Much like Thanksgiving, our film is made up of different components, and stuffed with different themes: family, food, community, culture (and pie!). It’s a holiday that celebrates everything we want to celebrate in the making of our film. Have a fabulous Thanksgiving! Celebrate your family, your friends, and our strange and wonderful culture. Be kind to a stranger in the spirit of the turkey! (Or tofurkey if you are meatlessly inclined!) Thank you for everything and enjoy the pie!
The letter addressed some interesting concerns – our experiences being too brief to really witness a full town; timing; circumstance. The thought that we are judging a whole town on just the few people that we meet.
Because the person who wrote the letter has not given me explicit permission to post it, I will refrain. But I would like to post our response, because I think it gets at something important.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. [Person],
Thank you so much for your feedback. We apologize for anything we may have said that offended you.
We reread our blog post after receiving your email. We'd love to post your letter along with this response on the blog if you don't mind - I think the feedback could start a very positive conversation about first the affect of our film and commentary.
The blog is about our impressions, our voices; but in the movie the story will be told by the voices of the others; Wells will speak for itself.
We would, however, like to address your concerns about our impressions and the commentary we chose to make.
Our comments were not mean to be derogatory but simply a description of what we experienced. We're sorry that we did not include the two of you and your kindness in the description of our day. But, as you'll notice we did certainly mention some of the other friendly people we met, who eventually led us to our hosts in the evening.
This post is about first impressions. If you'll notice I cited my own bad mood and rough start in the morning as a partial cause of my negative impression, The entirety of the post focuses on the fact that even when we start with a bad impression and a bad mood we can still have a positive day. Each blog post is about a lesson we learned. That was the lesson that Wells taught us.
Unfortunately, we can only spend a day in each town, and that day is all we get to glimpse the people. We don't pick who we interact with intending to have a bad experience - our film and our comfort depend on us finding the kindness in others. And we are making this film because we feel positively about the country. But, the people we met in Wells were not always so friendly - we had not yet experienced the kind of dismissal that happened frequently there.
You cited rushing as the source of this rudeness, a wedding is an important thing to be on time to, but tone and action speak much louder than words. And even if you are rushing, it's not difficult to say the same words in a nice way. Everyone is an ambassador for where they live - and you represented your city well. But the city manager, the people in the parking lot at the grocery store, they could have been nicer without taking up any more of their time.
I do feel badly about my first paragraph - but as I said, that was our first impression. The dilapidated buildings rarely speak for the people, and I distinguish very carefully appearance and experience. We have visited other communities where our first impressions were rather jarring. And we acknowledge that first impressions are often proven wrong. In other places we've visited we have had amazing experiences despite the first few minutes, and that's what makes an interesting story. Every first impression raises questions about a town - especially in a case like Wells - and we use our interviews to try and answer them. But so much of our project is about people, and this is how people interact all the time. We form an understanding of someone within a few seconds of meeting them; it's through conversation that a person is able to reinforce that understanding or alter it. Only through experience can we begin to understand.
I am from the West. Southern Colorado to be exact and I am very proud of the way that I represent that part of the country and the way that part of the country represents me. In general, I would hope that you would not let your perception of our blog taint your opinion of everyone in a certain group: your assumed Easterners. Your email wants us to see that a few people cannot speak for a whole town, I'd ask you to do the same. I wrote the blog post about Wells; Greg (who is from the East) had no part of it. I tried to write it as honestly as I could - but in a way that would reflect who I am and my opinions. The blog cannot be completely unbiased because it is only my voice; it's a travelogue. This portion of the story is not supposed to be fact (I think both of us have our biases based on our experiences).
We've talked a lot about tone. The way in which someone says something having a huge impact on how we received it. The tone of your email and the words that you chose suggest to me that you are angry and saddened at the way we received your town - but acting hostilely towards us is not the best way help us see your town in a better light.
I want to apologize for making you feel like we did not enjoy our experiences in Wells - we did. It was a day that we learned a lot from. I did not mean to make you feel sad or angry and I would like it if you would allow me to post your letter so that people can see the pride that you have for your town. I think it's a very positive thing that your community came together after the earthquake and I very much appreciated your interview.
I would also like to ask that you support me in wanting to visit Wells in the future. The last line of your email suggested that you never want to see us again; but I would love to give you the opportunity to show us the parts of Wells that you are so fond of. We I have always talked about doing a screening tour with the film, visiting all the communities we initially stayed in and creating a positive dialogue on trust, fear and American culture. We'd love to return and have that conversation.
Thank you for your email, we are always learning and always willing to learn.
We look forward to your response.
Sarah Sellman and Greg Grano
The thing I keep thinking about is this: Our opinions are just a small part of a larger picture, but also, the way we interact with communities was consistent throughout our travels. Every town had the same opportunity to make a good or bad impression.
And that’s really all it is for now - an impression. I don’t mean that all of our experiences were surface level, but only that the assessments of each community were less than full and thorough – though our experiences with individuals speak towards the character of the place. We got to know the individuals incredible well. I am excited to continue speaking to all of the people we met, to continue creating a solid relationship and maybe eventually visit them again.
And I think I’d like to befriend Wells. There were some pretty friendly people there – some pretty kind hearted strangers, even if the majority of experiences were with people who had strange tones. And even if the letter from the enraged citizen was harsh, they cared enough to write it, so it must be a pretty wonderful place (to them at the very least).
There is so much to think about and so much to process that I dont even know where to begin. I dont think I've stopped experiencing our adventure and I dont think I'll realize how important was for a long time. And that's simply the personal side of things - the cinematic is going to be something I've never experienced before.
The biggest thing for me is the memories, or the way that anything anybody says reminds my of our time on the road, reminds me of one of our amazing hosts, reminds me of an encounter or a place or a time. And I feel weird talking about it all the time but I dont think I've ever had so many new experiences in such a small period of time. Those six weeks are huge for me, and ever present.
I had never seen the Grand Canyon, never seen Mt. Rushmore, never been to most of the states we visited, never tasted the foods we tasted never had conversations like I had with strangers.
I keep thinking that everyone should do it, everyone should go out and try and help each other and experience new things and get to know strangers. And there's this overwhelming trend that everyone in America thinks that other people are bad, but they themselves are so willing to help. People think that the world is chaotic and dangerous but they as individuals are calm and kind. So there's this inherent sort of contradiction. BUT because everyone is a little nervous, the risk and reward in staying with a stranger, or helping a stranger, is so much greater. It's part of what makes it so rewarding and part of what makes it so interesting. If everyone did that we'd lose that extreme risk and extreme reward. Which sounds a little sad to me. But it also sounds wonderful. What if we could travel that way? Or always feel safe when driving across the country because we know someone will help us if something goes wrong?
That sounds amazing to me.
I want this to show people that we can trust each other. I want that so badly. That was the initially point of my journey. But there is so much more in there - in the details, in the characters in the cultures that are so different. Everyone takes care of people differently, every one's understanding of hospitality is so different. First, we can trust each other. Then we can learn from each other. And at each layer is something different.
Have I changed? Yes. Definitely. I feel a little older, a little wiser, a little less afraid of the world, and maybe a little chubbier from all the pie.
This was a journey through the entire spectrum of my emotions. I think I felt almost everything I've felt before and some amazing brand new feelings.
It was a journey of stories. Everyone, everyone, everyone has a story to tell - a real, human story with real, human drama about real, human things. Beautiful things.
And everyone wants to share it (well almost everyone) - they want to share it with someone special - a stranger is the best candidate because they can't tell your friends, because they will listen openly, because you wont surprise them or confuse them. But the thing about strangers is, after you tell them your stories, they become your friends. Or maybe you only tell them that you are scared to tell them - well that's a pretty big weight, a pretty big secret - a story in itself.
I love that I have new friends all over the country. And that I can call them. Just to talk, to tell them stories.
I think about his everyday. About trust and fear. And the patterns we discovered. There is so much to learn there.
And I feel at a loss for words. Because this was profound for me. And my greatest hope is that it will be profound for someone else who sees it. For everyone else who sees it.
Yesterday we took a walk with my family’s dog Daisy, down a path near my house, visiting a pretty lake. We passed two people, each of whom were walking dogs as well – as we held Daisy back (she’s not very friendly with her own species), I smiled and spoke to the dog owners, “Hi, how are you – sorry, she’s not very friendly –” and was surprised to get no response from them. Not a word, not a smile. I don’t think they were perturbed by the dogs’ relationship. They just didn’t seem very friendly.
I don’t want to analyze each of my interactions with strangers based on their friendliness. We did that for forty-eight days and I don’t think it’s fair to do in every situation. Maybe I have a sympathetic nature. Every time we got brushed off by someone, and as our statistics built to show 45% of people we approached declined to speak with us, it was easy to describe those experiences as unfriendly. Neither Sarah nor I believe that to be the case – we acknowledge that people are busy, people are shy, people are worried they’ll be asked something that makes them uncomfortable (and asking for a stranger to take us in sure made some people uncomfortable). So we learned a lot about tone.
In Atlanta, dozens of people declined to speak with us, and most were extremely polite about it – surprising given the stigma of unfriendly cities. We didn’t find a place to stay, but we agree that Atlanta was one of our most positive days. We recently got an email from a couple in Wells, Nevada, who had read our blog post about Wells and were fairly enraged. They believed we were biased and rude, and their email was full of venom. In fact, it only furthered our interpretation of Wells, where we met plenty of people who were busy or disinterested, but whose tone made their cold shoulder truly chilling.
And our tone with people was probably the most influential factor in our good luck finding a home. We were always smiling, always friendly. When we were stressed or unconfident, we either had an unsuccessful interview, or we were very grateful that someone else’s energy could lift our spirits too. Our experiments with appearance had almost no direct effect – and although we discussed race with most of our hosts, and heard some racist comments, I think our friendly nature had much more to do with our luck than our white skin. And we often considered the discrepancy between the needy who are deserving versus those who are not deserving – some people didn’t help us because we weren’t deserving, as we were clearly not poor or truly homeless. But many people don’t actually help the homeless because they don’t want to fuel bad habits, including panhandling as a career detour. I hope even a homeless person could have the luck we had, as long as they did it with a smile and clear motivation.
I want to feel more surprised. I think I’ll find surprises while we’re editing – as I grow more distant from our experiences, and as I look at different experiences next to each other, I am sure new lessons and perspectives will arise. After a couple days, it felt so natural to be in a stranger’s home, to be in a new bed, or new floor, around new smells.
But the part of a stranger’s home that I found most interesting was their shower. Something about showering is so much more personal even than sleeping in someone else’s home – maybe the fact that you’re naked. But seriously, every time I showered somewhere else, or was even just offered, it was kind of a rush. And very exciting. Some people have amazing showerheads. But I also had a few stretches of up to four days when I didn’t shower, which hasn’t happened since I was a kid. While four days ended up feeling pretty gross, I think it’s an interesting new comfort level for me. And that’s kind of a goofy example in the context of cleanliness-comfort throughout this project: lack of showering, or staying in a messy home, or sleeping on a floor, or in the car, all of these are a lot less clean than how I normally live my life. My house in New Jersey is extremely clean. I am very comfortable walking around barefoot. My room in New York is cleanish, but I always wear my flip-flops. I am not high-maintenance or hoity-toity, so it wasn’t like a lesson, or a release – but I definitely appreciated living in different environments, if only for a night. This is kind of a silly way of getting to the fact that the messy houses were exciting because they opposed what so many said to us: “I would let you stay, but my house is just a mess right now.”
There is definitely a pressure of hospitality, of being a host, of having guests. Fearing that your guests will be judgmental. Or disappointed? It’s a fair pressure. But a little bit sad. And part of why our messy homes were so comfortable – and even exciting. Those hosts were often the most open. The most comfortable with themselves and with us. I’ve generally considered myself an open person, not much to hide. But many of our experiences have inspired me to be more open. We made seemingly close relationships with a number of the people we stayed with, over the course of just a couple hours. We’ve stayed in touch with some; others, we’ll talk to only about the progress of the movie. The definition of “friend” is very nebulous in the context of our film, because we often refer to our hosts as new friends, even some of our shorter interviews as friends. We also stayed with someone who would outright tell us that we are not friends: for him, it’s a process that takes years. I love the idea of calling people friends after just a couple minutes. Connections aren’t something tangible, they are felt. I believe we can feel the connection of friendship almost instantaneously, and I only believe that because of this project. It’s a feeling that has no age barriers either – we often stayed with people who could be our parents, or grandparents, who have children our age. But to have open conversation, to call them by their first names, to eat a meal with them – it makes the feeling of friendship come alive.
I decided about two years ago that I wanted to wake up just before sunrise every day – I had written to a friend that “a sunrise is the most nutritious breakfast,” but the joke inspired me. I felt more energetic and excited when I started my day when the day really started. But it also only lasted for two months. So now, I want to proclaim that I’ll smile at everyone I see, that I’ll engage in conversation with people at the store, on the street, that I’ll be perpetually open and excited about everyone around me – and while it’s nice to have that attitude, I don’t imagine it being quite as consistent as all that. But more outgoing, more invested and interested in the stories behind the faces around me, those are attitudes that can always be “more,” that I’ve always had, but that I have now in a brand new way, in a directly inspired way.
And when I introduce myself to new people, I have a feeling that this summer will be one of the first things I talk about. It was the most exciting and dynamic experience of my life. Inside and out – personal growth often through public experiences. An adventure of discovery – maybe rediscovery – of broad ideas I had about Americans. Rediscovery because I had some sort of general open optimism and faith in humanity that this project created a solid foundation for. Discovery because I explored the country and a random assortment of its people. And people sure are complex: we’d hear contradictions as people invited us in and later described how much crime there is going around, how they have to fear for their space. Or people who would be incredibly positive about their town, their openness, and then be taken aback when we said we were relying on strangers for a place to stay. We heard a lot of opinions that I don’t agree with: in conversations of politics, or religion, or tolerance, or diversity. But I don’t agree with them in a personal way, and I can appreciate individuals as a bittersweet mixture of positive and negative, respectable and distasteful. I think this summer helped me encounter some of that for myself. Sarah and I had arguments; I rediscovered some of the darker parts of my personality, and regretted some of my words and actions. Halfway through the trip, I had a brief breakdown: frustrated at Sarah, frustrated at the camera, the pressure of filming our experiences, the disappointment of being behind a camera rather than experiencing something firsthand, and above all, frustrated at how this film might portray me. What if I come across as a jerk? What if I’m captured being rude or short with Sarah? What if I’m the cautious, lame so-called “adventurer,” paling in comparison to Sarah’s energy? Strange to be self-conscious while hoping to meet people who are open, who will welcome a camera into their home without warning. Strange to doubt my good nature and personality because a camera is around. But maybe it also made me more sympathetic to the people who decline to be on camera. It’s another contradiction.
This is the first sizeable documentary I’ve ever made. In one of my classes last year, we discussed the potential impossibility of “nonfiction filmmaking.” Documentaries are supposed to present reality, but there’s really no such thing: in an abstract way, nothing is reality but our own minds and our own interpretation of direct experiences. In a more concrete way, there’s no nonfiction in film because people are generally conscious of the camera, conscious of the future audience – and people are usually conscious of what is considered taboo. The racism we encountered was for the most part tangential, mentioned briefly, revised later in the conversation. Everyone wants themselves portrayed positively – everyone wants to be liked. Many people who declined to interview with us probably had this subconscious motivation. Sarah and I discussed our fear of ending up in a house of domestic violence – but everyone knows domestic violence is wrong, and I don’t think we would have ever been invited into such a home, for fear of it being seen. Many people took us in and believed it was simply “the right thing to do.” I bet there are just as many people who think it was the right thing to do, but still said no. We often defy our own morals, and we often don’t treat each other as we’d like to be treated. Our footage captures many people telling personal stories, personal opinions, engaging in personal activities – but where do some of those things lie on the scale of white lies? That goes for the conversations Sarah and I had on camera as well.
And yet one of the most exciting parts about this film, exciting from the planning stages, and most exciting while it was actually happening, is the freedom. Another contradiction, as it was very stressful to be concerned with filming everything, but this is a film without walls. A film in which the camera and the person behind the camera are main characters. A film around the country, inside homes, inside heads, inside beds. The film fueled the adventure, and the adventure fueled the film. Someday, my memories of this summer will be warped into images from the film and stories created by the film, by putting different experiences in conversation with each other. Another way film extends reality. Maybe the most important part is the feeling, just like the way we trust each other and the way we experience friendship hinges on a feeling – I know that this project, this summer, this movie, this adventure, feels pretty damn good.
And it felt old.
It felt sea washed. Everything colored like ocean spray and bleached by the sun.
Greg was going to do the approach alone thing. While I sat in a café and worked through his resume, my resume, details for the upcoming month.
But the drive there ended up being almost 8 hours. With traffic and pit stops, we were late and Greg was exhausted. He decided to try going out despite this. Brave boy.
My stomach was hurting from trying the biscuits at Bojangles. So was his.
I sat at the computer, sent out a couple emails, did some virtual organizing, ate a piece of peach pie and chatted with the people walking in to try and find us a home as well.
After forty minutes Greg came back, exhausted from a long conversation with young people at the local bar. He said he felt like he had to try so hard to grab their attention. That he wanted to stay with people who weren’t going to be out partying all night.
So we built the camera and headed toward the beach.
Most people were visitors, but eventually we stumbled onto some locals. A very interesting guy invited us to stay at his squatter house. He said he couldn’t be sure when he’d be home but the door was always unlocked and we could visit whenever we wanted. He gave us directions. He was super friendly, but had plans for the night. Then we met another young guy from the area, he was having a major party at his place and we could come party, and sleep there. When I mentioned release forms, he said he’d have people sign em at the door. Smart. But really… not the best place for fancy equipment.
We told both the boys we’d let them know, that their offers were very generous, but we wanted to keep exploring. As we headed down to the beach we walk bust a very cheerful young man who told us we had just missed the dolphins swimming by as the sun was setting.
We tried to speak with other people but eventually ended up at the end of the beach, talking to that same boy – Stuart for almost 45 minutes about his adventures traveling around this summer.
We told him our story and we got our most enthusiastic yes ever – from an 18 year old whose family was visitng for the week.
He took us home. His younger sister, Caitlin, made us a DELICIOUS salad. His two youngest sisters Brigid and Maureen told us stories, offered us ice cream and kept asking us to watch Elf with them – which we happily did eventually. When his parents came home they were surprised to see us, but distracted by a small vehicle emergency.
We watched the movie, ate some popcorn and chatted with the girls.
Maureen fell asleep and had to be escorted up the stares to bed twice. She came back down after brushing her teeth and going to the bathroom to fall asleep in the room we were all in. Stuart carried her back.
I slept in the extra bedroom on a futon with the tech stuff, Greg was on the couch with the AC (which was so COLD, but he LOVED it).
In the morning Brigid and Greg walked together on a hot chocolate run.
It felt so comfortable, something I am only realizing fully now. We were sort of instantly insiders. Nobody said make yourself at home – but we almost had to. I don’t know why this happened at all. I keep thinking it had to do with Brigid and Maureen and their comfort with us. But also the way weren’t exciting to them as strangers, but rather just someone to sit with and watch a movie. Someone to tell stories to, but not someone to fight over. I felt fine grabbing a blanket from the other room when I was cold, and getting a glass of water. Maybe it was because their family sort of functioned like mine – just a little chaotically.
But it was a great night – and an even better morning.
I think I like getting to know people. Which I suppose is obvious. But I like the conversation that starts to come so easily after doing an interview. I love sharing stories. Listing to Stuart and Mrs. Hickey talk about the ways in which they help strangers and why caused a lot of discussion
After we talked some more Brigid and Maureen ran into the yard with teddy bears – our presents had been discovered! They helped Greg load the car and when Brigid asked for another bear, he gave her one – naming her two Sarah and Greg.
It was awesome.
It felt like a place that had recent become a lot slower than it used to be. It was sort of still sweating after a race. And maybe it didn’t win.
Everyone was friendly. Super friendly. I think I beginning to accept that as a normal thing for the places we visit in the South. Finding a home is more difficult, but finding a friendly smile takes only a few seconds. I think about the morning after our night – we stopped at IHOP at 7am and after eating (we had the most friendly waitress since Julie in Bonner’s Ferry) I held the door open for a family coming in. They all, one at a time, turned to me, smiled and said “Good morning, thank you so much.”
We started downtown after an interview with the executive director of the homeless shelter, Gayle. Gayle was super friendly and super empathetic. She had made taking care of people her biggest responsibility, possibly her biggest joy.
Everyone in town was friendly but most had fallen on hard times. We talked to a man who had taken in a friends young daughter to lessen their economic struggle; we talked to a woman who believed that no one else could take care of her, that it was her responsibility to take of herself and no one else; we met a man who talked openly about his sadness at work in a deli rather than making furniture, what he was trained to and enjoyed doing. Everyone seemed to be helping each other.
The first few people declined an interview – but nicely, or at the least not rudely.
We stopped at a country store – one that had been in town for almost 100 years. The local favorite was cheese pimento salad. As we interviewed the manager, then the owner, everyone who came in was buying it. It was bright orange and kind of scary looking, but my curiosity was spiked. So we bought some.
My thoughts: Bleck. And my stomach complained for the rest of the night.
I don’t want to insult a local favorite, but it was just not my style. It was a mushy sort of paste made from mayonnaise, American cheese, sugar and pimentos. A sort of egg salad made of American cheese, but sweet. Thought: If egg salad and jello salad had offspring. Plus cheese.
No one in the store could help us so we decided that we would stop at the Japanese restaurant (A Japanese restaurant? Here?) before heading back to the homeless shelter to chat with a few residents.
That’s where we met Dan, Jimmy and Doug. We walked into the bar and the red walls were covered in a patchwork of paintings. The Shins were playing.
We chatted with the guys for a bit and then Doug – in a half round about way – invited us to stay with him for the night.
Doug was reading a book about zombies after we returned from the homeless shelter. He talked a little bit about racing – citing his home in Milwaukee as responsible. He talked to Greg and I about shows he’d seen.
We talked about performance art and Karen Finley and we contemplated buying some art. The artist, Stewart Knight came by later – check out his work here on Myspace.
It was a very pleasant and entertaining evening. In someways it felt almost weird to be hanging out with people my own age (older, I suppose, but…) again.
That night, we did an interview with Doug. Who told us that he didn’t like facebook because it created false friendships and he described the forming of friendships as a lengthy process. When I asked him to tell us part of his story he explained that we hadn’t earned it yet, that it would be unfair to the people he calls friends, the people who spent the time earning those stories, if he shared with us, and with an audience.
It’s tough for me to explain Doug. Because I think in many ways he was my opposite. He understands that he is guarded and he uses that word – but for him its positive. I am open with everyone, and he is closed. Not rude, or harsh; not the regular connation of those words. He was friendly, just private.
When we asked him why he took us in, it was sort of a mixed thing. He thought of himself last when he went through his list, realizing all of his friends were working super late, had children or no space. He seemed to think of himself as a last resort, and he wasn’t really hesitant, just logical. He said, “I couldn’t lie. I had so much space, “ also, “It was to weird to be bad.” We often wonder if people are making up excuses, or suggesting that in order to carefully avoid us as strangers.
He believed that life experience creates suspicion. That we are born trusting, as children we want to be everyone’s friend. But that experience teaches us how to distrust.
We didnt find a home in Atlanta. I'll tell you that right now.
But we did have an amazing day. We met so many fascinating people.
It was a fast approach day. That means once we get someone to consent to an interview we tell them what we are doing and ask them if they can help us. Then if they are friendly and up for it we follow up by asking all the usual questions.
Everyone had a pretty cynical understanding of trust - we met only a few who seemed to think the world was going to be okay. Jim, a stranger who invited us to see his show at a "creepy David Lynch, Rob zombie bar" with "cheap, strong drinks" and probably would have offered us his floor if he wasn't crashing with a friend himself, said "When you can trust someone, that's when you are truly alive, when you can trust the world. When you can't, you start dying."
"Is the rest of the country trusting?"
"No, not really."
"So do you think we're all dying?"
"A little bit. A little bit."
He said the Southern Hospitality was just a nice way of saying back handed. "Where I come from we shoot people between the eyes, in Atlanta, in the south, they shoot em in the back."
Another man suggested that maybe the hospitality becomes innate. That kindness is habitual even when you don't like somebody. So that makes it seem like a facade, but its not.
But everyone agreed that people in the south are somehow different. I don't know that I felt that really - maybe in the thank yous I got from holding open the door for someone or in the courtesy with which people declined an interview. But that didnt feel all that different from Ohio, except for the drawl.
We met so many friendly people - Atlanta is a beautiful city and I never felt put out, I was never treated rudely - but we ended up without a home.
We've been arriving late every day of our journey - late meaning no earlier than 4pm. With the time changes working against us, the five hour drives and the necessity of experiencing the occasional tourist oriented peach farm, waffle house or panoramic view 4 has become our new earliest start time.
So we arrived in Tupelo at 4 - We had to television interviews scheduled. Our first, with Julie, happened just after we parked the car. As she was tailing us in her car (lucky her, air conditioning would have been amazing), we ran into our first strangers. Brock and Scott. And of course Scott's sweet dog, Belle.
They said yes the second they heard the question and Scott got really excited about having an amazing interview later that night with his roommate Eric, his friend who is a poet by nature, not trade, and a few other friends. And so did we.
The guys mentioned southern hospitality without so much as a hint. "Its just another way of living, " they explained to us, "People here are just raised better."
After we asked our big question, Scott jumped at the opportunity to walk us to his house just a few blocks away from downtown. So we all trotted down there. On the way Scott asked "You guys are clean right?" We nodded, no drugs here. "I am a recovering addict, so I always ask, just to be safe." Brock nodded, "Me too." It was amazing that they were so open and so clear about what was allowed in their home.
When we got back to the house Jennifer was sitting on the couch. Scott said teasingly, "She's a Yankee too, you guys ought to get along." Jennifer was from Wisconsin. It's amazing for me to be able to connect to so many people on the basis of place. Just knowing where someone is from is an easy way to form a connection. And perhaps I feel more that way because hardly anyone knows where I am from, but there is something really cool about being able to say "Yeah! I've been there." or "Yeah, I drove through there on my way across the state." So Jennifer and I bonded over Wisconsin.
Then we had to go to our other interview. Our interviewer, Chad, had a full time job at the local Baptist news station and a part time job for the company that he was making our piece for. He was super friendly, energetic and excitable. He didnt fail to remind us that we were in the bible belt, that people might not take so kindly to the idea of us sharing a bed.
We went back to Scotts, ready for whatever they had planned. We ordered pizza, talked more, watched a movie. Scott kept calling me "darlin" and we talked about the southern drawl. Brock and Scott both agreed that the people on TV never get it right.
The evening interview was amazing as promised - even when it was interrupted by some very drunk friends doing impressions of a Mississppi stereotype. Both Chad the interviewer, Scott our host and his friend Nick with a jiggle in his shoes seemed to think that the rest of the world thought that everyone in Mississippi was a shoeless hillbilly or hick. Greg and I laughed at that. Perhaps we were fortunate to miss that somewhere along the line, but it sure was amazing to see the impression. Especially for me because Nick took his shoes off behind my chair as I was filming and came out with his pants rolled up.
Scott kept referring to himself as country (adjective not noun) and when Greg asked what that meant to him, he hesitated. Someone offered up, "hick" and he didn't like that much. He said, "maybe its slower." In my understanding, being country just means your lifestyle is different, you were raised a little bit differently than the rest of the world (but aren't we all?) - maybe its the roots of Southern Hospitality, a sort of pride in your culture.
Brock seemed to get a little frustrated at the way the interview shifted into mayhem. And yes, I was a little disappointed that we didn't get to explore more of those ideas, but I don't think I've seen Greg laugh so hard during our entire trip.
Brock went to bed early, he was starting his new job at 6am. Scott fell asleep on the couch and Eric, Greg and I stayed up watching a movie.
It was a wonderful night. Totally American - and totally a lesson.
As Scott tiptoed off to bed a little later, he turned to me "G'night Darlin'".
Tom and Becky came to us from nowhere. Or rather, through a distant connection.
We had originally intended on going to Fayetteville the day after our accident. In Fayetteville, we had arranged one of our few couch surfing nights. Philip, our host for our evening in Fayetteville made some calls for us when we called to cancel. He called a friend whose parents lived in Hot Springs - those parents: Becky and Tom.
So our stranger for the night called a friend who called her parents and we had a phone call from Tom asking what he could do to help.
Greg told him our dilemma - we have no way to drive, no room to stay in and no place to go.
He said - I'll come pick you up in fifteen minutes.
Tom and Becky fed us (most nights delicious vegetarian food), housed us, let us print new directions, do our laundry, swim in their pool, use their internet. They took us on a boat ride on the lake, we got to play music together - a small recital of sorts.
This was a totally unique situation, because for the first time, we NEEDED help. For the first time we didn't have a car to sleep in.
It was kind of a break - but filled with phone calls and organization; planning and trying to figure out how we were going to get home.
After three days with them we felt much better. And now we had the resources to go and the arrangements all lined up.
So with a hug, we said goodbye.