"If Charleston was a woman, I'd be a lesbian"


This is the comment I heard from a cashier at the mega-Whole Foods in Charleston, South Carolina. Upon leaving I picked up a paper and came across an anti-Bush column, looking up just in time to see a lesbian couple kissing. I had spent the previous day at a Savannah diner surrounded by Kerry voters. If this is the Red America I've been reading about and seeing on TV, then color me purple!

Every few years my girlfriend and I go on a suicidal voyage we like to call "Black Man, White Woman, Japanese Car in the American South." We took our first trip six months into our relationship, driving a Toyota 4Runner from Denver to Fort Lauderdale. To add spice, we took the "L-route" straight south into Texas, making a left at the 99 cent steak shop to target the panhandle. This year's journey was again from red state to red state, starting in Columbus, Ohio and again finishing in South Florida.

After the tragic events of 11/2, I expected to see nothing but Clear Channel-sponsored pro-Bush billboards and gun-rack-equipped pickups with fetus air fresheners. I even feared that the car's combustion engine would fail, since it's based on science. So I was a little more than surprised to sit back and relax at a vegan coffeeshop in one of Savannah's many squares that would have been at home equally in Berkeley or Cambridge.

Aside from one less-than-pleasant checkout clerk out our hotel, everything about the coastal South was lovely. We managed to arrange our trip (really, me tagging along my girlfriend's music tour) around music and more importantly, food, spending the most time in Savannah.

I had gotten some lodging and food advice from friends, and we had our first real meal at a homestyle dining room called, simply Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room. We walked in, and a nice hostess asked us how many people. We said two, and were placed, Japanese dining style, at a big table with a bunch of strangers.

There was a couple from Maine at the far end, two ladies from Savannah and Charleston on the right and a man from Texas in between. The waitresses didn't "take our order." They just brought gigantic bowls of food, and we are trusted to govern ourselves effectively enough to pass and not throw it. Fried chicken, corn bread, sweet potatoes and other competitors to Vioxx for heart attack were passed around in a blur as my plate disappeared beneath the mountain of edible happiness.

Then it started. A rumbling at the end of the table with the man from Texas. Apparently he used to work on Bush's Crawford, Texas ranch before it belonged to Bush and before it became a "ranch."

"It used to be a farm," said the man, "until Bush ruined it."

Oh, it was magic to my ears, but I had to be careful. Maybe this was just a Red State sting operation, hoping to smoke out the liberals. I listened further. The man explained that, contrary to popular propaganda, the "ranch" was not some long-held family land, but rather a very recent acquisition by the Bushes in an attempt to make Dubya more folksy. It used to be a real farm producing real food, but when Bush took over, it became the "ranch" and produced merely an excess of brush (requiring regular presidential clearing) and bad foreign policy.

The conversation continued with everyone expressing amazement that Bush's image makeover as a common man could succeed. I couldn't believe this conversation was happening, and I hadn't started it!

We left the restaurant shocked and awed. Could my simplistic view of an ignorant, backward, Jesusland South have been a tad bit hasty? It would seem to have been the case. Later than night, I was treated to another brainshock sitting in The Sentient Bean, a hippie style coffeeshop. I wasn't so much surprised to find a local liberal enclave, but what did catch me off guard was the presence of black people! And not just one or two or three, but like five or six! That doesn't even happen in Cambridge.

The final stereotype-breaking straw came on the form of Savannah's street layout. Savannah prides itself on its many squares, over twenty beautiful neighborhood parks in the downtown area. We've got squares in Boston too, but there's nothing square about them. They're simply intersections. Harvard Square? Nope. Harvard Intersection. If two roads come together, people up here think it's ok to call that a square. Not in Savannah! They actually build a square in the center of an intersection about a block long and wide. Then they plant trees and build fountains and benches in the space created. That's a square dammit!!!

How did the liberal, college-infested, Northeast cede geometry supremacy to Savannah, Georgia? That's just one of several key questions raised by my recent journey.

I know there are a lot of people depressed about Dubya's victory, and some of you are dusting off your passports with visions of Canada's healthcare system dancing in your heads this holiday season. But your great escape might simply require an EZ-Pass to Georgia or South Carolina.

There's hope for America after all.