|Terrorizing corn fields|
I got ahead of myself. We're not ready to head south to Tennessee just yet; more tales to tell.
The very first sign of Spring was our first bug splatter on the windshield for the season. Now if this had been July, we'd be dodging grasshoppers the size of Nikes in Kentucky (I saw the biggest garden spider possible in the Pyrons' yard many years ago. A sight like that does not leave you). But I was not dodging bugs, rather noticing the bizarre place names that ticked by: Pig Eye, Gassaway, Pinchgut Gulch, and Bucksnort are a few in Maryland and West Virginia (also there's the town of Accident, which should probably be avoided). We had to get off the highway to check out Flintstone of course, since the all-seeing iPad told us there was a Stone Age Cafe there. Disappointing, since it only looked like one of those diurnal beer joints; no Brontoburgers being skated out by carhops in fur bikinis (sigh...). It was all good though, as we spotted -- wait for it -- a rock quarry just outside of the village. Fred must have been out to lunch, though, since his distinctive car was not there.
A stop in Cumberland, Maryland, to check out the Puccini Restaurant proved to be a good choice. It's in a pre-Civil War building decorated with old Harper's Weekly prints, and has a fine menu, great plate presentation and an even finer looking bar (off limits to us devil-may-care Honda drivers). I spoke to some locals who told us the building was used as a hospital during the Maryland campaigns during The Late Unpleasantness; I asked them if they knew of their most famous resident, writer John Michael Greer, but they did not. They did know where to find good pizza, though.
After a night in Charleston, we pushed through the aforementioned freak snow storm and enjoyed several busy days with Nancy's brother Tom and his Mrs., Cherry Pyron, who not only fed us extremely well with such delicacies as bourbon-cured bacon (even better than it sounds), but made food for a pot-luck dinner at their church, where we chatted with people who acted like we'd known them for years. We've never found anyone in or around Clinton, Kentucky, who didn't treat everyone like an old friend.
A curious thing popped into my head as we passed a full classroom down the hallway, though. I had seen a map chart a week previously online which showed the dire lack of real estate tax revenue that has been stopping local progress and rebuilding: almost half the town properties are either non-profit or vacant. Despite being the county seat, Clinton is small and has limited prospects until this problem is addressed; however, in that classroom a good many people were looking at a slide of a map titled "Old Jerusalem." I couldn't help thinking -- and I mean this not as a criticism -- these agreeable and intelligent people should really be looking at the one about their town and considering what to do about the looming problem. Jerusalem, old or new, couldn't be as relevant to their lives and futures.
Tom volunteers one day a week as an outdoor guide at the new Discovery Park in nearby Union City, Tennessee. Just opened a few months ago, it's an amazingly ambitious project to have been conceived and funded largely by one person. The main building design is big-city bold, almost Gehry-like, while the grounds contain everything from a Japanese garden (much abused by the recent winter, but it will bounce back) to reconstructed "dog-trot" style log cabins and a fine collection of old tractors. There are well-designed theme areas inside the main museum, of course, but one room was a charmer: it just housed every sort of thing that didn't fit in anywhere else. I liked that spirit.
Okay, we're just barely in Tennessee now, so let's keep on Route 51 and find Memphis!