KIA RESCUES A TOWN IN GEORGIA, by RJ Furth
As Anthony and I pulled into West Point, Georgia, just east of the Alabama border, we saw a Korean restaurant. Then we saw a second one a block away and a third on the same block, then a sushi restaurant with a sign in Korean. We strolled into a coffee shop for breakfast (other than sweet pastries they only served biscuits and sausage), ordered, and I asked the woman behind the counter what was up with the Korean restaurants. Her story was fascinating. The textile mills had shut down, one at a time. She named each one in order of their closing. She had worked at the last one for forties years and was devastated by the loss of income, as were so many other residents of West Point. Then Kia Motors opened a factory and prosperity returned to West Point. Koreans kids excelled at the high school (math and science) and Korean executives treated the workers well, though at times with exceedingly long hours. Nobody complained. The woman was saddened by the loss of the mills which had been the heart of the community for nearly two centuries, by Kia provided jobs that kept kids from moving away, tearing out the future of the town. As Anthony and I said our farewells she turned to us and said, “Yawl come back sometime.” Anthony reminded me that, “Yawl come back some time,” was the final line of Flatt’s and Scrugg’s Beverly Hillbilly theme.
An hour later we entered a small town in eastern Alabama and couldn’t find the road west. A policeman standing by his car (“He’s wearing a gun on his hip,” I said, “so it’s likely he’s a cop.”) and we pulled over and asked for directions. A friendly conversation ensued during which we chatted about London, music, driving the South and other topics, a real pleasant experience. “I’m real sorry yawl won’t be here tomorrow afternoon,” the officer said, “my brother-in-law is having a party and he has a band and you’d be very welcome.” We thanked him and started to pull away when he called out, “Jes holler if you need anything.” During our three days in the Deep South we have had quite a few experiences like this. People greet you with a smile, wish you a good day, make you feel welcome. Race is not an issue, as blacks and whites are equally friendly and welcoming. Driving the back roads had been relaxed and the lush countryside has been soothing. Food has been mixed, with one or two good meals and others than got the job done. When I asked at one diner if they served yogurt, the waitress said no, but they had grits.
We arrived this morning at Natchez, Mississippi, a charming town on the Mississippi River. Tonight we’ll have beer and barbecue and listen to some live music. So far, the Deep South has been everything I’ve hoped it would be. People are curious about Anthony and his English accent, but they don’t treat him like a foreigner, more like a distant cousin. Southern charm and southern hospitality are alive and well.