The guys wanted barbecue, which obviously meant something different from my understanding of the word. They were from Louisiana after all, and I gathered this was some sort of southern cooking, not sticking hot dogs on a grill.
I had met up with the guys in LeRoux (see the previous two posts) and they wanted to get something to eat before the concert. So they asked the desk clerk at the motel where they could get barbecue. He gave directions, drew a map and off we went into the tour bus to a restaurant a few blocks away.
So I got my first exposure to southern barbecue. I enjoyed it.
After dinner we piled back into the tour bus and headed to the show (no rush really, it wasn’t going to start without the band!). In the tour bus everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief, except for me.
I can be pretty oblivious at times, but that I noticed, so I asked. “What was wrong? Didn’t you like the food?”
“You didn’t see that?”
“Everyone was looking at us!”
Canada and the United States are very similar in many ways. Our common border is thousands of kilometres long, much of our culture and heritage is similar. But there are some differences.
I had only been to Detroit once before. I was vaguely aware that is had (and I presume still has) a large African-American population, far greater than I was used to. Seeing black faces in the restaurant hadn’t surprised me. I hadn’t noticed that we were the only white folks in the room.
The musicians, with their Louisiana accents and more of an awareness of American culture did notice. They assured me that people had been staring at us as we ate, and the stares weren’t friendly. I missed it completely. Yes, I was aware there was a history of racial tension in Detroit, but I’m Canadian, it didn’t impact me. (And the stares may not have been unfriendly but more curious. I am sure people wondered what the long-haired southern boys were doing in Detroit. Too often our reactions can be stereotypes.)
Canada has its own racial issues. I am sure I would have noticed if the restaurant had been full of Aboriginal people; I think there are far more Aboriginals in Ottawa than African-Americans and as a result I am more aware of their presence. It all boils down to what you are used to, what you are sensitized to.
More than 30 years have passed since that dinner. I have had similar eating experiences frequently in recent years though, when we have been the only Caucasians present in restaurants serving Asian food. I have always seen that as a good thing, figuring that meant the food is really good and authentic. I don’t know if people stare at me there – I’m still pretty oblivious.