I embarked on a road trip of the deep south of America to find freedom, and in doing so, find myself. I wanted to hit pause on my career and reclaim my time. After two years working in social media, my mind had become the sum total of what I was consuming daily. I wanted the freedom to roam and rediscover who I was, without being told. I had recently got married and felt this would be the perfect start to our life together.
In America, Jamie and I try on different lives for size. Our trip begins in a tiny campervan in Laurie’s front yard in Charleston. We discover the novelty of being Irish in America. Everyone we meet is genuinely charmed at our accents, our child-like love of all things American. Our only goal for the next two months is to explore and be curious. Nothing has tasted more like freedom.
Day one and we are in a diner, drinking black coffee and eating giant-sized buttermilk pancakes. Next to us, two cops discuss their lunch orders and why Kitten (the cop’s wife?) will be very angry if he gets home late. I sit back in my lumberjack coat and drink it in, the coffee and the cliché. In America, everything is brighter. It is louder, more vibrant. There are sports bars with 50 different screens. There are jacked up cars with wheels made of diamonds. It is diverse. A multitude of races and languages. Southerner’s voices are loud; they are confident and not afraid to share. The weather is hot and cold and biting and sweaty.
There is history here. In Memphis, we see the motel where Martin Luther King was shot. In Dallas, we see the road where JFK was shot, where Jackie Kennedy lost her husband. Big moments in time. Big movements in history. The Civil Rights Movement. A people tortured and humiliated and shamed. Over 300 years of this. Plantation homes built by slaves. Symbols of the south. Spanish moss blowing in the wind, whispering of unspeakable horrors.
Big vibrating cities and small insular towns. Ghost towns, where people seem starved of human contact. When was the last time they saw another face? In Selma, Alabama, it is incredibly still, the buildings haunted. This is a place that has been absorbed by its own history, by the weight of the events that happened here in 1965. They need to move away, to move on, but what if they can’t.
The bigger more diverse cities. Being in Atlanta during the Super Bowl is an experience like no other. A city pulsating with energy and anticipation, brilliantly bright and neon, with girls in double denim and Tom Bradys as far as the eye can see. We meet a guy at a bar who spent his teenage years as a roadie for Dead & Company (previously The Grateful Dead). He had fled a broken home and this seemed like a fun way to spend his formative years. He buys patron and our night quickly gets away from us. Later, we meet a rapper called Silk and his friend Zo, who give us a lift back to our Air B’n’B in their car made of diamonds.
We enter Texas and instantly discover it is a country in itself. In Austin, we eat chips and tacos and drink blueberry smoothies from an old school bus. We scoot through gentrified neighborhoods, past crumbling old houses repurposed as schools and associations, past the Texas State Capitol and its beautiful surrounding gardens, past a string of girls being led by a cowboy towards Rainy Street (a hen party I’m told). As we leave Texas and pass into Louisiana, we drive past a farm house which appears to have the entire contents of its house spread across the garden. A young guy with shaggy blonde hair is striding towards our car holding a rifle. Jamie hits the acceleration. Later, we pass a sign outside a church that reads, ‘God Saw You Do That.’
We eat fried chicken and barbeque. Our favourite is Sam’s BBQ, on Austin’s 12th street. The interior hits us like a slab of brisket; it is dark, the walls covered in torn, old polaroids and posters. Over beers in the back of the restaurant, Tyree, an employee, tells us the place has been open for 43 years, that the owner’s Dad won it in a game of pool. Apparently, Stevie Ray Vaughn made an instrument out of a bucket and mop and it was Jay Z’s idea to place a door between the two rooms that make up the restaurant. The South is bigger and bolder than anywhere else.
One month and three weeks later and we are in Miami, Florida. It is Spring Break and we are sipping cocktails in Gianni Versace’s mansion. Earlier that day, we spotted the model Slick Woods at Panther Coffee in Wynwood. I feel lighter, more like myself. We have seen a lot. We have woken up in different cities and states every few days. It is exhilarating and exhausting simultaneously. We have challenged ourselves to meet different types of people. We have pushed ourselves to get out and see the world. We have one week left and are leaving to embark on yet another adventure. One that will shake us to our very core. One that will fill us up even more than our time in the Deep South. In New Orleans, in the middle of Mardi Gras, right after witnessing a family of centaurs strolling down the street, we found out I was pregnant.