I love the South. One of my favorite things about life below the Mason-Dixon line is the abundance of good manners. People say “ma’am.” Strangers smile at each other and pass the time of day. Nearly anyone will cheerfully give you directions or offer you a sweet tea.
This is a pleasant change from my current home in New England, where moods tend to match the winter weather (frigid) and fellow pedestrians regularly ignore my enthusiastic “good morning!” even when I say it with eye contact and a smile. And I know they can hear me.
But my southern comfort was shattered on a recent vacation in North Carolina. I was enjoying (suffering through) my morning jog on a road near the beach when my running playlist was interrupted by an unwelcome “Whoooo-hoo!”
It came from a scuzzy man in a scuzzy truck (isn’t it always a truck?) towing a scuzzy trailer. The only thing missing from this picture was a confederate flag and a pair of rubber testicles dangling from the trailer hitch. If you haven’t ever seen these, you haven’t spent enough time in the South (true, this kind of automotive decoration doesn’t seem consistent with gracious manners – it’s one of life’s great contradictions).
Before I could register what had just happened, the greasy-haired perpetrator had sped past me. I only caught a fleeting glimpse of his skinny, shirtless torso withdrawing back inside the truck’s cab. I choked on the exhaust and gathered my wits about me.
What to say?
At this point I would be saying it only to myself, but I spent the rest of my run in an indignant huff. I prepared for the dreaded possibility that the truck might turn around and pass me by again. Here’s what I wanted to reply:
“What is wrong with you? Can’t you see I’m a forty-something mother of teenagers? Speaking of mothers, what would yours think if she could see you right now? The poor woman would surely die of embarrassment, Bless Her Heart. Aren’t you supposed to be on your way to work? I’m sure your boss will be delighted to know you’re making rude overtures to strange women while driving around in a truck with the company logo on it. I will write a scathing Yelp review of your landscaping company, and women everywhere will boycott them. They will go out of business and good luck finding employment, you obnoxious prick. Thanks a ton for spoiling my morning and making me feel like I want to crawl into a hole. Seriously, what is wrong with you? Who behaves this way?”
In truth, plenty of people behave this way. I’ve been jogging since I was about 16 years old and have been honked, hollered, and jeered at more times than I can count. But it’s never happened in New England.
I’m not saying my current neighborhood is more civilized or better mannered than anywhere else. More likely, the taboo against speaking to strangers, even in objectionable ways, is strong as granite. Also possible: it’s usually just too damn cold to roll down the windows of a moving vehicle.
I still love the South. I’ll go back, even to North Carolina, because the ocean is warmer, the sun is hotter, and the real estate is cheaper than here in New England. But next time I go running, I’ll remember to watch out for pickup trucks. And if I see that jerk again, I will have something to say.
PS: This will probably be the only time I link to Playboy content from my blog, but they published a pretty helpful guide for their catcalling-inclined readers. Check it out: CatCall Flowchart