Just like in the TV series ” Weeds” and “Breaking Bad” contemporary to this trip, the America that I am crossing seems to be one riddled with cracks and that is rotting, behind its appearances. It is easy to avoid poor/black neighbourhoods and not go in, to ensure that you don’t go through them unless this you take the wrong exit, which is unlikely to happen thanks to the wonderful invention that is the GPS.
It’s a bit like I had felt in Johannesburg in the period just after the end of the Apartheid. You could very well pass from a white bubble to another without ever passing through Soweto. Are the often richer white communities even aware of the extent of damage that is just at their door?
I should actually just say “the rich,” because I have come across many poor whites with emaciated faces. This gap also exists elsewhere, such as in France where some of my Parisians friends rarely go to the suburbs and only see their portrayal sporadically and mainly through the media!
I now routinely stop at the McDonald’s that line the highway to enjoy some Wi-Fi connection. In this one located between Lexington and Nashville, a little Amish boy with braces looks at me from the bench facing me while eating ice cream with his grandfather. He’s wearing the big trademark straw hat.
Although these fast food places don’t have the old-time quaintness, they have become real popular spots where everyone comes to meet.
DECEPTION TO REDEMPTION
I am disappointed by Nashville. At first, I didn’t want to come here. Country music –especially that of today –is not really my cup of tea. But I was told, “Go anyway!… It’s not what you think!” I did not want to be my old stubborn self, so I came. Well, it’s pretty much how I imagined it.
The best moment happens in this little greasy spoon where I go directly following a friend’s advice. It looks a little run-down auto repair shop, a sort of hut from which smoke escapes profusely. Two clients, one white and the other black, are chatting about manly stuff: sports, women and work, but also divorce. The white guy is a limo driver. We are far away from the university and touristic area.
The kitchen is black, oily and dirty… The guys that work here are themselves glowing in semi-darkness. They serve through a small window that opens and closes. An old worker with overalls and safety shoes sits down. These are regular customers. For the first time, the southern accent is really thick and the “blackened catfish” delicious. Very fresh fish, perfectly cooked, seized in a spicy batter and served between two slices of white bread. The boss is a fifty-year old woman, with a big mouth, she pats the back of the old white guy who’s eating quietly in what I can sense is his favorite spot, right next to the only window! Why do I feel more at ease in these marginalized, often black, communities after all?
SEARCHING FOR THE BLUES
For the rest of the day, I decide to stroll down the main street full of white tourists in shorts; a mix of simple people and fraternity guys from local Ivy League universities, not really the America that inspires me.
I walk down the main street where country bars shower their music onto passersby. In the barbecue joint recommended as the best in town where I end up, not a single black person, except for the cook in the kitchen!
I’m on the search for a Blues club. We’ll see. It’s a real quest, I spend hours on the phone and on the Internet. But, aside this quasi-museographical approach, do the blues really still mean anything?
In the club where I finally land on “Printer’s Alley”, a regular performer is trying to energize the room. But, as I shall see later, the most interesting things happen in the public and not really on the scene.
A touching couple is celebrating something. They must be in their sixties. He must have been a lady-killer; he has charm and still has good looks. She seems to have had a boob job, but the neck doesn’t lie. He goes on stage and joins the band with his harmonica. And he’s not bad at all! He is clearly playing for her, for her honour, and to impress, and it works. The audience cheers. Then they dance a bit, showing off a little. They seem rich. This guy has obviously had another life before. Is he a doctor? A businessman? He seems confident and relaxed, one of those successful hedonists. At the same time, he remains in character as the other guy he also almost were, at least long enough for a blues song.