Day 6: Breakfast in Americus; Motorcycle Kills Bear

Easily as memorable as Kurt Vonnegut’s American breakfast. But first I ate peanuts in Plains.

The Western Dixie Highway leads MS to the cradle of the 39th President in Plains, a few miles outside of the DH town of Americus. Even that is no reason to pay tribute to DH on the way to Plains, in Plains itself or inside the Plains Jimmy Carter Museum located in his former high school building – where he met his then and now wife.
Walking into the museum’s first exhibition room makes me step backwards right away. Eye-to-eye I am with the couple. It takes to seconds to sink in that I am facing a life-size carton version portraying them as they are in their true age of today. In-person Southern hospitality it is, welcoming the museum’s early morning only visitor. The guard on duty starts a movie on the life of Jimmy. Growing up miles out in the fields, Plains to him was the city and exciting to go to. Actually Plains proper was and is little more than one intersection and a railroad depot. As a relief it comes, seeing the documentary all myself in the big former school auditorium. No jubilant glorification. Acknowledgment of successes and failures alike. A down-to-earth narrative about a country boy becoming the world’s leader without actually turning into the prototypical American president who sees himself in the mirror dressed in emperor’s clothing. The contrast with the stand-offish arrogant W establishment can’t be bigger. I understand why BO is capable of bringing millions of politically tuned-out (young) Americans back to the voting booth.
Unforgettable the footage of all of Plains scraping money together to rent a train to bring all the President’s town (wo)men to the inauguration. The neighbor who gets on the phone to Jimmy to tell him to hurry up because the train is leaving. The forgotten backbone of the US coming into the open. And taking leave with grace. ‘When he came home after his defeat, it rained for the first time of the many times he visited Plains during his Presidency; even the skies were weeping’, the radio voice comments with the image of a packed old Main Street with should-to-shoulder colored umbrellas.
Granny’s Kitchen serves breakfast. Old name sign withered away by rain, wind and sunshine, barely readable. Inside the friendly folks who may well have been on that train. ‘You want grits to go with it?’ the waitress asks. The stranger has no idea what she is offering to bring. Dumb question: ‘What is grits?’ Patiently and curious she explains: corn grinded and stone-milled for the right texture. Was that good!
The owner, about 60, about as deaf as my 92-year old mother, gets even as to questioning. “Holland, what do you speak out there, English?” And: “You joined Germany, isn’t it’? Explain we speak Dutch and that we most certainly refused to join Germany but that we are close. So he concludes: “I was probably in Holland, then, Germany is a nice country”. The ceremony ends with signing the guest book in my handwriting. “Now let me see that I can read this”, he says. I read what I wrote. He rewrites it in his block-letters. Very German.
“On I 95, riding her motorcycle my church friend of about 60, she hit a bear. The bear lost, was killed. She was injured. It came already as a shock to me to learn that she was a member of a women’s motorcycle club” says the lady of an elderly couple at the table next to me and about to leave. Asked the usual starting question: where you from and where you headed? brings the couple back to when they first met. Gainesville. “We met in Gainesville in 1948 when the university turned co-ed”, she continues, “I was very fortunate, there were 600 girls and 1100 boys. I got to go to a lot of fraternities”. Looking at him, I can’t possibly imagine why she chose him, then, to be married to now already for 56 years.
The road today leads MS by a series of prisons. The first a memorial for a Civil War detaining camp for 6.000+ prisoners enclosed in a wide open field and dying there like rats because of all the usual diseases. Hillside graveyards full of white tombstones. soldiers from all states, amids large monumental structures erected by individual states much later to honor the deaths.
I just passed a brand new billboard. ‘Join now the Sons of the Confederate Veterans’ – I remember the meeting with the likes in Tennessee a few days ago. Now in Georgia. Somehow I feel that the Civil War never really ended, here in the South, just a truce.

Modern state and county prisons follow the same principles as medieval castles. Perched on top of hills, all surrounding fields cleared of trees for free view and shooting from the watchtowers that have an uneasy resemblance to those around the German concentration camps. So do the multi-layer barbed-wire fences. The US. The country in the world with the most prisoners anyway you calculate it. More than 2.000.000, twice the total population of Greater Amsterdam. Something is not right.
Just a few days ago, Winchester Tennessee, downtown square with old courthouse, sipping coffee with Chuck at outside cafe. He points toward a big van: prisoners’ van, he says. Doors of Courthouse open, out comes a group of kids dressed in orange piyama-style clothing like Baghwan, except they are handcuffed. Overweight guards around them. The kids are late teens, early twenties at best. White middle-class They dance more than they walk, chat, smile, a happy group. On their way to the prison. What could they have done to deserve this? Smoke a joint, had a beer under age or in a dry county? Simply being young? Going to jail for that? Maybe that is what is not right.
Gas stations rarely fail to solicit unexpected conversations.

* Attendant: “Nice navigation system you have there”. He refers to the map I have on my tank in a transparent map holder. “Here take these, they must be good, made in China, everything is made in China these days” Hands me several wipe-off towels designed to get the bugs off bike and helmet.

* Customer, normal size male with Harley Davidson T-shirt. “All the way from Indiana on that thing?” I think I noticed a slight movement in MS’s rear wheel about to kick him flat KO.

* Welcome to Florida, the Sunshine State. On my way to Tallahassee. First rain on the trip gets me quite wet. Shelter in a Tallahassee downtown cafe, cappuccino, $4,29. Hand waiter $10 bill. “Need any change? he asks. I must have come to another America than I just spent a few marvelous days in.
PS. – follow 2 days of R&R in Gainesville with a longtime early seventies Bloomington friend. If anyone wants to write a psycho-analytical dissertation on cats, she has 2 subjects for you.

Comments Off

Comments are closed at this time.