Tuesday, May 27, 2003


I will never really be a Southerner, though Lord knows I've tried.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Jill Vejnoska is from New Jersey and has lived in the South 11 years.

"I'm really sorry."

The clerk's words hit me like a furnace blast as I entered the quaint little store on Cape Cod last August. It was the first day of my vacation, and as I frantically considered the many tragic reasons for his proactive apologizing -- A freak banana daiquiri shortage? Cellulite cops on every beach blanket? -- he went on.

"Y'know, for the heat wave."

What's it, like, 85 degrees up here? Amateur! I was just about to cockily hit him with our word for anything less than 90 percent humidity down South -- "Brrrr!" -- when his next sentence stopped me cold.

"And of course, we don't have air conditioning."

Of course not. I was finally home.

It's official now. I will never really be a Southerner, though Lord knows I've tried. During nearly a decade of living in Georgia, I've sweated my way through such disorienting local customs as grits at Christmas, college football on big screen TVs at weddings and the annual Presidents Day/Look Mabel, There's Another New State Flag furniture sales.

Mostly, though, I've just sweated. And kept sweating in miserable silence as winter (aka the third Tuesday in January) turns to summer which turns to summer which turns to summer. Well, no more! This year, when summer is finally starting to wind down and real Southerners are once again trying to convince me you can't ever get too much of a good thing, I simply won't listen. I won't have to. The din of the air conditioner and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV will drown them out.

More to the point, I know what summer is supposed to be like. I grew up in New Jersey (State motto: "G'hed, make jokes. I know where you live."), home to the Two S's.

Springsteen and Sinatra? Not this time.

We're talking sand and surf, baby. You roll out of bed anywhere in America's 46th largest state and you practically land in the Atlantic Ocean. Nothing says summer like wondering which daily trip to the beach could be your last, courtesy of Bruce the Shark. Somehow, in landlocked metro Atlanta, "When, oh when, will the odd-even watering system end?" doesn't have the same life-or-death quality.

Mostly, though, summer in the South is just a little too long and a little too annoying for my tastes. It's the Renaissance Festival of seasons, with rush hour rain, humidity hair and "Bugs Gone Wild" pretty much guaranteed for six months. That's not summer. Like a romance that begins on Memorial Day and is over by Labor Day, summer is expressly designed to be too short and beautiful to live.

Think about it: You wouldn't want Summer Fling Guy or Gal suddenly reappearing on your doorstep when you've long since made the transition from tank tops to heavy sweaters. Well, it's the same thing with weather. When temperatures here exceeded 80 sweaty degrees for eight days last October, it felt a bit inappropriate. By Nov. 10, when the thermometer said 75, it was downright wrong.

Still, there's something to be said for consistency and adaptability. The temperature was 90 degrees or higher for 17 days last July, and except for running in the Peachtree Road Race on the Fourth (a lovely summer tradition here, I'll admit), many people showed an enviable ability to just slow down and enjoy themselves. As real Southerners, they're probably a lot smarter and more appreciative of nature's bounty than me. But it could also have something to do with the generations of sweet tea flowing through their veins. I mean, come on, that much sugar, for so long? After a while, who could move very fast?!

All this may also help explain the trait we Yankees are legitimately criticized for, our . . . I . . . I . . . oh, what's the word? Pushiness. Summer flits by so quickly up North, you've got to move fast or you'll miss out.

Especially on the banana daiquiris

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