I'm just back from spending a long weekend with friends in Mexico.......oh no sorry.........in Gainesville, Georgia. It's a mistake that's easy to make as there seem to be more Mexicans living there than, well non Mexicans I'd better say.
Last Thursday I rented a car from Enterprise in Sebring and the nice people there gave me an upgrade from an Economy to a Full Size and so I got some sort of Nissan with a 2.5l engine which was a lot of oomph for me. So we left our winter home here in Florida because I took Deb across to Tampa as she was flying back to Michigan to be with her daughter-in-law who was having her graduation on Fri/Sat. That was 105 miles for a start. I then drove on up to Gainesville which is about 55 miles north east of Atlanta and that was another 530 miles.
It was a pretty uneventful drive but I was glad I'd my MP3 player with me as there wasn't much to listen to on the radio. I got gas just as I started on I-75 (not me personally, but the car) and when I did the maths to work out that first miles per gallon figure, it came to a woeful 19. I was shocked. Then I noticed something for the first time. When setting off from the Enterprise location, I'd just moved the automatic gear lever down through the normal 'gears' as in Park, Reverse and Neutral. The next gear is usually Drive and this should be where you stay for 99% of the time unless driving around Colorado !!
Before leaving the gas station I looked more closely at the settings and saw that the position directly under Neutral on this car was.......Third ! Opps. That explained the 19 miles to the gallon. On this car you needed to move the lever ACROSS to engage Drive. I did so and the next time I gassed up and did the maths, it returned 29 miles to the gallon. Much better ! Phew.
Anyhoo as I approached Gainesville I noticed a sign claiming it to be the 'chicken capital of the world'. Now America has a thing about assuming that if it's got the biggest, fastest, tallest (you get the message here) person or event or whatever, then it must be the same in the whole universe. Don't get me started on the World Series I beg you !! But in this case, Gainesville's claim seems to have some validity. I used Google and if it agrees, then who am I to argue. It's interesting to note that Buffalo, NY, claims to be the chicken wing capital of the world and Barberton, OH, claims the same title for fried chicken (something which is also claimed by Pittsburg, KS, so fight it out guys) . I'm not sure how these things are measured - is it by amount produced or amount eaten or even amount pooped !!??!!
Sorry, got a bit gross there.
This Google search diverted me for a while and I found a highly amusing, although slightly bizarre, site giving a list of various world locations and their claims to be world capitals of xxxxxx where xxxxxx ranged from fire hydrants to cow chips. I noted that most of these titles were claimed by US towns and cities so read into that what you will. All I know is that if I pass anywhere downwind of Russell Springs (no mention if it's the one in KY or KS), I'll be keeping my car windows firmly closed as it has the dubious honour of being the cow chip capital of the world. Now why on earth would the good citizens of this town make such a claim ? I'd suggest they go off and buy a load of fire hydrants and take over from Albertville, AL, in that particular catagory. The air will be sweeter for their efforts.
But again I've digressed. In 1989 Gainesville was a typical southern town with it's Po' Folks restaurant and fried chicken on sale everywhere. The locals had that s-l-o-w drawl that made me want to finish their sentences for them so that life could go on. I needed an interpreter on my first few visits as it wasn't just a case of individual words being so different but entire paragraphs ! In all my life I'd never mashed a button. I'd mashed potatoes and that was it. Here was someone telling me to mash a button. I think I had a tv remote control in my hand at the time but the statement still made no sence to me. But after a few visits I became (almost) fluent in Southernese and could mash buttons with the best of them. Seems I was a natural.
But that was a lifetime ago and things are very different now. What you hear around Gainesville is much faster speech. If that was all there was to it, then I'd be pleased with the change. Sadly not only has the speaking speeded up but it's also switched from a southern version of English to a langauge from further south again..........Spanish.
The reason is simple : Mexican immigrants, both legal and illegal, swarm into Gainesville to work at the huge poultry processing plants doing the jobs that no one else wants to do - namely dealing with the process of transforming live birds into boneless chicken flesh. A dozen years ago, Fieldale Farms, the largest of these plants, employed fewer than 100 Hispanics. Today, Hispanics total 3,000 in a 4,700-person workforce. The pay starts at $10 an hour which is a glittering prize for an unemployed Mexican back home.
As a result, Gainesville has changed out of all recognition even since I first visited in 1989. Since 1990, the official population has nearly doubled to 32,000 and the number of Hispanics has quadrupled to compose nearly half the registered population -- and far more when illegal immigrants are considered. City schools are now 55 percent Hispanic. More children arrive each day with their undocumented parents, often directly from Mexico. The Yellow Pages include 41 pages in Spanish. St. Michael Catholic church, which once drew 25 people to a monthly Spanish Mass, now has 6,000 Hispanic families on its parish registry.
I saw the influence of all this first hand at the weekend as my friends daughter, locked in my memory as my little 3 year old princess in 1989, had become a lovely 20 year old with a Mexican husband, a 17 month old baby boy and another on the way. I liked the husband, and the baby was a little cutie and they all made up a sweet and loving family and bring obvious joy and pleasure to my friends who now, by the way, go by the names of Nana and Papa. I felt SO old !
So we had a lot of catching up to do and we talked and ate all weekend. There was even time for a visit from my friends gay cousin (who happens to be a grandfather so I'm still working that one out) who I knew from previous visits but hadn't seen for many years. He said I hadn't changed and if anything, looked better now than I did in 1989.
Bless his heart.
Oh I did make one purchase while there that blows my mind. We were in the local WalMart and I saw a pallet of video boxes that caught my eye. For a few months now Deb has been talking about wanting a dvd/vcr recorder combo and the prices HAVE been as low as $158 I think. Now this combo is a dvd recorder as well as a video tape recorder so you can easily record from video to dvd and vice versa. Well on this pallet were boxes of the very unit for.........drum roll please...............$75. Yes folks, $75 or approx £40 in real money. I couldn't believe it. I asked a very helpful and smiling WalMart employee (ok so I know I'm joking) what the scoop was and he said they got them in after Black Friday and they weren't selling so they kept reducing the price. Once they were gone, they'd not be getting anymore and not many stores had them to start with.
I immediately rang Deb in Michigan and as I suspected, she screamed BUY, BUY, BUY. Of course later on, after indeed buying one of the units, I was hit with the realisation that she might have been busy at the graduation ceremony and was in fact screaming BYE, BYE, BYE at me !
I keep thinking of my Philips dvd recorder at home which I bought several years ago when they were new on the market and I think I paid almost £450 for it ($900) and now look - you can pick them up for little more than a fill up at the gas station.
Another example of changing times.
And so after this brief visit, I headed back to the welcome heat of Tampa where I picked up Deb and we set off for Sebring. In total I drove close to 1400 miles and listened to about 500 music tracks of MY choice. Apart from a traffic jam in Tampa, I loved every mile. Next time I might have to take my passport and a Spanish phrase book though !
Cost of the car rental - $202.
Cost of the gas - $122.
Cost of seeing my friends again - priceless.