Everything in this posting is off-topic. Because there is no topic. Just random observations. (But in the absence of a topic, does that mean everything is on-topic?)
The background: Last week I went to visit my mother, who is recovering from surgery. She lives in a retirement community in a town in the deep South that happens also to be the home of the state university.
Airports. Surprisingly, at both the outgoing and return airports -- major ones -- the TSA was neither using the radiation backscatter machines nor visibly searching anyone physically. Just the walk-through metal detector and the X-ray for the carry-on baggage. It might have been 1990.
Has the widespread negative publicity about virtual strip teases and pat-downs encouraged the TSA to back off? Highly unlikely. The TSA is a government bureaucracy, like all the rest indifferent to the preferences of mere citizens, its loyalty strictly to political string pullers. Turning airport security over to an equivalent of the post office wasn't the stupidest thing Jorge W. Bush-Gonzales did, but it's on the short list.
Every time I go to an airport it's bigger than the last time. Charlotte, an intermediate stop, is now enormous. Not, probably, because so many people want to go to (or get away from) Charlotte, but because it's a beneficiary or victim of the hub-and-spoke routing system.
That airports are now shopping malls with associated runways has its benefits and drawbacks. Of course if you are unfortunate enough to have a layover of several hours, it's easier to pass the time in stores and restaurants. But the re-tail now seems to be wagging the aviation dog. All those stores take up real estate, which means the distance between terminals and gates expands farther and farther. Even with moving walkways it can take 20 minutes to get from some gates to others, which can make tight connections nerve-wracking. And there seems always to be at least one stretch where there is no moving walkway or intra-airport train, and you walk and walk.
The South. It's still different.
The second Yankee invasion has been going on for years, and I suppose the biggest cities like Atlanta are less regional than they used to be. In the college town where my mother lives, you hear northern accents (and of course the multi-cult has left its footprint, although it appears not nearly as evident as in semi-foreign colonies elsewhere).
But oil and water still don't mix. Southern speech seems not to have been diluted in the slightest; as far as I can tell, the native accent is as strong as ever. I find that encouraging.
In Yankee circles, whenever the South comes up, the first observation is about how church-oriented the region is. That is correct. And of course it grates on many people who are not part of the southern life. To most English people -- or Californians, for that matter -- the very idea of a religious culture is beyond ridiculous, a barbarous throwback. I myself am not entirely comfortable with it. At the same time it's refreshing that there is one part of the country that professes, and I suspect on the whole genuinely aspires toward, values that transcend the material and financial. Take what works for you and leave the rest (which doubtless many southern Christians would object to).
The other southern religion is sports, especially football. The sports obsession would send me mad if I had to be immersed in it full-time.
Southern women are still different. They may be steel magnolias and manipulative and all that, but based on what I observe they continue to cultivate femininity and charm.
At the discount store where I bought a couple of shirts, the young woman cashier engaged in a little mild flirtation. I'm not such a fool as to imagine it had anything to do with her being attracted to me. It was just a habit, but a pleasant one that we both enjoyed. I hope this tradition never dies.
Golden youth. With my mother's blessing, my wife and I went out on the town looking for a decent restaurant dinner (my mother temporarily not up to accompanying us because of her recuperation). If you want to eat at somewhere other than Cracker Barrel or Chick-fil-A, about your only options are in the university neighborhood. Luck was with us and we enjoyed a good meal in a pleasant environment (except for it being too noisy, but aren't all restaurants these days) across the street from the university.
We sat by the window and watched the passing parade of students; saw others in an after-dinner stroll. The guys came in two species: (1) "Cool" -- shaved heads, baggy threads (isn't that look passé by now?); (2) frat boys, looking like frat boys have always looked.
The young women were almost without exception smartly dolled up as if for a cocktail party, drooping necklines, off-the-shoulder blouses, all manner of jewelry. I don't want to sound ancient, but when I was an undergraduate, both sexes of college kids just looked ordinary tending to the slobbish. Now they seem to be self-consciously on show every minute.
Certainly the women at that tender age looked glowing, healthy, chic (aided by the stratagems of southern femininity). And those fashions didn't come from Goodwill. Were the students offspring of rich families? Could be. From what I read, state colleges are now as expensive as Ivy League schools were not so long ago.
These young people seemed chipper, confident, happy. No care lines on any faces. I don't begrudge them their time inside the charmed circle. It will end soon enough, and it may go harder for them than it did for many of us in earlier generations, with the economic and social iceberg toward which our ship of state is steaming.