As you probably know, a buddy and I drove 2,000 miles to the South Carolina game and back, spending time in eight SEC cities (10 if you count Atlanta and Birmingham) along the way. And as you probably assumed, I wrote about it.
One experiences the same thing visiting the South, really. There is an elephant for every room, no matter your politics, but you can enjoy yourself considerably if you can simply enjoy the reality that is being presented to you and acknowledge that for every person with a makeup of which you don't approve, there are plenty just like you; they partake in the happy parts of this region, acknowledge the bad (every person defines "the bad" differently, but no matter your definition of it, there is plenty here), live their lives, and look forward to the next football game. The hospitality is second to none, the food is tremendous, and the obsession with football warms this heart. But to enjoy yourself, at least if you are a bleeding heart like I am, you have to have tunnel vision. Ignore the billboards. The Dixie flags. The bumper stickers. Focus on the food and football, ignore the elephants, and you can't go wrong.
In parts of five days this past week, my buddy Walsh and I rolled through Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky (along with southern Indiana and southern Illinois, for good measure). The concept of an SEC Crash Course, of a four-day South immersion, was incredibly successful -- we ate ribs in Memphis, did a lap around the Grove, bought cowbells in Starkville, toured the Bryant Museum, ate at Dreamland and the Waysider, got initiated by dreadful Highway 280 in Birmingham, perused the tailgating setups in Athens, weathered the "Sandstorm" in Columbia (SC), sneaked into Neyland Stadium, got sneaked onto Dudley Field in Nashville, and had beer and pork chops in the Belcourt area between Vanderbilt and Belmont University. Because of traffic, time, etc., we didn't make it everywhere, but you have to save something for the sequel, right?
By any indication, this was a lovely trip, to the extent that we were already planning next year's trip on the way home. But we also learned that the South is no less complicated than you would imagine. The smiles are genuine, and the eyes are unsure. The intentions are true, and the reality is off-center.