My buddy Josh used to be deathly afraid of spiders. To conquer his fear, he bought two pet tarantulas. When we lived together in college, I’d come home to Josh sitting on the couch, shirtless, with a big, hairy tarantula crawling around on his shoulder.
“Hey man. You want to let Xenia crawl on you?” he’d ask.
Even if that spider was radioactive and its bite would have enabled me to hang upside-down by my ankles while making out with Kirsten Dunst, I still don’t think I would have said yes. Luckily, I wasn’t crazy in the first place, so I could just have a normal person’s healthy fear of gigantic spiders that have mandibles big enough to pop the cap off a Heineken bottle, and I didn’t have to let them use me as a jungle gym to get over it.
When Josh came to visit at my house, my dad asked a question that to Josh sounded something like this: “Josh, hour yir spah dirs?”
“Excuse me?” Josh asked.
“I said, ‘hour yir spah dirs?’”
This exchange continued similarly for a couple more volleys, until Josh had spent all of his “I’m sorry, I still didn’t catch that” tokens without understanding yet what my dad was saying to him. Rather than asking Dad to repeat it again, Josh paused a moment, I believe to contemplate his chances of a successful dash out the front door.
“Josh, he’s asking how your spiders are,” my mom finally said.
I don’t even notice my parents’ Southern accents. They’ve lived in Pennsylvania for over thirty years now, but they brought some parts of North Carolina and Florida with them that haven’t ever left. Josh could understand Mom because Florida is barely even in the South; it’s like Maryland with Disney World and old people. The South kind of stops at Georgia and heads west, dying somewhere out in the Texas desert because that’s where Dick Cheney shot it in the face.
“Oh, oh, they’re fine. Thank you for asking,” Josh replied. Later, he said to me, “Dude, I need subtitles to talk to your dad.” He should hear my dad when we visit family down South. Every mile traveled on I-95 thickens the accent just a little bit more. By the time we get there, “split” is very nearly a two-syllable word. When people up North inquire about the origins of Dad’s accent, his favorite answer is: “it’s from Southern Pennsylvania.”
I thought of all this recently as I traveled down South for work. Besides being surrounded by my favorite accent in the world, I was pleased to find that Southern people don’t relish running down pedestrians like we do in the North. In the North, we have to play real-life Frogger to get to the other side of the street. You can actually hear cars revving their engines when you step into a crosswalk, like all drivers see when they look at you is a waving checkered flag.
I think a diploma from Penn State carries just a little more weight when employers consider the Darwinian implications of a graduate successfully crossing College Avenue every day for several years. This is one of the reasons that Penn State diplomas carry the Latin phrase “E veritas destinas childus” at the bottom, which translates to: “I’m a survivor, not gon’ give up. Not gon’ stop (what). Keep on survivin’.”
When you’re walking on a sidewalk in the South, if you have the thought, “I might just venture over to that crosswalk here in the next couple of minutes,” traffic will come to a screeching halt, the smell of burnt brake pads wafting into the air.
Southern parents probably just tell their kids, “It’s a big waste of time to look both ways before you cross the street, so don’t even bother.”
Y’all can email Mike Todd at firstname.lastname@example.org.