My short life as a Yankee began when Alamo “upgraded” me to a Pontiac Vibe at the Richmond airport this week. It went like this:

Rental car clerk: “You reserved an economy car. Is that still OK?”

Me: “Yes.”

Rental car clerk (softly into phone with parking lot colleague): “What’s the smallest thing you’ve got? (Pause) That’s it?”

Rental car clerk to me: “Mr. Pierce, we are delighted to upgrade you today” (which were codewords meaning: “This car is larger than what you’re paying for, cheapskate, but at least you’ll spend more on gas.”)

The silver Vibe was just fine — but the first thing I noticed were the New York tags. Interestingly, others noticed as well in my running about the former capital of the Confederacy for a few days.

They were all nice comments like: “What part of New York are you from?” or
“I see you’re down from New York.”

My reply, “It’s a rental car; I’m from Georgia,” should have been verified by my accent. Yet one store clerk said I didn’t sound like someone from Georgia either.

I explained that mine was a Northwest Georgia-East Tennessee dialect altered by time in other places and the hard work of a couple of speech teachers who attempted to excise the hard “I” sound that “up-air” (that’s NW Georgia for “up there”) makes life into “LIhf” and light into “LIht.”

Driving around Richmond under the pretense of being a New Yorker had no real significance. And I never considered donning a Mets caps — not even for a moment.

Apparently there were no lasting effects. Following my last interview, I stopped by Cracker Barrel for a nice dinner of turnip greens, pinto beans, onion, chow-chow and cornbread.

Getting in my car to depart, I could only imagine what the older man in the rocking chair was saying to his grandson: “Now there’s something you don’t see everyday. A New Yorker coming in here for beans-n-greens.”

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