You won’t find anyone prouder of their Southern heritage than me. Heck, I even wrote a book called “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” celebrating my connections to Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia, the states in which I’ve lived all my life.
Admittedly, there have been a few bumps in the road. As a kid, I wasn’t proud of Alabama when Gov. George Wallace was embracing staunch racism.
Not to be outdone, Georgia soon elected Lester Maddox as governor. His claim to fame was standing in the doorway of his restaurant with an axe handle to keep black people out.
Tennessee hit bottom a few years later. Gov. Ray Blanton shamed the state by operating a clemency for cash operation, unleashing dangerous prisoners. In an unexpected turn of events, “Pardon Me Ray” paid for his scheme by spending a few years behind bars himself.
All three would later attempt to rehabilitate their images, with varying degrees of success. But not before they turned their names (and by association, their states) into punchlines, providing great fodder for America’s comedians and editorial cartoonists.
Much to my delight, starting in the 1970s my three favorite states made great strides in boosting their national reputation. For about 40 years we elected men and women of good character to our state and federal leadership positions. They generally did their jobs, stayed out of trouble and didn’t say anything stupid. It was fun while it lasted.
Now we’re right back on top of the national joke heap. Various southern members of Congress are acting out like playground bullies, serial liars, and kids whose parents failed to teach them any manners.
We’ve got one in Georgia who voted against sending a message of sympathy to the families of 50,000 earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria. The vote was 414-2 in favor. We have one of the 2.
We have another in Tennessee who is in a tight race with the notorious George Santos of New York. They are apparently competing to see who can get away with the most lies about their educational background.
We have still another Georgian who described the January 6, 2021 Capitol riots as “normal tourist activity.” Speaking as a frequent tourist, I’ll just say I’ve never been on a tour like that one.
And those are just the representatives we have sent to Washington. In our state capitols, various yokels are fresh out of Hee Haw High School. On an almost daily basis they propose and pass legislation that would have felt right at home in the 1950s, or earlier. One of them shared a fond remembrance of the days of lynching. When they are cornered by reporters, they generally run away, wearing a smirk that says, “Don’t blame me, it’s the people in my district who keep sending me here!”
In the midst of these hayseeds giving the rest of America a big chuckle, comes the biggest embarrassment of all. A national survey revealed that our public bathrooms aren’t just bad. They stink, for real.
For example, Tennessee’s public restrooms scored a 4.6 out a possible 10 points. The only southern state with a lower score was Mississippi with a 4.2 rating. Yes, in our region, Tennessee is truly “Number Two,” but we’re not bragging about it. (By contrast, Vermont scored a sparkling 8 out of 10, but that’s an 18-hour drive from my house, and I can’t hold it that long).
The southern toilet survey also blasted our public johns for lack of privacy, poor accessibility for people with disabilities, overflowing trash cans, clogged commodes, missing mirrors, a lack of diaper changing tables, no toilet paper, mysterious odors, malfunctioning hand dryers, and faulty flushing mechanisms. That’s our reputation you see, circling the drain.
Although there were no positive mentions in the survey, I will make an exception for the chain of travel centers called Buc-ee’s. When I enter their shiny, fragrant restroom, I picture myself on the throne at Buckingham Palace. Literally.
By the way, the Buc-ee’s stores are all located in southern states, leaving our visitors with a positive impression. Our politicians could learn something from all of this. Four little words: Clean up your act.