at the Wagon Wheel, thanks to the great travel guide RoadFood. It's a modest roadside cafe, which cooks up the most incredible biscuits and bacon - now I know why Arkansas is known for its pork products! We got into Little Rock with enough time to spend an hour at the center commemorating the Little Rock Nine - the nine brave black teens who integrated Central High School in 1957. It's a sad story of our country and one that resonates strongly with our generation. The center is very well done - interactive, excellent media, and is just across from Central High School. Recently I heard Terenc e Roberts, one of the Nine, speak and he was as passionate and persuasive today as he was in the interviews from 50 years ago.

Off to the Clinton Library...with a short detour to take a walk to see the famous ducks in the fountain at the Peabody Hotel in downtown Little Rock. The Clinton Presidential Center takes up a swath of land on the banks of the Arkansas River in downtown Little Rock and includes the museum, library, archives and Clinton School of Public Service, part of the University of Arkansas. Steve and I had a much less enthusiastic reaction to this museum and we tried to understand why and came up with a few points. Clinton is part of our life and it is too soon to get the sense of history and perspective that we had at both Truman and Eisenhower. In addition, the materials presented seem to come at us like a fire hose and it was almost too much to absorb. But finally, and perhaps this was most noticeable in the context of the Truman musuem, there was a sense of partisanship to the Clinton Museum that was not totally comfortable. It's too soon to judge the true impact of his presidency but if you just went through the museum you'd think he single handedly changed the world in his eight years in office. Needless to say, there was no blue dress in the exhibit...and precious little comment about the impeachment.

We headed out for Tennessee mid-afternoon and made it to Memphis for dinner - and when you're in Memphis you better have ribs so we did just that in Germantown..and I think they were even better than Arthur Bryant's. Tonight we're holed up in Hurricane Mills, TN, about 60 miles west of Nashville.

Some serious thoughts about the South... First of all, I think it's interesting that I feel that I want to write about having thoughts about the South. It makes me think about how we characterize people and places, even when we don't really know them. My little riff at the start of this entry is a good example of how we love to make fun of something we don't know...and as a Californian maybe I should be a little more careful about this...since we're often on the receiving end of such treatment. Some visual senses of the South = lush and green, huge American flags flying over gas stations, the Creation Club at the Shiloh Baptist Church, roadsides with fields of wildflowers, including my favorite Queen Anne's Lace (growing up I thought it had been named for me!), friendliness - the waitress calling everyone Honey. But am I noticing these because they are stereotypes...or do the stereotypes result from these images? I think the South can be a deceiving place...there is an uncomfortable undercurrent of anger and hostility...and I certainly know I don't agree with a lot of southern politics these days. Confusing...one place on the surface, perhaps another underneath.

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