Traveling by myself these days… (I’m into Jazz and felt berets)

Written by . Posted at 9:13 pm on December 8th, 2005

I apologize for this being a trifle late; my picture-posting skills are a little rusty. Nonetheless, there are still a few things I’d like to share. But before I go any further you can – if you choose – read this over at and that goes double for all the rest of my mass-emails.

The first semi-big deal: I am now gainfully employed by the Truman Admission’s department. I call up Prospectives and answer questions; spit game for TSU, stuff like that. My time is only worth five-an-hour, but I only work 8hr/wk and it’s a pretty fun job. I’ve talked to some cool people and had some interesting conversations, too. The coolest? Someone with the first name: Zed.

So I’ve always considered it an extreme irony that I spent five months seeing just about everything there is to see in Oz, but now I’m stuck in rural Missouri. And between ROTC, volunteering and all my other extra-cirruluar commitments, I can’t even get away for weekend jaunts. Every Saturday there’s something. It’s irony to the X-treme. Partially because of this I declined my annual Thanksgiving trek back to Oregon in favor of a whirlwind tour of Tennessee. And because my job pays the lowest minimum wage in the country, I tried to spend just about all my money on gas. This led to me quite literally living off my truck for the entire weeklong journey: I slept in the cab, I ate PB&Js from my lock-box and I cooked Road Dogs (a Fentonian invention: hot dogs wrapped in tinfoil and placed on the heat manifold of the engine) in Stormbringer (what I like to call my truck).

The trip:
My good buddy Paul Strauss grew up on a farm. And that’s exactly how I introduced my sister to him when she came out to visit me last year. While my cousin’s grew up on a Colorado sod farm (braggable), Paul grew up on the proverbial 200-odd acre Midwest farm. The kind that feds a nation and makes Mellencamp so proud. With chickens and pigs and stories about hay bales and a rustic house and a reuse-resuse-reuse mentality.

Paul, being the swell guy he is, offered me a place to stay for a night. So I took him up on it and spent my first night in Casa de Strauss. As soon as we walked in the door, Mama&Papa Paul greeted us warmly with open arms and the smell of rich home-cooking. We sat down to potatoes (grown in the garden), lima beans (grown in the garden), home-baked bread, jam made with strawberries (from the garden), applesauce (from trees I saw as I walked in), etc. It was tenfold tastier and no doubt healthier than any McMeal I could’ve had. Probably cheaper, too.

But the company was even better than the food. It brought back old feeling of Fenton dinners. Throughout high school, no matter our individual schedules, we four Fentons made concentrated attempts at sit-down eating and sharing and telling and caring. I’ve no doubt it was a very important element of my development. And the Strauss’s were kind enough to invite me into their fold and share with me. I would’ve been quite satisfied with spending the whole break there. Alas, I was up the next morning and on the road before I knew it. I bid a hardly-adequate thank you and took off.

While there are no pictures of my visit, I did stop here for a few hours time. I really liked L-ville and just about everything I saw reminded me of Leave It To Beaver. The city has good atmosphere.

The Smokys:
What can I say about the Smokys? The Rockys are bigger but the way the vegetation creeps up around the Smokys, they’re just as beautiful – maybe even more so. Yet the skiing is better in Colorado, so it’s a trade-off.

Driving and hiking around the Smokys, completely awed by nature, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that this is the sort of environment Davy Crockett grew up in.

An interesting side note: I was wandering aimlessly around the visitor’s center when I overheard the accents of two New Zealanders. One thing led to another and I wound up giving them a lift 3 miles up the road, so they could do the hike they wanted to. I was going that way anyway and I wouldn’t really mention it except the absolute quirkiness of it all. Natives from what might-as-well-be-Australia, I was able to return one of the favors I was given so often in the Lucky Country.

I was also able to take some pictures in some interestingly-named cities: Fenton (a retail suburb of St. Louis) and Paris, TN and London, TN and the Chattahoochee National Forest (I like Alan Jackson and I’m not afraid to admit it). I also paid my $11 to see the Hermitage, home of the best President this country ever had. While I was there I took a few tours, watched a short biography-film and read most of the little signs posted. They didn’t mention Andrew Jackson’s involvement in the Trail Of Tears at all. Which I found amusing but unmoving: AJ’s the Best Prez Ever because he had more bravado in his left hand than Carter had in his entire body. This is important: pretty much every ranking lists AJ in the top ten and Carter somewhere waaaay past eleven.

I also made it to Rock City, which has a little precipice from which you can see 7 states at once (I must admit S. Carolina looked a whole awful lot like W. Virginia). I saw Nashville and the Grand Ol Opry (a big money pit) and I visited Lynchburg, TN. What’s in Lynchburg, TN you ask? Enough Jack Daniels to drown a herd of elephants, that’s what. I got a tour of the factory and you can think of me the next time you see a bottle of JD. I have repeat: have been in the same room that every drop of the stuff must pass through before they separate out the mash from the whiskey. The tour guide was real clichéd ‘ol Tennessean with the great backwoods, deadpan sense of humor that that implies. He pronounced Government guh-mut and made all sorts of really
subtle, really funny wisecracks.


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