It may be possible to be both an outsider and an insider at the same time. It may be…but more likely to be one or the other, or at least mostly one or the other. Having now lived here almost four months, I am expecting to feel the transition to insider sometime soon. But there can be advantages to remaining an outsider for a while longer. Like today. We had no agenda, no deadlines or expectations. What we had was a sunny October day reaching 70 degrees. Like good northerners, we couldn’t let a warm autumn day pass us by so we went into a quaint little hippie-esque town to walk around and soak in the sun. We parked in a small, gravel, city-owned parking lot and walked down narrow old sidewalks toward the town center. As we waited to cross the street, traffic slowly moving by, we could hear music and soon realized it was jazz. Following the music we found ourselves in front of a co-op style grocery store that carries mostly organic and usually locally-grown food. It is the town gathering spot because of an expansive front lawn with tables and chairs and benches facing an open area. I’d call it their green space, but its mostly dry dirt and scattered woodchips as there’s too much foot traffic to grow grass. Standing at the edge of the lawn we watched several women and men with large hula-hoops dancing to the rhythmic stances. It felt a little like stepping back in time.
One barefoot hooper had a scarf-wrapped head, braless halter top and flowing pants with elastic at the ankles and was clearly lost in the music uninhibited to be rotating her hips somewhat erotically in front of the crowd while she smoothly moved the hula hoop up and down her body, arching her back as she caught the hoop in her hand and spun it over her head before letting it creep back down her body as she herself spun slowly around to match the smooth music. There were many others of all ages around her also hooping in the warm sunlight. Nearby was a long-haired man in short sleeves showing his muscled arms, spinning a Frisbee as if it were a basketball and he, a yoga-dancing Globetrotter. Like the hooper, he held out his arms in various poses and twirled them in front and behind his body while dancing to the music, bringing the Frisbee over his head, behind his back, around his body all the while keeping it spinning flat on his finger. In the crowd is “Dancing Bill, the only person I recognize and only because a co-worker once pointed him out to tell me the history of how this public space has “evolved” to be more accepting of all these expressions of joy. Apparently, Bill a tall, lean African American man in long braids was once asked not to dance there for whatever reason and the community rallied around freedom of expression and he is once again a regular fixture. It was a little like watching a movie or being on vacation in some beach town.
We stood on the lawn unnoticed while families and friends chatted to each other through the music. As we moved through the crowd I spotted a co-worker and chatted for a minute, which was nice. Afterward, Doug and I ate tacos outdoors in the sun, then walked around the town, discovered a garden and seed store, bought ice cream from the store owned by a local dairy and generally relaxed in our anonymity while soaking in the Carolina sun. We had time and privacy (even in the midst of many) to have personal conversation and could linger to fit our whims without being delayed by unexpected social meetings. Eventually, we’ll know enough people that we’ll run into friends on the street more often perhaps changing our plans spontaneously. But today, with our shorts and sunglasses on, it was nice being outsiders, inside our home locale.