I have better things to do than try and convert every Yankee I meet and point out the error of their ways.
But I got Steve Coscia to eat grits last week, so Im making progress on at least one front.
He was in town for a visit, and we broke for breakfast on a Saturday morning. I asked the waitress to bring him a small side of grits.
He protested at first, then I reminded him I was driving. (I threatened him with a government shutdown until he at least tried them.)
So he dashed them with salt and pepper and added a lump of butter. He didnt ask for seconds, but he came close to admitting he actually liked them.
Tastes like farina, he said. He explained farina is like cream of wheat.
Steve was born in the Bronx, N.Y., and now lives in Havertown, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia. On a clear day, he can see the Philly skyline.
We have become friends during the past 18 months. Even though Steve talks funny -- he could say the same about me -- we have managed to understand each other without having to use an interpreter.
I met Steve in May 2012 when I hosted the National Society of Newspaper Columnists conference. Steve, 59, is not a newspaper columnist. He is the author of four books, an avid blogger and one of the most widely published and quoted authorities in the customer service industry.
He registered for the conference as an affiliate member, but mostly because he had never been to Macon. He is also a professional musician, classically trained in the piano. He was familiar with the citys ties to the Allman Brothers Band.
But he never realized there was so much more to Macon than meets the eye.
He arrived a day early, checked into the Marriott City Center and headed out to explore. He walked past the Macon Coliseum, under the Interstate 16 bridge and stopped in his tracks when he noticed the sign at the edge of the Ocmulgee.
Otis Redding Memorial Bridge.
There wasnt a wisp of wind coming off the river, but lets just say Steve was blown away.
He had no idea about the Otis Redding connection. (As well as many other parts of Macons musical heritage.) He remembered a vinyl record from 1967 called Smash Sounds. Reddings tune Respect was Track 4 in the middle of all that funk and soul.
Steve ate lunch downtown at The Rookery and drove to Finchers on Houston Avenue at suppertime.
He had asked a friend, Teresa Smith Haire, about where to find good barbecue in Macon. Finchers, she told him without hesitation. Teresa now lives in St. Louis, but grew up in Macon. She was college roommates with Nancy Grace and worked with REM drummer Bill Berry at the Paragon Agency, a division of Capricorn Records.
The next night, Steve attended a function at The Big House. He had told me he was smitten with Macon, but this was reinforced when he emailed me two months later and said he was coming back in July.
This wasnt a business trip. He wanted to return for a few days, and even the wilting heat of summer couldnt keep him away. He rented a bike from Cherry Street Cycles on Cotton Avenue and did some more exploring.
He immersed himself in the citys rich history, its diversity in architecture and beautiful, tree-lined streets. For the most part, he found people to be gracious and friendly. (I told him we do our best to hide all the mean people.)
He returned for a third visit this past week. He had been in Austin, Texas, for a business meeting, and was headed to Montgomery, Ala. Yes, he backtracked 284 miles to spend the weekend in Macon.
The citys charm keeps inviting me back, he said.
My friendship with Steve has been refreshing. I get to see the city I call home from the perspective of someone who travels as many as 120 days a year and has clients all over the U.S. and Canada and as far away as Dubai.
When Steve talks about Macons qualities and its extraordinary potential, I listen. In the discourse of a political season -- an important election is on Tuesday, as if you need to be reminded -- we often focus on problems and not enough on possibilities.
I have heard it said many times Macon is one of the most underappreciated cities in the South, and a shot of self-esteem can be good for the soul.
I look forward to Steves next visit. Who knows? One day I might persuade him to move to Macon.
Pass the grits.
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.