It was a long journey, 7,000 miles in six and a half weeks. I had been granted a sabbatical and the ensuing time afforded my wife and I the opportunity to visit places we’d never been before. Wherever we traversed, our Tennessee license plates proclaimed we were southerners. It afforded us some interesting looks and exchanges.
Don’t tell me you haven’t done a double take yourself when a car with Alaskan plates passes you by on the highway. It’s then you stare intently wondering if the driver has a round Eskimo face and wears baby seal themed clothes as he blissfully chews on dehydrated whale blubber he brought from home. I imagine the Alaskan driver likewise looked at us and wondered why my wife wasn’t in a rocking chair on the roof with our pet pot belly pig on the front seat looking out.
Why is it when we meet people for the first time, we want to label them like cans of soup? My mother’s accent is all Boston, Massachusetts, my Dad, Missouri and Oklahoma. The ensuing blending of these two individuals makes my accent neutral. People can’t tell where I’m from, they just know it isn’t southern, so I must to be a Yankee. I have lived in 10 states and visited 43, I’ve learned to blend in.
What I find fascinating about my wife is she has the ability to mimic any dialect where we’ve once lived. She can sound like she was born in a pea patch in eastern Kentucky or at the drop of a hat, a Texas girl straight from the Longhorn Ranch. She never fails to make me laugh with this hidden talent. However once we arrived in Quebec City, Canada, on our first leg of the journey, our language skills evaporated. The best way I can describe Quebec is it’s like the girl in high school who is cute, but thinks she’s the prettiest and most popular. It’s a nice city, but it wasn’t the nicest we’ve ever visited. A word to the wise, if you visit Quebec, forget parking. It’s like they poured concrete over the whole city and punched holes out for the houses.
Quebec folks know English, they’re just loath to use it. It’s like a secret handshake only a few are privy too. It gives them the opportunity to laugh and mock the tourists who have to pantomime and dramatically act out their needs; food, bathroom, hotel. I imagine as we say thank you and leave, the Quebec native turns to his friend and in perfect English says, “Pierre, it never gets old seeing Yankees pantomiming the word bathroom!”
Our visit to the Northern Kingdom was short lived, we were on a mission. If it wasn’t high gas prices, everyone west of Quebec stopped and asked us if we were going to vote for Trump. Trinket shops are not the best place to wax eloquent on political views. The moment the store keeper asked us about our political leanings, it was like an E.F. Hutton commercial; everybody stopped and leaned in to listen.
After a short two day trip on the long and narrow Trans-Canadian Highway, we crossed back into the U.S and were off to Mt. Rushmore, Aurora, Colorado, and Monument Valley, Utah. Following these places we found ourselves at what we thought was a United Nations homecoming at the southern rim of the Grand Canyon. If you want to play match the people to their license plates, go to the grand canyon. It’s like a new board game entitled “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous meets the cast of Deliverance.” Some of the people I saw reminded me of the store keeper in rural Maine who was standing behind the counter in his general store. One day a heavily tattooed biker with an orange tufted Mohawk hair cut walked up to the counter and in a booming voice, asked the store keeper, “Does anything wild and crazy ever happen in this town?” The owner responding in his thick Down East accent replied, “Well, not until now.”
Our trip’s zenith culminated at the doorstep of our son and daughter-in-law in Texas. We saw our newest grand baby girl. Throughout our trip, people may have had numerous impressions or names for us, but now it didn’t matter. The one we most preferred occurred at the end; Grammy and Grampy.