In the South – 1981

Snow-covered Lake Macbride on March 8, 2021.

(Editor’s Note: After finishing graduate school at the University of Iowa I made an auto trip to visit friends in Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana. South Georgia has a particular allure. I kept a travel journal and continue to be drawn there).

Journal entry written in Columbus, Georgia on May 28, 1981

Again, I’m in a fast food restaurant — McDonald’s. Something about this town draws me here. Is it the 280 bypass? All the colorful signs? The fact that I am an outsider? Well, whatever it is, I am here, drinking a cup of coffee.

Had a discussion last night with Greg and Kate about moving back to the U.S. Over in Germany we were pretty much satisfied with doing and being what we were. But not so here. As soon as the feet hit the soil here, the main concerns are with money. Instead of perceiving the culture around us for what it is, we start in worrying about maintaining an income. A dream house cannot be realized only because there is not enough money.

While I try to avoid this, I’m afraid I’ll be sucked into that drift like everybody else. But not without knowing what I’m doing, rather not without being aware of what I’m doing. (For some of the things we do we will never know).

For now, my $1.03 buys a cup of coffee and a big buttermilk biscuit with sausage, and space at this table to write these words. I’ll move on and someone else will use the table, that’s the American way. Like Lucius Quintus Carothers McCaslin said in Go Down, Moses, we act out our lives on tables put here, according to a plan designed by the unseen powers that be.

Later in a rest area near Eufaula, Alabama

If architecture is an indicator of culture, then the culture of this part of Alabama, and the South in general, is distinctive. Along the road there are many dilapidated buildings in which people live and they seem to be built in accordance with several general conventions of style. Perhaps the most common is the house that looks like this:

Journal entry, May 28, 1981

The recurrence of this pattern suggests people think a lot more alike here than they do in the North. It also suggests that people here have a quite different relationship to the mass media of communications. I believe the dilapidated nature of many of these buildings suggests that architecture is not so important to the members of this Southern society.