Wherever the Road Leads

Episode #1

The Gordon & Wilma Traveling Road Show

With my mother safely at home in Toronto and my solitary routine once again a part of my everyday life, I have abandoned my current computer projects and woes long enough to tell a few tales.


The highlight of my mother’s visit was a planned road trip to Harlingen Texas, where we have friends long unseen and my father’s grave long unvisited. We started off at 4:30am recently. While that’s probably a good time to start regardless, the main reason for setting off so early was to get ahead of Atlanta traffic.

Atlanta has approximately 5.5 million people. Most work. Most drive to work. Rush hour(s) starts at 6:30. I have a friend who works at the world Coca-Cola headquarters downtown. If she is not on the road by 6:20 to get slightly ahead of the rush, it will take her an additional 30 – 40 minutes longer to reach her office.

Half of the trip is made through Gwinnett County who, in their greed and damn-the-commuter mentality, changed the HOV Lane (“High Occupancy Vehicle”, 2+ occupants), to a toll lane, requiring a cash-grab “Peach Pass” to travel in. Now, taxis, commuter buses and Mercedes ride a virtually unoccupied lane while the other commuters have been sandwiched from six to five lanes.


Atlanta is not bounded on any side by a restrictive geographical mass like a lake or a mountain, so traffic is omni-directional, it approaches and rings the city from all sides. So, it is necessary not to get ahead of the rush in just one direction, you have to clear the entire city, coming the way I did, a distance of about 90 miles. But the road show was underway.

I love the state of Alabama. It has plains and mountains, lakes, rivers and the gulf’s beautiful white sand. As so many northerners (thankfully) look down their noses at Alabama, it is virtually yankee-free. It does, however, have Montgomery.

The City of Montgomery is the capital of the State of Alabama with a population of 206,000 people, 57% of whom are Black. Now, Wilma does not speak the same as most Southerners and she definitely does not speak the same as Montgomery Blacks.

Let me clarify a word: “Black”.

When I first stepped off the plane in Alabama some twenty years ago, a bare-foot boy from the Canadian boondocks, I knew relatively nothing about blacks. Canada was settled by white Europeans, the mix of color did not begin until the Trudeau years of relaxed immigration. Even then, the most significant color was much more the ‘brown’ of Pakistanis and Indians, with perhaps a few Jamaicans thrown into the mix. Everything I know about Blacks is what I have experienced over the past twenty years here in the South.

Twenty years ago, the term that was used in reference was “Blacks”. These days, it seems the politically correct term is “African-American”. Whoa, whoa, tabarnouche. Don’t try to lay no boogie-woogie on the king of rock and roll.

Many of these African Americans have never been out of the South Side of Chicago or beyond the Loop (I-285) in Atlanta. A handful, if any, of the millions may have visited Africa. I have not only visited Africa but have family there. My cousin and her husband emigrated to Africa from Scotland in the 1960’s. There, a daughter was born, who has now grown up and has two adult daughters of her own.

These three women were born in Africa. If any one of them decided to move to the US and become a citizen, then perhaps she could claim to be African-American, which naturally, just as I would never claim to be a European-Canadian-American, she would never do.

So, the way I see it, if I am the color of a soda cracker and you’re the color of charred wood, I’m “white” and you’re “black’. It’s as plain as the rear end of a goat.

Southerners, as you may have noticed, have what is considered to be a unique way of pronouncing the English language. Black Southerners have a pronunciation even different from that.

Wilma speaks neither.

In McDonald’s for breakfast, at 8:30 on a Wednesday morning in a predominantly black area of Montgomery Alabama, we had a “failure to communicate”. Using the facilities at the time, I can only imagine that the McDonald’s girl must have said “Egg McMuffins” were two for $3.00 but Wilma, wanting a Sausage McMuffin heard differently. When I arrived on the scene and was told to order two Sausage-Egg McMuffins and the bill came to much more than was expected, things did not begin well.

A full tummy calmed the waters somewhat but when preparing to get back on the road, when the misunderstood (read: misleading) young lady failed to wash her hands after using the rest room at the same time as my mother, race riots were averted only by hastening to the state of Mississippi as quickly as possible.

For years, the “Tea Wars” have been an ongoing dispute between my mother and the United States of America. She constantly seeks hot tea in a country founded on throwing tea leaves into Boston harbor. I wish they had thrown in hot chocolate or Dr. Pepper, but no, it was tea, for which they will never be forgiven.

Wilma doesn’t like coffee and, not realizing that when you say “tea” to an American he is glad to oblige after asking “sweet or unsweet?”, as in “iced tea”, she continues the battle for hot tea. Many fast-food cashiers have been as obliging as possible, offering to micro-wave unsweetened iced tea, or give her hot water (from the faucet) and an iced tea teabag. That thought is met with derision and a less-than-complimentary face.

We have discovered that Wendy’s does indeed offer hot tea, not only that but at a Senior’s discount – free!! – which makes her exceptionally happy. However, the battle continues when she asks for 2% milk.

God bless the USA… it just can’t win.

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