To be perfectly honest, I didn't know much about the pediatrics department before I got here. I knew, sure, it's a great hospital, and hey, they sure treat my girl well. And being that it's Wake Forest, I felt pretty certain that my level of pediatric training would be stellar. But I didn't really know what to expect upon arriving. But imagine my happiness - and this should come as no surprise to many of you - to find out that the South is, quite simply, better than the northern locales I've haunted the last few years.
When I was about shoulder-high, we lived in a small rural community outside Atlanta. Those three years were the golden years of my childhood. My neighbor's lawn was a gridiron every fall day, football in the biting-tackle five-mississippi rush two-completions-a-first and one-blitz-or-sneak-every-four style, watch for fire ants and don't land in Josh's Mom's azaleas. Every self-respecting male would line up for a long afternoon of man coverage and touchdowns in the driveway. We knew each other's college teams and no one gave a crap about the falcons and it was glorious. What I wouldn't give to be eight years old again, sweating stripes in my tee shirt and dragging two unlucky kids down to the concrete for seven.
But halfway through fifth grade, we moved to Richmond, where I would spend most of my childhood. Everything was different. Most poignantly, the other neighborhood whelps had little-to-no interest in the glory of a day ended in a cloud of dust. When we did play, it was three of us playing touch ball in the street and one guy QB'ing both ways. It ended up being a matter of attitude... a sort of Northern attitude.
See, Richmond's got Southern credentials. How can it not? It was the capital of the Confederacy. We've even got a statue of ol' Jefferson Davis on our Monument Avenue.* But the shadow of Maryland is cast long, like a deep blue cloak over the heart of Virginia. And like the Northerners I've come to know - and even enjoy - Richmonders are a closed lot. It takes 365 days of constant residence in Richmond to be accepted into society to the point that you are safe to address cautiously in public. This is no exaggeration or hyperbolic detail - my mother endured a full year to the day of grocery-store isolation before the Richmond switch was flipped and someone said hi to her. Heaven forbid you speak to a stranger in the elevator, and if you must enunciate the number of your floor, be courteous but curt. The Northerners just aren't friendly like the Southerners are.
Contrast this to the South where (God bless it) you go down to the Piggly-Wiggly and leave with three new best friends. My fiancee was not prepared for such openness and it honestly freaked her out. She and her mother left the Harris Teeter frankly astonished at a women who divulged her entire life story and the history of her progeny right there in the aisles. Here in - dare I say it - the pleasanter part of America, this is common practice.
Honestly I don't blame Richmond. Being that the confederates located their capital practically on Lincoln's beard, they were and remain the front line of a war that smolders on in the culture. Fairfax - spittin' distance from Maryland - long ago succumbed to the ravages of creeping Northernism and are flat-out Yankee in speech and decorum. Richmond, really, isn't too far down the road (commutable by morning train, believe it or not.) It's sad but only expectable that Richmond would become the Southern capital whose mannerisms divest her citizens of their twangs and drawls until they sound... shudder... like Marylanders.**
But North Carolina is safe, protected by Tennessee to the west and the broad band of unpopulated Piedmont north of Lake Gaston that my mother terms "the South Hill dead zone." Seventy miles of deeply forested and seldom-exited highway buffer the inevitable bleed-through of Yankee blueblood from Carolina's rolling hills. And it is just so much better down here.
Why? Lots of reasons. Part the first:
no one takes my cup
Life as a medical student is frequently boring. There are long periods on rounds in which an attending is fitfully adjusting some line, or pimping another student, or explaining something which you've already looked up, or just sitting around on the phone or writing orders or - you get the picture. But professionalism dictates that we refrain from doodling, whistling, or otherwise occupying ourselves - we are a team, and we are working together. Two things will help you out of this predicament. The first is, crackers. I've developed a sophisticated palate that delights in the subtle flavor and textural detail of saltines and graham crackers, inevitably free and mercifully crunchy. But what's even better is the cup of ice. Ever ready to quench your thirst or occupy your mind with crisp ice, it is your silent and faithful companion. And as my friends know, I'm usually thirsty. Every unit has an ice machine and an unquenchable stack of styrofoam cups. So I always have my cup of ice.
But you can't just take it anywhere - it would be rude to sip and sup while you're, say, listening to your patient's breath sounds. That just isn't done. So, the cup must be relinquished to enter the room. And that's when the nurses strike. Now, I try to do my part. The cup is clearly labeled with my name in attractive and legible print. But for some reason unknown to me, the northern unit nurses don't abide a cup bein' left about, whether some medical student's got his name written right there on it or not. The moment your cup is unattended, it's free game and that means it grows legs. Right into the trash.
Here in the hospitable South, no one takes my cup. I have left a cup for hours all on its lonesome, and returned to see it happily awaiting fresh ice and refreshment to the brim.
Just as the nurses are swift and silent in their banishment of empty cups, the cafeterias in the North are insidious in their erosion of the highest ideals of breakfast cuisine. For a while, I didn't even realize what was amiss, though I always sensed that something was dreadfully, horribly wrong. And then it dawned on me: I say to you there are no biscuits.
Southerners, I know you, you're laughing. No biscuits, you fool? you may be thinking. Did you look oh I don't know in the cafeteria? It didn't register with me, either. Sure, I don't choose biscuits every single time I eat before 11:00. I'm not above the occasional croissant. I'll eat butter just on my grits. But for pity's sake, biscuits at least have to be an option. For three years, I bought my breakfast, blithely accepting the croissant, the English muffin, the bagel every day with no thought to what had been eradicated from my morning as I knew it.
I don't ask for much. I just want a servicable biscuit with my breakfast. It don't gotta be Bojangles, but we all know what a biscuit is; well, all we sensible folks. Don't even get me started on the pale-brown lumps of hardtack that the Yankees expect me to glom down slathered in salt-salt-and-burnt-bits gravy of identical, pasty complexion. It had been so long without edible biscuits that I was pleasantly surprised to find them at the caf here at Wake Forest. And damn, that's a good biscuit. Got that buttery, crispy lid that leaves a dust of salt onto your fingertips, and a soft flaky interior that puffs a little steam as you bite down. And it does that biscuit thing... I can't explain how a biscuit can be delectably moist and tender, and yet cleave to the top of your mouth like peanut butter. But you know what I mean. Them's a real biscuit, and what pleasure after so long. I was only able to contain myself because my fiancee and I ate Bojangles at the Charlotte airport on the most recent trip up to Pittsburgh - I had at least tasted a biscuit within the last week.
Now imagine my satisfaction upon realizing that these same biscuits are served every day with fried chicken. I'll be! It's good to be home, folks. Home where they make 'em some biscuits.
Also, grits - funny story in and of itself to be blogged out later. I'm looking at you, Dad.
* I don't know if you follow Richmond news. Ok, actually, I know that you don't. Monument Avenue is named for the monuments to Southern generals placed along its oak-lined streets at major intersections. There was a big stink in the mid 1990's when the city decided to add to the pantheon for the first time in 67 years and who do you think they chose? Humanitarian, athlete, and Richmonder: Arthur Ashe. Regardless of the arguments pro and con (both of which had their merits) for a black 20th century tennis player chillin' with J.E.B. and Stonewall, the statue's placement ended hilariously: Who's got the books now, children? MWAHAHAHA!
** Depressingly true. If I had a nickel for every time I've been told I have no Southern accent... well, I'd be ashamed to tell you how rich I'd be. And I won't reveal here how shamefully I embarassed myself in front of my father one awful fall day. T'weren't pretty, friends.