Day 3: Explored Pinehurst and Southern Pines, NC. Drank sweet tea in a stemmed glass in a rocking chair on a wrap-around porch. Wandered through the woods, saw lots of southern pines, which reminded me of family vacations in Florida. Saw lots of golfers – Pinehurst is best known for its golf – and retirees.
My host in North Carolina was a friend with whom I attended church in Western MA for a year and a half before he, perpetual wanderer and Army veteran, felt the itch to move back down to the South and put down roots for the first time in his life. I can see now why he felt the call back to the Carolinas. The smell of pine and azaleas saturated the air and the weather was bright and warm. My only regret is I couldn’t have visited a few weeks later to see the magnolias in bloom.
Probably the highlight of the day, other than the sweet tea, beautiful weather, lush green trees, and the pleasant company, was a visit to the Taxidermy Hall of Fame/Creation Museum/Antique Tool Museum, tucked away into a unassuming storefront simply named “Christian Book Store” in downtown Southern Pines. Down a staircase to the left when you first enter the store, the museum winds through the basement of the store and then up some stairs to various other rooms, displaying a dizzying array of stuffed North Carolina wildlife (and some from beyond), fossils, gemstones, antique tools, and Creationist messages. I may not agree with the proprietors’ views on evolution, but I was charmed by their sincerity in appreciating the beauty and wonder of God’s creation. Among the specimens and artifacts exhibited were flying squirrels, kangaroos, peacocks, deer, albino critters of all kinds, an elephant foot stool, slave collars, antique levels, hammers, forceps, a vintage “vacuum cleaner”, and of course the obligatory jackalope without which no taxidermy exhibit would be complete.
Day 4: Back on the road! My path took me north and west, through the national forests and the Appalachian mountains. I made sure I had some Appalachia bluegrass queued up on Spotify to keep me company. After an unexpected several hour drive back through Virginia (somehow I had thought North Carolina and Tennessee were adjacent to one another), I arrived in the Tri-Cities region, where I split the next 24 hours between the cities of Bristol and Kingsport.
Wanting to show me the absolute best Tennessee had to offer, my friends took me out for drive-through burgers and sweet tea from Pal’s, drove me past the perfumed air of the Eastman chemical plant (formerly Eastman Kodak), and then brought me to Wal-Mart. Like you do.
We settled in for the evening with a group game of Magic: the Gathering. They made me try pork rinds (which are vile) and their local energy drink Dr. Enuf (which is delightful). In turn I had them try Moxie, which they approved of, much to my surprise.
Day 5: Bristol is primarily known for its speedway. I’m luke-warm about race cars at best, but since my parents are NASCAR fans, I made sure to visit the race track to get pictures and a collectors’ pin from the gift shop. Ever since being forced to visit the Daytona Speedway as a teen, I have sworn that my own personal hell would be to be trapped there forever with no air conditioning. My tolerance for redneckery must be increasing, because I actually enjoyed the visit – especially once the lady at the giftshop informed us that Gate 6 was open if we wanted to see the track. Even I, cynical and bitter after too much forced exposure to long televised races, was duly impressed after seeing the stadium and track itself. I have a hard time imagining how 43 cars manage to drive on the quarter-mile track at speeds well over 100 mph with as few fatalities as there are.
Mid-afternoon came, and I packed up my car once again for the four-hour drive to Nashville for a visit with Drew Dixon, Editor-in-Chief of Gamechurch.com, and his family.
Stay tuned for the stories of how I narrowly avoided contracting Listeria in Nashville, explored the longest known cave system in the world (where I unlocked a personal video-game achievement), met Ranger Rick in Kentucky, experienced and conquered further car troubles on I-65, and crashed a rehearsal for a tap-dance recital in Birmingham, AL.