Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Southern Road Trip


I love Asheville! the drunk girl from Ohio told me. It's so diverse! And I looked around, and I saw: white people in dreadlocks, white people with pieces of twine in their hair, white people with dirty unwashed greasy hair - all I saw, wherever I looked, were Caucasians who didn't know how to comb their hair. I saw them in the bar, trying to dance. I saw them in the park, banging on drums and doing that arms-akimbo look at me I'm free! dance. I looked for the other queers, because Asheville is supposed to be an alternative gay destination. If they were there they blended in quite well. It wasn't any kind of diversity I recognized.


This was a different Applachia than what I saw when I volunteered with the Church. Tom picked me up and we through the Blue Ridge Mountains on our way to Atlanta. The mountains were gorgeous, and the towns were a decent mix of hillbilly kitsch, tourist draws, and native beauty. It was a far cry from the soul-crushing poverty I saw in eastern Kentucky.

Tom and Wes

I missed getting a pic of them together. Too bad. They are handsome as all hell, successful at their careers, and have a house and pool in the nice part of town. It was all enough to make me want to curl up in the corner and suck my thumb. I got over it, and I had a fun time with them.


I was half-hoping that Atlanta would turn out to be my fantasy town. No such luck. It was nice enough, but the segregation and the car-dependency would stop me from moving there. There were some good sites for tourists - the Cyclorama is interesting, and the Aquarium has some excellent exhibits. I liked the people we met. The Beltline is a planner's dream project. But overall I don't think I could make the move. I can fight segregation. Fighting cars is harder.

The Food

Yikes. I was looking forward to some soul food. Didn't really find it. The first night we stopped at Cowtippers. I had a meatloaf sandwhich. They served in on white bread with Heinz ketchup and mustard. I've had hotdogs with more soul. Day 2 we went to Whole Foods, and the spread looked damn good. I chose chicken pot pie, field beans, collards, & grilled corn with lime butter. I was salivating by the time I sat down. Too bad the food turned out to be inedible. We went to Daddy Z's for barbecue, and it looked authentic and I loved the vibe but ... I like my mom's pulled pork better. We cooked at home, and Tom made fried green tomatoes that were pretty awesome. We finally scored the last day at Agnes & Muriel's, a retro 50's diner that should be on everyone's shortlist of places to try in Atlanta.

The Men

I need to caveat this: My big night out was a Wednesday, and this was after the Labor Day weekend. I'm sure I saw a twisted version of Atlanta after dark. The kind of guys I like would have played hard on the weekend, but been back to work and behaving [from being too tired to misbehave, I'm sure, but the outcome is the same]. That left Wednesday to those who worked on the weekend, those who had friends in town, and those inclined to tragedy. The tweaked and the tragic outnumbered the others 99:1. From the masseur who went into a g-hole [that's a drug overdose, ma] in the middle of my massage to the fat man who bear hugged me in the leather bar and wouldn't let me go, I met 'em all, and they were all fat and all on GHB [except for Brad, who I lost track of around 4am]. It was not pretty. Glad I did it. Won't do it again.

Now to be fair, I met some of Tom and Wes's friends and they were great. We climbed Stone Mountain one evening to watch the sun set and the moon rise, and the guys were smart and funny and kinda handsome. They told me Atlanta was known for it's sports groups - gay hikers and kayakers and river rafters and tennis teams and the rest. That all sounds pretty cool. They were all obviously hiding from me Wednesday night.


This is the most segregated place I've seen outside of New Orleans. There was the standard physical segregation - poor blacks lived in the Fourth Ward, middle class white in Morningside, service workers are always black [I'm not sure where poor whites work], and no one could tell me the name of the middle class and black neighborhoods. And I'm sure they have them - Atlanta is well known for it's black upper class. In my fantasy world all the workers at McDonald's in their 'hoods are white.

But it was the psychic segregation that frustrated me the most. White and black follow a script in the South. It's morning baby and how're you doing and here are your ribs sugar and it all sounds pretty but it's all pre-scripted and no one varies from it. Even at the bars you got the sense that mixed couples were acting out some Mandingo fantasy rather than actually connecting. I didn't feel any real communication between the peoples. There's a wall there. Most white guys I asked didn't understand what I was talking about. I finally cornered a brother on the dancefloor [he had rescued me from the bear earlier in the night] and asked him wtf was going on. And he said it was like this - you reach a point where you get tired of being rejected and snubbed for being black, and so you put up an automatic wall around white folk - and in time it becomes second nature.


I took the night train to DC, hoping for an adventure. It was. Amtrak in the south is primarily for poor and working whites and blacks. One of the amazing things was that the psychic segregation that existed in Atlanta at large was entirely absent inside the station. I met a host of great characters. It was like wandering through a Faulkner novel. It felt good, until I realized the reason for this new equality. I had joined them in their oppression, because many - not all, maybe only half - Amtrak employees in the South treat riders like shit. We were all on the back of the bus together.

We were yelled at, snapped at, and lectured. It started to feel downright abusive. And then midnight came, the lights went down, and they pumped all the heat out of the car. I don't know how they did it, but it was freezing inside there. Most folks knew to bring blankets, but I had no idea. I shivered for awhile before my seatmate - a musician from Tennessee on his way to New York City to help cut a record - offered me his sweater to use as a blanket. Later he started shivering too, so I passed it back. It could have gone brokeback, but my ambien kicked in and the moment passed.


I arrived in DC with swollen glands, a low grade fever, and gas. I wasn't feeling so pretty for my last chance at American men. M. picked me up at the airport, and it was nice hanging and cruising with him again after so many years apart.

I'd forgotten how monumental the architecture of DC was. It was really quite incredible. And I didn't realize how extensive the yuppie areas were. We didn't see a single ghetto! Either they cleaned it up, or moved it, or something, because I remember living in a very dangerous city back when Reagan was president. And I certainly had never noticed how incredibly gay it was. There were preppy little boys holding hands all over the place.

So we hung out, ate a lot, drank too much, and explored Roosevelt Island, Georgetown, and Adam's Morgan. It was all good, though I was drained the entire time thanks to Amtraks hellacious midnight train from Georgia. Still managed to stay up until 6am Sunday morning, now - I only get so much vacation time, and I wasn't about to let some silly fever keep me down.

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