When I’d drive from New York to Florida or back, I’d often stop somewhere in the middle, the middle of nowhere that is. As far as I was concerned, there was New York, there was Florida. That made up the east coast. Then there was California on the west coast. I made weekend trips into Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and down to Washington but that was pretty much it-my America was made up of bookends really. My road companions agreed and if I got a call from someone checking on my status and they asked where I was, I never offered the name of the town or the handful of historical sites that I had passed. My answer was always the same. I’m in the middle of nowhere. Usually the caller would understand and express concern and offer the same advice. “If you get pulled over, don’t argue with the police there. Just say yes sir, no matter what. And get the hell out!”
Anyone who has made this trip knows about the signs for South of the Border. Pedro bombards you with billboards that start about 100 miles before you get to it and by the time you do get there, your expectations are through the roof. Wow, what is this South of the Border place? What’s going on? What a let down! It is a little place off the I-95 highway that is terrifyingly plastic with a mish mosh of plaster sculptures that don’t make sense. They have souvenir and firework shops. I never made the Mexican connection with this remote area of South Carolina but after all the signs one must at least stop in to check it out, especially when road weary. I remember getting out of the car and into an eerie stillness that was disturbing on many levels, especially when fake Mexicans and apes were staring me down. I wanted to scream and get back in the car. Apparently SOB has a website now, very high-tech, and they explain that they have several restaurants and motels. An added bonus is that they can host conferences and weddings. No thanks. If I want a Mexican wedding I’ll go to Cabo thank you very much.
Back to the point at hand, again, here is this Mexican hot spot, in the middle of nowhere with hardly a soul in sight. The other main attraction on this route is Cracker Barrel. When you are tired and cranky and hungry, this place is an oasis. Home cooked food, homemade desserts and a shop with interesting things to buy-from old-fashioned candy to picture frames, seasonal items and Christmas decorations. I love it.
I have since moved to the South and after leaving a Cracker Barrel one day and driving from one country town to another, it hit me. I have moved to the middle of nowhere! Oh my God, I’m one of them! One of these people who seemed like aliens to me before. People who didn’t live near the ocean, museums, ports or places where they make books. You know, civilization of any kind. Then horror of horrors I realized that any of the patrons at Cracker Barrel, who had done the same as I had years ago and exited the highway while en route to more exciting places, thought I was one of them too! Aw bless, she doesn’t know what a Broadway show is or what the Hudson looks like, poor thing!
They do have Barnes and Noble, oh I made sure of that before I came. And, as long as there is a Barnes and Noble in the vicinity, I can handle just about anything else. When the Bible Belt goes to church, I pop in to a quiet B&N and sip on a Chai Latte while flipping through books and magazines at my leisure. When the whole of the South is watching college football, I can meander through empty aisles at my favorite shops or enjoy not waiting at favorite restaurants. They also have Publix grocery stores here and anyone from Florida knows that once you’ve been in one Publix, you’ve been in all Publix (Publixes?) and it feels like home. Ok the pizza and bagels are crap but it is nice to drive with little to no traffic and to have open skies and green vistas. We even get Broadway shows. The road company but still Broadway. It’s not the same, no one could mistake a little country town for New York City, but it’s quiet for the most part. I have more than a postage stamp sized garden and I see birds that aren’t pigeons. We have outdoor symphonies and poetry night at the coffee place-come on! Would I move somewhere where there are Neanderthals? Many barbecue year round and take trips to the beaches and lakes in the summer. Even Starbucks and Trader Joes have found us.
Yes I do miss the mom and pop shops of New York and finding one of a kind items. Though what one loses in the unique and new one gains in not being in the rat race and not feeling the pressure to be ahead of everyone else; on the train, with fashion, news and art (Oh! You didn’t know they were showing Elizabethan toothbrushes at the Met? All my friends have seen it. You must go. You didn’t see Rent? That is a travesty, how could you not have seen Rent? You don’t live on the Upper West Side? That’s where all the good restaurants are now. Any one who says it isn’t is just lying to you. You haven’t been to Cannes?). Blah blah blah. People are neurotic because the city never sleeps. New Yorkers are bombarded 24/7. What am I missing? What’s going on? What happened, I have to know!!! The worst thing in New York is not being in the know. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you are rich or poor. If you know something before everyone else, you have cachet. But it’s so exhausting!
New York will always be my city and I love it like a family member but the middle of nowhere gives me a break from all that and lets me be me. Don’t mind me as I wander aimlessly for a while in the here and now, in the I’m OK, you’re OK. You get back on the highway and catch up with your friends. I’m going to have my little cotton socks blessed while I sip on some sweet tea. Y’all come back now, ya hear?