Last weekend, my friend Heather and I spent four days as pretend hillbillies. We’ve always wanted to go to the Deep South– land of deliciously heavy foods, porch drinking, adorable floppy-lipped hound dogs, and people with two first names and cousins for lovers (let’s forget the racism and gross ignorance for a sec, and focus on the sheer glamour of overalls and and a rocking chair, okay?)– but, of course, we’re broke. So we set our sights as far as we could stand to ride on the stinkfest that is the Chinatown bus, which turned out to be Richmond, Virginia. Not exactly “deep,” per se, but below the Mason-Dixon line nonetheless, and proud home of the most tattooed people in Amurrikah. What we found out during our journey downward toward the East Coast’s nether-regions? If people from the South are hillbillies, then braid our hair in pigtails and tie us up in rope belts, ‘cause we want to be the biggest backwoods babes of them all.
Admittedly, our trip to Richmond got off to a rocky start when we couchsurfed with a real-life hillbilly. Our host was supposed to pick us up where the bus dropped us off, but instead left us stranded at a Seven Eleven at 1am. After an expensive late-night cab ride to Richmond’s historic Crack District, we made it to our host’s dilapidated homestead, where we banged on the door for twenty minutes until his roommate finally answered. The roommate was perplexed by our presence, there was already a travelling pan-flute player (I don’t lie) surfing the cockroach-infested couch, and when our host finally woke up and met us he was topless, with paint inexplicably smeared all over his face. And thus, he remained topless for the duration of our stay. We only ended up crashing with him for 24 hours, but it was memorable– we watched America’s Best Sandwiches in silence (poor guy couldn’t figure out how to turn on the sound on his TV), and watched him eat an entire large Meat Lover’s pizza at 3am.
However, after we traded our lodgings for somewhere a little less crack-addled, we had a major realization: Richmond trumps New York City in like, a lot of ways. Here’s why we loved the dirrrty kind-of South:
1) Good, old-fashioned Southern hospitality: FREE mimosas at brunch, FREE donuts-of-our-dreams, FREE rides from people who just met us– either people from the South are genuinely nicer, or they mistook Heather and I’s NYC-approved pale complexions, sleep-deprived under-eye circles, and frizzball humidity hair as signs of terminal illness and thought that we were charity cases.
2) Cheapo central: I’m going to break your heart right now– our research shows that rent in Richmond is about $250 for a room in a huge apartment with a private balcony (and a crawl-space that could be rented out for the same price per month in NYC), located on a lushly tree-lined and plantation home-dotted street. Beers are $1. You can buy a Hare Krishna-approved metallic Indian tunic at a thrift store for $3 (maybe I am the only one excited about that find). That place is like broke-ass Disneyland, only instead of riding around on the Matterhorn, you can get your thrills by eating too much fried food and passing out in front of the bear enclosure at Maymont Park.
3) Porch culture: Porch culture alone is enough to make me want to move to Richmond for 2.5 months and then get bored with it. Most Southern homes have spacious verandas which are perfect for binge drinking and yelling at anyone who walks by, which happen to be two of the funnest activities known to mankind. Your porch is your turf; what happens on the porch stays on the porch– and believe me, anything can happen on the porch (for example, I became best friends with deaf dog named Helen Keller!).
4) Hardcore Top 40: Richmond brags about being the most tattooed city in the US, but it turns out that all those punks wanna do is shake their asses to an Adele remix. In Richmond, I found my sweat-drenched self doing some grade-A middle school grinding while dancing atop a speaker, batting my eyelashes at a crowd of boys in black jeans and half-sleeves fist-pumping below. It was bizarre and magical, and could only happen in a place that doesn’t possess all of the obnoxious image-consciousness of NYC. Which brings me to my last point…
5) The freedom to be trashy: In Richmond, we could eat at convenience stores for dinner and drink PBR for lunch, and no one would ever say, “boo.” Or maybe they would, but Heather and I did that for four days anyway, and the only complaints came from our bloated bodies. We could dress like suburban moms, hang out with guys named “Gimpy,” pick at our 23 mosquito bites, and generally enjoy not being asked, “So, what do you do?” every five minutes. Maybe Richmond isn’t exactly a hillbilly city (besides that guy we couchsurfed with for the first night), but it’s exponentially more chilled-out than NYC, and that’s exponentially amazing.
Everyone in NYC has good taste, and that gets pretty boring sometimes. Our four days as pretend hillbillies “down South” were just the beginning– we might not be able to bring porch culture or deaf dogs with clever names to NYC, but we can certainly try to bring an air of not giving a shit about being hip or classy. From now on, I’m personally going to model my life after the true portrait of coolness– a heavily-tattooed-yet-extremely-polite bass player, guido-pumping his fists and vigorously shaking his tail feathers to Top 40 songs. Real coolness is worlds colliding, my friends.
Photo credit: xroads.virginia.edu