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Tag: southern

I can’t drive 2.5

It’s one of the things you do when you’re in Winston-Salem. You see the giant coffee pot. You eat some Krispy Kreme Donuts. You take a picture of the big downtown building that looks like a penis. And you stroll around Old Salem, or in our case – given a mom that doesn’t get around like she used to and a still gimpy dog – you drive.

Since we were at the Moravian Graveyard, or God’s Acre, anyway — to place some flowers on the grave of a great aunt — Ace, mom and I decided to cruise around Old Salem, a restored Moravian settlement that, like a smaller scale Williamsburg, features old-time craftsmen and shops staffed by people in period garb.

Before Winston and Salem became one (in 1913), there was Salem to the south and Winston to the north. After the merger Winston-Salem became, for a while, the most populous city in the state, and enjoyed a major boom powered by tobacco and textiles.

In some ways, it’s still bustling; in some ways it’s sleepy. Its tobacco-based economy has given way, ironically enough, to a health-care based one. Hospitals, it sometime seems, are taking over the town. There’s a thriving arts scene. Still, overall, the pace is slow.

Even though I knew that, even though Old Salem is a pedestrian experience — and I mean that in terms of people walking — I was surprised to see the speed limit that was posted in Old Salem: 2.5 miles per hour.

I’d never seen a speed limit that low, and when I tried to drive 2.5, it was nearly impossible. It’s just a smidge, or a skosh, above being motionless. But, laws being laws, I did my best, creeping along like a snail in my red jeep, traffic gathering behind me, mother beside me and Ace in the back seat wondering, I’d guess, “What is this? Are we stopping or not?”

As we crept along, my mother showed me the house my sister born in, and, nearby, the building at Salem College where she worked in the public relations department. As we left, I insisted on pulling over to take a picture of the speed limit sign, for by then – even though I’m all for playing it safe and slowing down in life — I’d concluded that the the 2.5 mile speed limit was one of the most ridiculous things ever.

It was only then, through the lens of my camera, that I realized the speed limit wasn’t 2.5; it was 25, the dot between the 2 and the 5 being the bolt that affixed the sign to its post.

By that time, I needed a strong cup of coffee, for driving 2.5 makes one sleepy at an amazing speed.

I settled for the coffee pot, just a couple of blocks away and one of  Winston-Salem’s best-known landmarks.

The coffee pot is 12 feet high, 16 feet in circumference and was made by tinsmith Julius Mickey in 1858. In the town then known as Salem, Mickey opened a grocery store and, in its loft, a tinsmith shop.

The tin shop turned out to fare far better than the grocery. It was the source of cups, plates, pots, pans, coffee and tea pots, buckets and lanterns and more — items in such demand that a second tinsmith opened just down the street.

To distinguish his shop from it, Mickey built, of tin, an enormous coffee pot, large enough, it is said, to hold 740 gallons of coffee. He placed it on a wooden post in front of his shop on the side of the street -– in a way that it actually extended into the street. Over time it became banged up by horse-drawn buggies that bumped it.

By the time Mickey sold his shop to another tinsmith, L. B. Brickenstein, the pot was considered both a town symbol and a nuisance.

In 1920, a horse and buggy driver struck the pot, knocking it off its wooden post. According to a 1966 article on the coffee pot’s history, published in the Winston-Salem Journal, the pot landed across the sidewalk, and just missed hitting a woman and child who were walking by.

The Winston-Salem board of alderman – the two towns having become one by then — ruled that the pot was a traffic hazard and a violation of a town ordinance regulating advertising signs. The board ordered it taken down. It was stored, but only briefly. After an outcry from those who saw it as an important landmark, it was put back up — just a little further away from the street.

In 1924, the Vogler family bought the old shop, and decided to leave the coffee pot standing, even if it didn’t exactly go with their expanding business – a funeral home.

In the 1950′s progress dictated — and progress does have a way of dictating —  that the pot must go. Interstate 40 was coming through town, and the route went right through where the coffee pot stood.  Suggestions that the highway be rerouted to skirt the pot were overruled.

Instead, the coffee pot was removed from its location at Belews and Main Street and, early in 1959, relocated to an expanse of grass at the point where the Old Salem bypass enters Main Street.

Coffee pot lore is abundant, some of it possibly even true. One legend has it that the pot served as a mail drop for spies during the Revolutionary War – a little hard to swallow considering it wasn’t built until 1858.

Still percolating as well are accounts that, during the Civil War, the coffee pot, which does have a trap door built into it, once hid a Yankee soldier (caffeinated version), or a Confederate soldier (decaffeinated version).

People do move slower in the south, and I think that’s a good thing.

In my travels with Ace, I’ve found that decreasing one’s pace, avoiding a schedule, allows one to see more, hear more, experience more, meet people more, and make fewer misteaks. (If you didn’t catch that, you’re reading too fast.)

Maybe I’m getting old, or maybe I’m getting southern, but I think we’d all be well served by not trying to do everything so fast — even if it does cut into the profit margin. We’d be better off — and I’d bet the average tinsmith agrees –  to do our jobs more slowly and carefully, not to mention walk a little slower, talk a little slower, eat our Krispy Kreme donuts a little slower, even drive a little slower.

I’d highly recommend it — just not 2.5 mph.

That Waffle House ambience

Being on the road with a dog, there aren’t that many opportunities for a sit down meal, or at least a leisurely sit down inside a restaurant meal — meaning I, in my travels below the Mason-Dixon Line, have been missing out on that southern culinary and cultural delight: The Waffle House.

The Waffle House is one of my favorite places on earth. I love to sit on a stool at the counter and watch the short order cook in action. I love the way the waitresses shout out the orders. I love to watch the waffle iron overflow, see the eggs sizzle on the grill, and eavesdrop on conversations about the days events, spoken in southern accents thick as maple syrup.

On this trip with Ace, in the middle of the summer, the chances to savor a Waffle House experience have been non-existent. It has been way to hot to leave a dog in a car for any length of time.

But the other morning, the coolest one in a long time, I pulled into a Waffle House — they are, after all, at nearly every exit down south, still more prevalent than Starbucks. I found a parking space in partial shade, popped the back window open, and let Ace watch me (and I him) as I sat at a stool and downed a waffle and some orange juice.

I needed my Waffle House fix. It only took 15 minutes. Don’t hate me.

It’s not just the food, which comes fast, costs little and tastes good; it’s the Waffle House ambience. It’s knowing, soon as you walk in, four or five employees are going to shout out a hello. Your waitress is going to call you hon’, or perhaps darlin’. And chances are there will be a good conversation going on at the counter. Something about sitting at a counter, even if there’s not a bartender on the other side, sparks open discussion, group conversations. Counters — and they’ve been declining since the demise of the drug store soda shop — have a way of making us realize, as we sit elbow to elbow, that we’re all in this together.

So I always choose the counter.

At this particular Waffle House in Virginia, the conversation was about daytime TV talk show host Wendy Williams. It began when someone said “How you doin’?” Then everybody started saying “How you doin’?” Apparently it is Wendy Williams signature phrase, though some thought she stole it from Joey on “Friends.” Others thought Wendy Williams looked a lot like a man, which of course led to giggles and more debate.

(I didn’t say that discussions were of vital importance, just that they occur.)

(Tip to young reporters: Waffle Houses are a great place to get, in addition to waffles, quotes — better than bars because people are generally sober, unless you’re there late at night; better, too, than the “man on the street,” because the man on the street is generally headed somewhere and doesn’t have time for you. It’s easy to walk in, take a seat — at the counter of course — and get a conversation started on the subject you’re reporting on. I long ago opened a story on a proposal in South Carolina to castrate convicted rapists with a Waffle House exchange.)

The Waffle House got its start in the mid-1950′s when neighbors Joe Rogers, who worked for the Toddle House, and Tom Forkner, in the real estate business, decided to start a business of their own. On Labor Day 1955, they opened the first Waffle House in Avondale Estates, an Atlanta suburb. The chain grew to 401 restaurants by the end of the 1970′s, 672 by the end of the 1980′s, 1,228 by the end of the 1990′s. By 2006, Waffle House Inc., operated more than 1,500 restaurants in 25 states.

At the Waffle House you can get your grits. You can get your hash brown potatoes “Scattered, Smothered and Covered.” You can get “Cheese n’ Egg”s or “Egg and Cheese,” which are two different things, I learned a few years back.

Seeking scrambled eggs with cheese, I placed my order: “I’ll have the cheese and eggs,”

“The Cheese n’ Eggs, or the Egg and Cheese?” the waitress asked. As I was silently pondering what the difference might be — trying to figure out just what I was missing – she explained that the Egg and Cheese is a sandwich.

Waffle Houses –  they’re all always open and they all have individual jukeboxes in the booths, but not so loud as to drown out the conversation — are not exclusive to the south, but, like kudzu, that’s where they’ve spread the most.

If you’ve never experienced one, you should. Sit at the counter. Join the conversation. Have a waffle, and maybe some eggs and cheese. Or was that cheese and eggs?

Prof advises Obama to get southern dog

A psychology professor in North Carolina has advised President Obama to look south for a First Dog — they’re friendlier, more abundant and make better pets, he says.

Hal Herzog, in an opinion piece in yesterday’s Washington Post, makes a couple of good points — and a couple with which we disagree. Chief among them is that the north, because of aggressive spay-neuter campaigns, has been left with a shortage of adoptable dogs.

“… The rush to pluck the reproductive organs from every household pet in America has been so successful that we may be running out of dogs,” he writes. ” … The more successful a region’s efforts are at controlling pet overpopulation, the more aggressive — and less adoptable — the dogs in their local animal shelter tend to be.”

As a result, he says, in the south — where spaying and neutering have been pursued less wholeheartedly and where shelter dogs are less likely to have rubbed elbows with nasty urban pit bulls — dogs are likely to be friendlier.

We disagree. Southern dogs aren’t any friendlier than northern dogs. Southern people? Maybe (Disclaimer: I’m from North Carolina). But not southern dogs.

For one thing, dogs in the south are certainly not any less likely to have been abused or neglected. And dogfighting operations are certainly not a northern phenomenon, nor strictly an urban one — as the cases of both Michael Vick, of Virginia, and Ed Faron, of North Carolina, attest.

Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C., is a nice guy (I interviewed him a while back) who knows his stuff – his stuff being societal attitudes and behavior toward animals.  

He’s correct in pointing out there is a greater supply of shelter dogs in the south, and a greater demand for them in north — and that there is an informal pipeline in operation, shuttling southern dogs north. He notes that the animal rescue group in his rural North Carolina county ships 200 dogs a year to shelters in Connecticut, and that, since 2004, the Rescue Waggin’ program operated by PetSmart has transported 20,000 abandoned dogs from states such as Tennessee and Kentucky to places, mostly northern, where they are snapped up by grateful owners.

But to proclaim that southern dogs are, like southern iced tea, sweeter is a leap — one that disregards why so many of them end up in shelters there in the first place and ignores why shelters and rescue groups up north accept them. It’s largely because they know what will happen to them if they don’t. No kill/low kill shelters are less prevalent in the south.

And to suggest that there might be a shortage of adoptable dogs, anywhere, is off the mark, especially since the economy’s recent downturn. As he points out, there were 24 million dogs and cats put to death in animal shelters in the United States in 1970. By 2007, the number had fallen to 4 million.

Four million is still a whole lot of dogs.

(Photo from mooncostumes.com)

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