Wednesday, May 21, 2014
In the late summer of 2003, me and Martha loaded our possessions on a truck, said goodbye to family and friends and left the pleasant leafy neighborhood of Belhaven for a rickity townhouse, on a dingy street, in the wretched city of New Haven, Connecticut. I was enrolled at Yale for an MA in history.
I will always be grateful for the opportunity and to the people who made it possible but living in New Haven was worse than boot camp. It is a crowded, wind blown, broken down, boarded up, rusted out, trash strewn frozen dump...literally, it's a dump. I think most of New England's raw sewage eventually makes its way down to New Haven. New England raw sewage...let that simmer.
Among other things, it had a deleterious affect on the appetite...not such a problem really because, while the food may be fine as kinds of food (mostly Italian and seafood)...every place we went was dank and musty. Even cooking at home was problematic. After a comment by Martha's aunt, who is originally from Connecticut, I became disgusted by the thought of using the tap water.
At this point, I must admit, I had moved from a reasonable response to a dirty environment to a more pathological problem....shortly I would break out in hives and deal with them off and on for the rest of our time there.*
In fairness I have to point out that New Haven has great local rootbeer and the pizza is fantastic. Fair warning, if you're ever in New Haven, get the pizza to go...just so you don't end up sitting next to the tiny, thin-walled, unventilated toilet where shameless New Englanders will make themselves boisterously at home.
Still...a redneck's gotta eat. Fortunately...well sorta fortunately, fortunatishly...there is an option anywhere you go east of the Mississippi River...Cracker Barrel. It's a chain of country store/restaurants that have been selling Southern groceries to Yankees for decades (Atlanta was as far south as they went for years...what was the point?).
Cracker Barrels are like Waffle House in that there are good ones and bad ones. There is a Cracker Barrel in New Haven....Right. Good or bad they all have grits and biscuits on the menu. So, one morning I decided to get up at 5am and drive to the other side of town for breakfast (it had to be 5am because of the mind boggling congestion...there was a point after 7am when it became impossible to get anywhere in under two hours). Cracker Barrel grits are quick grits...I could've bought some bottled water and made the grits myself. The biscuits are another story and they have a branded maple syrup that is delicious. That was my focus.
We got off to a bad start with the grits. It's nearly impossible to mess up quick grits but they managed...serving me a bowl of hot gritty water with a frown. Still I had my biscuits. All I needed was some syrup.
"Ma'am...could get some syrup please?"
"Whaaaadduhya want syee-rup for...ya' biscuits?" She was incredulous...and slightly disgusted.
Most of y'all have heard me speak...no matter where I've gone in the English speaking world no one has ever had trouble placing me on the map.** I wanted to say to her..."listen Scout...you have your current job because people that sound (and look...but that's another story) like me eat a certain way...now **** off to the kitchen and get my syrup before I ask you to bring me some peanut butter too."
Of course, I didn't say any of that. I just left her with a "bless your heart" smile and never went back.
Then there was the episode with a sour old cow from Wisconsin at a Cracker Barrel around here in Pearl.
We had a friend from Indiana down to visit (i.e. down to drink). Next to Waffle House, there's no better place to feed a hangover than Cracker Barrel....evidenced by the fact that, on this Sunday morning, we had to wait outside for a table. That's when we met the old heffer...Sittin in one of the rocking chairs with a scawl on her face. It was hard to tell whether her eyes were narrowed or just hidden behind lumps of flesh. Her most prominent feature was a bottom lip that stuck out much further than her broad flat nose...there was the last whispers of blonde on what was left of her hair. She was wearing like a tent...a moo moo or whatever you call it.
As soon as my friend opened his mouth...
"Where are you from?" She demanded.
"I'm from Indi-ana."
That was all it took...
"I'm traveling through here from Wiscaaaaansin. Did you see that jar of pickled pigs feet on the counter. God these people will eat anything."
Hold it right there Frau.
First of all...I'm one of "these people". Mind your manners...oh yeah. That's right...you don't have any.
Secondly, being from Wisconsin you might want to settle your ass a little considering that people in this state were forced, in large part by people from yours, to eat whatever they could get their hands on. Hopefully they'll keep closing your factories and sending them to Mexico and China...so you people can develop a taste for pig ears.
Lastly...and MOST OBVIOUSLY...you just pulled off the Interstate, with intent, to eat at a restaurant that specifically and loudly and exclusively....serves Southern groceries.
WTF....I ask you W...T...F?
All the disgust and fascination with...the desire for and repulsion by...sat in a rocking chair in Pearl.
What can you say...what can you do?
Just keep eatin' I reckon.
* This had more to do with the people than it did the grim surroundings. They started on the last day of a visit back to Mississippi...just before I was getting ready to head back.
** There was an episode at a bar in London...a man was actually kicked out because he wouldn't stop telling me how sexy he though my "Texas" accent was. That's a true story. Ha!