Saturday, April 25, 2009

Goodbye South

Goodbye South. Goodbye Waffle Houses, and interstates with wildflowers in the median and billboards for Fireworks MegaStores. Goodbye little ol’ ladies who take 30 minutes to give me extraordinarily precise directions to get where I am going. Goodbye sleepy streets and antebellum houses and revitalizing downtowns with 50s era storefronts. Goodbye sweet tea and wet vs dry BBQ battles and meandering conversations about why people are still compelled to reenact the Civil War. Goodbye flowering redbud tress, ancient moss-covered oaks and gator-filled bayous.

Goodbye rental cars, lost luggage and REALLY cranky airport policemen. Goodbye hours on the road with nothing to do but sing at the top of your lungs, look for the next exit, and talk and talk and talk to someone you never get to spend enough time with.

Goodbye quirky arts program directors with interesting backstories and 1930s movie palaces in various states of renovation or disprepair. Goodbye small southern colleges with students who call me m’am, and full houses of people who greet each inside joke of the film with a knowing chuckle. Goodbye showing my film to audiences that do not, necessarily, agree with me ahead of time - a rare and precious commodity. And goodbye to being reminded once again of the grace and warmth of the South, a place where people can disagree with you at the same time as making you feel like their favorite person, where no one seems rushed, where everyone uses their front porches, and where people will buy a DVD of your film after they’ve already seen it just to show they support you.

Goodbye Louisville, Cullowhee, Augusta, Charleston, Jackson, Mobile and Alexandria. I am sad this is over.

Last night’s screening in Alexandria was a fittingly sweet and magical ending to the Tour. Mom and I pulled into town after 7 hours on the road, checked into our hotel, and then headed over the pre-screening reception. We met Ben and Maggie, who run the Louisiana Arts Council program there, and chatted with the usual assortment of interesting locals, both native and transplanted, who come out to these screenings. After the film started we ducked out to grab some dinner (at this point, if I sit through the film one more time I’ll start calling out lines like the Rocky Horror Picture Show). On our way to the restaurant, we were pulled by the sounds of music coming from the other side of a levee a few streets away. We climbed a large grassy hill and found ourselves in the middle of perfect southern spring evening. A hopping zydeco band was playing on a stage in front of the river, people of all types, races and ages were dancing to the music, toddlers doing their little stiffed-legged hops of excitement as their parents clapped, and a warm breeze coming off the water like its own harmony. The band, an African-American “zydeco cha-cha” group, as they called themselves, sang and played the washboard with gusto as black men in cowboy hats and women in lizard skin boots danced a laughing two-step, hamming it up for the people who were sitting that song out. Mom and I couldn’t resist, twirling each other around and dancing like idiots (some of us more than others - don’t get me started on her Funky Chicken). For one song we joined a Cajun line dancing string of black women who were both highly amused and wonderfully encouraging about our complete inability to keep up. We pretty much got it down by the end. I think.

Finally, we dashed into a restaurant for a quick bite and back to the theater for the end of the film. I could tell the audience was into it, laughing and gasping at all the right parts, but when the lights went up and I stepped in front for my Q&A, I was unprepared for what happened next.

Out of a theater with over a hundred people in it, at 8:30 on a Friday night, not a single person left. They ALL stayed for the Q&A.

Now, after who knows how many showings all over the country since this film premiered over a year ago, I have never been to screening where every single person stayed for the Q&A. Not that I mind when people leave, I totally understand it, even expect it. But to see all of those faces turned to me, black white, young old, season ticket holders and people who just wandered off the street, all there wanting to know more, wanting to stay, wanting to share, well it just put a lump in my throat that hasn’t gone away a day later.

Or maybe they were just hoping to see Mom’s Funky Chicken.

So that’s how my last evening on the Southern Circuit Tour ended, full of serendipity and sweetness, with a great Q&A and a lovely dessert reception afterwards, with laughter, and insightful questions, and lemon chess pie (‘cause Lord know I didn’t eat enough on this trip.)

There have been so many great moments throughout this trip. With Kathy, with Mom, in all the different towns. I may not remember all of the names or places a year or five years from now, but I will absolutely remember this horizon of adventure and appreciation and Southern hospitality for a very very long time. And of that, as the white-haired lady giving us directions from the Mississippi Craft Center information desk said, “I am double barreled sure.”