Southern born-and-raised Rick Bragg tells the secret to living outside of the South—finding things that taste like home.
Hi, I am Rick Bragg. There are times when I've lived outside the South, when I really did think I'm not gonna make it another 24 hours unless I go home. Somewhere there's a flight south, that'll get me close. And sometimes I've been happy to get close. Didn't mind being marooned in Charlotte, didn't mind being stranded in Atlanta, I was close. Somebody'd come and get me. I lived in New York City for awhile, and I survived by finding the things that tasted like home. And in New York that usually meant going up to Harlem. It might be a tourist place, but it would be the kind of place that would give you fried chicken and green beans and macaroni and cheese and red velvet cake. Sylvia's in Harlem kept me alive. In Midtown Manhattan is a huge barbecue joint called Virgil's, which admits that they stole everything on their menu down South. But you can get a chicken fried steak, breaded with crushed up Ruffles potato chips, and white milk gravy; that'll get you through. They make flat dogs like my mamma used to make, where they cut a weenie long ways, open it up, put it on the bun, squirt on some barbecue sauce, some relish, some chopped onion, and a drizzle of mayonnaise. And I don't care if New York purists think that a hot dog ought to have mustard and nothing else. That was good. You learn not to try to pretend to be something else. My doorman in my building in, in New York actually took pity on me, because I guess he equated being Southern as being slow. And he would say everything twice, to make sure I understood it. He would say, now you go down here to the corner, now that's this corner, right here, and you turn left. Now, that's this way. I didn't mind at all, very seldom got lost. I probably got more Southern in Midtown Manhattan than I've ever been in my life. You get more Southern out of, of self-defense, maybe? And then when you do hear that Southern accent on a sidewalk. I don't care if it is a cliche, you almost wanna walk up, and learn their whole life story. What are you doing up here? Did you get lost? Did they keep you like they did me, and wouldn't let you go home. So, you find things. You find ways. It, you don't have to, to duplicate what you have at home. You just have to get close to where you, and, you know Soul food, anywhere on Earth is Southern food.