Before I moved, people warned me that I would have “culture shock” here in the South. Not just Northerners either. I still have people here in Virginia who, after asking where I’m from, respond with “Wow! Must be a huge difference for you!”
But if I’m being honest, it really wasn’t and I really didn’t feel as if I experienced any type of culture shock. That’s not to say there aren’t differences, but the most glaring differences were welcomed and played a role in our decision to leave New York. So I guess that contributes to my not being shocked by them, or feeling out of place. The complete and utter lack of traffic, for example, is fine. It was a bit shocking at first, in that my husband and I met each other at home in varying states of giddiness for the first few months after our arrival. “I did not experience a single moment of traffic!” “Neither did I! And I drove three towns away!!!” We’d practically dance across the kitchen.
Until this weekend, I thought perhaps that the mountains were the most shocking part of our move here, in the sense that I am not quite used to them being there despite it being over a year since our arrival. It still hasn’t sunk in that there are no beaches here, and I find myself, more and more, staring at those mountains. Since our move they’ve served as a breathtaking backdrop, scenery so foreign and amazing that I haven’t stopped feeling in awe of their proximity. However, I don’t feel at all comfortable about navigating them. People call them by their names and I dumbly nod, pretending to know which one they speak of, but seriously . . . no clue. Each one looks the same to me and if they have names I’d really like for them to throw on some name tags so we can get to know one another.
Now though I do know what it is like to experience culture shock, luckily in small doses. It’s definitely there and there’s no denying it.
A few weeks ago I interviewed a farmer who took me out to some remote areas of his farm. The first part of this expedition that surprised me was that we had to leave the property we were on, cross a road, and go through someone’s backyard to get to this other section of his land. Me being the city slicker that I am, I was a little surprised that his land was “cut up” in that manner. I pictured farms the way they appeared in the aerial stock photos from my elementary school text books, each in neat square blocks un-bisected by rocky roads. More than that though, was the brief moment of fear I felt after climbing into the farmer’s golf cart.
Let me preface this by saying the farmer was the sweetest, gentlest soul you could ever hope to meet. That didn’t stop me from experiencing a quickening of my pulse and a moment of questioning my sanity when he pulled that golf cart out onto a dirt road. In my mind I thought that if he were to kill me and feed me to some zombie cows, nobody would ever know. Where I come from, you don’t get in a stranger’s golf cart and go for a ride into a wooded area. Where I come from, wooded areas are where the bodies are found. So, while jotting notes on the various subjects he and I discussed, I also mentally noted to myself that my pen would first take out an eye and then pop a testicle should his intentions turn nefarious. They never did, and as we headed back to the main section of his farm I noted that I was far from home and things were, happily, different here.
Then, this weekend. Once again, I am on a farm. This time with a friend. The farmer indicates that we should travel to another section and that we will need a vehicle to get there. The three of us start walking and, as we go, he is looking around at various vehicles and noting why he is unable to take one or another. He finally says “We’ll take an ATV. I’ve gotten up to 5 people on one of those things.” We continue to follow him. I did hear him say “ATV” but I have zero experience with an ATV, and the only other experience I ever had travelling across a farm with a farmer, was beside him in a golf cart. I was happy to skip off behind this farmer and head towards what I comfortably assumed was a golf cart type vehicle.
No. It was an ATV. And I am an idiot. Notice below the difference between a golf cart and an ATV:
I am, in no way, suggesting that the first farmer was a sissy. He was old enough to be my grandfather and has certainly earned the right to travel by golf cart. He also has a dog that jumps onto the cart with him for long distances. I labeled it “Sissy golf cart” because when I caught sight of the ATV as we approached, and it sunk into my head meat that the farmer seriously intended for my friend and I to hop onto it for a jaunt across his farm, I was hoping that at some point he would realize the impracticality of his ways and instead find a golf cart somewhere. Anywhere. Because holy crap he can’t really mean for me to get on this thing, can he?!
I stood there staring at the ATV, which looked exactly like the one pictured above, except that it was covered in dried dirt and was beat up a bit and showed all the signs of having been rode hard and put up wet and I don’t really know what that means but I need for you to understand that this thing was rugged. And not a golf cart.
He indicated that my friend and I should deposit our things into the shallow wooden box that was strapped onto the ATV in front of the handlebars. I slid my tote bag off my shoulder and laid it in the box, while my friend laid a camera and tripod across it, along with her bags. I started to make my way to the back of the ATV because I wanted a moment or two to myself to try to figure out how I was getting on the thing without anyone seeing me standing there trying to figure out how to get on the thing. I peered at the back tires and quickly walked back to the front of it to put my pocketbook and sweater in the box before it was time to start motoring and one or both ended up caught in the tire and pulling me down to a bloody death in the Virginia soil.
My friend and I made our way to the back of the ATV. I should note here, for the record, that I am short. That means that the back of the ATV, where that metal grate is in the picture above, came up to about my waist. I stood, staring, and thinking that the best way to climb onto this thing would be to lift my right leg and throw my right knee up onto the ATV, climb up onto the back on all fours, then stick my legs out straight, facing the back, with my back to the driver. In my head, at that second, it seemed the only logical way to climb aboard.
Seriously. I was going to climb on all fours. On an ATV. Sort of like Tawny Kitane in the Whitesnake video, but I guarantee nothing sexy about it. Clumsy, yes. Sexy, nope.
As I took a step towards the ATV, and ultimately towards utter humiliation, the farmer threw his arm out and said “Let me show you how you’re going to get on this thing.” I’d like to think that he saw abject horror tippy toe its way across the irises of my eyes. I’d like to think it was that, and nothing in my body language indicated that I was about to mount this thing like it was a mechanical bull and sit on it BACKWARDS, which caused him to save himself from the abject horror of witnessing those antics and throw his arm out to stop me and teach me how to properly climb onto an ATV. Yeah. I’m going to keep thinking it was the first scenario.
What he indicated was that all I had to do to climb aboard is lift my left leg, in quite a genteel manner, and, for lack of a better term, side saddle the thing on the piece of plastic just above the wheel. The hump, if you will, above the wheel. I had to sit on the wheel hump. Side saddle.
Relieved, I hopped right on and my friend did the same on the other side, while the farmer lifted a leg over and started her up. I felt confident at this moment. I felt like Scarlett O’Hara astride a stallion. It was a very freeing feeling.
And then we took off.
It’s clear to me now that the rate of speed at which he took off is indicative of him being confident that he had two people behind him who were ATV literate. Two people, experienced with riding an ATV side-saddle, probably would have handled that take off just fine. However, someone who in any way gets on an ATV and calls it “side-saddle” and tosses her hair like a haughty Scarlett O’Hara, is not ATV literate. I think at this point we can all agree that we’re surprised she’s literate at all.
The good news is I did not fall off. My head, and really my entire upper body, jerked backward for a terrifying moment but I scrambled and grabbed the metal grate beneath me and held on for dear, dear life. No longer was I Scarlett, trotting happily across the fields of Tara on a gentle steed. I was just me, grasping for something to hold onto as we made our way across really bumpy terrain. Super, super bumpy terrain. Like, where the hell did all of these bumps come from because I could have sworn this was a flat field?!*
As we sped across the farm – oh yes, we were speeding. No, I don’t know what the speed limit is on that particular farm, but I assure you we exceeded it. Anyway, as we rocketed across the farm, I glanced over at my friend. She’s lived in Virginia for quite some time now, and prior to that traveled quite a bit. I would call her worldly, especially when compared to a rube like me. She sat there in the most regal way. Her curly hair gently bounced in the breeze, whereas mine was, by all indications, straight up in the air and swirling like cotton candy around my skull. She held her legs up ever so daintily so as not to get them caught in the wheel she sat above.
It was then that I realized I had my legs almost jammed up the ass of the farmer.
In my fright over our warp speed start out of the gate, I had not only grabbed the metal grate I was sitting on, but I had also, unconsciously, turned my entire body inward towards the driver and pressed any of my limbs that I felt risked being mangled right up against him. I tried to adjust my legs, but we were moving so fast that I just couldn’t seem to peel them free, and so they stayed. Crammed up his ass and against his leg. Not at all awkward.
In the midst of trying to stay alive, I again heard that familiar voice questioning the sanity of this journey into parts unknown with a stranger at the helm of a death mobile. I did, for a moment, try to remember if I had at any point given my husband the name of the farm I was visiting, and more importantly, will he remember it when he calls in a missing person report to the police? Because yes, this farmer could take me and my friend to a remote part of his farm and kill us and feed us to his zombie chickens. I had relinquished my only defensive weapon, my pen, when I handed over my tote bag.
That thought quickly vanished, mostly because this farmer was as pleasant and gentle as the first, but also because I saw a bug whiz by my face and I didn’t want to end up like Goldie Hawn’s character in the movie “Overboard” and have a bug hurled down my throat. I made sure my mouth was closed, which is good, because otherwise it would have dropped to the ground when we passed Huckleberry Finn. I shit you not. A young boy appeared out of the brush, right after we whizzed past SHEEP AND GOATS, and walked past us on the dirt road with a fishing pole in his hand. My friend waved. I stared, my eyes watering because they were agape and the wind was battering them.
We made it to our destination. I dismounted. With grace, I might add. Well, my legs didn’t give out when my feet hit the ground. So yeah, graceful. From there we had a lovely time with the farmer. He shared his time and knowledge with us and I even got to hang out with some chickens. When it was time to leave, and get back on the
theme park ride ATV, I felt much more confident. I even managed to keep my legs unglued from the side of the farmer, much to his relief I am sure.
So yes, there’s a little bit of culture shock now and then. Luckily enough though, so far everyone who has volunteered to ride along with me on this journey is welcoming, and awesome, and kind. A lot of them seem fine with playing tour guide for me now and then. As scary as the ride sometimes can be, it’s also very freeing to, now and again, feel a bit of horror and trust enough in myself and in those around me to believe I won’t end up murdered in the woods and fed to zombies.
I might even have fun.
* Wow. Having re-read that paragraph, I’d like to note, for anyone analyzing this piece for a Lit or Psych class, that this is the paragraph that will most likely support your thesis about scary farm rides being a metaphor for scary life changes. Just saying.