The long and winding road

Part 3 of the Tennessee Chronicles

Carlene loads the van with a crate of sandwiches she got at a Jersey deli and a bag of muffins the size of hubcaps. With Dinny at the wheel, the Fab Five sweeps out of the city on I-40 and when the GPS device says to turn, we head south on two-lane Route 13, a highway that rides the bare back of the ridge, with two-foot shoulders and no guardrail, reminiscent of the Skyline Drive and the Smoky Mountains. With a hand on the door Carlene, who has made this trip once before, peers into the ravine, then at the endless stands of birch. “This looks familiar,” she says, all irony intended.

An hour into the trip we stop at a store that looks like a movie-front, painted in barn red with a sign that reads “Cigarettes sold at state minimum.” We pile out of the car, eager to stretch. Inside the store we find a barrel of pickles (no tongs, Dinny notes), pigs ears, a cooler of beer and two very polite older women behind the counter. We buy a diet Sun-Drop soda for Annette and walk back across the nearly deserted gravel lot to the car. “What else would you be doing?” Carlene asks, the first of many times during the trip.

Winding roadBack on the road she turns in the front seat and reads aloud an article in AARP Bulletin about a man who travels college campuses challenging students to do a million acts of kindness in their lifetimes. That equates to 50 acts of kindness a day for 55 years. We look at each other and wonder aloud if any of us will live long enough to hit the mark. But we’re game.

We drive for another hour without seeing homes or people, passing a lone car and a dog wandering up the road, then enter a small town in Harden County. All of the homes have carports or porches that don’t extend all the way across their fronts. After two-and-a-half hours on the road we cross Pickwick Dam on the Tennessee River and turn left toward the town of Savannah, less than four miles from the Mississippi border. After a quick check-in we pile back into the car and head to a small restaurant on the main street for dinner with the crew from the factory.

The restaurant is fashionably dark, a converted clothing store with alternating black and white walls decorated with pop art. We are greeted warmly by Lisa and three others from the company. They are tolerating our tardiness and brash northern accents well. We order and settle down to shop talk. The appetizer comes—breaded crawfish tails. We pause for a moment of awed silence. Then Karen says, “Anything that’s breaded and served with cocktail sauce has to be good,” and everyone digs in.

Tomorrow: the Adamsville family.

One thought on “The long and winding road

  1. I’m Annette, marketing communications agency principal and “Christmas package” component of Jeff’s “Fab Five.” The duo-chromatic color scheme was my latest ploy in trying to simplify packing and overcome my irrational dislike for doing that. In my next life I’m going to be very tall and my aura will be lots of blues –from late afternoon sky to periwinkle and then on to late spring lilacs and deep purples. Will Jeff recognize me then? I thnk so since he has shown such powers of observation and perception here and now And speaking of percption one of the things Carlene created in this journey was the continuing amazement of putting together disparate players and creating a team. On the ground in the Volunteer State were two champions of perception: Lisa and Amy. I can safely say I never saw two more amazing listeners who take what they hear and turn it into perfectly “on target” responses. They heard that message about acts of kindness and demonstrated how listening qualifies as one of the best of them. After the dinner (and who’s going to get us all the recipe for “Comeback Dressing”?) the next day gave each of the Fab Five “goody bags” that were absolutely stunning in how they reflected the funny tastes and foibles of each of us. Amazng.

    Anyway, Jeff’s wondrous blog may finally move me to action to capture the conversations I have each Manhattan Island day as I ride New York’s MTA buses. The first one Il’ll recount began when a lady who had just returned from London thanked me for wearing a red jacket and then went on to a talk about all the black burkhas she had seen in that capital and how black has become the “go to the party” uniform in New York All those MTA buses are missing is drivers like Dinny; VPs of Food, Navigation and Acts of Kindness like Carlene; scribes like Jeff; and kindly organizers like Karen. But then, that might make for even more crowded mass transit in the Big Apple.

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