I love riding in the South. Not only for the warmth and the sunshine, but for the people. We here in the Pacific Northwest – particularly in the Puget Sound region, tend to be rather cold and damp, just like our weather. We are introverted, insulated, non-social, and unapproachable -- walking around huddled in our Gore-Tex, holding a cup of Starbucks and listening to our Air Pods. A lot of people here tend to thumb their noses at the South – dismissing it as a region full of uneducated rednecks. Some of my friends make a face when I tell them I love riding in the South, and ask “why would you want to go to that backwater?”
As a rule, people in the Northwest really don’t talk to each other, or nod hello on the street, or even make eye contact. You can ride a bus downtown for 40 minutes and never say a word to, or even acknowledge your seatmate exists. I’ve had more conversations on the New York City subway than I have on a bus in Seattle I’m not sure why that is – if it’s the weather here, or what, but it’s the exact opposite it seems in the South.
But we bikers on the other hand are a little different – as a rule we generally aren’t quite as introverted as most folks generally in the Northwest. We have a good time talking and chatting and riding with, and even waving to total strangers. It’s said once you become a biker, you are instantly a friend with other bikers. Too bad the rest of the world isn’t quite that way.
In the South I actually tend to not ride as far every day because I simply don’t have time! When I stop for gas, food, or to see something interesting, someone will always, and I mean always, start a conversation, offer advice, or suggestions, and just generally chat and be friendly and say hello. Since I’m a chatty guy by nature too, we end up in a long conversation and time flies away. Here if you stop and say hi, people look away, and if you ask for directions, tend to just mumble something and point. Why is that?
I was riding through Alabama a while back, taking a rental bike on a one-way return from Florida to Atlanta, but wandering all over the South along the way for a week. I was in Opelika, Alabama one evening – having ridden up from Tallahassee, Florida. I checked into my hotel and did my usual thing of asking the desk clerk “if you could eat anywhere in town where would it be?” Assuming they don’t say some chain place like Mc Donald’s, I generally get a good recommendation for dinner. This clerk recommended a small BBQ place down the road “a ways past the old white barn” (Southern directions are very imprecise when it comes to distance, but very precise when it comes to landmarks), so after unloading the bike I hopped back on it and headed there.
Apparently it was later than I figured, and closing time was 10pm, and I rolled into the parking lot at 9:58pm. As I walked up I could see them heading over to lock the door and turn the open sign off, so I waved and said, sorry, and turned around. The waitress opened the door and said, “come on in honey!” So, I turned around and went back up the steps and apologized for not realizing how late it was and asking what they had left, and I’d be glad to take it to go. She beamed and said, “you just come in and sit down, we’ve got everything on the menu left, want some sweat tea?”
And there I sat, just me, the waitress and the cook – they cooked me up something special, even starting the grill again, and then sat with me and we had a grand old time talking for two hours. They wanted to know all about the bike and where I was from and going. Neither of them had been “out west” as they called it, and they were curious about it and about the people. I had my iPhone full of pictures and we thumbed through them. And I had not been in that part of Alabama, so I wanted to know all about the area, and they told me. We laughed, ate the best BBQ I’ve had in ages, and the three of us finished off a peach pie, and half a gallon of sweet tea. I’m sure they were looking forward to quitting time, but they stayed and served a wary traveler, and we all have a memory of a great evening. I can’t imagine a restaurant up here doing that.
Don’t get me wrong now, I’m not hating on Seattle or the Northwest. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t have stayed there for more than 25 years. I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of the prettiests places I know. If nothing else, I’m illustrating the vast differences in this great country – from political, to climate, to social structure. It’s part of what makes our country so great.
And we are going to see those differences on graphic display this year. Election years always bring that out – and this one is going to be a doozy. I’m hoping though that through it all we can remember that freedom means that sometimes we don’t always get along. That doesn’t mean we can’t still be civil and respectful, smile and agree to disagree. As my friends in the South say with a smile when they disagree with someone, “well bless your little heart”.
I hope we all remember that as we go through what’s I’m afraid is bound to be a very un-civil political campaign season. Fortunately for us bikers, there’s always the road when it gets to be a bit much.