“Don’t stop. Anywhere.”
“Maybe you should wear a hat or something.”
“Seriously, even if you have to go to the bathroom, do not stop. Anywhere!”
That’s just SOME of the advice I got when I let my friends and family know that the road trip I was taking would bring me through the South. Please understand, this advice was coming from well-meaning, concerned people who love me, who only knew of the reputation of the region. People outside of America, of an age old enough to have witnessed America’s most turbulent change in the Sixties and Seventies, or who have only spent time in big bustling cities have a stereotype of the South firmly fixed in their minds. And it isn’t a pretty one, especially regarding race relations.
Let’s be honest, stories like this one, about the still-segregrated proms in Georgia, don’t help in the PR department. I can’t believe that’s still an accepted, unchallenged way of life in parts of this country. It’s sad to admit, but after all that advice, I felt pinpricks of doubt before embarking on the journey — especially since I’d be riding with my husband. I was concerned about how I as a black woman, us as an interracial couple, would be greeted.
Not all the advice I recieved was alarming. One of the most soothing voices of reassurance came from my friend Forrest, who yup — is from Alabama. “Patrice, it isn’t the Sixties. You’re going to be fine. And you’re gonna have fun, too.”
In March and May, I traveled through upstate Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and we took a wrong turn and briefly wound up in Kentucky. I spent time and explored Mobile, Alabama, and Chapel Hill North Carolina.
I’m so happy to report, Forrest was right. I had a blast!
The only place I got even so much as a strange look was in West Virginia when me and my buddy TheFrankness, better known as Journalist of the Year and my bro fo’ life Francisco Alvarado, got out at a rural gas station for a bathroom break. And that was all it was, strange looks from people who probably weren’t used to seeing the likes of us. We kept it moving, no worries, no drama.
Driving through the South reminded me of just how stunningly beautiful America is. Majestic mountains, lush flowering trees everywhere, hills and valleys and verdant beauty as far as the eye can see. The region is aesthetically stunning. Here’s a little slide show of the things I saw, from a giant peach in Georgia to mammies for sale on Dauphin Street in Mobile, AL. I know, I know. I couldn’t believe it myself. I had to take a picture to remind myself what decade we’re living in.
My visit to Mobile was all about family — my brother in law is a proud graduate of Spring Hill College, and he’s made his home there ever since. Mobile is absolutely beautiful — tree-canopied streets and stunning Southern mansions line the avenues, and I was very pleasantly surprised at the fun to be found on Dauphin Street, the main thoroughfare of downtown. Our afternoon began at Spot of Tea, a quirky, classy brunch spot with a live pianist. The day we were there, Joe Lewis was tickling the ivories as we enjoyed eggs, grits and the establishment’s delicious strawberry iced tea. I loved the vibe and definitely recommend you stop by if you ever are passing through.
After Spot of Tea, we wandered down Dauphin until the scent of fresh roasted peanuts wafting out of the A&M Peanut Shop practically yanked us in from off the street. I loved the old-fashioned vibe (please note however, the mammies for sale were at the adjoining souvenier shop. Peanuts, good. My feelings about the mammies, not so much). Dauphin Street is full of old fashioned delights — after a stroll through the park (where a pretty good band was playing, and I was chased by squirrels who wanted my A&M peanuts), we visited Three Georges, a classic candy shop founded in 1917. This place is incredible. Sitting at the bar and sipping on a tall milkshake, I felt transported to a bygone era.
My visit to Mobile wasn’t complete without a late night dinner and drinks at Wintzell’s Oyster House. OMG the fried oysters are so, so good!
So OK – I am aware that Chapel Hill is unlike most of its surrounding environs. It’s a funky college town, where you’re less likely to see a Confederate flag and more likely to see a quirky hippie ride by on a bike. I absolutely loved it, and if I had the chance, I’d totally live there! Of course it helps that two of my BFFs, Forrest and Lydia, live there now. The photo above is of me in North Carolina, with Forrest’s kitten, Coquito. He’s also known as Murderface, and he’s got personality for days! Our visit to their home was tinged with a little sadness for me — on our move, we left my cat Max there to stay a while until we find our own place in Chicago. To drown my sorrows, Forrest took us drinkin’ all over town.
If you’re a beer drinker, NC is the place to be! We had fabulous, fabulous food and drinks at MillTown in Carrboro, a place with a brew menu as big as a high school yearbook. For even more drinks we joined the Dead Mule Club — yup, you can’t just roll into any bar and start drinking in Chapel Hill. Tucked away in a little white house with a big outdoor patio, it’s a private club you sign up to join before you can imbibe. Their whiskey selection is quite impressive! If you’re ever in the neighborhood, I highly recommend ending your evening at The Wooden Nickle Pub in Hillsborough. It’s got a fun, unusual, lively vibe, and this ain’t your everyday bar grub. I dined on steak topped with crab, and it was absolutely amazing!
Chapel Hill is also home to one of the most amazing home stores I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit — if you’re ever in town, do yourself a favor and visit A Southern Season. Imagine a Bed, Bath & Beyond, merged with Whole Foods, with a touch of Cost Plus World Market just for kicks. Oh, and they serve amazing food and there’s a full bar! Word to the wise – don’t try shopping after having a few cocktails here. You might wind up buying all kinds of stuff you didn’t mean to.
My adventures through the South helped to cure me of my ignorance. I pushed myself to open my mind – I tried new foods and made new friends. And most importantly I realized that although stereotypes might have a grain of truth in them, often it’s our attitude towards things that shape our experience. I’ll be heading back to North Carolina to get my kitty cat soon enough, and I’m already looking forward to my next journey through the southland. Already planning new places to stop by and set a spell. Southern hospitality is real, and I enjoyed it thoroughly!
Are you a southern bella? Tell me about where you’re from, or your experiences there. I’d love to learn more about the rest of this vast country!