A few days after the foregoing piece had appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, I received a phone call from a gentleman who preceded without pleasantries or introduction to lambast me for being against “everything southern,” including NASCAR, the Confederate flag, etc. I did not speak for the South, my caller declared, but was simply pandering to the reprehensible, carpet-bagging Atlanta paper. Able to contain myself no longer, I asked if my critic believed that he actually spoke for the South. Yes indeed, he averred, adding he had been born and raised right there in Atlanta. (It never ceases to amaze me how many of my critics seem to leap to the conclusion that they all are more “southern” by birth than I am. My name is Cobb, and I’m living in Georgia. Hello!) To this, I replied that having grown up in the tiny country town of Hartwell, I considered him a Yankee-fied city slicker, but I promised nonetheless that if he would give me his name I would attach a statement to my next newspaper column notifying readers that I certainly didn’t speak for him. Although he did give me his name, having failed to frighten or fluster me at that point, he signed off with “Aw, go f___ yourself, a__-hole!” Had he hung around, I might have pointed out that I believe such an activity is illegal in Georgia, but then, of course, I might also been forced to concede that maybe he is more “southern” than I am after all.
February 2006 Archives
No sooner have I digested the news that state and local leaders are prepared to pony up a $32.4 million incentive package to lure the proposed NASCAR Hall of Fame to our capital city than I learn that the folks at NASCAR are not particularly impressed by this show of generosity. North Carolina, it seems, is ready to fork over $102.5 million to bring this shrine to Charlotte. (Isn’t it just a bit ironic that two such cosmopolitan-wannabee cities clearly doing their darndest to shed their regional identification are slugging it out to host a shrine to a sport that, for all its newfound national appeal, still conjures up images of ‘shine-hauling Bubbas trying to out run the revenooers?) In any event, determined not to be out done by their Tarheel counterparts, some of our lawmakers reportedly stand ready to up the ante and show that we have our heads on straight here in Georgia by making a racing museum a state priority.
Before that happens, perhaps we should look at what we would be getting for our current, apparently inadequate, offer. First there would be an estimated state tax take of as much as $36 million over the next decade. Since we are reportedly offering an estimated $6.4 million in upfront sales tax exemptions on construction materials, our net ten-year tax take would thus actually be less than $30 million on a $32.4 million expenditure. Apparently, the financial adviser on this investment is the same guy who steered me toward Delta bonds.
But wait! NASCARAMA itself would also create an estimated 116 new jobs and supposedly “hundreds of indirect jobs.” This sounds mighty good on the face of it, especially given the projected loss of 2,100 jobs when Ford shuts down its Hapeville plant. All jobs aren’t created equal, however; direct or indirect, once construction is finished, the service and retail positions generated by the new tourist attraction are not likely to be nearly so remunerative as those lost in Hapeville or in dozens of other Georgia towns whose manufacturing facilities have recently gone belly up. In 2004, for example, the average manufacturing worker in Georgia earned over $41,000, the average retail clerk $24,128.
I’ll grant you that servers in high-end restaurants and hotels downtown do pretty darn well when the tips are tallied. NASCAR’s PR flacks can’t say enough about their own polling data suggesting that its fan demographic has risen dramatically enough on the socioeconomic scale in recent years to put it roughly at the national average for family income. On the basis of close observation, however, I would venture that there is an important distinction between those who enjoy watching an occasional race and those for whom the sport is a consuming passion, and my sense is that there are a lot more blue collars than white ones in the latter category. As a group, the sport’s devotees show a propensity for free-spending where NASCAR-endorsed products and memorabilia are concerned, but loading up on Dale Earnhardt bobble-head dolls is one thing and dropping a couple of C-notes and then some in downtown hotels and eateries is another. My guess is the balance of the NASCAR manna shower would actually fall on the Days Inns and Ryan’s Steak Houses out along and beyond I-285, places where breakfast is self-served and dinner tips run a lot closer to $3.50 than $35.00. Actually, the most reliable plan to recoup the revenue dished out to win/buy the NASCAR museum might be to swear in some more “smokies” and “county mounties” and station them on the outskirts of town. After watching all that video of ol’ Fireball, Richard, and Dale, those NASCAR pilgrims are likely to feel not only a mite light-headed but a little lead-footed as well.
The initial version of this piece ran in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Feb. 21.
The gang is all here: big players such as Thomas Jefferson and Tom Watson, William Gilmore Simms and William Faulkner, Broadus Mitchell and Margaret Mitchell, and W.J. Cash and W.E.B. DuBois, as well as bit players such as the planter Bennehan Cameron, the academic Rollin G. Osterweis and the social activist Julia Tutwiler. The stock figures of Southern literature -- Jeeter Lester, Ike McCaslin, Willie Stark and Will Varner -- mix with the real figures of Southern history. (Sometimes it seemed they were kinfolk.) Patricians and parvenus, idealists and materialists, fading gentry and rising industrialists, and modernists and anti-modernists tumble off Cobb's pages. They construct great causes and lost causes, love the landscape and despoil the land, fill their purses and save their souls, and often elevate the idea of womanhood while debasing women themselves. The inhabitants of Away Down South come at us thick and fast, benighted and bemused, roaring down some unpaved back-country road, pedal to the metal. If this sounds like a breathless rendition of Southern history by an academic who loves to name names, it certainly is. Still, no one remotely interested in the South will be able to resist this book, and readers are bound to learn from Cobb's enormous erudition.
I can certainly understand why many Americans are shaking their heads at the storm of controversy that erupted in the Muslim world when several European newspapers ran cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed wearing a turban that doubles as a bomb. While the cartoons were deliberately and heavy handedly provocative, the fanatically violent response and the resulting loss of life stretches even my rather elastic respect for legitimate cultural and religious differences very nearly to the snapping point.
Before we go overboard in congratulating ourselves on our own vaunted reputation for religious tolerance, however, we might note the storm of self-righteous zealotry that cowed NBC into pulling its controversial series, “The Book of Daniel,” after just three episodes. So far as I know, this conflict did not result in bloodshed, although it did produce death threats against some station managers who aired the show over the strenuous protests of some local viewers.
Although some objected to “Daniel” because of its portrayal of a severely flawed Episcopal priest and his equally flawed family and flock, the show’s most egregious offense was its characterization of Jesus Christ as a decidedly laid-back but constant and caring presence in the everyday lives of even the sinful and whacked-out. Such sacrilege! The producers might as well have depicted the focal figure of the Christian faith as a terrorist.
A New York Times review of Susan Sheehy’s Sex and the Seasoned Woman indicates that not only are women over forty now twice as likely to dump the old man than vice-versa, but vibrator sales are really humming, especially, of all places, right here in the Bible-belted, bouffant-haired South. If Sheehy is to be believed, Mavis Jean and Maxine may be skipping Wednesday-night prayer meeting now and then in favor of all-female “Passion Parties” where they and other equally unlikely libertines of their age group fork over big bucks for all sorts of sex toys and fancy, flimsy underdrawers. In 2004, such parties supposedly raked in as much as $5 million in sales in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi alone.
The South has always been a land of contradiction and paradox, where effusive hospitality rubbed shoulders with homicidal violence and supposedly “dry” counties were perpetually awash in bootleg booze. Once upon a time, southern belles demurely but consistently kicked Yankee beauty pageant contestants’ butts, winning the judges’ hearts with references to the ever-present Bible on their bedside table. Are these same women now less likely to reach for the Good Book than for what’s in the drawer beneath it?
Say it ain’t so, Scarlett! And by the way, do tell Melanie we missed her last Wednesday night....