What I love about The South—the northern South, to be clear.
1. Sides. Sides are the best dining idea ever! In Pacific Northwest parlance, you choose your protein—fried catfish, meatloaf, pork chops—and then two or three sides, which range from reasonably healthy, like collard greens or pickled beets, to deep fried okra or sweet potato French fries. Mac and cheese is a side. You can also just order sides if you are not too hungry. Sides allow you to customize your dinner perfectly. And southerners have way more choice than other parts of the country. If the Lusty Bun diner ever existed, it would have southern sides.
2. Iced tea. It comes in big red plastic glasses, semi-transparent. You can get it sweet or un, or, the best, half and half. With lemon. And the waitress calls you honey when she serves it. It’s not strongly caffeinated, so it is safe to drink until afternoon.
3. Night. Summer nights wrap around you, warm and humid. Moths fly into your tea if you leave it untended. Insects call. Fireflies float through the air. If it’s been hot, it cools down a bit. The air smells, too. Of river, or trees, or skunks or rain… Night makes up for the bake-y heat of the car when it has been sitting in the parking lot too long.
4. Voices. Southern voices are slower, more calm, than northern voices.
5. Time. Maybe it’s just Kingsport, where Mark is from, but Eastern Tennessee seems like a step back in time. I’m not sure exactly when, but at least to 1975. Sometimes earlier. The buildings, the signs, the interiors, even some of the smells…they all remind me of my childhood. Objects that would have been replaced ten or more years ago in Oregon are still around, still being used. It is haunting.