As I cross Alabama, I think about its exceptionally high prison population. Small road signs send stern messages and set the mood, like this ad in a gas station illustrating a threatening policeman and announcing “the cops are watching you” to discourage malicious activity. Or perhaps these two almost identical cars that are in front of me at a red light… One is brand new and the other all rusty, the game being: “Can you identify a “black person’s” car and a “white person’s’car”?
Music escapes from cars. It’s hot, the windows, of especially rotten cars, are open. The terms “nigger” and “nigga” repeated to oblivion in hip-hop lyrics suddenly appear under a new light. A kind of pavement thrown in the ambient belief that claims that “it’s all behind us”. But that would be too easy and inaccurate.
People tell me stories of diplomas that cost $60,000 (in student loans) to end up in under-qualified paying $10 an hour, which is not the floor. To pay the debt off will take 6,000 hours of work, without counting the compounding interest, about 3 and half years of full-time work… before one can begin to eat and be housed properly. I am here to visit a distant cousin of a Houston friend of mine. He lives in the black neighbourhood of Dothan, a small sleepy town, that I imagine boring at first glance.
I know that he’s doing a favour for my friend by accepting me, this doesn’t really have the feel of a real encounter. His wife is away, she will return as soon as I leave. Perhaps she was trying to avoid me.
The house is solid and quite bare. They just moved in. They are not from here. They were born in the North, and have just moved here a year ago from Los Angeles where they lived in Compton, a dangerous neighbourhood. He’s happy that his children are here now. It’s the Deep South, yes, with all the connotations, but it’s much less violent here.
The children are super well-behaved, in the “Southern way”: obedient and cool. The son addresses his father in terms of “Yes, Sir”. The father is warm and friendly.
I’m back on the road and I have decided to take pictures to serve as notes to remind me of things seen, and sensations experienced. The photos aren’t meant to be exhibited. I also record the music that is the soundtrack of this journey upon which I am now fully embarked.