I am a Yankee. I am a feminist. I am a feminist Yankee, so it is no surprise that my 18-month tour of duty (if you will) in the South has been “interesting” to say the least. The people are super friendly, at least the ones in the city limits, given my background I don’t venture too far out of the city since a friend of mine who went to college here recommended that I “stay on the highway”. All in all, barring one time that I did not stay the course and saw a back roads bar with an “Obamaque” banner out front during the election, all in all things have been normal. You may omit the time that my husband and I went camping and hit the local convenient store for supplies and were greeted kindly by the attendant, but had to literally close our mouth shut and withhold a snicker when a native fellow walked in behind us and was greeted by said attendant with a very loud and sonorous “Hello Booger!” That was a good time, but not the only time that I have been compelled to keep quiet. During that same camping trip (again, leaving the “stay on the highway” advise aside just that once) a camper stopped over to chat with us by our campfire. Roughly about ten minutes in he had shared his views on homosexuality and also how “black people are, ya know, different” and just before my feminist, Yankee mouth went off on said camper, my husband ever so astutely and may I say just damn well-timed asked what kind of holster the gentlemen was wearing. When asked, the camper raised his sweatshirt to reveal a handgun. Que? Yes, remember how my big ole feminist Yankee mouth was about to go off and rail and educate and put some small-minded country folk in his place? Yeah, I pretty much just changed the subject.
Beyond those events, I have learned to accept the dominant role that religion plays in the day to day life of the South, the dearth of restaurants and the fact that besides the City of Charlotte, this State went Red in the last election. I have forgiven all of these things save for one comment that was made to me in the state run liquor store. My husband and I were there to buy spirits for a party we were throwing. At the checkout counter the older, fatherly clerk carded me and was being very complementary about my looks- to- age ratio, albeit in a very respectful way which did not get as much as an eyebrow raise from my husband. After my husband paid I went – almost instinctively – for the bag while he was wrapping his receipt around his credit card, at which time the clerk raised his hands and said, “no, you’re in the South now, stay in your lane” and proceeded to hand the bag to my husband. “Stay in your Lane?” I thought. I mean, I am totally fine with dudes holding the door open for me and I even like it when my husband pulls out the chair for me when we are in nicer restaurants, but to be discouraged from carrying my own flippin bag out of a store? I am all about the grand gesture, trust me when I tell you that I LUV gestures, but if we dissect this whole stay in your lane business was the clerk really throwing a veiled warning my way? Was his fatherly demeanor really a mask for some old school business? I wonder now if I should have even been in the liquor store?! What his commentary has done is show me that perhaps, albeit a random event, that people are out there every day in the South and also perhaps elsewhere encouraging people to stay in their lanes. By not having more examples of women in leadership roles is that not a subliminal message that we need to stay in our domestic lanes and bag out of the “game”? Think of the ways that you have been encouraged to avoid a certain path and by so doing made to take another one. What is a woman’s lane? Is it pink? Is it slower or faster than a man’s lane? Are their extra lanes for women with kids vs. those without? Do the cars have cameras which monitor our choices and progress? Can men drive in our lanes if they want? Can we drive in theirs? What happens when we do? Do clerks in liquor stores mask their disgust when we veer out of our lanes and might they call the cops on us if we appear to be repeat offenders? Can we pull off the road completely and walk or ride our bikes? When I think of lanes I think of only one, the fast one, the one where I blow past the people who are holding me up, the mini vans or the absent minded cell phone talker behind the wheel.
If I am to stay in my line, rest assured it will be a lane that I define and create for myself. As a woman of color, and according to the National Geographic Genographic test (41% Sub Saharan, 22%Mediteranean, 22% Northern European, 3%South African and 11% Southwest Asian) to be exact – my lane is not one easily defined. I am a woman, I am a married woman, I do not particularly like authority, I do not particularly like Michael Buble, for I find him to be a sterile facsimile of the real thing, Sinatra, who is one of many dead musicians I listen to regularly. So what precisely is my lane? I vote democratic, but had considered John McCain before he embraced his crazy and lost his own voice. What is my lane exactly? And for that matter what is anyone else’s? To hell with it all I say. Let’s eliminate lanes, like in India where my husband tells me the concept of lanes is really more a guideline than a formality. But without lanes where would we be? Like the plight of the transsexuals, to occupy both lanes. I think it would be a beautiful dilemma being everything. In the same way that an adopted child can imagine fantasy birth parents, ones with majestic wings who can fly or at the very least pay bills, as opposed to the more stolid reality. To transcend a definition, to bypass your lane altogether, that must be something. Becoming your own America, settling the new land, tabula rasa, making it what you want. But don’t forget that there are always natives in a new land. Baked inside of us there is a path, there is a path for madness, there is a path for greatness and there is a path that will lead some off of the road altogether. In some there are silent voices within that signal beyond the lanes a predetermined outcome; a marker for cancer, a marker for madness. But how to bypass what lies beneath? Might it be far easier to block what lies outside just beyond ourselves? What is the road to transcendence? Is it the Autobahn where there are no speed limits? Is it forgoing that DNA test, the potential sheet of black ice that may or may not be in your path, the right way to go? Or should you choose instead to wait idle at the wheel for signs of a thumb tremble to begin in your fifties, a harbinger of the tsunami to come. Is it conditioning out and away from your true tendencies with discipline? Is it letting your husband take the bag of spirits from the fatherly clerk’s well-intentioned hands? This is what we all must determine. The lanes are really only a guideline, know that you can go wherever you want no matter who tells you to stay in your lane, know that you are behind the wheel, you are in control, as much as any of us can be while on the road.