A Cautionary Tale of the Deep South
This story actually has very little to do with roller derby, but did happen (as crazy bullshit often does) at a derby tournament. I recently had the pleasure and privilege of calling some games at the Asheville Division 1 Playoff Tournament for the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.
A word about Asheville: Asheville, North Carolina is one of the most beautiful and hospitable cities to which I have ever had the experience of traveling. It’s a small city of about 80,000 folks, nestled in green, rolling mountains. It’s an interesting cultural centre and a gathering place for hippies, dissidents and lefties in a massively conservative area. From what I understand, the rest of the Carolinas call Asheville “The Cesspool of Sin”. And sin you can, in a way most pleasing to me, as organic coffees and a dizzying array of locally brewed beers were served to me by cheerful, dreadlocked young people with anti-fracking bumper stickers on their old Toyota Corollas as the local Democracy Radio affiliate played nouveau bluegrass.
Everyone in Asheville is extremely polite, accommodating and attentive. The host league, the Blue Ridge Rollergirls, were nothing if not lovely. After about a day I was starting to get used to this real-life manifestation of Southern Hospitality.
And then the weird thing happened.
I was downtown, walking to a Mexican restaurant when the light changed against me, forcing to scamper back onto the curb lest I be forced to deal with the hassle of a foreign jaywalking ticket. Next to me, pulled up at the light, was an incredibly hideous 1987 Ford Taurus made of bubbled paint and sour regret. I think some folks call that a hoopty…feel free to correct me on that. From the passenger window lanced a searing voice that was exactly what I had expected to hear in the South before I had arrived.
“Son, you ain’t from round here, are you?”
I turned to look at the speaker, who, like the driver, was lanky, dentally challenged, and basically resembled the entire cast of Winter’s Bone. He continued:
“You cain’t be crossing against a light in Carolina. You best be getting back on the curb. And you know what else you need to do? You need to take a razor and take care of all this, ’cause let me tell you boy, it ain’t working for you.”
His motions indicated that all this meant my sizable mutton-chop whiskers. Most folks like ’em. I get called Lemmy, Elvis and Wolverine. Nobody besides my mother had ever straight up dissed them before.
“Tell me something. Don’t lie to me now. Don’t lie to me. You ain’t got no woman at home, do you? You got no woman ’cause your look’s all wrong!”
Time slowed down. I thought many things, mainly involving some kind of retort: I have a degree in English. I am one of the Unflappable Canadians. I am an Agent of A.F.T.D.A., trained in the art of witty repartee. I can handle these freaks; nobody in Duck DynastyLand should be making fun of another man’s beard! Let’s do this.
And then I opened my mouth and it all went to shit. I was utterly unmanned, sputtering like a wet toaster: “I…have…women…” I trailed off, my head full of thoughts of all the high-tech armaments that not putting a dime into your car forever could buy. There were also some images:
“Is this gonna be our time?”
This last one was because I was still hungry.
I took a deep breath and prepared to try again.
The light turned green and they drove off with a cackle, rear bumper scraping the crown of the road as the car’s nonexistent suspension fought the steep incline. I stood there, thinking about what Elvis or Lemmy or Wolverine would have done and concluding it was not that.
I did get my Mexican lunch, and afterwards returned to the arena. I saw Sweet Willy, the tournament’s head announcer, sitting with some Atlanta skaters, so I decided to get a southern opinion on what had transpired. After I had told my tale, Willy was no good to me, as he could barely breathe from laughter. The skater beside him, Sissy Splaysek, turned out to be an Atlanta resident transplanted from Texas. Since Willy is secretly Canadian anyway, she was the closest thing I had to an expert. “So”, I said, “Is this how things go down normally? Drive-by mockings?”
Sissy, who despite wearing derby gear managed to present a picture of southern belle refinement, gave a subtle pearl-clutching gesture near her throat and breathed “Heavens no. No southern gentleman would ever speak such words to a stranger on the street. Those folks must have been mountain.”
So there you have it. My deep-fried southern shame. Don’t get me wrong, I would return to friendly Asheville in a heartbeat. Heck, if I could keep my healthcare I’d move there. But never again will I tangle with the Mountain Men. They have counted coup upon me, and own my soul.