Have Native, Will Travel (In The South)

If you’re planning on visiting the South, vacationing in the South, traveling through the South or moving South I have some advice – forget about buying a map and latch on to a native-born Southerner. I mean someone born and bred here, right where you plan on traveling.

If you don’t you’re in for a pickup truck full of frustration. The South is different from any other part of the country in several respects. The single most frustrating frustration to foreigners (that is, anyone who was not born and bred here and has most of their “people” living within shouting distance) is the lack of travel help. City fathers in every city or town larger than 27 people still believe anyone who ventures into their neck of the woods ought to already know how to get around.

For instance only a handful of shop and business owners across the entire South believe street numbers are important. The few compelled to display street numbers on their buildings usually do so under awnings or other obscure places where drivers can’t see them from the street.

Nor can you rely on street names to help you navigate your travels. Foreign travelers must be cunning as foxes when they’re relying on street names to get them where they want to go. Any Southern street is liable to change names from one block to the next. You can be driving down South Decatur Street, and faster than you can run a yellow light the street name changes to Norman Bridge Road. Sometimes streets dead-end, but then pick up again two or three blocks further.

Folks in the South love to add directions to their street names, as if that were going to aid travelers. You might travel down Jones Street until it turns into Jones Street NW, then Jones Street NE, then Jones Street N. Then Jones Street N. veers off to the left and becomes Jones Street NE. Then a little further down the road it curves back to the right and turns into Jones Street NE. Then Jones Street NE dead-ends. You now have two choices. Turn left on Jones Street W, or turn right on Jones Street SW.

Don’t think you’re going to navigate by reading street signs either. For some reason city planners across the South don’t believe street signs are necessary, even at some major intersections. You will sometimes encounter absurdities such as unmarked six-lane (both ways) intersections. If you’re lucky one of the streets might boast a sign.

The street signs they do have in the South are dark green with white lettering. I guess the white letters are so you can read the signs if you’re traveling at night.  But you can’t. The sign makers forgot to make the letters reflective, so the signs are impossible to read at night. If they started out as reflective letters, the reflection is long gone.

So, how does one navigate in the South? Your best bet, if you come South, is to latch on to a bone fide native. I don’t mean somebody who has lived here for 30 years, they’re still considered foreigners. I mean someone who was born and bred and lives right there in the place you’re visiting.

These folks are the best ones to help you get around down South, because in the South the natives navigate with landmarks. They don’t need maps or street signs or compasses. Depending on where you’re traveling the landmarks could be buildings: the courthouse, the library, the po-lice station, the Waffle House (classic Southern landmark), the Super Wal-Mart, the Shell station, the school-house, the fire station; places: the ball field, the Waffle House, the brick yard, the cemetery, Spaghetti Junction, the football field; landmarks: the Stonewall Jackson Monument in the town square, the DAR museum, the Waffle House, the Gone With The Wind Memorial.

You can find consolation in all this mayhem. If you get lost and stop to ask any Southerner for directions, you’ll discover some of the nicest people on the face of the earth. Stop any English-speaking person and, though they may not be natives, though they may be on their way to a fire, they will stop and try to help you find your way.

So if you’re going to visit down South, it would be best to visit born and bred natives. Next to that your best bet is to contact the local Chamber of Commerce to see what the going rate is for native tour guides. If that doesn’t work, when you get to town find the sandwich shop or the car repair place or the barber shop or any place you see guys (usually older) sitting around chatting with each other and drinking coffee. Chances are good one or more of ’em’s a native. Chances are even better that one or more of ’em’s retired. Any one of these guys would be tickled to death to show you all the tourist attractions you’d want to see and could probably regale you with personal stories about each one of them.

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