An Apology to the Entire South
But just before the last Moth Storytelling Slam at the Nuyorican Cafe, I arrived early and had an hour to kill. So I wandered in the neighborhood and found a restaurant called Mama's Cafe. And without even thinking it consciously, I felt---as if in my soul---"I hope they have Southern cooking." And along with that thought came an anticipation of comfort and warmth that I rarely actually associate with food. (I grew up with a mom who didn't always cook so well, bless her heart.) And they DID! Fried chicken. Mashed potatoes. Collard greens. All the staples! It struck me then---and maybe I mentioned this earlier---that Southern cooking is better even than Mexican food in terms of good taste at low prices. (At least for me; I have low spice tolerance.)
Then just two days ago I found myself standing in a crowded subway train next to a lovely woman named Pamela who had just come from her first day of her new job in New York. She was from a small town in northern Alabama (and it's hard to tell who gets slammed more in comedy sketches---Alabama or Arkansas---but this definitely makes her ground zero for most southern jokes) and she was chatting volubly and unselfconsciously with everyone around her. "My goodness," she said. "Everyone's been so nice! And fortunately I live up in Harlem so I've already found a restaurant that has the best cornbread!" Everyone around her was smiling, which is the first time I've seen anything like that in New York when there wasn't a nearby performance or embarrassing injury. It struck me then that as much as I love New Yorkers, there really is a kind of courageous naivete and goodwill that---while it is, of course, sprinkled throughout the human population everywhere---I really haven't found in large amounts in anyplace except the South.
So let me hereby apologize for the mean things I said about the South before. Evidently I hadn't had enough time to miss it then. Now, occasionally, I do.
(Important clarification: to me "The South" is Tallahassee and parts of Atlanta. Once when I marveled aloud in class about how nice everyone was in Tallahassee, every one of my students agreed---and a quarter of them were from small southern towns that---judging from their essays---were apparently quite unfriendly.)