I had to go out amongst the heathen this week, my darlings. Yes, I left the warm and friendly land of Southern Hospitality, the Emerald Coast, to go down to the harsh and unfriendly land of Transplanted Yankees. Orlando.
When I was a kid, Orlando was a nice little place. Lots of orange trees, several cattle ranches, and people who sounded just about like I do when they talked. Then, of course, Walt hit town, and everything changed.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Disney, and everything about Disney. I love the princesses, I love the anthropomorphic animals, and I deeply, deeply adore the sales tax that our favorite Mouse makes possible. When y’all are filling out state income tax forms and paying out the nose for even a public college education in your states, we Floridians raise a vodka and orange juice to Disney World. Both my degrees were made possible by very low state-resident tuition back in the day, which was itself made possible by all of you coming to Florida on vacay and giving us 7 per cent of every dollar.
BUT this does not mean that I like going to Orlando, except on the occasions when I can myself play tourist and hang out with characters at the parks. See, it’s not Florida anymore. At least not as I understand Florida.
I cannot stand getting into a conversation in my home state, where my roots on at least one side of the family tree go back seven generations, and being asked (in an exaggerated Suzanne Sugarbaker drawl), “And where are y’all from, sugar?” I lose my laid back Southern ability to tolerate fools gladly, and I get the horrible urge to snap, “I’m from here, you goddam Yankee. Where the blue hades are you from?”
See, Florida is the upside down state. What’s North is South, and what’s South is North. Up here in God’s country, north and west of the Suwannee, were are part of the Deep South. We move slow, and we talk slower. We say “carry me to school” instead of “drive me.” When we prepare to do something, we’re “fixin’ to.” We say “y’all” and “ain’t” and we bless everyone’s hearts. And we eat grits.
This week, at a conference for local government attorneys from across Florida, the hotel served breakfast. Eggs. Bacon. Orange juice. All well and good. But there was a big casserole dish of some kind of seasoned potatoes next to the eggs. WTF? I don’t mind a hash brown now and then, when the mood strikes. But breakfast requires grits. Grits. The signature food of the South.
Grits are, as most of you know, ground corn, or more technically, ground hominy; hominy being a form of corn processed with alkali. Its just about the same thing as polenta, for which Yankees will pay big bucks in Italian restaurants. Nevertheless, they turn up their noses at it on a breakfast table. And when you ask for it in a big resort hotel in Orlando, the waiter acts like you asked for something A) exotic, B) disgusting, or C) A and B above.
So I didn’t get my grits in Orlando. But right now I am sitting at a good old fashioned Southern coffee shop (think Black, Sweet or With Cream rather than Latte, Mocha or Cappucino). And by my side is a dish of that ambrosia of the breakfast table, Nature’s perfect food, Grits with Butter.
I’ll close with a quote from our neighbors from the not-far north, the State of South Carolina. In a bill to make Grits the official state prepared food, the legislature said:
“An inexpensive, simple, and thoroughly digestible food, [grits] should be made popular throughout the world. Given enough of it, the inhabitants of planet Earth would have nothing to fight about. A man full of [grits] is a man of peace.”