Walk Like An American

Like A Pig To Mud

Southern Living Ain’t Half Bad

Constantino Diaz-Duran is a fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University. He is chronicling his walk from New York to Los Angeles to celebrate his eligibility for American citizenship. Follow Constantino’s progress.

“We all got a hillbilly bone down deep inside, no matter where you’re from, you just can’t hide,” sings Blake Shelton. Well, I’m getting ready to hit the road again after the holidays, and as I see my days in the Deep South numbered, all I can say is that I’ve taken to it “like a pig to mud, like a cow to cud.”

You haven’t lived, you see, until you’ve had pasta sauce made with meat from a deer the cook shot himself. And there is no sky more beautiful than the southern sky on a sunny day. If anyone ever doubted that the Earth is round, all they’d need to do is come down to Alabama and look up-here it is clear that we live on a globe; here you see the vast sky curve.

That I like country music is no secret, but here I’ve become an even bigger fan. George Strait’s “Here For A Good Time” has become the anthem of my stay in Tuscaloosa. It’s a feel-good song that perfectly captures the spirit that drove me to this journey: “Folks are always dreaming ’bout what they like to do, but I like to do just what I like. I’ll take the chance, dance the dance … Life is too short to waste it, I say bring on anything.”

The people here have made it hard to leave. I’ve made friends I know will last a lifetime. There’s Tracy and Sandra, who hosted me in Oxford. Also Tracy’s brother, Charles, and his charming wife, Lynn, who got me tickets to my first ’Bama game. In Tuscaloosa, I’ve met Mike and his old friends, Robert and Sherry. You won’t meet nicer people. Robert and Sherry got me into my second game, and let me partake at a few of their tailgates. And it is to Robert that I owe my roofing job.

Speaking of tailgating: I know I’ve mentioned it before, but the food is so good I think I need to highlight some of my favorite treats. There’s Sherry’s grilled salmon, for one, busting the stereotype that southern food is unhealthy. Then there’s Lynn’s tailgating dip-I don’t know what was in it, but that alone is enough to bring me back to T-Town next fall. And I have to mention the brownies that Lynn’s friend Jane made for the Tennessee game-remember I mentioned gaining a few pounds my first weeks here? Well, at least a couple of them came from the trayful I ate that day.

Going back to the people, I must say that my respect for my boss, Jay, has only grown since I met him. He takes a genuine interest in his employees, and even takes on something of a parental role with the younger guys in the crew. They get mad at him sometimes, but they recognize that he’s a good role model. Jay better watch out for 19-year-old Tyler, though-he’s getting a business degree and plans to take over the company. I’m glad to see this ambition. And then there’s Brian, who was born the same year I was. The lives we’ve lived since 1979 could not be more different, but scratch the surface, and you’ll find that we’re in many ways alike. I’m proud to call him not just a coworker, but also my friend.

Finally, there’s my family here, Patrick, Alina, Gary, and Lydia. They have made this time a treasure, and they are the reason I decided to stay until Christmas. I have known Alina since our intern days in Washington, D.C., when we shared an apartment in Northern Virginia. We stayed up late many nights back then, talking about foreign policy. Now our talks are about parenting. She and Patrick have three precious children, Max, Micah, and Milla. And I, while still childless, know that fatherhood will be the next big journey of my life.

I can’t stay in the South forever. My home is New York, and I miss it. I also can’t wait to see the rest of the country, and “I got a long, long, way to go.” But for now, quoting Strait, “bring on the sunshine, the hell with the red wine, pour me some moonshine!”

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*Photo courtesy of Constantino Diaz-Duran.