Monday, August 17, 2009

Back in Eastern Tennessee.

Before we move on to the Volunteer State, here's one last shot from Kentucky.

Denise's daughter Lynn took it while her husband Dale and I were sewing one evening. Yea, that's right. Sewing. I was fixing my watch band, which is beaded with blue and white trade beads and is always shedding beads and needing fixing. I made the thing, years ago, when I was deep into a Native American thing. Last time we were up there one of Chantell's dogs pulled it off a table and chewed on it, so I had to rebuild it.

I'd only recently put it back together again, with a new clasp and some new bead work, but then I'd slammed it against something, like a desk or a door jam, and one of the lines of beads snapped. So, it needed fixin'. Dale was working on his old Boy Scout uniform, arrangin' and sewin' patches. I think he's gonna set it up in a shadow box or something. So, we're both a coupl'a creative mother fuckers. End of story. Anyway, it's a great picture. The look on my face says it all. "Yea, I'm sewin'. What about it?"

So, after leavin' Denise at the airport in Nashville on the second Mondayof the trip I got back into the car and headed East on I-40. I was giddy, headed to Harriman again to see my good friends, and with Denise gone, I could finally crank the classic old Hard Rock stations I love on the satellite radio and light up a fat, smelly cigar.

Of course, I could've done all that with her in the car, but I try to act like a gentleman when she's around and she doesn't like the smoke, or the tunes at my usual ear splitting volume. It felt really good to have the sunroof cracked and the smoke signals wafting up again, like they always are when I'm drivin' to work in San Saba. The scenery got steadily prettier as I got closer and closer to my destination.

I swear, Eastern Tennessee is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I stopped once to pee and gas up just outside Harriman and was taking the Harriman exit in no time. I tried to get a room at the Holiday Inn Express, where I always stay, but there was no room at the inn. So, I moved over one and got a room at the next place over... a Comfort Inn, I think. It turned out to be almost as nice and about $30 cheaper, so maybe I'll change my routine from now on.

I called Mushy when I got into the room and found out that they were in the middle of a visit with his mom. So I hung out in the room for a bit before headin' over to their house. Well, I tried to. I was too excited to sit there long. Plus, I was worried that if I laid my head down on the pillow I'd crash and not wake up again for hours. You know, 5:15 had hit both Denise and I hard that mornin'. So, I got back in the car, lit another little cigar and slowly drove through town, checking out all the sights I've come to love in the last few years.

The drive took me down the hill into town, over the old bridge that crosses the Emory River, past the Princess Theater and up the road out of town, towards the palatial Mashburn country estate. I got there and saw that Paul and Judy were still gone, so I did some exploring, driving up the winding one lane road that takes you over the hill and back to the road that runs out of Harriman.

It was fun, but I kept thinkin', "If some bastard comes zippin' around one of these corners and I die here it's gonna suck!" He didn't though, and after makin' my way back to the garden spot, cul de sac, I decided to just park and finish my cigar. Sure enough, seemingly just moments later, that big King Ranch Ford drove up and the good times began to roll.

I followed them down the drive and parked, there were hugs and squeezes all around, and then we headed into the house. Before long I was thinkin' it was time to spring my little surprise. I'd brought a few toys from home with this picture in mind.

It shows my buddy Paul, innocent as hell, about 19, posin' with his M-16 while serving his year in Vietnam in about 1966. I had a chance this last year to get a rifle just like that one in the picture. It's an AR-15 made in the early 1970s, with the same configuration as that early Air Force ARs, only in semi-automatic. Being an old Air Force Brat, and having a few buddies who served there in the Air Force, it was a no-brainer. Best $1300 I ever spent.

Thinking about that old picture, I wondered whether or not Paul had an old helmet. I couldn't ask. It'd give away the surprise, so I just tossed mine in the trunk with the rifle and drove East. I told Paul at some point that I had a surprise, and we went back outside to the car. He never knows what the hell I'm gonna try to do. You should have seen the look on his face when he saw the helmet. Then he saw the rifle and started to handle it, I could tell the years, the decades were trailing off in his mind. We were both gigglin' like kids. It was hilarious.

We spent some time with him posing, trying to think how he looked in the picture, with both of us getting a hand full of shots. I think this one was the best. Then we took the rifle into the house and he showed me how to break it down and clean it. It all came back to him in no time. The smiles on his face were HUGE, and that made me very happy. He thanked me later, tellin' me how much fun it had been to relive it all. That was all I needed to hear. Mission accomplished.

That's a much different guy there in the second picture. Of course, only he can really tell you how different. But I can tell you that he's been through a lot, lived a full life, which has left him with that fuller figure, and those lines on his face, and a huge well of wisdom that I've tried to tap into ever since getting to know him. In that process I've grown to love this guy like a big brother. I think I've felt it ever since I first started reading his stuff about four years ago. The fact that I get to come by each year and hang out with him, get some porch time, makes it all that much more special.

See, this guy's been a great friend to me for a while now. He'll never admit it, but he's been very important in my life, imparting some of that hard earned wisdom of his, helping a kid to grow up a bit more. So anything I can ever do to pay him back is gonna be my pleasure. I think I came up with somethin' good this trip. Hope I can top it some day.

After a while, time spent playin' on his computer and lookin' at some of those pictures, Paul and Judy took me out to lunch at a cool, old timy place called The Good Old Days Diner. It's one of those places that's set up to make you think you're in a classic old diner back in the early 1960s. It was really cool. When the food arrived, both of the camera geeks at the table took time to get shots of the food. Judy's seen all this before. That's one patient woman.

I chose the mushroom burger and these fried corn thingies. I LOVE those things. I've had them many times before. Some of the Chinese Food buffets dad and I used to go to had them. When they arrived we asked the waitress how they made them. She said they didn't make them there, but that they'd asked the same question. Apparently the manufacturer freezes the cream corn and breads it before freezing it again in preparation for frying. However they do it, it was GOOOOD, and the burger was good too.

After lunch we piled into the truck and Paul drove us out to Ozone Falls. The scenery there was beautiful. I'm always amazed at how many of these beautiful little spots there are within an easy drive of their house. They truly are blessed.

Having been a bit accident prone this last year, falling and breaking a few ribs a while back, Judy decided to take things in hand before Paul moved too close to the edge of the falls.

Having the advantage of a six foot wing span, I just walked over to the edge and stuck my arm out with the camera. In the end I was able to merge two good shots to give you this view of the falls. Purdy eh?

As we walked up the creek, takin' pictures and dodgin' the poison oak that dotted the area, I got this shot of Judy, patiently waitin' for us up on the trial.

We handed her our cameras and she got some great shots of the two of us. That's my little buddy there.

Then we drove on to check out Black Mountain, which I'd read about on his blog. I think he'd visited the place last fall, when the trees were thinner and the view was better.

Personally, I loved seein' it, even in the hotter, humid weather we had that day. It reminded me of all those summer days in Missouri in the early 1970s when my friends and I would walk through the woods and not think twice about jumping into the weeds and underbrush. I can't remember ever getting poison ivy or oak, and I can remember only a few snakes that slithered into view. I guess we kids were immune to to the fear of most of that.

I remembered reading about the place as soon as I saw these huge rock formations. They're amazing, reminding me of the stuff we see when we go to Enchanted Rock in the Fall.

There were ferns growing in the shaded areas under the tall trees...

And Moss growing on the boulders that were shaded from direct sunlight. It was beautiful, but it was friggin' hot, and we had other places to go and people to see.

After our short hike (Judy stayed at the car and waited for us in the shade... Smart woman), the three of us drove into Oak Ridge to meet up with Judy's sister Terri and her husband Steve. They met us at Big Ed's, which has become a regular stop on these road trips of mine. If you'd ever had the pleasure of one of their pies, you know why.

I tell ya, this is some good stuff. Now, we've got good pizza here in Killeen too, but Big Ed's has so much more history, atmosphere, excellent music playing loudly on the system, and as we found to our delight on this trip, they're now selling Yuengling! Wooohoooo. That's just almost a perfect evening.

After the dinner we headed back to their place and relaxed for the rest of the evening. I think I started to drift off some time around 9PM, while we watched something on their big flat screen TV. So, we made plans for breakfast the next morning and I made my exit. I tell ya, that bed felt good to me that night.

I called Denise on the way to the hotel and found out that she'd gotten home safe. We'd played phone tag all day, with me ether on the top of a mountain or in Paul and Judy's house, which is a dead zone. Bottom line, she was home and everything was cool.

The next morning I woke up before the alarm, showered and got myself out to their place just in time for us to pile back in the truck and head out again.

We ended up meeting Judy's sister Nina and her husband Ron at a cool little place called Mimis Cafe, on the outskirts of Knoxville.

That's something called a Chipotle Breakfast Burrito, with shredded beef, scrambled eggs, cilantro, green onions and black beans, all covered with melted cheese and chipotle sauce, with fried potatoes on the side. Mmmmm, good! I was so hungry I forgot to get a picture of it until I'd killed about half of it, but you get the picture. Hell yea, I'd order it again. I plan on it!

Then, after we'd all eaten, the guys and gals split up and went their separate ways. Judy and Nina headed over to terrorize the shops at Turkey Creek, while the guys headed off to Sevierville to check out the Smokey Mountain Knife Works, and later the Bass Pro Shops.

This is the only shot I took that came out at the Knife Works. I was too busy lookin' at all the cool stuff and tryin' to find a worthy replacement for my lost pocket knife. In the end, I found one that was cool enough, and another one that was just too cool to pass up. I think the other guys just walked around, waitin' for my curiosity to be exhausted. I tell ya, it's a cool place. If you ever get the chance, check it out. I think I left the camera in the truck by the time we walked into the Bass pro Shop. Those places are always amazing.

After we exhausted ourselves with the shopping, the guys and gals met up again at the Wild Wings cafe in Knoxville. We were surprised to hear that Paul's son Corey was gonna be able to join us for lunch. That was exciting for me, since I'd been hearing about him for years but had never been able to meet him before.

We ordered our usual, which for me was six of the Honey BBQ and six of the General Tso's. Mmmmm, that General knew a thing or two, fer sure. Along with Big Ed's, Wild Wings is one of those places I look forward to visiting before each trip. Again, we have something close to it here, but nothing to top the whole package you get at Wild Wings.

In the end, Paul and Corey decided to split a dessert. I wanna tell ya, that stuff looked good. I think I must have had a bite, but can't remember. You can tell from the look on Paul's face though, it was good.

While we were there eating, the clouds finally broke open and it started to rain cats and dogs. We'd made plans the day before to take my AR-15 to Steve's place and shoot it, and Ron had a new pistol he wanted to shoot, but the rain ended those plans.

In stead, Paul and I spent some good, quality time out on his porch, relaxing, listening to the rain, and the great tunes in his party collection being piped through from his computer.

I went out to my car and brought in my cigar gear, including my special ash tray, cutter and torch, sat back and basked in the peace and happiness of the porch. I tell ya, my next house will have one of these, and a view to compare to his. It's wonderful, like you're sitting up in one of those cool tree houses in a Tarzan movie.

To be honest, Paul and Judy don't ever have to truck me around and show me anything on these trips. I mean, I love the hell out of it. There's so much to see. But the best time I have in Herriman is sittin' on that porch, smokin' a fine cigar, talkin' about everything under the sun with my big brother. It's the best therapy anyone could ever have. I'm blessed to get to share some of that time with my buddy and his sweet wife. They've enriched my life in so many ways, it's impossible to fully quantify.

It's just so relaxing, sitting there, watching the hummingbirds flit by, listening to the rain patter on the roof, and listening to that wonderful music being piped in to his Radio Shack porch speakers. He's been collecting and refining his collection for years, and it's pretty good stuff.

And, of course, the two camera geeks inevitably get going, with him trying to find the timer on his fancy SLR and me doing a few shots with my arm all the way out to the side. Again, that six foot wing span comes in handy all the time.

By the end of the evening we were back in front of the flat screen and I was slowly falling asleep on the couch. I made my exit and we agreed that I'd show up again the next morning at about 10AM. The Harriman part of my trip was ending, and that's always sad to me. But the Paul and Judy part was just gonna move West on I-40 for a few days.

We'd both booked rooms at the Westin, Beal Street, and planed to spend two nights checkin' out the sights, listening to good music and trying out some cool BBQ places. At the last minute, another blogging friend, Chuck, had found out about our plans and we'd made arrangements to finally meet up with him. So, there was gonna be way too much excitement packed into the next few days .

By the time we made it to Memphis and got into our rooms, with a few pee stops and an interesting encounter with a local cop along the way, it was getting to be dinner time.

Shit, I was gonna try to tell you the whole Tennessee story in one post, but there's just too many pictures and too much to tell! Well, stay tuned and I'll try to get the Memphis leg of the trip up here in a day or so. Cheers.


Mushy said...

What a great post Brother...makes me want to do it again...and soon. You did much better than I did, but it's like eatin' something someone has prepared for you...much better than your own.

Lov'ya dude!

PRH....... said...

For some reason those weapons seemed bigger when we carried them...or could it be they are the same size and we just got larger?

david mcmahon said...

You multi-talented so-and-so, er, sew-and-sew!!

Sandi McBride said...

Great post, full of memory and food! Congrats on Post of the Day nom from David!

Brian Miller said...

what a trip down memory lane and a walk through the woods...and a good bit of food along the way. congrats on the POTD mention.

Elizabeth Bradley said...

Wow, glad I popped over. Congrats on POTD from David.

FHB said...

Thanks folks, It was truely my pleasure.

Suldog said...

Hah! I remember that photo of Mushy from a blog post of his own. Cool to have the updated version :-)