NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - July 8 -- 'You're too sensitive. You get upset at the smallest things I say, and it's bad for team morale,' I said to Denny, knowing right away I shouldn't have said it.
'Yeah, well you were being a bitch all morning,' he responded, not in a confrontational tone, but as if stating a fact.
'That's a vague thing to say,' I said, trying to recall if I had been a bitch all morning.
I was exhausted from the worst-night's sleep yet, but knowing I would see my new nephew for the first time once we reached New Orleans later that evening had me lost in thought. The meaningless exchange of words Denny and I were having had less to do with anyone being bitchy or oversensitive and more to do with the fact that spending all day at a gas station on no sleep is not conducive to a chipper mood. This was our 49th day in a row having spent every waking and sleeping moment together, and from my memory, this was only one of a few bickering sessions.
I attempted the drastic transition technique.
'I love you, and to prove it I'll buy you any shirt you want,' I said, pointing to the rack behind the booth we sat in from which 37 varieties of confederate-flag shirts hung. The 38th style of shirt featured a picture of strawberries with the clever statement, 'Sisters are berry special,' written beneath it.
End of argument. We were back. Before we exchanged another word, we were playing Frisbee on a patch of grass behind the BP. Neither of us bought a shirt. They had my size but not my ideology.
We waited a total of ten hours at the gas station that day for my brother to pick us up. I know what you're thinking. Why didn't you go somewhere? Why didn't you walk?
Let me explain.
The thing to do in Georgiana, Alabama, is hang out at the BP. I know this because I spoke to more than one local who was hanging out at the BP all day as if it were the town's Bourbon Street. One guy was scoping out chicks passing by and telling me about what he'd like to do with them even though I didn't ask or care to hear details of things that will never come to fruition. At least I sure hope they don't.
Our legs were working just fine, but this was the cultural hub of the only town for 20 miles, and we figured we'd better give Alabama a few more hours of chance before getting the hell out of it. Plus, the 20 miles we could possibly cover in bipolar skies in eight hours could be covered by my quickly-approaching brother in less than 20 minutes. When he told us he could either pick us up that evening or four days from then, we chose the former. Staying longer could have meant helping our odds of something enlightening occurring, but at the same time it also may have increased our chances of never returning to the state.
We dined at the ever-popular BBQ shack next door. While I was using the restroom, Denny tried to strike up conversation with the owner. Apparently the guy saw our bags and asked if our car was broken down. When Denny excitedly explained that we were traveling cross-country on foot, trying to meet people from all walks of life, the owner neglected to respond and walked off. I imagined a bubble floating above his head with simply the word, 'Hippies!'
After Denny told me this story, I tried to chit-chat with the Donald Trump of Georgiana. He didn't respond, and I know he heard me. I could tell he was one thought away from telling us we had to collect our bags and leave. I think the fact we ordered half of the things on the menu was the only thing that stopped him.
It's not just that the vibe of small-town Alabama makes me cringe. I could deal with that short term if I had to. It's that it's epidemic of constant classification is very contagious. I even wanted to explain that the BBQ shop owner was white in the above paragraph, even though I typically feel this is an invalid detail. I somehow feel it's important for me to tell you that the only decent conversation I had in Georgiana was with black people, and that I had trouble relating to the white folks for the most part. I don't know why I feel the need to tell you this. It's the Alabama that leaked into my system. It made me see society in black and white. It wasn't for me. And it wasn't me.
Where was my brother?
As if Mike needed to increase the duration of his eight-hour round-trip journey, we hit a traffic jam halfway home. And not just any traffic jam - the type that inspires you to get out of your car and play Frisbee on the Interstate against the glow of headlights.
We eventually reached New Orleans just shy of midnight. I hadn't been back since the week of the hurricane. I was curious to see the state of the city first-hand. Denny and I had already lined up some more structured volunteer opportunities with the help of my brother. All we had to do was make a few phone calls. But first, I had someone to see.
I saw my first nephew for the first time via baby monitor in the room next door to the one in which he slept. As much as I wanted to, I knew I couldn't wake him. I would wait until morning.
Although this was the best-night's sleep in a while, especially since it followed the worst in recent history, I jumped out of bed as soon as my eyes cracked open. Will was wide awake. The first time we saw each other, he smiled at me. My sister-in-law explained he just started doing this. She said it was rare. She said he liked me. Finally, she informed me he often smiles while he simultaneously poops his diaper.
I was still flattered. I can't get enough of Good Will Triplett.