Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Toto, We're Not in Chicago Anymore

On Thursday, July 31st I officially moved out of my apartment in the Rogers Park neighbourhood of Chicago and headed south to my graduate program at Georgia College and State University. During the move my favourite purse broke, my dad lost his wallet, and a man in a red car was kind enough to leave some of his paint on my silver car. Needless to say, I felt the travel gods were telling me not to leave Chicago.

The drive to Milledgeville, GA was long. Google Maps says the route should only take twelve hours to drive, but with construction and traffic jams nearly every twenty miles it felt closer to eighteen. At one point I wondered if we would ever get out of the state of Indiana in two days. We did, thankfully, and arrived in Milledgeville about thirty-six hours after we left the beautiful Windy City.

The closer we got to Milledgeville (Milly) the more the reality of this move began to sink in. The small country roads, farm after farm, and 90+% humidity kept reminding me how far I was from the Midwest. Twenty-four miles outside of Milly my mother pointed out the Rock Eagle camp that I went to when I was in middle school. I was never a big fan of going to camp as a child (my mother will never let me forget the time she had to come and pick me up early because I was "sick") and I started to feel the familiar butterflies in my stomach that I would get when rolling up to a cabin with my blanket and duffel bag.

We continued along the small two-lane road. We passed spray-painted signs for "VIDALIA ONIONS" and "FRESH PECANS" and then came "PECHES". I took my eyes off the road to stare at the sign. "Peches"? Georgia is The Peach State. Someone can't spell "peaches" in The Peach State?! I looked at my mum and pouted. "What am I doing here??" She gave me her normal It's Going to be Great speech. We passed a few more farms, an abandoned plant, crossed over a large lake and entered Milledgeville.

My apartment in Milledgeville has recently changed management companies. The previous management company let the complex become a student ghetto, but the new guys are trying to spruce it up. You can both see where the new guys have done a lot of work and where some improvements still need to be made (for example, an AC vent in my kitchen likes to drip a significant amount of water during the night and three of my four windows are broken). It's not too bad though and with some real TLC I think the apartment will become pretty nice. This is the first time I have ever lived alone so that is going to take some getting used to, especially since I know no one in Milledgeville. Needless to say, this next month or two is going to be a hard adjustment (I like being surrounded by people), but I'll just have to hope that it will all get better.

After moving all of my stuff into the apartment and going out for a birthday lunch (I moved to Milly on my 26th birthday!), my parents headed back to their home on St. Simons Island. My boyfriend, who lives three hours from Milly, stayed with me to help me set up and settle in. Unpacking was a bit hard because that's when I finally realized that this was it -- the point of no return. It didn't help that the street next to me was called Hancock or that there was a sign for Water Tower Place. Every little thing reminded me of Chicago or the friends I had left and I became more and more depressed and worried that this was all a horrible mistake. I mean, I'm only twenty-six. Did I really need an MFA now? Couldn't I have waited until Columbia College could finally offer me some money? Or maybe I should have just gone to Columbia and dealt with the crippling student debt later. All of that would be better than living in Milledgeville, GA, right? Right? What if I die in my apartment and no one knows because I don't have a roommate or any friends in town?!?

Ross decided it was time to leave my apartment for a little while. I was clearly losing my mind and freaking out and I wasn't even alone in the apartment yet! Milledgeville doesn't exactly have a lot to do (aaggghh!) so we drove to Walmart to pick up some things for the apartment. For those who know me you know that this is a big deal -- I hate Walmart. I am from the Bible Belt and, for me, the website PeopleOfWalmart.com just hits a little too close to home. Walmart is scary, redneck, rude, and the people there will either run you down with a shopping cart or just shoot you if you are in their way.

So there we were -- in Walmart because the closest Target is forty-four miles away. We grabbed a few things for my kitchen, some coffee creamer, a new mirror, and a few other random odds and ends. We went through the Self-Checkout and a pair of tongs I had grabbed didn't have a bar-code. A man behind me was wearing a Walmart-blue polo shirt and a nametag so I started to ask him what I should do, but then I realized his nametag said "Kroger". The man sighed, "That's been happening all day." I wanted to pointed out that he was dressed exactly like a Walmart person and should maybe remove the nametag, but doing so would have kept me in Walmart that much longer. I found an actual Walmart clerk, asked her how I could key-in the tongs and she snapped, "I am NOT leaving my post." I remembered why I hate Walmart, put the tongs down and left.

Later in the evening Ross and I found ourselves back at Walmart. That's right -- once was not enough! This time it was to get cleaning supplies, a tire pump, and a cake with candles so we could celebrate what was feeling like a very depressing birthday. The store was mobbed. Walmart is the happening place in Milledgeville and is apparently becoming my equivalent of walking up and down Michigan Avenue. This time I started to therapy shop and impulsively grabbed a purple owl-shaped fly swatter from a bin of colourful fly swatters. When we were ready to checkout, I realized that we had forgotten to get hand soap. The toiletries section was on the opposite end of Walmart and you could barely see the aisles through the throng of people. Devising a battle plan, Ross weaved his way to Self-Checkout while I pushed and pulled my way towards the toiletries. A steady stream of "screw this, I hate this place, what am I doing here, this is actual Hell" rolled through my head.

Finally, I broke through all of the people, but was blocked by a mother and her three children. They were ambling as slow as possible with their empty shopping cart and I rolled my eyes as I trudge behind them. The Walmart crowd was oddly dense around these women, but I thought nothing of it until I passed two young girls who were whispering into a phone, "Honey Boo Boo's whole family is here!" I looked around aghast. In Chicago, I had joked to everyone, "You don't know where Milledgeville is? Well do you know Honey Boo Boo? She lives right outside of the city. Yep -- I can't wait to see her all of the time." Clearly I was kidding and never thought that I would actually see Honey Boo Boo. (I watched my first episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo during the trip from Chicago to Milly. It didn't exactly make me feel any better about the move...)

Now I was on the lookout. Honey Boo Boo is actually here? Am I actually going to see her? The woman in front of me turned around to look at something. She was short and plump and had laser yellow hair on the top of her head with a layer of chocolate brown underneath. Her face almost turned to look at me and I suddenly realized -- that was Mama June, Honey Boo Boo's mother. I looked at the girls walking in front of her cart and finally recognized them from the one episode I had watched. A shorter, younger girl was leading the pack. She wore gray shorts and a lime-green hoodie that was pulled over her head. She also turned towards me and I recognized her blond curls immediately: Honey Boo Boo. I stopped short and the crowd of Walmart people quickly filed passed me to get to the Boo Boo clan. I ducked into a shampoo aisle and watched everyone walk away. One woman approached Mama June and threw her arm over June's shoulder. June laughed, but shrugged the woman off and made a gesture that said, "We just want to shop. Please leave us alone." I quickly called my mother and texted my close college friends: "...Honey fucking Boo Boo just passed me in Walmart."

I met Ross back at Self-Checkout and tried to explain why I was so frazzled about seeing Honey Boo Boo. It wasn't that I was excited to see her. Honestly, had I not heard those girls whispering on the phone, I probably wouldn't have noticed the Boo Boo clan at all. I was more flabbergasted by the fact that here I was in my new "home", Hickville, USA, and I was in a Walmart and I had just seen Honey Boo Boo. I am from the state of Georgia, but I am from the coast. Coastal and inland Georgia are worlds apart and, after living in the Midwest for almost eight years and Chicago for almost three, everything was beginning to feel like culture shock overload. I needed to get out of Walmart and I needed to get out of Milledgeville. Unfortunately, only one of those things could be accomplished immediately.

Ross and I split up to pay for our separate items (I was not buying my own birthday cake). My items didn't want to scan and the machine kept acting like I wasn't bagging anything. I pulled out my fly swatter and found an empty plastic ring stuck between the owl's eyes, where the price tag should have been. I didn't know how to key-in the fly swatter and after the rude clerk from earlier I didn't want to ask for help. I put the swatter to the side and figured I'd leave the money on the conveyer belt when I was done (a whopping $1). The woman waiting for my spot grew impatient and called a clerk over to hurry me along. The man came, scanned the rest of my items for me and left. Ross finally reappeared and started placing the bags into the shopping cart. The woman behind me pushed her cart towards us, forcing Ross to move my shopping basket. She began unloading all of her crap onto the conveyer belt, even though I hadn't completed my transaction. I turned towards the woman. I wanted to yell at her and unload all of my frustration on her. I wanted to tell her to "BACK THE FUCK OFF" and that her cowboy hat was stupid and that she looked like a hick. I wanted to tell her that I hated this town and lament that I hadn't even been in Milledgeville for twenty-four hours and yet I had already run into Honey Boo Boo. My friends were far away, I had left my theatre family, I was about to live by myself for the first time ever, I had moved from a major metropolis to a town that didn't even have a Target, I had returned to the Bible Belt, which I swore I would never do, and to top it all off I was in Walmart for a second time that day. I thought about throwing my birthday cake in the woman's face. Instead, I swiped my debit card and entered my PIN. The fly swatter was still on the conveyer belt. I knew if I left a dollar then this woman would take it so I grabbed the purple owl, through it into a bag and thought, "Fuck it. I'll deal with the karma later."

Ross and I left Walmart and headed to Mellow Mushroom for pizza. As we unloaded the bags into my car I confessed my theft of the fly swatter. I pointed to the bag containing the offending object and stopped. At the bottom of the purple handle, where I had been holding the swatter, was a bar-code. The purple owl had a price tag the whole time and I hadn't even noticed it. I thought about returning to the store and paying for the swatter, but decided against it. Returning to Walmart would possibly make me breakdown in tears and I imagined myself weeping at the Self-Checkout. I had already seen Honey Boo Boo. The last thing I needed was to end up on PeopleofWalmart.com.

The offending owl fly swatter.