Sunday, September 13, 2009

Losin' Steam: This post covers MS, AL, TN, KY and WV (woah!)

First horrible motel experience thanks to being placed right across from the housekeeping room. Now, I have sympathy for chambermaids, having been head of housekeeping at a summer hotel at the tender age of 21, but these ladies were just obnoxious. Granted, I could have written a short story about their failed relationships, incarcerated children and lack of money for rent or even smokes but I truly wanted to take full advantage of the 11:00 a.m. checkout time. Again, people share a lot around here and at a volume that easily surpasses the teens on the subway when high school lets out in New York. Corinth was nice. They had this walking and driving tour of town that took you past all the historical homes and told you all about who lived there and why they were important. It was actually kind of neat. First tour type thing I’ve done on this trip actually. It took me into the residential area, which was really nice and I found my first yard sale. I thought I would have run into many more of these on my travels but I guess because I was always in a national park or at a friend’s place on the weekend bits, I didn’t see that many.

I ventured into Borroum's Drug Store on my walk and learned from my pamphlet that it was the oldest drug store in Mississippi, still owned and run by the same family. I noticed immediately that they, too, had Golden Guys sitting and having some coffee. I asked the girls at the counter why it was that mostly men monopolized this ritual and not the ladies. They had no idea other than, “maybe the women kick them out for a few hours each day to have peace and quiet.” Could be. But these fellas were adorable like all the rest. Sitting around talking about whatever was going on in town, or with their families. Happy to be retired and enjoying each other’s company. So sweet.

I also ran into the area’s Masonic temple. It wasn’t all that but they had a thrift store and I found the coolest stinkin’ purse there. I think it will accompany my dress very well for the wedding. Cha-ching. $4 and it’s vintage. Would probably go for close to $100 in Manhattan. Easily. Did I say cha-ching already? Remember, I’m not robbing these people blind. I’m stimulating the economy one small town at a time.

Near Borroum's was the county courthouse and although no one was going in or coming out, it was Thursday so court must be in session. I went in and opened one of the doors and sat down. As in Manhattan, there aren’t windows on the doors so you can’t see what you’re about to walk into. Sure enough, it was a tiny little room and all eyes were on me, even the judge’s. A court officer immediately came up to me, not because I was doing anything wrong but simply because he figured I was lost. I explained that I worked in the courts in NYC and just wanted to observe if that was okay. That explanation made its way to the entire room in seconds, mostly because when it was relayed to the judge, everyone could hear. I think my living room is bigger than this courtroom. There wasn’t much going on. Just motions and hearings so I wasn’t going to waste precious time listening to stuff that I can see back home. But it was still neat to go in and ruffle up some feathers.

Before leaving Mississippi, I saw in the distance, the words “falafel” and “kebab” and had to investigate. This was literally my first discovery of anything Middle Eastern on my entire journey. Granted, I wasn’t necessarily seeking it out but this was a sight for sore eyes. I immediately drove over to this little “house” by itself beside a department store parking lot. I instantly thought, ‘Oh good. I can ask this guy what he thinks of all the Christian stuff all over public grounds.’ I walked up and he opened his “ORDER” window and asked if he could help me. I ordered a chicken kebab and a Vimto, “a raspberry drink you can’t get here.” Uh, no duh. You can’t even get good Chinese here so I’d assume a soft drink with Arabic writing on it is hard to locate too. I introduced myself as being from New York and being thrilled to see an eatery serving this type of food. I asked him where he was from and he immediately started listing New York, New Orleans which was nice and all but I meant ‘where are you from originally?’ He said Jordan. So I asked if he’d mind me asking a personal question. He shook his head. “How do you feel about all of the Christian billboards and radio programming here?” He said it was a very nice place to raise a family and that he himself is Christian. Oy vey! I felt like a heel. Not that I was putting it down but I still felt bad to have brought it up as if it was an annoyance (which it sort of is to me, but that’s beside the point). I think I’m just so utterly curious to know how it feels as someone of another religion to live in an area that bombards its residents with Christian-centric messages at every corner, on every station, at all times of the day. That’s all. I guess I will have to ponder this alone or find a Southern States/Midwest Support Group for Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Atheists, etc.

Okay, forget that, guess what happened next? I’m leaving Mississippi and I see this huge sign off the side of the road, “INSIDE FLEA MARKET,” and there’s this warehouse-lookin’ building with the door open. I pull over and go in. Now, I did see the “Mower Blades Sharpened” sign at the door but for some unknown reason, it didn’t even phase me. I entered a mess but those are sometimes the types of sales that you find a gem among trash. And sure enough, I found one of those 60s sunburst wood/chrome clocks on the floor, cobwebs and all. Awesome, I thought. But then I looked to the end of the room through this pass-through window and saw what appeared to be the scariest looking man with missing teeth and spooky eyes and they were following my every move. Ick! I think he asked me if I needed help with anything but his mumbling was hard to comprehend let alone pay attention to when faced with such a sight. I hate to be so mean but when his mother came out from the back, also sans-dentures, I thought I would die. Had I just walked into Alabama’s version of the Bates Hotel, except that she was alive and kickin’? So I asked how much the clock was and sure enough, it wasn’t theirs so they had to call someone to find out which prolonged my stay in this godforsaken place and gave Junior ample opportunity to tinker with my car out front and make me have to stay the night. Okay, I’m going overboard here but if you had seen this guy, you would have been on board with my exaggeration. It turned out to be a whoppin’ $5 so I said, “I’ll take it!” Gave her the cash and was on my way. Phew! Survived that one.

Driving through Alabama, I also saw a young girl driving a beat-up hearse. It was still primarily black but it had some purple bits on the right side. Not sure if she was a fan of Six Feet Under or just got a hand-me-down from her pops who ran the local funeral home but I started thinking, not a bad idea. With all the garbage picking I do (furniture finds and the like), it might be a good choice for my next set of wheels. Mine of course would have to be painted hot pink. I would have contemplated a light pink but then I saw this Escalade that color and did not like it one bit. Apparently, if you sell enough Mary Kay, they give you one of those beauties. Well, I’m sure the teen hearse driver has lots of friends in rural Alabama. Poor thing. I hope she finds her other tortured souls on St. Mark’s Place real soon.

Not so strange but not an ego-booster either, I came across two young men in Athens, Alabama who mistook me for (1) their teacher at college and (2) their own mother! This was two different boys but needless to say, I won’t be wearing my hair up ever again! Huh? I just realized, maybe his mother was a teacher at the college. Whatever, who cares. Athens was nice enough but nothing exciting to report there. This is the point in my trip where I started to lose steam: wasn’t as willing to strike up conversations with folks, didn’t enjoy driving long distances anymore and wanted to be around people who I could understand the first time around. This is the same point (3 week mark) where I started getting homesick when I was in Southeast Asia back in March. NOTE TO SELF: Only make vacations that are 3 weeks or less next time.

Heading into Tennessee, I stopped for some BBQ at Whitt’s in Ardmore and it was yummy and cheap! I knew this was a favorite of locals because there are many of them and folks are usually lined up in their cars for the drive-in window. Got a pork sandwich with beans and sweet tea. It hit the spot alright and I needed to fill up on food and gas because I was heading out to find Nameless, Tennessee, a town I had read about in Blue Highways, a book some girl gave me when she heard that I was taking this trip. The title refers to the color of the country roads on the atlases back in the late 70s. Not quite rural roads but not interstates either. They are the type of routes I was taking in the beginning of this trip but now had no patience for the stop and go action when you enter a little town and have to go from 65 to 25 mph.

So I had Google Mapped the town and had my directions written out. They were complex because this place is in the hills of Tennessee. I won’t bore you with the details but let’s just say, these folks could care less that their little no-name town is of interest to some lunatics who read about it in a book and think it’s neat-o to drive through for shits and giggles. I went down some of the scariest roads to locate this blip on the map and for what? Not much I tell ya. But whatever, it was an experience. TIP to the next idiot: When you see Dead End signs, turn back quickly! All wasn't lost though. I did come across this spooky graveyard with an abandoned house next to it. All the headstones had the family name Lee on it and some were current. I thought that was kind of cool. The earliest was someone who was born in 1844. I didn’t enter the house because the porch was no longer and I would have fallen in and gotten eaten by the termites that were crawling all over. Gross! What struck me as funny though, when I was entering the town, were the house numbers. They were large. For example, one I saw said “11492 Martin Creek Road.” I hadn’t seen a population sign anywhere but there sure as hell were not more than 20 families in this town. You’d think that just 1, 2, 3, 4, … 20 would suffice.

Leaving Nameless, I was stupid and took what seemed to be the straightest point from A to B and that is not always the smartest thing to do in the mountainous areas. Those red or dotted lines signify gravel or winding mountain roads and I should have taken the interstate even if it would be “out of the way.” Along those nutty roads, I saw quite a few grown men and women having cans of beers on this Saturday night in the parking lots of car washes, convenient stores, etc. but all closed with overhead lights on. Did this town not even have a bar for these folks to go to? WOW. Now that’s small. It reminded me of high school when kids would hang outside of Lou’s Corner Store and drink beers and smoke. But these were people in their 30s and 40s. Shame.

Without cell service and almost on ‘E’, I kept on going and finally reached Somerset, KY, where I settled in for the night. I found a Days Inn and for a moment, my friendly, way too honest self, came back to life. The young man behind the counter was Indian and maybe I thought I’d bring up the whole Christian bombardment issue again and be successful this time, but instead, my knowledge of India sent him swooning. Minutes before, he saw that I didn’t have a ring on and asked if I was single and I stupidly said yes. Instead of handing me my key, he said there was something wrong with that door to that room so he walked me to my room and asked if he could call me sometime. I thought I would be kind by jokingly saying that I was “geographically undesirable” since he seemed so young and impressionable, but he didn’t understand that phrase. So I simply said, “oh I’m sorry, I have a boyfriend” and closed the door.

I woke up to a beautiful day in Kentucky and it was Sunday. Time for church. I promised myself that I would attend a Baptist service before I left the South and this was my only chance. I went to the First Baptist Church of Somerset off of Route 80. Let’s just say, I was extremely underdressed in my jeans and white T-shirt but it didn’t matter. The sign was right, “Everyone Welcome.” I sat in the back and observed for a while but felt a little bad, like I was at a zoo looking at the animals interact. I’ve always wanted to go to one of those gospel brunches in Harlem so I guess I thought this would be similar but it wasn’t so I left. Check, off the list. Now all I had to find was a livestock auction.

On the road, I heard that new Miley Cyrus song, “Party in the USA” for the umpteenth time and listened intently to the lyrics to see why it had been ripped to shreds on the news the prior night by conservative Christians in the South. Apparently, in addition to dancing on a pole somewhere recently, part of Miley’s song refers to going to a club and dancing. Oh no! Horrors! What is this ‘Footloose’ all over again. So what people? She didn’t say anything about downing beers in a parking lot at least. So this gave me a business idea. Now I’m sure others have come up with this before and failed but of course my idea won’t. TEEN CLUBS. Why aren’t there more of these? Is it because the fear that they will bring in alcohol or drugs or is because parents wouldn’t let their kids go? Well, I think it’s an untapped market and everyone should try to start them up in their town. Teenagers WISH they could go to bars or clubs to hang out with friends and dance and eat and drink. Why not give them a place to dance, drink juice or cola and eat overpriced snacks? Hire some bouncers that will frisk them for contraband and maybe even parental chaperones to wander around the dance floor. But at least they’ll have a safe place to hang out where their parents can pick them up from afterwards. It can be set up like Friends with Salvation Army sofas and end tables and the music can be DJ’d by some popular kid whose iPod is ‘da bomb.’ (I know, I’m so old). If anyone’s in, contact me. We could make a killing! Otherwise, they’ll all just go to house parties and the woods for keggers and get sloshed and drive home drunk. Is that a better alternative? I think not! I’m so sure my constant aloneness is getting me to formulate business plans on my long stretches of road. BTW, the Daniel Boone National Forest (in West Virginia) is stunning and even still, folks were tossing full bags from Wendy’s and McDonald’s out their car windows onto the interstate. Isn’t that unreal?!

Things I learned since I last posted: (1) Fruit of the Loom undies are made in Bowling Green, Kentucky and Walt (Something) is employee of the month. Isn’t that sweet? They put up the EOTM on the marquee thingy by the road, (2) Awana is a newish religion started in Illinois and it’s spreading to the South, (3) Folks don’t seem to have Subarus down here. I actually had a woman ask me what type of car I was driving. I guess they’re all Fords and Chevys in these parts, (4) Southern porn retailers don’t mince words. The local “adult store” in Elkton, Tennessee is called “Boobie Bungalow.” Gotta love it! (5) Peyton Law Firm in Nitro, WV wants you to know that when you are faced with a jury, choose them because they’ve “been there, done that.” Okay, not sure that came across the way they wanted it to. (6) In that same town of Nitro, overheard two men in their 40s talking about having lost their jobs but said things were looking up because “they say industry’s movin’ in soon.” I wonder who THEY is and what INDUSTRY means. But I wish them all the best, (7) saw a billboard which makes me think West Virginians prefer Wonder over the brown stuff. It read, “Whole Wheat Nutrition with the White Bread Taste.”

Staying in Beckley, WV and heading to Woodbridge, VA to see Kathy tomorrow night. Then New York-bound. Home Sweet Home.

Radio highlights: “Easy Like Sunday Morning (Lionel Ritchie), “Moondance” (Van Morrison), The Doors, “Round & Round,” “Goodnight Sweetheart Well It's Time To Go,” “Get Together” by the Young Bloods (I wish we all would all “try to love one another right now”), “99 Red Balloons” (did you know how political this song was when it came out? I didn’t but now I actually listen to lyrics I guess).

(As you can probably tell, I think I am losing steam with writing too. Sorry if this is just hard to follow. Nitey nite.)

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