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A western omelet and a side of half-baked creationism

I used to think that to experience a totally foreign culture, I would need a phrase book and an intercontinental flight. Turns out all it really takes is a road trip through the far southern reaches of my native land, the U.S.A.

My husband and I had just spent a month in Sarasota when we loaded the car one bright Sunday morning and headed north toward home up I-75. If Sarasota has a hard-core southern side, we hadn’t found it. The city’s concert halls overflowed with nattily attired oldsters who, I could swear, read The New York Times and donate impressive sums to the arts. They looked a lot like ourselves, but older and richer—a bunch of pampered northerners escaping winter.?

The real Florida appeared soon enough on day one of the drive. By lunch time we had reached another country of the mind, where people wear their conflicted psyches on the billboards that crowd every mile. “Hell…I’d forgotten about that,” said one (if I’ve forgotten too, is that supposed to mean I’m going to burn there?). “Bible sale, next left” vied for attention with a most peculiar sales pitch for an adult novelty store: “now under new management.” What kind of Christian wants to score a deal on a Bible? And do horny truckers care if they’re buying their raunchy magazines from stores with enlightened managers?

The come-ons from sex stores were so thick and furious, they all but drowned out the more expected pitches from burger chains and car dealerships. Louder still were the billboards for ideological positions that give me the heebie-jeebies. While it may very well be true that most Americans know little or nothing about the Tea Party movement, as a recent poll concluded, you can be sure that northern Floridians are right there leading the charge. The mildest sentiment on display was “Vote liberals out in 2010.”

Whatever I may think of the views plastered along southern highways, I’ve always been a fan of southern culture: the literature, the music, the welcome, the cooking. I’d been waiting all morning for a hearty southern lunch, and my online research pointed us to? Mike’s Cafe and Grille in Lake City, not far from the Georgia border. With a cozy booths and a gleaming display case full of homemade desserts, it won our hungry hearts on sight. I ordered the western omelet with home fries; my husband couldn’t resist the chicken cordon bleu sandwich.?

I counted myself lucky to be facing the foursome directly behind us (in my book people-watching ranks with eating as one of life’s great diversions). ?Two middle-aged couples on their way home from church, they had gentle voices and an air of intense concentration as they compared notes on scripture. If either of these couples lived next door to us, I’d trust them with our keys and steer clear of delicate subjects. Big if: such people are nowhere to be found in our downtown Toronto neighbourhood. It soon became clear that they inhabited another mental universe, and we were strangers on their turf.

I was on a bathroom break while my husband got the gist of their table talk. Under his breath, he filled me in on the details. “Are you aware that creationists are sitting behind us?”

Given what we’d just seen along the highway, I found this more intriguing than surprising. I wondered why these Floridians believed—as apparently they did—that kids should tour the Creation Museum in Kentucky to understand why evolution is just a load of hooey tricked out as the truth by a bunch of know-it-all scientists. The fact that I consider the Creation Museum to be a $27 million load of hooey (dinosaurs hunted to extinction by medieval knights?) only heightens my desire to see it.

But I’m married to a man who gets mightily upset by hooey, especially when it threatens the teaching of science. He managed to bite his tongue until the matter of fossils came up. According to a pleasant-looking woman behind us, the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 created instant fossils “which scientists would tell you were millions of years old.” My husband swiveled to face her. “That’s not true!” he said emphatically while I tugged in vain at his arm.

He ate his sandwich in the car. I’m told it was sinfully delicious in that rib-sticking southern way. As for the western omelet, I’d have enjoyed it even more with a backdrop of creationist conversation. One thing about southerners, though: they’re the most polite people you could hope to meet. Knowing they had caused offense, they switched to neutral topics. I gleaned only one more tidbit worth knowing: their party included an oncologist. In other words, a man of science.

“I’m sure they’ll pray for our souls,” I told my husband. Then we pulled onto the highway, toward the known world we call home.

On a previous trip, we found that bad meal that’s not supposed to exist in Italy. I’d call it irredeemably awful if not for the laughs we’ve had remembering the story. Click here to read it.

Posted by Rona

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