Controversial Opinions and Cronuts

At 7am the air was muggy and dark grey clouds covered the skies of Birmingham, Alabama. I packed my backpack and requested an Uber to the airport.

The driver, James, short with a ginger goatee, was dressed in a formal shirt that was tucked into khaki trousers. He was an Alabama native who was just finishing his shift early on a Sunday morning so he could get to church.

“I’m gone meet my wife at church just as soon as I’m done dropping you off,” he said, “Now, I won’t be offended but what do you think of our current political situation?”

I had expected the question to come up at some point during my stay. I was travelling through all red states and I guessed people would naturally be curious about how their president, the man for whom the majority of the people in these states voted, was being perceived elsewhere in the world.

“Well, as an outsider, I can’t really judge on the day to day aspect, only what’s been presented in the media. I know the media can skew things but from things he has said, admitted to, and done while in office and in the campaign, I can’t say I would’ve voted for him.”

“Obama is behind ISIS, did you know that?” He took his eyes off the road and held my gaze to make sure I knew I was being let in on a huge conspiracy that might not have crossed the pond.

My first flight took me to Tampa where I waited for two hours before getting another flight to Nashville. The original plan was to drive but failure to book a rental from Birmingham sooner meant that the good (read: cheap) deals had gone, and flying worked out cheaper.

The first thing that struck me about Nashville was how beautiful and verdant it looked.

The city was currently under the thumb of a small storm – nothing like the one I’d experienced in Birmingham – but when I reached my accommodation I was greeted by something I’d been meaning to try for a long time: cronuts, provided my by host, Megan.

Cronuts are a genius mixture between a croissant and a doughnut, resulting in layers of flaky pastry filled with any number of flavoured creams, mousses, or jams.

I was presented with a chocolate moose tracks iced cronut filled with peanut butter and chocolate icing.

“I can usually only take one bite and I’m full,” Megan said by which point I was halfway to finishing.

The second cronut was a vanilla cronut filled with vanilla cream. This didn’t last long either.

“You should come by my bakery and see what else we do. I’ll hook you up with more.”

For the first time in my life, I felt an addiction building and, again for the first time, I had a dealer willing to take my money in exchange for my fix: sweet, flaky pastries.


Alligator No-Shows

Ben had given up a good job as a civil engineer to pursue his dream of working for himself. He’d decided that the business for him was to run a shuttle been Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia.

“You’ve got the bus to yourself today, I hope that’s not a problem?” Ben said as he passed me a bottle of water.  “Saturday is my quiet day. Usually most people are where they want to be by Saturday. Friday and Monday are busy with people going away or coming back.”

The 2 hour journey to Savannah seemed an easy one with barely any traffic. We’d be passed every now and then by a speeding car. 

“We’ll be seeing him again,” Ben said. Not long after, a traffic cop flew past, sirens screaming. Sure enough, we passed the speeding driver as he waited by the roadside, the traffic cop leaning into the passenger-side window.

I asked Ben how long he’d been running the service and how many trips he did in a day. 

“I’ve been doing this for just over a year and I’m still doing the one round trip. It’s about 6 hours of driving a day; it’s all I can manage without losing too​ much concentration. I like driving but I would like to hire someone else eventually. I feel like I’ve got more to offer; there’s more I could take on to help the business side of things. Right now I don’t really do any marketing so it’s all word of mouth – hey, see this area right here, I saw a couple of alligators here a couple of days ago…,”

To our right was a vast swamp that ran from the horizon right up to the side of the road. Ben slowed to the minium speed limit of 45mph. I stared into the dark brown water and amongst the flora but couldn’t see any alligators.

“… None today,” he said and began to speed up again “But I’m getting more customers this year than the same time last year so we’re slowly becoming popular.”

Our journey ended on Hutchinson Island, from there I would need to get a free ferry service across the Savannah River.

“So you know where you’re going once you get across?” Ben asked.

“Near enough,” I said, “I’ve got GPS on my phone so I’ll find it.”

“My kind of traveller. A lot of folks need a little help.  Savannah can be confusing.  After a few days you’ll know the streets pretty well, it was the first city in the US to be built in a grid system so you’ll get to know the main streets and squares. From there you can find anything. Be glad you’re not driving, there are a lot of one-way systems, especially around the squares.”

Single-Serving Friend #1

Delayed by 90 minutes, I sat on my flight to Boston, dejected. The already narrow window for me to make my connecting flight to Charleston had closed  and I was kicking myself for not anticipating this happening… Or at least not recognising that I was stacking the deck against me from the beginning.

Oh well, I thought after an hour or two. I forced myself to remember the guy in the film “Bridge of Spies”; when asked by Tom Hanks why he doesn’t appear worried that he could be executed for spying, the man replies “would it help?”. Worrying wasn’t going to change anything so I might as well enjoy the flight and I’d sort everything out on the other end.

I’d seen the lady sat next to me before I boarded. Elderly, small, and frail, she had been brought onto the plane in a wheelchair as she was unable to walk the length of the gate. She too was travelling alone. Her English was very basic but we were able to work out through several small conversations consisting of games of charades that she was a mother to 5 sons, that she was going to visit her third son in Philadelphia, and that she was willing to give me her woefully inedible balsamic braised beef with dumplings main course in exchange for my tolerable miniature chocolate cheesecake dessert. 

“Where you go? Boston work?” She asked.

“No,” I said, “Holiday. I’m going to the South.”

She looked confused. I showed her on the map on the screen in front. 

“Why?” She asked as my finger reached Charleston. I told her it was warmer and she waved a hand at me as if being warm was something she’d decided was overrated a long time ago.

Over the course of the next 7 and a half hours I acted out my mother’s unhappiness with me going for so long, how I was getting between cities, and that I was going to eat everything I possibly could. I helped her to open her lunch, gave up my dessert, helped her out of her seat to go to the bathroom, and only at the end of the flight noticed that she had sat in her seat in the lotus position for the duration. As someone who is about as flexible as a brick, I was impressed.

As we descended into Logan international, she gave me a hug and told me that I was her son. 

No less than 4 babies wailed in harmony as no doubt they were uncomfortable from popping ears and strange sensations they’d never felt before. They synched up beautifully and were genuinely in tune at least twice.

After we landed I was informed that, thankfully, my second flight was delayed. Hurray for consistency! I made it through security and to the gate with time to kill.

Later I wondered if I were pushing my luck by listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd as I descended over South Carolina…

 I got to my destination about 22:00 local time which meant it was 03:00 in the UK. I’d been awake for nearly 18 hours and my bed for the next 5 nights was a welcome sight.