Sunday, September 13, 2009

Eastbound And Down, Loaded Up And Trucking...All Roads Lead Right Back To NoMi...(Part Three Of Four)

Photo By John Hoff

Many minor and incidental pieces of Kentucky came back with me from my trucking trip, one piece in the form of a bottle of "Very Old Barton" brand bourbon; which one of my NoMi homies liked very much. He compared it favorably to Jack Daniels. Swishing it around in the mouth one thinks of bluegrass, retired racehorses behind creosote fence posts, a lazy and muddy river full of catfish.

Oh, wait, we actually have that last one up here in NoMi. I'll drink to that.

The other night four of us sat together at a backyard bonfire, burning scrap wood, imbibing but not to excess...and we heard about a dozen gunshots in rapid succession, NOT firecrackers, so we called it in.

And then we returned to drinking. Heck, the shots were blocks and blocks away. The shot spotter technology had the police ALL OVER IT, and we could hear the squads closing in. God bless the Fourth Precinct. Every day things in the neighborhood get better, but every now and then somebody has to pop off a few rounds, just to see if they still can.

So where was I? Oh, yes, driving a truck and crossing "the wide Missouri."

There is an old song called "Shenandoah" which always makes me think of the time I spent living in the mountains of Appalachia, working at Shenandoah National Park. The verses in the song speak of being "bound away...across the wide Missouri."

Well, I'd never really thought about it before until I actually crossed the Missouri River but...

That river is WIDE. There must have been a time, back in the horse and buggy days, when getting to the other side of the Missouri River was an adventure, and once you crossed over you must have felt quite far away, quite cut off from the loved ones you left behind. To get back, you'd have to brave once more "the wide Missouri." And it must have been no small and easy feat.

Unfortunately, I don't have a picture because I needed to keep my hands on the wheel and, well, there really wasn't a work related reason to pull over. And, as stated before and emphatically, I only take "micro vacations." Most of my time belongs to my boss, but that doesn't mean I can't look out the window and think, "Gee, that's the river from the song. It really IS wide." And for a moment, a hard working trucker feels just like a tourist on vacation.

Below is a picture I took at a safer map-consulting moment, while going through Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. "Crab Orchard" isn't such a dumb name in comparison to another winner I spotted on my trip: Big Bone Lick State Park.

A little later in my trip, I had lunch in one of the smallest Kentucky towns I could find convenient to the highway, in a cafe that served catfish with hush puppies, white beans, and slaw. For desert, I had "chess pie," which I was told tasted like "pecan pie without the pecans," and that was exactly right. I don't even remember the name of the town. It started with a "C," though, and some urban revitalization was sorely needed. I snapped some pictures of an old building that looked interesting before I clocked back in to work, and continued on my way.

The way things worked out, I had to stay in Madisonville, Kentucky on Saturday and Sunday, because there was no cargo I could obtain after one pick up I made Saturday morning. So I just had to get a cheap hotel room and keep the "reefer unit" running for two days, which isn't as bad or illegal as it sounds. (A "reefer unit" is a truck refrigeration unit) I had plenty of time to find the cheapest lodging in Madisonville, and at first I figured it might be "The Hampton Inn and Suites" because the hotel was out in the middle of an empty, weedy expanse of just, like, NOTHING.

Who would want to stay out THERE? I thought.

This first photo, below, shows my truck parked in front of the Hampton Inn. The second photo shows the expanse of tall weeds right up near the hotel. I was surprised to see birds swooping down to eat bugs that had just met their fate on my truck grill as I turned around in the circular driveway.

To my surprise, it was a very expensive hotel. I asked the front desk clerk why the hotel was "way out here in the middle of all these weedy vacant lots" and I was told a super dooper mega shopping entertainment complex was coming, yes indeed, and the hotel had gotten built in anticipation. I responded, almost tactfully, that perhaps the price of the rooms might reflect how the big shiny tourist-oriented thing hadn't been built QUITE YET.

And then, before I drove away, I took a moment to scrape some of the bigger, fatter bugs off my grill, for the eager swarming birds.

I ended up at an affordable hotel called the James Madison Inn. Somewhere near the hotel I saw these cool old house shutters and snapped a picture. I thought of the classic homes in my NoMi  neighborhood--amazing, 100-year-old houses that can be scooped up bargain basement style--and I realized our old houses have different features, different styles. Our NoMi houses don't have shutters cut with half moons, so a firearm can be used from inside to fend off attacking Indians or Yankees or whatever.

That's what I sort of IMAGINE the half moon hole is for.

One thing you notice about Kentucky tobacco country is a lot of people smoke, and they smoke INSIDE, while eating catfish and chess pie. I couldn't get a non-smoking room on my first night at the James Madison Inn and, geez, I got sick as a dog.

Luckily I had original formula Nyquil. I also had that bottle of Very Old Barton but I thought, well, better to bring it back unopened and bad idea to mix the two.

I knew the weekend was my big opportunity to be a tourist, there in the not-so-upscale part of Madisonville, Kentucky, not far from the drive through liquor store and (I noticed while turning around in a maze of one-way street b.s.) a monument to dead Confederate soldiers. My tourism would be off-off-off the beaten path, but this is what the universe had issued me and I would have to make do, and be glad.

To be continued.

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