Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Unexpected Inspirations

Sorry for the late post. Bugger's at it again! But I won't waste time telling you how many hairs I pulled out this time. On to the good stuff...

So you guys know I went on vacation, right? (Oh, stop groaning) New places and experiences are food for writers' imaginations, and I expected my holiday at the beach to feed mine, but I got Nada while giving my pre-melanoma spots more fodder for metastasizing.

However, we WERE in the South--North Carolina, to be precise (which the natives have sadly noted has been spoiled by too many migrating New Yorkers). My husband's Raleigh born and bred, with roots going back to the mid-18th century, so my Yankee accent is tolerated.

Driving around the brand new interstate lined with endless pines shimmering with heat, I kept seeing signs advertising this magical place, a place boasting publicly of legendary southern hospitality: Bojangles Chicken and Biscuits.

"Is that any good?" I asked my husband. His eyes bore permanent scrawls from squinting into sun unfiltered by the ozone layer. "What kind of food do they serve?"

"A heart attack on a plate."

"Let's check it out."

And so I began to find inspiration.

Bojangles Chicken and Biscuits can be smelled a half mile before it's seen, a seductive scent of grease and crisping animal skin. My husband, southern as he is, prefers the more comfortable confines of Chick-Fil-A where your chicken comes boneless. Bojangles doesn't fuss with that. They coat chicken parts in a thick spicy layer and toss it into a vat of palm kernel oil and nobody asks for the nutrition sheet. It comes with sweet tea (if you've been south of Mason-Dixon, you know what I'm talking about), and the servers look at you funny if you ask for a diet coke instead. It's Pepsi country.

So we get our chicken after a long discussion about sides (the biscuits were a no-brainer, but we had to puzzle over the Brunswick stew and the coleslaw that looked like it was soaked in apple juice), and the girl at the register can barely contain herself from rolling her eyes. Damn Yankees, I could see her thinking. We hit the dining area with our loaded tray, and I sighed in pure pleasure.

The room was full of church ladies in their best Sunday dresses.

Heaven for the writer, this flock of immaculately kept elderly women with purring vowels and pillbox hats. My imagination snapped into overdrive: why would these ladies choose to meet at the Bojangles after church? Was it the ambiance? Or something else, something that cut deeper, like heritage maybe, or the really good biscuits? Why didn't they meet at the Wendy's across the street? It was newer and bigger.

The chicken squirted grease in my mouth, and my daughter wasn't too keen on having to pick steamy meat off the bones of her entree--she's a Chick-Fil-A fan too. My husband steadily mowed through his sausage-biscuit sandwich and I sat entranced at the inspiration that had landed in my lap, and thankful that I keep my writer's cap on at all times.

Unexpected inspiration. Suddenly my two-week jaunt away from the computer seemed worth it.


Blogger Eliza said...

Oh, Kathleen...

As a native South Carolinian, I know the thrall of the Bojangle's plain buttermilk (deep fried) biscuit as well as anyone. Six years ago I fell in love with a Yankee and had to move away from the buttery goodness, but every time I go back to visit my parents in Columbia I must, must, must get me a biscuit and a side of dirty rice.

Tell me you tried the dirty rice.

The dirty rice is just that good.

Actually, the post-church thing for us Columbians is Maurice's Barbecue, or its original store Piggy Park. I would explain it, but...well...ya can't. Perhaps a visit to the website will help you get a feel for it. And if you're ever in Columbia in the morning-time, y'know, before second church service, head over to Lizard's Thicket.

Sure, you can get better food than Bojangles, and easier, too. But even this lover of the language can't help but swoon over misspelled handwritten signs taped 'round the condiment table, such as "catchup", or "ask the casheer for Splenda".

Your post made me happy. You just don't know how much.

11:45 AM  
Blogger redchurch said...

Kathleen, you reminded me of something I've often found crucial to writing inspiration; Atmosphere.

This is one reason I assemble tons of reference pictures for my writing. It's not as if I will perform some kind of 'literal translation' of the images into my writing, although one could only hope. It's more that having those reference images up in my face gets the creative juices flowing--or your case, the creative grease.

What I get from the reference photos I also seem to get from going somewhere new, or experiencing something I haven't tried before.

Some places just reek so much of a vibe that you can't ignore them. And if anything, isn't that what a lot of us strive for in our work? Not just in the setting of the story, but how the setting often plays on themes or symbols within that story.

I like to believe there are ways we can turn unexpected inspiration into expected inspiration simply by recreating the stimulus that inspired us in the first place.

But perhaps that is a bit of my own personal demon--I'm always trying to turn the serendipitous into the planned. I admit you can't always plan these things, but it sure is fun to try? :)

1:34 PM  
Blogger Kathleen Bolton said...

Eliza, my mouth is waterin' at the memory of that flaky bit of biscuit heavan, but no, I didn't get the dirty rice. I had a carbo load plopped before me already in the form of skin breading, the bizcuit, french fries with cajun dust, and boiled corn. I'll try the dirty rice next time.

As a southerner, you'll nod at this, but my husband wanted to deviate 40 miles off the interstate to go to a place called Parker's BBQ in Wilson where they serve authentic East Carolina BBQ, and with a whiny kid in the backseat, I had to talk him down from that. "It's just food!" I finally told him.

"It's not just food," he muttered, but quietly.

The name Piggy Park entrances me. I'm with Eric, some places reek so much of a vibe, the fertile imagination can't help construct a narrative: who eats there, who works there, why, what's their story. Why eat there instead of Lizard's Thicket.

I made us stop at Scuppernog just so I could get a brochure at the rest stop. One day a Scuppernog will make it in a story.

10:40 AM  

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