Thursday, May 04, 2006

Pieces of America: Alabama

Pieces of America

In the summer of 2002 I had the opportunity, I guess you could call it, to go down South with my then boyfriend-L and a random Native American man, J, to help move L’s mother (the poet-comedienne) from Texas to Florida. I am not a South person, but I wanted to see the rest (or at least part of the United States) before I hit 25 and before any disaster (natural or political) would claim it. Besides, I didn’t have anything else to do at the time, so why not go. This was before hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast. We were actually on the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts during the peak of hurricane season, yet we never encountered a single one.

We first went to Texas then to Florida. This is what happened in between.


We took I-59 all the way through, running straight through the middle of Alabama-right through the heart. We stopped for gas somewhere along the way in a small town in the Deep South of Alabama. It was one of those get your gas and a bit to eat at a diner type of deal. At this point, we all had enough of Alabama already, and the South in general. We hadn’t even hit New Orleans yet. We are tired and hungry, L. has been driving for more than several hours straight, we just want to get our food, pay for some gas and get the fuck out. J. and I went in first, while L. filled the tank. The door whooshed open and the heavenly coolness of air-conditioning cooled our burning skulls. We just stood there, unable to move in this arctic breeze. L. comes in and stands next to us, surveying this almost comedic atmosphere. The diner was pretty crowded, lively. Suddenly, a deafening hush fell over the place. These people dropped their forks and spoons along with their mouths.

Every single one of them.

It must have been a sight, by god: a black man, a shifty-looking Native American man and a white girl, who didn’t look more than 20, all together. You know that’s what those people were thinking!! I’m sure there is a really bad racial joke in there somewhere. We paid for our food and gas and got out of there quickly.

The amount of hostility and blatant racism hovering in the air was incredible. Not to mention slightly, morbidly amusing.

From the middle of Virginia it began: the car was acting kind of funny. The steering wheel had started to shake every once in awhile. We didn’t think too much of it then. By the time we got to Tennessee, it became more frequent, with increasingly shrill rattling sounds. It is very pretty down here in southern Virginia; lots of trees and open land, amazing sunsets-the sky was on fire!

Tennessee was a straight shot into Alabama besides the traffic. The roads here were absolutely vicious, as if they hadn’t been tended to in a decade. It only got progressively worse as time went on all the way into New Orleans. L. was driving like a madman, on a mission. I looked at the speedometer: 110 miles per hour. It really didn’t seem that fast. Intense speed and nearly rutted roads do not mix well together: J. was in the back seat literally bouncing up and down, repeatedly hitting his head against the roof of the car. On one occasion, he smacked it so hard, he lost his retainer. It dislodged itself freely falling to the floor of the car.

We get into Alabama. Crossing the state line, it suddenly smells like burning rubber. “What’s that smell, Do you smell that?” we all wonder, not really realizing that it is our car.

The car starts to shake violently. Strange sounds from the front end, on the passenger’s side. The smell worsens. This is when the front tire blows out. Not even 20 minutes into Alabama. This is how we make our entrance. I am sitting in the passenger’s seat up front, clutching the ‘Oh Jesus’ bar with one hand, with the other the dashboard, screaming OH MY GOD!, over and over, thinking this may very well be the end. L. careens into the ditch, separating highways, ripping up dirt and overgrown grass as we are going along at almost a hundred miles an hour. Skid to a stop, finally, nearly missing a tree, the only tree in sight. Semi’s were whizzing by us, rocking the car, going as fast as we were, if not faster. I, meanwhile, am hoping we came out of this alive. Luckily, we did. I think if it wasn’t for the severely overgrown grass in the median, it would have taken a lot longer to stop, for sure, and maybe something far worse could have happened.

Alright. Everyone’s okay. A little shaken. Breathe.

There is a spare tire in the trunk, amazingly, a donut, only. It was better than being stuck on the side of the road in Alabama.

It is blazing hot now, near noon. I almost pass out from the sudden shock of the nice air-conditioned car into the death-heat and in my haze, almost get clipped by a semi. I was wearing a black tank and cutoff jeans. I absolutely had to get out of these clothes before I became a blob of goo on the side of the road. Changed into an airy blue skirt and kept the tank. So much better.

All I could do was just sit there, on the side of the highway, in the divide, in the blistering heat, as J. and L. changed this tire while trucks, cars and semi’s flew past dangerously close, rocking the car. I’m glad someone knew how to change a tire! Hate to admit it, but I don’t even know how to properly change a tire. This must be remedied.

Finally, the tire is on, and we are once again on our way, the air conditioner blasting. I have been to northern Alabama before, but I don’t remember having this bizarre of a time.

It was as if everything that could have gone wrong, did.

I slept through the rest of Alabama. I couldn’t take it anymore.

Next stop: New Orleans.

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