After a month of American infestation, stars and stripes surrounding me like proud hornets, I looked down at my feet and, thankfully, wasn’t wearing cowboy boots yet. But this is Alabama, and anything could happen. Literally anything. Just yesterday did I see a woman carrying a red cup chalice in the street, a super-red cup if you like. She herself had taken time out of her day in order to stick the stand of a candle-holder onto the bottom of her red cup to make it bigger and better than everyone elses. They’re all about the extremes here. Extreme hygiene for example, in the local supermarket I couldn’t get through the door without first being prompted to wipe down my trolley with specially designed ‘trolley-wipes’. I went to the pharmacy and they had plastic bags designed purposefully to hold your wet brolly. This is a nation paying attention to the most absurd of details. As my Grandma warned me before I set off, ‘They’re a nation of eternal washers, just remember that. I don’t want you coming back….’ She was right.
Perhaps this farcical attention to detail is part of the South’s way of ignoring the rather glaring vacuum of emptiness here, a hole that back in Glasgow was filled with the beautiful sentiment of acceptance. Alabama University houses one of the biggest Frat and Sorority communities in the whole of America.The campus is filled with khaki shorts and boat shoes. But I don’t see any fishing. Instead, you can smell the money and the Father’s who are have recently become honorary members of country clubs and the girls who put on fake British accents in order to be picked for social success. They weren’t as good as mine. Social elitism is unmissable. It’s like stepping back into a time I didn’t particularly want to remember existed. But it’s still going on. They call them the ‘greeks’, perhaps attempting to create some near classical culture to make up for the lack of their own.
You can find a rabbit hole to fall down though. The thrift stores and twenty-four hours diners draw out some of the more cinematic scenes of America. Cheap clothes and waffle houses are filled with people living on the outskirts of life, nights filled with game-show wacthing and days of manual labour.I witnessed the midnight Wal-Mart crowd with their stained t-shirts and burnt-out cars. This is a world away from the green college, tinted with the façade of legacy. It’s a university funded almost entirely by football. They have the best college team in the country and for home-games the town is over-run by football-fuelled celebrations and over-sized, processed hotdogs.
As I was floating lazily in the Black warrior river one night, surrounded by questionable pond-life I thought to myself, it’s no acid-washed Glasgow but what more does the American dream promise to offer. And after all, that’s what seduced me into romancing with the capital of the world.
Words: Lucy Cheseldine