What’s the opposite of a jet-setter? I don’t know what the best word for it is. A home-body? A small-town kid? I don’t really know. But, whatever you call it, that’s what I am. I am not a traveler. I was born in upstate New York, went to school in Upstate New York, currently work in Upstate New York, and (in 269 years) I will probably die in Upstate New York (maybe Vermont if things get crazy).
Not only that, but I’m a through-and-through Yankee. I’m utterly connected to the north-east. The only time I’ve ever been in the U.S. south was to go to Disneyworld—and that’s not the south. Disneyworld is the south in the same way that eating at Olive Garden means you’re familiar with Italy, or in the same way that seeing a Dane Cook movie means you are an expert in world cinema. I’m a liberal arts educated, NPR listening, thick-frame glasses wearing kid from Albany. I am not the south.
So, touring with Dave Matthews Band (which would take me from Kansas to Oklahoma to Texas to Arkansas to Alabama to Kentucky) was always going to be weird for me. But, after two weeks, eleven states, and fourteen hotel rooms—here are my findings:
- The food in the South is designed to kill me. The food I’ve had here fits comfortably into one (or both) of two categories: A) so spicy that it made me cry, or B) seemingly made entirely of butter. The south dominates lists of the most obese states—and I totally get it. The food here is somehow weapons-grade.
- (Sticking with food) There’s something unnerving about walking around and noticing that the chain restaurants and brand names are different. It’s like walking around a movie set where the production company couldn’t secure the rights to brand names, so they had to replace them with fake-o new names. Every time I saw a bag of Zapp’s potato chips or a Zaxby’s Chicken I got the feeling that I was in some kind of “Truman Show” faux world.
- People could instantly tell I’m “not from ‘round here.” It must be the accent. I tried to fit in, but my “y’all”s never sounded right. It sounded like y’awl… y’ool… like I was butchering the word U-Haul. If it wasn’t my accent that revealed me—it might have been the fact that I am as pale as old paper and I sweat when the temperature gets above 62. Either way… I did not blend in, y’awl.
- Red states have some big patches of blue. This leg of the tour was a journey through red-state America (of the eleven states visited in this journey, nine voted Republican all of the last four presidential elections—North Carolina voted Republican three of four and Ohio was an even 50/50 split). And, of course, every stop of the tour had plenty of shouts for “Trump!!!” (usually angry shouts—go figure). But, not a stop went by where I didn’t hear plenty of shouts for “Bernie!!!” and many for “Hillary!!!” (despite the fact that the name “Hillary” is much less fun to shout—I don’t know why. It’s something in the phonetics, but a three syllable name that starts with an “H” and a soft “I” doesn’t feel right coming out of the mouth in a chant). Of course, Dave Matthews Band concerts are pretty liberal events—so it’s not unusual to expect a certain amount of “Bernie” and “Hillary” shouting—but it’s easy to forget that even the reddest of states has some blue speckles.
- …the South can really drink. I don’t think I need to go any further. I’ll just reiterate: the South can REALLY drink.
- Finally, people are people. I didn’t really expect people from the South would be utterly different creatures—but I kind of did. I wasn’t really expecting everyone walked around with ten-gallon hats and went line-dancing on the weekends—but I kind of was. I didn’t really expect Southerners to glare at me with disdain—but I kind of did. It’s easy for non-jet-setters like me to create the cartoon versions of people (particularly in an election year as divided as this—a year where Trump supporters must look at Bernie Sanders supporters like they are some kind of odd new species—and vice-versa). But, the truth is (of course) that people are people. Southerners were perfectly pleasant. I received more high-fives this month than any other. I was offered more food (buttery, fattening, hell-spiced food) at these shows than any other. And, as I’m currently seven hours away from catching a plane back to Upstate New York, I’ll be sad to leave.
Thanks for the fun, U-Haul.