When I told people that I was driving Jeannie and her baby to Memphis last weekend, everyone's response was pretty much, "Really? Have you thought about this?" The answer is yes, of course I did, and when I imagined the trip in my head it went something like this:
That only actually happened for twenty minutes, maybe less, and happened at the end of the trip when we were less than a half hour away. The other six hours or so of driving were tear-free, except for the shuddering tears of horror that Jeannie and I both shed (and may still be shedding) over the incredibly skeevy Jack in the Box where we stopped for lunch. Neither of us had ever eaten at a Jack in the Box before, and I can guarantee that I never will again. I don't care if Martha Stewart is on her hands and knees in the doorway scrubbing the entire restaurant by hand with industrial strength cleaner that they use to strip out the insides of jet engines; you will have to force me inside Jack in the Box at gunpoint, and even then you might have to shoot me in the knees and drag me.
Other than that, the drive didn't really have any highlights, mostly because I-40 across Tennessee is the narrowest, straightest drive ever. On the map it looks like it's kind of wavy and maybe even curvy, but on the road it's like someone laid down an asphalt ruler. I blame Al Gore.
No, really. I learned on the trip that it's all his fault:
I also learned that the rest stops between Nashville and Memphis are named after musicians:
In an odd coincidence, I called to check on work from the Tina Turner rest area, and mere minutes later suddenly felt like slapping someone around. Even more odd, one of the rest stops is named after Hank Williams:
Hank Williams, as you may or may not know, died in the back seat of a car while being driven through Tennessee. Maybe they should have just called it the Hank Williams (Eternal) Rest Stop, but seriously, who names a highway rest stop after someone who died in a car? Does Tennessee also have a Patsy Cline International Airport that I don't know about? Nothing would surprise me at this point because, as I've said before, Tennessee is a land of wonder.
Mostly, the wonder comes in the form of wondering what the hell people were thinking, but I'll get there later.
In the meantime, as soon as we got to Memphis we parked the car and walked to the Italian Festival, where Jeannie's parents were part of a competitive team. I'm not sure what her dad was doing (maybe just general teamwork and cooking?) because I never asked, but he might have entered his homebrewed beer. I probably should have asked, but I met so many people who hugged me and steered me toward food (I think I met Jeannie's entire family and neighborhood in the space of six minutes) that I already had a donut and a drink in my hands before I remembered to ask. He was definitely doing a lot of grilling, but I don't think there was a competition for that.
There was a competition for gravy, though, and Jeannie's mom was aiming for a win:
Depending on where you're from, that's not called "gravy". My mom's family would just call that "sauce", or maybe "meat sauce" if there was that and another option without bulk sausage. Either way, it was delicious, and I'm saying that as a person who normally never eats red sauce, or gravy, on my pasta. Her recipe included allspice, red wine, sausage, and I'm not sure what else, and there was an elaborate preparation process that included hours of cooking, cooling, cooking again, overnighting in the fridge, warming, cooking, and continuous stirring before serving it to the judges. Serving the gravy also consisted of an elaborate presentation with fine china, a bit of a show, linens, and some people working out of complete stage sets rather than just tents:
The Italian Festival is serious business, but there was also time for fun. Buddy, for example, stayed in the safety swing until Jeannie's arm and then my arm got tired:
They also had the usual carnival/festival type of booths:
and I learned that a Pronto Pup is a corndog:
Corndogs, after all, are a cornerstone of Italian cuisine.
We had a really good time at the festival, but all three of us were exhausted from the car ride and went to bed early, so that we could be up in time for Jeannie and I to drive around Memphis and visit Graceland.