I’ve decided to update my situation, even though the dust hasn’t settled yet.

Let’s see, since my last post, I said goodbye to the Southern Maryland campground on one day, and started a new engineering job supporting research in South Carolina the next morning. I’m always open to learning, so I thought I’d pass along a few things I’ve learned on the way down south…

Observation #1

I hate to make generalizations, but regardless of actual temperature, it’s always hotter in the south. It’s a different kind of heat. It’s a hotter heat. I promised myself I would not complain about my new situation, so I won’t. But if I were to start complaining, I’d say dang! It’s hot here! But I won’t.

Observation #2

By default, cheeseburgers should come with cheese. This has nothing to do with the south, but on the drive down, I stopped at a diner in Richmond, VA and ordered a cheeseburger and fries. Here’s the conversation between the waiter and me:

Me: I’ll take a cheeseburger with cheese only, an order of fries, and just water to drink. Thanks.

Him: Um, our cheeseburgers don’t normally come with cheese, so if you want cheese added, that’s an extra cost.

Me: In that case, can I get a hamburger with cheese only, and an order of fries?

Him: Sure. How do you want that cooked – pink or no pink?

Me: The burger no-pink, the cheese yellow, and bring the fries in varying hues of golden browns.

Him: No problem. I’ll put that order in, and your food should be out shortly. 

Me: Thanks.

Me to myself: That was harder than it should have been.

Observation #3

You already know that I hate to make generalizations, but I think overall, people are just nicer here. Also, the pace is slower than what I’m used to in the northeast. I’m not sure which came first, the friendliness or the slower pace. Maybe one feeds the other.

Speaking of feeding, I was at another eating establishment on the same trip, and an elderly gentleman who had trouble walking waddled/scooted over to my table and placed his dessert in front of me and said, “Sir, would you like my dessert? I haven’t touched it. My eyes were just bigger than my belly.”

At first, I wanted to say no thanks, but I couldn’t stand watching him walk all the way back to his table with it. I finally thanked him, and acted like I was going to eat it, just to make him feel better. When he left I put down my fork and pushed the plate back. My belly was smaller than my mouth too. Or should be.

Observation #4

A few days ago, I was at yet another eating establishment (detect a trend?). This place was one of those chains that takes its name from a below-ground-level urban transportation network. Their commercials always emphasize a direct relationship between the price of their most popular menu item and the item’s linear dimension. Anyway, I ordered a $5 foot-long sub there.

While I waited, a strange-smelling man came in and was acting weird and talking to himself. Remember, my permanent reference for weird is Julinda. This guy was weird. I overheard one of the young women behind the counter whisper to her co-worker, “Not him again.”

The smelly man asked what he could get for $3. At first, the workers ignored him, but after he raised his voice and asked again, they answered in unison: “Nothing.” The man then went outside but came back. He yelled to me to come outside and help him.

Wanting to show my newly-acquired southern manners, I headed toward the door to provide aid to a fellow citizen of the south. As I did, the young woman who was building my sub got my attention by repeatedly yelling “Sir!” When I looked in her direction, she said, “Sir you don’t want none of that. Stay inside. He’s trouble.” So I stayed inside, paid for my sub and said thanks for the heads up.

The man was outside waiting for me. He stepped between me and the car, stuck his hand palm-up against my stomach and said, “Help out a friend before you leave. Give me enough cash to buy me some food.”

I had a choice. ONE: I could correct his grammar and let him know that he should have said, “Give me enough cash to buy myself some food,” explaining that myself is a reflexive pronoun and should follow me in a sentence. TWO: I could utilize my ninja skills (it’s been said that I can move quickly enough to dodge rain drops). THREE: I could simly give him what he asked for (demanded).

Since I was in the south where friendly people live, and since I didn’t want to lose my well-earned street cred on my first day here, I decided to give him the few dollars I had just stuffed in my pocket after paying for my sub. I told him it wasn’t much, but if he orders from the left side of the menu, he should have enough for a foot-long combo, given that he already had $3.

He thanked me. Sort of. He walked to the door of the sub place and I got in my car. As I waited for a clear lane to pull out, I noticed he hesitated at the door, as if waiting for me to leave. I bid him a good evening and pulled out. As I did, I looked back to see him running across the street to the liquer store. Apparently, he was suddenly more thirsty than hungry.

I thought about turning around to remind him that the sub combo included a soft drink, but I did not. I would have had to make an improper u-turn.

Observation #5 

I really like my new position at the research lab. It’s challenging to work with a lab full of PhDs who are experts in research but not in engineering. In their words, “We know how to invent stuff. We just don’t know what to do with it after we invent it. That’s where you come in.” I plan to pursue a PhD in the near future, so maybe I too can invent stuff and have no clue what to do with it afterwards.

The location of the research lab is surreal. Standing outside the entrance, I can hear 80s music blasting from loudspeakers above the large water park next door. On the other side of the lab there are falling bombs. Yes, we are literally located between a water park and a bombing range. My biggest discovery so far is that if 80s music is interrupted often by loud explosions, those songs never get stuck in your head for the rest of the day like they do in the real world.

I feel right at home at work. Honestly, it reminds me very much of doing laundry with Julinda. Nothing could be better than that, if I do say so me.