Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tennessee: a Long Blog about a Long State

The last stops of my trip were through mostly familiar territory. In Memphis, I visited with Jay and Anna Phillips before getting back onto I-40 West. Actually, before hopping on the highway, I couldn’t resist stopping at a Backyard Burgers for a Blackened Chicken Sandwich. While eating it, the coleslaw dressing ran onto my fingers—it was delicious, even though the price seemed higher than I remembered.

By the time I exited the interstate for Columbia where my friend Dana lives, it was getting late and the sun had already set. I drove to within 20 miles of her city when I came upon wooden barriers blocking the road and sign telling me the road was closed. This happened two more times before I reached Dana’s (a result of the recent flooding, I think). Finally, I arrived, glad to not just be somewhere, although that would be a relief, but especially at Dana’s. I hadn’t seen her in nine months. She’s got a great apartment, and I should have paid her rent for having my own nice bedroom and bathroom—but she wouldn’t have had any of that.
On Sat., we watched the U.S. vs. England soccer match at Kick’s Sports Bar, Music Hall & BBQ. At the busiest, there were maybe 5 customers, including us. Maybe lots of others were watching soccer at another sports bar that featured catfish instead of BBQ, but it’s probably just a reflection of the smaller fan base of soccer compared to the Big Three of American sports. Later in the day, with too much to possibly try to fit into the 32,000 people populated city of Columbia, Dana drove me to nearby Pulaski, which is smaller and more manageable. The court square there is still in working order, and at Reeve’s Drug Store, we had “nickel Cokes” and a homemade fried peach pie. Later, we saw Columbia’s court square, too, and dined at an exemplary restaurant called Market Square where Lynne and the Quintessentials were playing live music.

On Sunday, I went to Dana’s church. The children’s wing is unlike anything I’ve ever seen at a church before. Not to say something negative about churches that are different, but it’s apparent, simply from a visual perception, that this congregation has a vested interest in children’s ministry. The main hall of classrooms is designed to appear like a pier at a seaside amusement park. Lucky for me, this was Beach Club Sunday, meaning a special program was taking place with skits and singing.

In the afternoon, I tried to decide whether to visit Rippavilla, an antebellum home just north of Columbia, or go to the Jack Daniel’s distillery in Lynchburg. It worked better with the planning to head to Lynchburg. The Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg is on the National Register of Historic Places (being the first registered distillery in the U.S.), and an ironic fact is that it operates in a dry county (no liquor sales permitted, which also means no samples on the tour, other than lemonade). The tour guide was a great grand nephew of Jasper (Jack) Daniel, and his regular job during the school year is as a 4th grade teacher. The tour was informative and interesting—and free! While the famed Tennessee whiskey cannot be purchased there or in town, the court square has plenty of other JD-labeled merchandise for sale—as well as 75 cent Cokes (it ain’t Pulaski).

Back in Columbia that night, I had a heavenly meal at Dana’s, which we teamed up to cook together, thus enjoying a reminiscence of our Tuesday night dinner club in Michigan. The next morning, we stopped by Rippavilla and looked around the outside of it before eating at Cracker Barrel, where some grits helped fill me for the next leg of travel. I said bye to Dana and set off for Murfreesboro and then Cookeville to see my Uncle Dale and Aunt Debbie. Near Cookeville’s courtsquare, we had some good BBQ from Moogie’s and later relaxed to a free Flag-day orchestra concert in Dogwood Park. The next day, we ate lunch at Spankie’s and then walked around Tenn Tech. Come to find out, this school began with a donation of the property of a former college run by a local church of Christ. Also, unbeknownst to me, there is still a church of Christ Bible college in Cookeville called Tennessee Bible College, which consists of mostly online learning.

By the next morning, I was on my to my brother’s family in Powell, just north of Knoxville. When I pulled into the driveway, my five-year-old niece was shooting baskets. I didn’t remember her being able to shoot so well. Close by, her bike was tipped over. The training wheels had been removed. A part of her childhood, a part I remembered, was gone. She didn’t seem to mind. But I felt time in a way I’d never experienced it before. Now, funnily, my nephew Josiah, who’s a little over a year younger than Mackenzie, had removed his own training wheels from his bike, but he’s not really ready to balance on his own yet. That’s o.k., though. No need to speed up time.

On Thursday, I went with David, April, and the kids to Dollywood’s Splash Country, a waterpark about 30 minutes south of Knoxville. I can’t remember the last time I went to a waterpark, and I definitely can’t remember the last time I had so much fun at a waterpark in only going to kid-friendly slides and pools.

The next day, I loaded the Equinox for the final time of the trip, including April’s inclusion of snacks for the road, which she’s always good to give me. Before long, I was on I-75, which could have taken me all the way back to Detroit, but I tried going around Cincinatti and Dayton to avoid traffic. I had finally run out of books on CD, so I relied on the radio and music CDs for the remainder of the drive. However, I was careful not to listen to radio at first because I didn’t want to hear the score of the US vs. Alergia World Cup match before I could watch a recording of it or see the replay later on ESPN Classics. The time for the replay was supposed to be when I was in Troy, Ohio. I walked into a burrito place, and—what are the chances—a flatscreen was showing a replay of the England game. I thought I might’ve been in luck. I was ready to belatedly support the USA, wearing my USA World Soccer shirt, which a guy behind the counter saw and asked if I’d seen the US comeback. What are the chances of him mentioning this to me?—probably higher with me sporting the soccer shirt. I told him I had not, but now knowing what happened, I asked him to tell me about it. I didn’t wait around to see if my anticipated match would be broadcast. My friend Patrick had recorded it for me, so I could watch it another day. To do so, I just needed to get back to Michigan.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Home. That’s where I was last week. Back in my old room, which still has mementos of mine on shelves and a bed that’s easy to sleep in. The first night I was there, dots of illumination outside the house made the atmosphere sparkle—lighting bugs: it had been a while since I’d seen those. I wonder what makes their light recharge. I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation, but, regardless, the effect seems magical. While at home, I was able to recharge my phone, recharge my computer, and recharge myself in some way, too.

When one isn’t sure how to proceed further with a project, it can be good to start back at the beginning. Not too long ago, some friends helped me produce a “genogram,” chronicling important events of my life before college for reflective, analysis purposes. One thing that was suggested to me is that my Searcy home has functioned as a means of stability in my life. It has allowed me to feel more assured when venturing to new places because I remained connected to a familiar home. I have to say the real essence of this is my parents, themselves, and would remain so at another location if they moved. But, there’s something special about the physical place as well. Even though I live someplace else, I can fit in at this other home and take an interest in details about a house and a yard 862 miles from my own. What type of countertop will Mom select for the kitchen? Has Dad seen if any more of the bluebird eggs have hatched in the neighbor’s yard? Recharging isn’t simply a means of finding energy to repeat the same cycles as before. It can re-charge you to attempt something more or something different. Self-reflection occasioned by security and relaxation and a sense of your past can charge you to live life more deliberately.

Monday, June 14, 2010

My First Solo Booking

For Christmas in 1998, I received my first guitar, a Martin Dreadnought. I took one semester of lessons--enough to learn some basic chord progressions--and then decided to become more proficient on my own. Now, I can play basic chords pretty fluently and, having played with others and in front of others, I’ve gotten more comfortable with performing. Last Wednesday, I played a 30-minute show at a nursing facility in Searcy where my Grandma, who helped buy my first guitar, is now living. My mom and dad helped me set up in the lobby with a microphone stand (borrowed from the Harding University Music Department), an on-site mic (plugged into the electric piano), and a bar stool (borrowed from some friends). I supplied a music stand and the guitar—not my Martin, but a Yamaha I had bought just before my trip.

Though I hadn’t slated the show in enough time to be put on a printed schedule, the activity director said I could perform at 3 p.m. My parents and I started setting up shortly after 2:30, and right away, residents began gathering to hear the show. I visited with a few of them, and one woman was a fan of Elvis. “There’ll never be another Elvis,” she said. At least 20 people showed up—not bad for an unannounced program. Luckily for the audience, I had a warm-up act—my mother playing songs on the piano. Then my father introduced me. I started with “The Wabash Cannonball” and saw that some residents recognized this number. I encouraged people listening to sing along with songs they knew, and this happened with some of the tunes. The most popular must have been “You Are My Sunshine.” I was somewhat nervous at various points and played some wrong chords, but the audience clapped after each song and I made it through, ending my set with “This Land Is Your Land.” As an encore, I asked if anyone had a request. From the far side of the room, a woman called out, “The Wabash Cannonball.” (Had she not been present to hear me play that earlier?) I played most of it again. She enjoyed it, and no one else seemed to mind the repeat. At the end, Mom came back up, and we did a duet of “The Tennessee Waltz.” Afterwards, I walked around and thanked people for coming. The Elvis-lover I’d spoken to before was disappointed that I hadn’t played any of her favorite artist. She repeated, ‘There’ll never be another Elvis.” I told her I’d have to work on some Elvis for next time, maybe “Love Me Tender.” She said, “That was the first movie my husband and I saw together.”

Grandma liked having me play. It’s funny that during the show, I noticed her looking around at others as much as or more than she did at me. I guess she was wanting to see if others were enjoying the music, which she had, by living there, generated the opportunity for.

Last year when I switched from a full-time to a part-time position, I had an idea to work on a repertoire of songs that I could play at small coffee shop style venues to make extra money. That never happened, but perhaps I’ll give it more of a go this next year. Maybe in the future I’ll play at other places and even make money doing so; but I shouldn’t imagine I’ll ever perform at a more worthwhile place than this first concert in a nursing home.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Bless My Heart

Last Sunday, Mark (my former Michigan roommate who’s now a Texan) and I went to a church service at the Southside Church of Christ in Ft. Worth. The preacher, Steve, grew up in my hometown of Searcy, and he, as well as three of the other members, attended Harding Academy, my high school alma mater. Louisa, who was in the same grade as Steve at HA, is now a physician assistant. She is an excellent PA I’m sure--to hear her talk even a little bit about it and to know something of her aptitude for studies, I’m convinced of this; and Steve is certainly in his calling as a preacher. In I Corinthians, Paul talks about the different members making up the body of Christ, the church. Certainly, I could look at any church congregation and see variety in occupations; but it struck me much more powerfully this particular Sunday to witness students from the same high school class, one ministering largely with preaching, another largely through medicine--both part of the same church congregation. It was a blessing to experience this. The previous Sunday, I heard Randy Frazee (via video) speak at Journey Fellowship. I went there with my friends Buck and Katy and their girls, Lily and Zoe. Katy runs a “giftique” called Bless Your Heart, a place to behold with your eyes even if you don’t intend to buy anything—but (beware) you’re bound to find something to purchase if you go. Buck has lived in San Antonio since graduating from college in ‘99. I remember driving to SA with him and looking for his first apartment. A few years later, he brought his girlfriend, Katy, up to Arkansas, and in 2004, I traveled in Italy with Buck and Katy, who were by then engaged. I moved to Michigan later that summer, and it wasn’t long until I was flying to SA for a wedding. Last year, I met their daughter Lily in Michigan, and now I’ve met Zoe. On Memorial Day, we went to Buck’s parents’ for dinner. Buck’s dad said a prayer and thanked God for a friendship that has lasted all these years. It is indeed a blessing.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Petrified "Forest"

What’s happened to Petrified Forest National Park? I’ve heard of environmentalists’ concern for deforestation, but I wouldn’t have expected something similar to be occurring with trees turned into fossils. However, this seems to be the case. When I visited the Petrified Forest NP last Friday, I certainly couldn’t see the forest for the trees—because there weren’t enough to make a forest. I didn’t drive through the entire park, so maybe I missed a large conglomeration of tumbled tree trunks, but from what I’ve read, I evidently missed them because of when, not where, I went. Had I gone 100 years ago or 50 years ago--or make that even 1 year ago--I could have seen more. A New York Times article from 1999 talks about the vandalism of protected petrified wood. According to one study, every year the amount of petrified wood at the Arizona park decreases by 12 tons. Apparently, the signs one sees as leaving the park, telling visitors that their vehicles may be searched, do have some effect: hundreds of pounds are found by the signs in summer months. Even wood that makes it past the park exit sometimes returns. The article mentions that “[i]n September alone, 25 pounds of rocks were mailed back by people with guilty consciences.” In 1984, one man believed his theft of petrified wood had somehow cursed him, causing his car to be wrecked and his wife to leave him. Even though returning the wood may help bring peace of mind to vandals, it doesn’t fix the loss at the park, for rangers are not allowed to replace the wood since this would be changing the natural location of it and potentially causing problems for researchers conducting studies at the park. Even with the pillaging, tree fossils at the NP should be around for a long time, and layers of petrified wood exist under the ground. I wouldn’t travel to Arizona just to see fossilized timber (an Arizona tourism Website mentions that every state has deposits of petrified wood), but if you’re going along I-40 in the Grand Canyon State, it’s worth a stop. Even one tree would still be amazing to see.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


In 2008, I flew into Phoenix and was met by my friend Eric who drove me to his house, an hour-and-a-half north, in Cottonwood, Arizona. He and his wife, Tracy, were going on a trip, and while they were gone, I had agreed to help run their art gallery and watch their dog, Giuseppe. I had not seen Giuseppe since then, but when I arrived this time, he seemed to recognize me immediately, hugging onto me. Even though this time my intention was not to gallery-sit or dog-sit, on the second day of my visit, Tracy received a call from her grandfather, wanting her to come 150 miles south to Casa Grande: his wife, who was in Hospice, was dying. Quickly, Eric and Tracy loaded their vehicle and took off with their one-year-old son, Cayden. Tracy’s grandmother passed away 45 minutes after she arrived, and Tracy, Eric, and Cayden stayed in Casa Grandre for a couple of nights. I remained in Cottonwood and watched Giuseppe again. I suppose it could seem I chose a poor time to visit, but I’m glad I was there. I’m sure someone else could have watched Giuseppe, but it was easiest for me to do so—and I was still able to visit with Giuseppe’s family and see Cayden walk, which he’d only started doing two days before I arrived. Yesterday, I saw a book about ministering to people while one is “on the road.” It encourages us to be aware of opportunities for assisting others even when we’re away from home. I don’t know that God planned for me to be in Cottonwood at that time, but I appreciated having the opportunity to help out one of my dearest friends. I couldn’t help remembering being in Athens, Greece in 1997 and receiving a phone call in my hotel room from my mother, informing me that my grandmother had passed away. I went to another floor of the hotel and knocked on a door. Tracy, who had met my grandmother, came out and sat with me. That sympathy means as much to me today as it did then.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Grand Weather

The Big Chill and Grand Canyon are two films written by Lawrence Kasdan. I have not seen either one, but I experienced their literal titles simultaneously on Monday. After leaving Vegas, I drove to Zion National Park in southwest Utah. The weather there was fair, perhaps slightly on the cool side, but I got by just fine in my navy Old Navy zip-up hooded sweatshirt. When I was leaving Zion NP, I was trying to decide whether to stay the night at Bryce Canyon or the Grand Canyon. I had read and heard that Bryce Canyon would be colorful at sunrise, so this won out, and I headed the additional hour north in order to see it. As I drove, I saw the temperature gauge in the Equinox drop to below freezing, and light flurries of snow hit my windshield. I had considered camping “out” in my vehicle at Bryce, but this weather dissuaded me from that plan. So, I checked on hotels, finding that the ones closest to Bryce would have been more than $100, which was hard to take since the night before I had stayed at a resort for half that amount. Because I had already gotten a glimpse of the canyon and wasn’t all that tired, I changed my plan and started driving south towards the larger canyon and warmer weather for car sleeping. The temperature reading went up as I’d expected. Then, as I entered Arizona, it started to drop again. Until, when I was close to the entrance of the North Rim, the gauge said 25 degrees. It was already after midnight, and the sun would be coming up in a few hours, so I thought, even with the cold, I might as well find a campsite and try to sleep. I wasn’t sure if it was safe to sleep inside a vehicle with the windows rolled up, so I cracked the front two (but ended up rolling the passenger pane back up after I thought I heard the wind blowing in snow). For a few hours I was warm enough in my sleeping bag covered by two blankets. By 4:30 or so, however, my pillow was chilled. I had gotten a few hours sleep and decided I might as well start the engine, warm the vehicle up, and get ready to drive on to the North Rim in time for sunrise. I passed by the un-staffed (I suspect due to my early arrival) entrance station and arrived at the Canyon shortly after the sun started sending light to the location. Wrapped in an Army blanket, I went into a cafĂ© at the Lodge and bought a hot cup of coffee. In another part of the Lodge, there is a viewing area, and I alternated my time between sipping coffee inside this place and darting out the side doors to snap photos of the Canyon as the changing light created different effects on the Canyon’s walls. After spending about an hour at the North Rim, I drove on towards Cottonwood, Arizona to visit the Kees family. Within an hour and a half, I had descended enough in elevation to melt the icicles that had formed on my vehicle’s running boards, and by the time I reached Cottonwood, it was shorts and T-shirt weather again.