Southern Hospitality (July 15, 2009)

At first I found it rather unsettling. I dropped Eddie off at his office in Blythewood, SC on Monday morning, and my first stop was the Waffle House near my hotel. I was happier to see a number of these famed outlets than I care to admit. Let me let you in on a little secret: the completely citified Boop has a terrible soft spot for Southern cooking and soul food: greens, biscuits, grits, hamhocks – yum, yum! So it was I went to the famed Waffle joint, where you can still eat your fill for under $5. I indulged in smothered, covered, and capped hash browns (that is cheese, onions and mushrooms for you laymen), a bowl of cheese grits, and a glass of sweet tea. Healthy? I think not. Delicious? Si!

The high calorie count of my early lunch is not what set me at ill ease. It was the impertinent friendliness, the unwavering eye contact of everyone I encountered. I was very tired from my early morning flight, and still cantankerous after my horribly emotional weekend. I curtly returned these pleasantries and made for the door as fast as I could.

But no, it seemed the relaxed, friendly manner of the Waffle House staff was contagious. I was warmly welcomed and inquired after by the Residence Inn employees as if I were a long lost relative. “Well, I am paying them,” thought I. It’s just good customer service. Later in the day, I jumped on the gym’s treadmill only to be engaged in a lengthy chat by an elderly lady enjoying a stroll on the machine next to mine. Later that evening, Eddie and I stopped at Food Lion, a grocery store, to buy a pie. We were welcomed and requested to have a good day by people with genuine smiles, as if they actually gave a crap about their minimum wage jobs, like there’s nothing else they’d rather be doing.

It has gone on. I have been called “baby” and “child,” by chamber maids, front desk clerks, and any assortment of cheerful women. The older you get, the more you learn to love this. It was at some point yesterday that I finally grew ashamed of my own urban scowl, the way I walk speedily with my head down, not willing to be delayed in my travels from Point A to Point B. How rude and unconcerned must I have appeared to the locals during my first 36 hours here?

I am learning now to slow down, give folks a wave, actually, gasp! look them in the eye as if they were people rather than obstacles. I am still not sure I could live here year round, but I have felt a bit of human love and connection when I needed it the most. Thank you South Carolina!

As an unrelated coda to this post, and in case anyone has forgotten that Boop does more than blog about her own melodrama, I have taken out my recent bad mood (deservedly) on a hideous play I saw last Saturday:

Boop doesn’t like it when people trifle with Bill Shakespeare.


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