Southern Hospitality

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!”

“Me

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.

“Spot

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!

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Comments

  1. Shawnta` says:

    What a great photo & blog journal of your trip! I’m sure I would receive the same advice from well meaning people and would probably be a bit hesitant about stopping in some places, but I would try to force myself to overcome that fear. I’m glad your trip turned out well and that you had a chance to see America and all of its beauty up close and personal.

  2. Tedra (nola freebird) says:

    The south does have a dingy dark past (some of which still lingers today) but, for the most part, we have emerged from that. Have you ever been to New Orleans? if not…you must come. This is truly Southern Hospitatlity at its finest.

  3. Ah…my forever home of North Carolina! :D I lived in Chapel Hill for a few years, and A Southern Season can’t be beat!!! Next time you go, travel out of the ‘Hill to a great barbeque place.

    You are right; there is MUCH more to NC than Chapel Hill. I’d have to write my own post to scratch the surface! I hope you return soon.

  4. Nola_Freebird – I LOVE New Orleans and am sad I didn’t get to visit on my recent trips. The last time I visited was for a very brief weekend a decade ago. Obviously SO much has changed. I’m overdue for a trip back!

  5. P Moore says:

    Enjoyed your post. As a proud Mobilian, you showed our city well. I have gone to all of the places that you have mentioned and enjoyed them all. I don’t know anything about the mammie dolls in the shop window and am not familiar with that particular store. I was following you on twitter during your Mobile trip. Glad you had a good time.

  6. As someone raised in Mobile and moving back soon, I’m glad you had a good time. The Peanut Shop has been a favorite downtown destination of mine since before I was big enough to see over the counter. We have our share of ignorance and crazies, but for the most part it’s a good place.

  7. what an extremely beautiful post.. my boyfriend is white, and we are explorers.. and since living in St. Louis, MO, interracial relationships, I now know, make A LOT of people angry..

    so naturally, I was a bit nervous about our road trips that we have planned for the summer.

    thank you so much, and get outta my head! LOL

    Peace!

  8. The South can really be great… the food, the culture, the friendly people… it can all make you happy.

    A note: My dad and I got weird looks in West Virginia too. In McDonald’s, no less. Like, just stares, from everyone in the room.

    I wanted to jump on the table and start singing country, since they were staring so hard. Why not give them something to look at?

    Dad veto’d that idea. Alas, it was probably a good thing. :)

  9. lasheandra says:

    Glad you enjoyed Mobile, I was born and raised there. Even graduated from Spring Hill College. I lived downtown and it is definitely a great place to roam.

    Now living in NYC, but definitely miss the weather down there.

  10. SC born and raised, here. Bella, please tell me you visited Charleston; it’s like nowhere else on earth. The history, the food (OMG THE FOOD), the shopping…I love that city despite it’s history. I think that’s one thing about the South; race and history and culture are so intertwined, in this beautiful space – and not always in the ways you expect.

  11. Segregated proms? In this day and age? Thanks for posting that link, I hadn’t seen it. OY!

    The photos are gorgeous. Glad you had a nice trip.

  12. napptacular says:

    Thank you for your honest, yet uplifting account of your Southern experience. My family’s originally from South Alabama (town not on the map), and I lived in Georgia for 5 years. Yes, the history is tragic, and the blatant racism can be unnerving.

    But so is the police brutality in the streets of Los Angeles, and judges sentencing poor kids of color to prison for monetary kickbacks in Pennsylvania.

    We’re more willing to accept covert racism (up North and out West) even if it’s just as hurtful as its overt counterpart.

    With that said, the South is gorgeous, and (most of its) people extremely nice and giving. And you showed that in your poignant piece.

  13. I love living in the south! I’m from TN, and no matter what, Southerners are a proud bunch. They are also the most loving and giving people. And there are really people that sound like Paula Deen here! Y’all come back now, ya’hear?

  14. Born Jamericuban says:

    Bella, so glad you loved my home state of NC!
    Chapel Hill is a fun place, but you’ve definitely got to travel the rest of the state. :)

  15. Aaaah..Mobile..that’s where I was born and lived for quite some time before my parents moved to GA..My entire family lives there. My aunt graduated from Springhill College too. I have mixed feelings about Mobile though..it depresses me every time I go(have not been in 3 years..oh my)…It is a beautiful city(the architecture..one could swoon over for days..it reminds me of Savannah, GA, and Charleston, SC), but to me still has a strange vibe to it..nevertheless it’s great to hear that you enjoyed my original hometown!:)

  16. I went to school at UNC Chapel Hill and have been trying to get back there ever since!!! Great people, great food, great atmosphere, great drinks!!! Glad you enjoyed it!!

  17. miss t-lee says:

    Texas girl, born and raised. You should check us out when you get a chance.
    Love the blog!!

  18. NC born and raised here. A great place to grow up. If you go again, definitely check out ther big cities and some of the small towns as well. Friendly people, good food, and a slower pace that just makes you relax. :)

  19. Jennifer says:

    I am THRILLED that you made a stop in NC, specifically Chapel Hill! I just graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill a few weeks ago and am a NC native from nearby Chatham County. If i would’ve known you were road-tripping through my stomping grounds, I would have recommended some really cool thrift, vintage & antique stores, as well as great eateries that would’ve made your visit even more interesting! I’m glad you enjoyed your stay!

  20. afrobello says:

    And now that you’ve settled in Chicago, you can attend the Blogging While Brown event.

  21. I am from NC and it is a great place to live. I am also a big fan of the beautiful scenery in NC! Be sure to visit us again!!!

  22. Thank you Bella for this beautiful post. I was born in Mississippi, and I wouldn’t trade my childhood there for anything in this world. I had so much fun. Looking at those pictures took me back. Now I’m thinking about my grandmother’s cooking………

  23. Well I was born in Columbus Georgia. Left when I graduated High School and lived in Oahu for 3 years and San Antonio Tx for 2. I came back to Atlanta because all I could think about was Georgia in the Spring. I love the South not only for it’s beauty but for the geniune people as well. I have friends of every ethnic background who are loving and geniune that just enjoy a good meal and conversation. Sometimes the West coast calls me but I don’t think at this point I will go very far.

  24. Bella, that was a nice account of your travels. I am a hybrid myself: born in Germany, raised all over, high school in VA, College in Florida, lived in NYC for 10+ years and now I am in Atlanta.

    The people that I have encountered while in ATL are pretty nice. I am learning to slow down a bit from my NY pace.

    Chicago is urban but lots of people there have Southern roots so you should still get some of that Southern Hospitality.

  25. LaJane Galt says:

    I’m glad you didn’t let (somewhat understandable) ignorance deter you.

    I grew up in NC and have lived in NOLA & ATL. Our country is beautiful.

    btw the peach is in Gaffney, SC. It was always a landmark on the way to my relatives in western SC.

  26. Kristen says:

    Representing the great state of NC. Chapel Hill is fun, but when you come back, go to Glenwood South and Seaboard Station in Raleigh, Uptown Charlotte and Downtown Greensboro(as well as detour to State Street) for some fun cultural places. Thankfully, my prom was integrated and so are most that I know. I think that’s primarily a small town Georgia thing anyway

  27. Shameka says:

    I from GA born and raised! In my 28 yrs of existence, I never experienced racism. The South is a great place to live and I think everyone should let past stereotypes remain in the past.

  28. Hey you came through my State.. When you come through to see the Big Peach I live 30 mins away from that.. The south has changed some. People aren’t really making a big deal about it like in the past. In my town alone hardly anyone is dating people of the same race here. So it is common for us.
    I love myself some Mobile.. I wanted to move there once. Wintzell’s Friday nights 25 cents oysters are my fav… I am trying to remember the Jazz club I went to in Mobile..

  29. Hey…how did I leave that out of my last comment? Seconding the motion on Greensboro. It’s a fabulous city with lots of history and modernity together without a lot of the “prefab” you find in Raleigh and Chapel Hill. It’s also the home of Bennett College.

  30. “I absolutely loved it, and if I had the chance, I’d totally live there!”

    Hey Bella! I was intrigued by your comment… what was it about Chapel Hill that won you over so?

    I currently live in Detroit, but will be re-locating once I complete my doctorate. I’d love to hear from Bella’s living in Chapel Hill, Miami, Denver, San Diego, Seattle and TX.

    Oh and Bella….you will LOVE Chicago…but the winters will bring tears to your eyes!

  31. New Orleans baby! And to be frank, you’re probably safer being Black than something else here. Just saying…

  32. i'm a guest says:

    You have to visit CHARLESTON, SC!!! It’s my home and I’m telling you, it’s gorgeous and the food is yummy. Sooooo much history here, the good and the bad but you will learn and experience ALOT! If you do visit, visit the market and eat eat eat! ;)

  33. If that peach is where I think it is on I-75 in GA you drove right by my house. Well, my city at least. :0)

  34. Isabeau d'Anjou says:

    What a wonderful post. I love the idea of road trips and seeing this beautiful country via driving.

    This weekend I made the drive alone from Louisville, KY to Texas. My mother was a nervous wreck the entire time but I refused to let anything bother me. I made regular stops and just did my thing. In some of the places there were a few looks given but no one said or did anything.

    My only regret is not being able to stop for sight seeing adventures as that is safer with a side kick along.

    Love the blog!

  35. warrior11209 says:

    Just a quick note – love our travel blogs. The pic of you above definitely shows that you have been following through on your promise to get healthier . You can see that you have lost weight! Go Afrobella!!!

  36. Glad you had a good time in Mobile… (raised here and went to SHC!). I didn’t know the Peanut Shop sold mammies though. The Spot of Tea and Wintzells are musts if you wanna enjoy Mobtown.

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  1. [...] memories. This photo was taken in May, just before we moved to Chicago. I blogged about that trip here. I’m standing in my friend Forrest’s backyard in North Carolina. And I’m holding [...]

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