Hiking with Meghan at the White Tank mountains near Glendale, AZ. Dressed in khaki shorts, my blue and orange pumas, white ankle socks, my orange rope-anklet from Alan Brooks, (my British co-counselor from last summer), my green Minnesota North Stars hat, and a bright blue KU shirt I got from my brother. Shirt has a giant “KU” in red on the front of the shirt. A pair of hikers, an old man and woman, pass us. They freeze.
“What?” I ask.
“Rock chalk Jayhawk!”
I laugh. “Oh. Sorry, I didn’t hear you.” And then… “Yeah, I’m not from Kansas.”
“Nope. I got it from my brother.”
“Oh…” Disappointment? Newfound boredom? What? “Does he like it there?”
“He loves it.”
Relief, into happiness. “Well, I’m glad that he does.”
That’s the problem with misrepresenting your fandom through clothes or other gear. Even wearing the hat of a now sort-of defunct hockey team, I’ve encountered a fair amount of North Star fans, people who excitedly hurry over to talk hockey with me, dropping names like Curt Giles and Basil McRae and Elmer “Moose” Vasko, waiting for me to respond in like-minded nostalgic fashion, only to have me tell them in great disappointment: “Actually, I’m not a fan. I just have the hat…” I then try to explain to them the significance of the hat, how I go to a camp called North Star, how I love hanging out in Duluth and Minneapolis, how one of my best friend’s gave it to me…but by now they’re gone, shuffling off to someplace else.
If there is one mistake that we’ve definitely made during the first half of this trip, it’s been setting aside too much time in the Phoenix area. I’ve loved spending time with Uncle Eddie, Aunt Sharon, and the kids, as well as Aunt Andi & Uncle Terry, and it’s been great staying at this condo with Don and Bonnie and getting an opportunity to see the Cubs play spring ball, but it was during the early part of our trip that I really felt like we were exploring, which has been my goal ever since the road trip’s initial conception. Now I feel like we’re vacationing.
It’s clear now that even with the time we had to take out of the trip due to Meghan’s grandmother’s passing, we would have had time to head south east through Tennessee and down to the Atlantic at near the Florida/Georgia border. We would have then gone west through Atlanta, stopping on the Emory campus to see my camp friend Aaron Hamer, then through the mystery states that are Alabama and Mississippi on I-10 before experiencing New Orleans. We would have then entered Texas at Houston, missed JR in Oklahoma as well as Dallas and possibly Austin, instead following 10 to San Antonio and onward from there.
I am very excited to see the Pacific Northwest; it’s an entire region that I know only from pictures. But in a different way it would have been cool to see the “Deep South.” I can’t hide the fact that the South intimidates me, and I don’t try to. While I know the Northwest from pictures, I know the South from stereotypes, both good (southern hospitality) and bad (Confederate flag waving racists). I greatly wish to visit that area and experience it…it sometimes feels like I’m a child who has been told repeatedly by his parents to “stay away from the Old Carter place,” and so my friends and I creep past it and exchange myths and ghost stories about all of the horrible things that have happened within its walls, and yet all the while the house is home to…who, exactly?
I’m not sure.
America is a vast and spectacular land, filled with a multitude of people and cultures. And I feel like I can relate to nearly all of them including most of the ones that I’ve yet to be exposed to. But I don’t feel like I relate to the South, an area and a people that feels entirely foreign to me. I don’t think that we will get an opportunity to explore that part of the country during this trip, but in my quest to fully experience America I am greatly anticipating my eventual visit to the South.