The Carpet Bagger's Journal — moving from NYC to Mississippi

March 11, 2015

The Catastrophic, Horrible, Atrocious Blizzard of Lafayette County of 2015 — or How the South Really Freaks Out When It Snows

When tornadoes happen in the South, my students remain stoic throughout.  One day, there were five tornado warning sirens at the University of Mississippi, and each time, I cowered in fear, but my Southern students asked to work through class even though I wanted to hide under the desk.  Southerners are brave where I see the finger of God in the form of a funnel cloud squashing us all like sinful bugs.  I respect them in such moments.

But God forbid a half an inch of ice forms anywhere.  The Confederacy loses its mind.

Yankee progressives like me shake their heads when Southern politicians deny global warming by bringing a snowball into the Capitol Building, as one man did earlier this year.  However, this is not the only form of political climate denial going on down South. While this winter was harder for every part of the country than usual, every year in Mississippi and Alabama, there are some days where ice covers the roads.  This is an annual phenomenon, almost without exception.  But the Southerners, who hate taxes, refuse to pay for municipal salt trucks and snow plows because they are in denial about their annual necessity if businesses and schools are to stay open.  I won’t insult Southerners by suggesting that they deliberately do this to get more days off. I don’t think Southerners are lazy, even though I have never seen a New York minute down here.  It’s perhaps that snow is too scary, like the volcanic ash of Pompeii, to contemplate ahead of time.

And maybe my ice skating lessons as a child pay off annually, but it’s like Southerners have never learned to balance on their feet on a slippery surface, even though pageant hopefuls teeter on vertiginous heels, and boys who attend football camp learn to weave between defensive linemen while cradling a ball.  They fall down easily. They don’t know how to steer cars in snow, either.  It’s too scary to correct when the surface is even a little slick.

So this year, the South canceled a week of school and shut businesses, too, for ice that could have been salted away, for snow that might have been plowed. Everybody built a snowman. One guy in my neighborhood got arrested because he knocked down a bunch of snowmen with his truck.  It might have also have had something to do with his level of intoxication, but I prefer to consider this an ineffectual application of antifreeze to the circumstances, a well-intentioned but flawed plan to find a practical solution to the frigid times.  At least he wasn’t cowering in a corner.

I find the Southerners are able to laugh at their comparative ineptitude in this climate. There are cute videos online about the excessive panic that ensues when it freezes over, but the South isn’t Hell freezing over.  It’s not even a form of purgatory. There isn’t anything to fear but fear itself, I say, but the South seems to reason, knowing I am quoting that New Dealer FDR, that such a remark must be untrustworthy. There are no salt trucks planned for next year. That would be socialism.

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January 24, 2010

America’s hidden autobahn

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune—I myself am good fortune;
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Strong and content, I travel the open road. — Walt Whitman, from “Song of the Open Road”

America has a secret, all you New York commuters, carefully finding a place in stop and go traffic.  That secret is the joy of a two-lane highway with nothing behind and nothing in front.

I discovered Whitman’s open road in Alabama on my way to Vicksburg — one lane going my way, no smoky to my bandit, and I drove for hours at 85 MPH on an absolutely empty straight shot toward my destination.  I might have hit a possum in my haste, had I hit anything, but in fact I hit nothing.  Not even a leaf was taken  out of its path in the wind by my one-lane drag race with myself.

New Yorkers don’t really believe this American possibility — good, empty road with nothing in our way, not even in rush hour, but I promise you in the deep South, tax dollars have built solid highways where there are no blizzards and no mass commutes.

They are a joy — roads with speed minimums.

However, I discovered a darker aspect of the lovely isolation of these paths last Wednesday night.

I was on my way home — three hours from one place to another, with nothing in between — and it was dark, a dark New Yorkers have never experienced on the road.  The emergency broadcast system interrupted my Mississippi Public Radio “All things Considered” listening.

This was not a test.

I was in an area where I was in danger of golf-ball sized hail hitting and shattering my windshield, tornadoes — As a New Yorker, I have every strategem under my belt about avoiding potential muggers, but tornadoes?  What does a gal in designer shoes do with that kind of danger? — and a definite promise of a severe lighting storm destined to fell trees and wreak havoc, let loose the dogs of war.

If I had been hit by a tree or some golf-ball ice, nothing would have heard me scream before I  died.

Undestand that on this stretch of road, the only settlement of humanity I saw was a bunch of RVs amid the pines hung all of them with the Confederate Flag — yes, I thought it was a KKK compound (Kompound?), too.  Honestly, if they were parked in this mess, they were in more trouble than I was on my way home, now slowed to 50 MPH, despite all emptiness, because I couldn’t see in front of me or behind me except when the sky lit up with dracula-movie lightnihg, only there was no Transylvanian castle in which to spend the night.

I prayed loudly to myself as I drove for the next hour and a half home.  The emergency broadcast system interrupted me several more times to let me know the many ways I might just die right now or in a few minutes,  but I pushed forward, really having no better alternative than to outrun the storm such as I could.

On a clear day, Whitman’s open road is the American dream. There is nothing in one’s way.   As he says, I myself am good fortune on these roads.  However, after some warning signals and dire computerized-voice cautionings, I am my own malediction on this road in stormy weather.

The German’s autobahn links large populations together, and they collectively speed between them.

Our highways with no hindrances are between little places, clusters of humanity nestled together between places, were you to fly over them at night, enveloped in unrelenting shadow.

America is its roadways. The dream is a clear shot wherever we’re headed, but forget about rescue in a time of extraordinary adversity.  Rescue will come too late to save us, unless it descends from God.

I thank God for my safe return home, where my new husband poured me a  glass of Jack and covered me with a blanket.  I was weeping.

I’m looking forward, however, to my next foray on that highway.  The weather report predicts promising clarity.

I am an American, after all.

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