Last week, I experienced a healthy dose of what some people refer to as “the dirty South.” I would rather refer to it as the Onion does: “the filthy South.” Dirty just doesn’t capture it all, because dirty things can be cleaned up. The word implies underlying cleanliness, and boy, is that wrong. “Filthy,” on the other hand, has no such connotation; it implies lasting dirt, sort of like Pigpen in Charlie Brown comics. That’s far more accurate.
We set off from Little Rock early last Saturday morning. Somewhere around Memphis, my 10-month old car received its first bullseye, which isn’t a tragedy on a regular day but on a day when PMS hormones are on the rampage, it’s the equivalent of nuclear meltdown. I fumed all the way through Mississippi and part of Alabama, until we reached our first destination: the Barber Motorsports Museum in Birmingham.
Note to those wanting to visit: eat before you go. There is no food available at this exit, and all they had inside were a few vending machines. I ate two gas station hot dogs for lunch. They were rubbery and the buns were suspiciously chewy. Also, you had to tell the cashier exactly what toppings you wanted, and she gave them to us in packets (mayo, mustard, relish, ketchup). I’m not opposed to packets, but I am opposed to estimating how many I’ll need before I even eat. It kills the joy of spontaneous consumption, in the same way that asking someone what time sex will be over can do. Besides, is there really a need to ration ketchup packets? Are people in broke-ass Alabama so poor that they hoard gas station packets of pickle relish?
Perhaps. The ride into Birmingham was like descending into Africa’s Rift Valley, only with bingo parlors instead of roadside stations selling bushmeat and Maasai warrior blankets. Apparently, there’s not much people there can afford except Bingo and chicken. There were empty storefronts by the truckload, and entire strip malls sat vacant, mile after mile. What I don’t understand is…how can these people even afford bingo? You have to pay to play, right? So if there’s money for Bingo, why isn’t there money for any of the businesses that used to inhabit the empty space? Seriously, there are like twenty Bingo parlors between the freeway and the Barber Motorsports Museum. Someone is making a killing. And someone is hella stupid, forking out money to Bingo parlors that could be used to, oh, I don’t know, FIND A JOB.
At the opposite end of the spectrum was the Barber Motorsports Museum itself. The highlights: gorgeous grounds, millions of dollars of cars and motorcycles, and a track where people were learning to race Porsches. This Barber guy shelled out a lot of money to his architect—the building has a sweeping multi-story curved walkway, floor-to-ceiling glass elevator, and stacked rows of shelving for cycles that go all the way to the rafters. There are weird art sculptures scattered all over the place (the ones out front look like angry Soviet-era proletarians on Segways), and I’m really surprised I didn’t see personal memorabilia mixed in with the bikes. This Barber guy seems content to let the machines steal the show. Then again, nothing screams “I’M RICH, BITCH” like a hand-picked collection of Lotus racecars.
I discovered that if I were to ever own a motorcycle, I’d want what’s called a café racer.
Very simple, linear bikes with a hunk of metal for the gas tank, horizontal handlebars, and a big-ass headlight. They look freakin’ cool, and they’d look even better in pink and black, with maybe a few rhinestones or black pearls superglued onto it somewhere. And a quilted seat, with an embroidered Chanel logo. Dude, that would rock so hard.
Somewhere toward the end of our visit, a very large man started talking to my husband about a particular make of Italian motorcycle. He walked with a cane, and couldn’t stand up for long. He asked P. what kind of motorcycle he had, and P. said he didn’t have one right now because we live in a place where it’s really boring to ride. When the man found out we meant Little Rock, he cooled. He seemed offended that we think the Ozarks are boring, but when you’re used to the Sierra Nevadas, a couple 3,000-foot-tall bumps in the road don’t really faze you, do they? The man was quick to point out that he’d ridden in from Atlanta on his Gold Wing, and this is totally evil, but all I could think was, oh my God, your shocks and tires must be shot from carrying all that weight. Seriously…if you weigh as much as your bike, are performance features not affected?
I know, I know. Sometimes I’m not a very nice person. I blame PMS.
Next time: my tour of the filthy South continues, through Atlanta and down Florida. Highlights will include bad drivers, fried chicken fragrance, and more bad drivers.