The Eisenhower Interstate System and broadcast television have created a great homogenous identity in this country. Those and fast food franchises. Plop me down in any section of America and take me to the main drag and it all looks the same. You’ll see McDonald’s and Wendy’s and KFC and all the rest.
The people you encounter are pretty similar, too. All the teenagers look exactly alike and have gone to the same, identical extremes in dress and body art — with and without piercings — to express their individuality. The same annoying expressions have spread from sea to shining sea and clueless servers from Seattle to Key West respond to a simple thank-you with a glib “no problem.”
But there is still one simple thing that separates the American South from their kindred to the north and to the west. Drive one mile above the Mason-Dixon line and it becomes virtually impossible to find an eating establishment of note that serves sweet iced tea.
For years I have simply accepted that fact without question, but this very week I have spent a considerable amount of time pondering the question and I cannot come up with a legitimate explanation. Perhaps I will ask the great James Cobb if he has a solution for the centuries-old riddle.
Really, y’all. It’s not that difficult to brew tea and add a little Dixie Crystals while the concoction is still hot enough to melt the sugar and absorb that marvelous sweetness. I ate at a place that boasted 200 different types of beer this week, but only one selection of tea — and it was not the selection I prefer. We were in Maryland, for goodness sake — a border state!
I will never forget the first time I encountered this problem. I was on a memorable journey with my parents to New York City — a graduation gift. I was going to get to see the New York Yankees play in the House that Ruth Built. We were staying at a Holiday Inn in Jersey City and when we all asked for sweet tea at supper time in the hotel café the waitress brought us unsweetened tea and packets of sugar.
Yankees just don’t understand that that doesn’t work. You can pour packets of sugar into cold tea until the cows come home and stir until you have tennis elbow in both arms. The cold tea will not absorb the sweetness of the sugar. It is simply a fact of life.
I had the exact same thing happen to me this very week in Gettysburg, Pa.
Another thing Yankees don’t understand is that when you order tea—sweetened or not—it is understood that you get as many refills as the length of the meal requires. Mr. Clarence Henderson taught me a long, long time ago that the tea glass should always stay full.
I was in Washington, D.C., in 1977. I had come to celebrate the fact that a Georgian was in the White House. I know. I know. But I had high hopes. My companion — a sweet young thing from way below the gnat line — and I were dining at Lum’s, which had recently added sweet tea to their D.C. menu in honor of the new president. The waitress brought us glass after glass of the nectar that is known as the Champagne of the South.
When the bill came the food came to about $5 and the tea came to about $20. They had charged us for each glass of tea we had consumed. I pitched a Confederate hissy fit and went as high up the chain as one could go in that particular Lum’s establishment. They reduced my bill but invited me not to come back. Lum’s ain’t around anymore, but I’m still kicking!
Another time I was in D.C. with my family. We ate supper at what was advertised as a barbecue place. Sweet tea was not on the menu but we ordered it anyway. It took a while but the accommodating waiter did, indeed, bring us five glasses of some of the most awful-tasting sweet tea you can imagine. As bad as the tea was, we still ordered a refill or two apiece. It always took an inordinate amount of time to have our glasses refilled. I finally found out why when I went to the restroom and saw our guy running to the convenience store next door to buy canned tea. You gotta give that guy an A for effort.
Once again I have chosen to journey to the northern hinterlands of our nation and have had to contend with a lack of sweet iced tea for the better part of a week. And Yankees say we Southerners are not too bright. At least we know enough chemistry to understand the melting point of sugar.
I’ll be home soon, y’all. Have the sweet tea ready for me.
Darrell Huckaby is a local author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/darrellhuckaby.