Tea is Extra Hun...

Trip Start Jun 09, 2009
Trip End Jun 23, 2009

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Where I stayed
Holiday Inn Express (On the Outskirts of Town)

Flag of United States  , Tennessee
Thursday, June 11, 2009

It would be too cliché to begin with a reference to Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again," wouldn’t it? Too late, guess I already did.  No sooner did it seem Mississippi was in front of the hood of the truck than it appeared in the rear view mirror.  Cue Alabama.  (Alabama appears stage left to the sound of thunderous applause.)  Tracking east/northeast we cross into the heart of Dixie.  Folks….the Confederate Flag - to my dismay flies more proudly here than our own stars and stripes.  Seriously.  Also, did GM shortly after bankruptcy dump all of their vehicles on the side of I-65?  There must have been an untowed roadside broken down and abandoned every two miles.  Safe clear must have seen state budget cuts this summer.

Lunch in Birmingham.  Didn’t get to the Civil War Museum as I had hoped, since we needed to push the schedule forward.  After all of this planning, the fact that we advance an hour to the EST completely escaped me and we needed to be in Chattanooga in a few hours.  Damn Dax….think about this stuff!!!  We decided to grab a bite in Birmingham on the city’s northside at a Bar-B-Que establishment called Full Moon.  It had big Red A’s all over the outside, which meant it had to be good if it was rated so high.  I mean, who is so proud as to put A’s all over their business?  Oh wait…..ok, I am being told that this is Crimson Tide country and the A’s signified Alabama for the university.  Nonetheless, it was great pulled pork.  Also I was made well aware that in the deep south, when you order tea……it is ALWAYS sweetened.  They have to actually go and make unsweetened tea.  Fair warning in case you decide to put Sweet-n-Low in it after you sit down.  YUCK!

Heading north through the towering Apollo rockets of Huntsville, home of the famed Space Camp.  Always wanted to go there as a kid.  No stopping though…we are behind schedule.  Would have thought the double sweetened tea would have sped us up.

Cue Chattanooga.  From the gently rolling hills of Bama we were thrust into the foothills of the Appalachians.  Towering tree covered cliffs hugged each and every turn on the interstate leading into the city.  Just beautiful.  The GPS put us at 2150ft above sea level as we headed straight up to the top of Lookout Mountain – home of a decisive Civil War battle.  The large gap between the mountains, along with it strategic rail location, made Chattanooga a must win for the north.  It was also the gateway to the north’s push toward the deep south.  The battle painting I photographed was 10 feet tall by 40 feet wide.  No frame from Aaron Brothers though.  Great views in the afternoon sun allowed us to see how difficult it was for the north to scale the mountain.  Once conquered though, after 45 days of working on it, the north was able to secure lookouts to continue funneling in troops to Atlanta and Vicksburg.

Through this city and an hour north we retire in the small sleepy town of Athens, Tennessee.  After check in, we headed into “Downtown” for some dinner.  All we could find was a Sonic, a Papa Johns, and The Western Sizzlin’.  Well we get the first two at home, so it was a clear choice where tonight’s dining experience was going go down.

Gina (as her name tag told me), had tightly pulled back hair, an apron, and huge smile with a thick southern accent.  She sat us in our vinyl covered booth seats at a table still somewhat sticky from its previous tenants.  No worries though…we were starving.  I ordered the iced tea, Brian was correct in ordering his unsweetened.  I NEVER LEARN DO I!

This was not “a” restaurant in Athens, it was “the” restaurant in Athens.  Wood paneled covered walls with deer antler chandeliers adorned the rapidly aging building.  We were seated in the Banquet Room.  “No menu tonight, just the buffet hun”….our waitress Jeanelle told us.  Unlimited amounts of fried chicken, fried fish, fried okra, french fries, mac n cheese, dinner rolls, baked potatoes and banana pudding for the low, low price of $7.25.  “Tea’s extra,” Jeanelle warned us. 

I knew this was the place in town since the neighboring table was sweetly celebrating a high school graduation.  The table across the way sat a deeply committed couple of 50 plus years.  Deeply committed since they said not a single word to each other during the whole meal, but you know they had an entire conversation without talking.  She even had her nice shoes on tonight.  One man struck me as he prayed deeply before his meal.  A long prayer (longer than the usual Amen, dig in).  His lips mouthing the silent words, his eyes shut so tightly his forehead wrinkled…his hands clenched.  Didn’t know his story but it had to have been tragic as four of the six waitresses working that night would stop by periodically to see if he was ok and gave him a hug.  He would just eat bite after bite, watching the front door in silence. 

This was “the” restaurant in Athens.

Jeanelle was surprised we only had one plate.  “I can getcha another one hun if ya want.”  We declined, since we were full from an already year’s supply of fried fare.  The two plant workers in the corner of the restaurant with blackened fingers from a hard day’s labor were easily on their third plate.  Their heavy work boots would shuffle back and forth from their seat to the buffet line.  The noise of their steps were muffled by the uncomfortable volume of local girl Dolly Parton’s Greatest Hits playing on the speakers above.  Dollywood is just a town over.  The stacks of brochures at the door was my first clue.  

As we went up to pay at the cash register next to the expired mint basket and toothpick dispenser, Gina, the hostess said she did not recognize us and asked where we were from.  Told her Texas and you would of thought it was a million miles away, by here exclamation of how “neat” that was.  She asked where I was staying in town and told her the Holiday Inn on near the interstate.  “Ah the outskirts,” she said.  I smirked as I pushed open the door to the parking lot, recalling that our hotel was only a mile and half west of downtown.  Always love the sound of those two santa bells that hang from a door when it is opened in small town restaurants.  Food was a solid 2…atmosphere was a solid 11.  We pulled out of the parking lot of Western Sizzlin’, gravel crunching underneath the truck’s tires.  The sign told us that the only thing not sizzlin’ inside is your wallet. 

Tonight I didn’t see a slice of my desert.  I saw a slice of my country.  Honest.  Unabashed.  Real.  These people weren’t putting on a show.  This is how they really are and were. 

Thursday night at the Western Sizzlin’ in Athens, Tennesee.  Next Monday night…the White House.  This is turning out to be a cool trip.  Dispatch out.
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