“GO WEST, YOUNG MAN, GO WEST” was an expression first used by John Babsone Lane Soule in the Terre Haute Express in 1851. It appealed to Horace Greeley, who rephrased it slightly in an editorial in the New York Tribune on 13 July 1865. The phrase captured the imaginations of clerks, mechanics, and soldiers returning from the Civil War, many of whom moved west to take up a homestead.
This is the saga of Carrie and I homesteading Tennessee in the latter part of 2016.
Far from young, we chose to disregard this advice by going east instead. We were more old, beaten and battered. Carrie had been under the sword of Damocles for years by her employer (who will not mention by name, but their initials are AT&T). The company had been downsizing in the West, outsourcing to European Baltic countries, and looking to the future of having no employees and the pride of ownership of droids to do the work. I mean, who has not traveled the long and painful labyrinth of telephone prompting by a computer with English and grammar as a second language? The future look bright! (yes, no spellcheck here!)
Carrie was finally given notice of her impending unemployment, and scrambled for a lateral position, as we could not keep our lavish two-buck-chuck Patterson lifestyle on her early retirement, and my meager post-laid-off finances. She had all the kudos, awards, and fantastic (Trump phrase) evaluations and recommendations from her immediate supervisors, who also gave her a means to network into another position in the organization. She applied and we were on the short list to move to Puerto Rico.
I considered this to be a prolonged vacation. We would not have to bring anything, as it would be too expensive to ship. Alas, the job fell through so the short list would not include us. So much for exotic food and company. Disappointment!
In the final hours of her being employed, and offer came through for a position in Knoxville Tennessee.
After a few bottles of wine, we agreed this was a good thing? We had two weeks to clear out our Patterson home of 17 years, to say farewell to everyone we knew in our life, hire a landscaper, pool person, and property management company to rent the homestead out. Carrie accomplished all this and more with the determination of a Honey Badger. I hung on for the ride. She traveled to Knoxville and secured a new house (rental) for us to live. Does anyone really live in Knoxville? I mean, you can exist there, but really live? We will see.
With the help of family, friends, and neighbors, we packed up half of our beloved possessions (crap) and placed in a local storage unit. The rest of our prized possessions and keepsakes (more crap) we had loaded in a Mayflower Moving Van, and would be sent on ahead of us. We would take the low road and travel in our two vehicles, converted into prairie schooners to traverse the great land of ours. I think the United States still owns some of the drier parts of Arizona; the rest belongs to foreign conglomerates.
Our prized pets (not crap) Mini and Baxter would endure the same hardships as pets did in the earlier frontier migrations. These would include poor room service at some motels, hiding Baxter at every inn (who would think a 20 pond cat not welcome?) and having to do their business in inclement weather. and disposition of the trail boss (Carrie) and her top hand (me). All said and done, they were real troopers.
Our odyssey started late in the afternoon. We had overseen the lading of our ship Mayflower, and started to drive to our first destination, Barstow California. On the way over after passing Tehachapi, we encountered Big Moon, dust storm, and a flight of insects the size of birds. Total Stephen King theme drive. I will mention at this point, that arriving late at night to any accommodation will ensure that parking will neither be nearby or convenient.
Barstow… looks better at night and in a rear view mirror.
From Barstow, we made good mileage and arrived in Gallup New Mexico. Uneventful day, good nights rest. The landscape is on the level. Very, very level. A man in Medicine Hat, Alberta, told me once “This place is so flat that if your dog ran away, you could still see him a week later.” These are such places.
Our first stop of interest was a place advertised along numerous billboards along the highway as “World Famous Laguna Burger.” As this was not a World Famous large ball of twine, or small horse, but rather something we could eat, we stopped there. Nice exterior of building, screaming 1950 style. Parking lot was empty, not a good sign. After we secured the livestock (Mini and Baxter) we entered the restaurant and looked over the menu. While we were doing this, the parking lot filled up, and so did the eatery. It was 11am, and all the locals were down for lunch. A very good sign.
We ordered and received maybe the best burger I have had in a long time. It was indeed world class, and thus “World Famous.” They used spices I had never tasted, somewhat like habaneros, but milder. Still might warm though!
On to Albuquerque New Mexico, and the very small world we live in.
The Inn had a complementary breakfast in the main dining room. We were seated at my request at the one table with beaming sunshine on it, as it was a chilly morning. One of the two middle-aged woman and senior at the next table exclaimed. “You must be from California truing to get that last bit of sunshine”! I confessed that we were indeed from California.
“What part are you from?”
We had always answered Modesto, because who had ever heard of Patterson. This time we answered where we were raised, Watsonville.
She said,” so am I. I graduated from High School in 1975”
I replied that I also graduated in 1975. I asked her name, she answered “Sandy Shaffer.” I said, “Mike McCollum here, I haven’t seen you in 40 years!” Giving her a big hug, her companion said, “ I am Debbie Hart, I graduated with your brother David.”
We chatted through breakfast, informing them of our move and their visit to relatives for Thanksgiving in Arkansas, I think. Such a small world. Ten minutes either way at that motel, and we never would have seen them.
That day, my prairie schooner (2009 Toyota Corolla) started making high-pitched noises. I first thought it may be a heat related phenomenon, and only noticed it when we made it to the motel in Shamrock Texas on a Saturday night. After I stopped and killed the engine, the noises completely stopped! What good fortune! The noises reappeared the next day upon starting the schooner. As it was a Sunday, and planet Texas was completely closed, I decided to drive until the noise stopped and then call AAA road service for a tow to next civilized community with a reputable mechanic or unrepeatable dealership. We pulled into a small country market (and yes, that was it’s name) a little east of Checotah, Oklahoma.
By now, the sound from my schooner had morphed into an unearthly screech, not uncommon in most Godzilla movies. I believe the old girl had hit the wall, last legs, time to tow, put her down, dirt nap, and sing in the choir invisible. At this point, Carrie, who has been riding drag in this herd, walked over to a young man painting a shed in the parking lot of this establishment and asked for a vehicle diagnosis. He at first was leaning toward a flywheel failure, along with total belt disaster on the very near horizon, like the next mile, or maybe leaving the parking lot. At which point we inquired who might be his favorite mechanic. He said, ”I have no favorite, I do all my own work. If you go and get the water pump and belt I will have it done in 10 minutes.” I did not disbelieve him; he was looking like the real deal. I offered my phone to call for part availability, he politely refused, called on his own phone to a couple of local O’Rieley’s auto stores, and found the parts. I took off in Carries car to collect them in a local town. That in itself was challenge, and with infallible Google GPS, I remained on earth and found said store, bought a water pump and belt, returned and John indeed did install within 10 minutes. (The clerk at store took out the pump and asked if it was the right part. I told him I would not know it from a glazed doughnut) I had asked John what would be the install charge before I got the parts, he said right about nothing. True to his word, I offered $100. He politely refused. I countered with $50. Refused again. I countered with $20. He said there would be no charge. I am still in total awe of that young man. Ten minutes. I am now forever will be wondering what the good folks at the dealership are doing for the past three hours per visit? My Prairie schooner was back in action, trail-worthy, and as yet, I have not felt the need for inspection of his work. We are trying to track him down, to find out his address to send a proper thank you card, as we are sure he will not take anything for his kindness. We would also like to tell his parents of what a fine job they did. It is obvious to me that this kind of creed is learned, not everyone has it, most do not, or ever will.
Eastward Bound! We arrived in Nashville on a windy day, set up camp at the Sheraton Music City Hotel. Bedded down the animals for the night, forged for food and drink at the bar. We were rewarded with a sandwich (which we split) and a couple glasses of Merlot. The bill was a highfalutin $50.00 plus tip. So much for forging for food. We would stick to the provisions we had brought with us.
After a hearty breakfast of chips and water, we had planned to explore Nashville. This is a strange city. Skyscrapers sit next to small (in comparison) brick buildings from years gone by. One boasted of the Johnny Cash Museum, no doubt rich on the inside, in contradiction of it’s very modest exterior. We explored the Country Music Hall of Fame, a very modern building, three stories tall, with every exhibit displaying the best and possibly worst of Country Music. More stuff to dust. All right, we dug it!
On to Knoxville and our new life.
We arrived the day before Thanksgiving for a walk through of the house, property owner passed on our keys, and I met some of the neighbors, good people.
We resupplied at the local grocers and hardware store, and prepared for our Thanksgiving meal. This time I will remind Carrie to actually bring home the piece of dinner selected and saved for Mini. She has missed out on a lot!
Our dinner was supplied by the Mecca of restaurants in the south, The Cracker Barrel. This is an interesting establishment. One part is dedicated to a country store like vibe; the other is for informal dining. Very informal. I will need to work on this one, as my head has not wrapped around this yet. I will not judge.
We are thankful for the meal, our friends and neighbors, our livestock (Mini and Baxter) and the adventure. We did a quick trip to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and loved it.
On the way back, we had reached a fork in the road, one way to Gatlinburg, one way to Townsend, which was the way we came. We chose the road to Townsend. We learned that night that the town of Gatlinburg pretty well burned to the ground from wildfires and 60mph winds. We would have driven right into it. Yikes!
The next day, with the fires still burning, winds decreased to 50mph, severe thunderstorm warnings along with severe flood warnings, a tornado touched down in a nearby town.
Welcome to Tennessee!
I am sure that in the following days and months, we will assimilate, not unlike the Borg on Star Trek Next Generation, and learn to tailgate people at 80 miles per hour, and “peel out” of parking lots at every opportunity.
We will keep y’all posted. And Happy Holidays!