Thursday, May 26, 2011

Couch Number Two

I’ve been remiss in keeping up my journey journal. I totally loved my first couch surf experience, however, the butcher block chairs that went with the butcher block table where I worked and wrote, destroyed my herniated disks.

I arrived at my 2nd couch yesterday, where the youngest son, Tyler, all of 23 welcomed me, showed me to my ‘room’, and went back to his kitchen counter installation. The front porch had a swing with rose covered cushions. This is where I spent most of the first day. Not only resting my back but oh, so thoroughly enjoying the rhythmic soothing of the swing, the table saw, the wind whispering thru the leaves brushing against the porch, and the light strains of the Eagles through the windows. Yet another perfect couch. One could make a habit of this.

The couple were missionary’s in Kenya from 1986-1996, and then landed on this heavenly piece of property. Their youngest is 17, which means all of the kids were either born or raised in Kenya. The oldest boy is in DC and Tyler is headed to Tanzania—which is why his mom has him doing the kitchen rehab now. I was so impressed that this young man was doing it by himself. No one to direct or assist him. He was completely his own man, and created a professional end product. I tried to get a picture of the cute little thing, but the flash didn't work. :(
Needless to say, with a kitchen rehab, the dining room table (which was definitely a missionary table—huge (at least 6’) and surrounded with chairs) was full of stuff, mostly spices. She had looked for a spice rack but found nothing she liked, so we revived her old one. She wrote new labels and I cleaned out the little bottles. There was a lot more than fit into the small, old fashioned wooden spice rack. Then I suggested an arrangement my girlfriend Nanci uses, laying the spices in the kitchen drawer. She loved it and her husband, who does most of the cooking, liked it as well. It was a nice evening of easy chatter and joking throughout the rooms, sitting beneath country white curtains with burgundy roses and forest green leaves.

I slept unusually well on the sleeper sofa in a room with a television, desk, and shelves of books and movies, an armchair and a lazy boy. I’m sitting in the bed typing this. The daughter is in front playing the piano.

Today, I drove into Jonesborough, TN to hangout. It’s a touristy kind of town and I figured there’d be a park where I could sit to work and blog. I stopped at a kitschy little café and had chicken salad on a croissant with raspberry jam. Have you ever heard of such a thing on chicken salad? It was a perfect combination—and I will definitely remember it.

Jonesborough, TN is the home of the National Storytelling Festival every September. The café barista told me there was a park behind the Storytelling Center and that it was a great place to work in. Now, you’re in the mountains so everything, even leveled out towns, is either up or down hill. I walked around—up and down—the entire park and found not one bench. There were flattened rocks which would’ve done wonders for my herniated disks. So, I kept walking down Main St. looking for a bench. There were a few in front of stores but I doubt they would’ve enjoyed a non-customer hanging around in front with a laptop and a mobile internet stick—not to mention the cigarette I desperately wanted. Not though, while I’m walking up and down and up again through a flag waving, white steepled church town.

Yeah, I zoomed to cut out garbage can & parking lot.
I finally found a bench in the rear of the town hall beside a cute little creek—and a garbage can, across from the parking lot. But hey, it was secluded mostly, and I got some work done, (and smoked a few cigarettes). Afterward, I headed out of town the opposite direction of Johnson City, because I am looking for housing you know. I got about two miles when the radio warning signal came on to announce a fast moving severe thunderstorm with the potential for tornadic (you ever heard that word?) activity. “Do not wait for the sirens. If you see the southwest sky getting dark, head to the basement. If you are driving, you should think about getting inside.” Now there’s been some pretty bad damage done in this area in the past two weeks by tornado's, so hmmm, you think I should take my big 350 on back to the couch?? First, I stopped at the market to get mozzarella paste salad fixings for dinner.

Approximately thirty minutes after returning to the house, the sirens sounded. I had to leave the porch swing on the white porch beneath a big ‘ole shade tree to go inside and wait for something to happen. There was a bit of wind, a sprinkle of raindrops and it was over. Tim, my couch, needed to use his leftovers, so he made a pork stir fry over rice, and I used my salad fixings for bruschetta. It was a nice meal, with red wine and discussion of the day and the future for Tyler in Tanzania. Good, good people. Oh yeah, they held this pagan’s hand for grace, and said a prayer for my travels.

Tomorrow, I’m off to Cleveland, TN. Hopefully the weather will hold out because I plan to take the mountain back roads and stop off at Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Need postcards for the grand-boys.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mountain Roads

Today, May 24, 2011, there were no travels. Eastern TN was under severe thunderstorm watches all day, and with what happened to Joplin, MO last week, I decided to hold up in the couch surfers’ house.

I started at the butcher-block dining table, watching the grayness gather, making calls, searching CraigsList, contacting folks from yesterdays expedition (that story to come later, I need to build up to it). I even did some actually paying work, and wrote a poem about my first couch surf experience. By early afternoon (Central Standard Time), mid-afternoon in the reality of Eastern Time that I’m in, the clouds parted and Grandfather Son blared, so I moved to the deck. It was really a work day and except for the sun and heat, no different than a workday in Chicago.

Yesterday, now yesterday was a treat. I thought I had a nerve splitting ordeal on the interstate driving at +70mph and keeping it straight. I don’t know what I was complaining about. The lanes are wide, they’re striped, and most importantly, there are guard rails all along the sides. In actuality, the Interstate doesn’t need guard rails. There is no real drop, no real danger. By the time I was blessed enough to make it back on the Interstate, I couldn’t imagine what my issue was. 70mph was a breeze, hell, at one point I was at 90. A far cry from the 2mph I had just come from.

Granted, the posted speed limit wasn’t 2mph. In some places it was 25 or 40, and what very few cars were on those roads, they were upwards of those speeds. Only I, little ole me, mostly all alone on these one vehicle lanes, only I did 2mph. Elevation 3500.

So, I’m on the back roads in the Appalachian Mountains looking for houses for sale by owner rather than either of us having to pay commissions. For this purpose, it was pertinent to get off the highways. OK, it’s absolutely breathtaking to see the mist weave its way through the branches, the Ocoee faces watching me (and probably laughing heartedly, ‘look there at the damn Yankee, gonna roll right down the side of the hill’ hill my ass), or the white capped rolling rivers dancing over the boulders and timber. It was such a splendid waltz I wanted to observe, but drifting was a life threatening event. You see these roads are only about 6’ wide, if that. They felt 2’ wide and shrinking. And, NO GUARD RAILS. Miles, and miles, and miles of up, up, up and up again. I prayed for it to stop rising yet I was stiffened with the fear of going d o w n. Yesterday, the white knuckles were accompanied by the chewed lip, of which I needed ice for when I got to the house.I must say that a true picture of the area was difficult to find. I know I certainly didn't stop to take one. Just know that in the picture above, the left side of the road DROPS.
It’s hard to explain the anxiety that stutters the heart, quakes the hands that are trying desperately to hold steady the wheel, tears the eyes, and grips the intestines in a steel vice.  It was the end of my life, and I’d not even recognized my dream of retiring to the mountains—or wait, yeah I was gonna be permanently retired in the gorge below. They’d write a song about me like that “Billy Joe McAlister (who) jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.” My lingering strains of melancholic screams would mingle with the mist and twist forever in the wavering branches.

Okay, so I obviously made it down in one piece and back on the Interstate which, like I said, was a cake walk at 90. I had glimpses of old homes that might possibly be for sale up some 90 degree incline, resting on a rock overlook, but I couldn’t tell for sure, and I don’t think I really wanna live on the side of a mountain. I couldn’t imagine a U-Haul truck getting up and back in there. Honestly, I don’t know how the ones who were there got up and back in what looked like a crevice. No, I want a flat plain surrounded by mountains. Ah, maybe, a wooded hill. I came back though Jonesborough, TN with their quaint little old-fashioned downtown, and white steeple churches. It was a slow, relaxing return after my near-death experience.

Tonight ends the first couch surf ever and it has set the bar extremely high for the next. We shared a dinner of rosemary-crusted chicken, roasted sweet potatoes, steamed cauliflower with brie, cantaloupe, and a fresh green salad. She cooked and I cleaned up. Tomorrow, I will wash the towels and sheets she provided and make them ready for the next surfer. I head to another here in Johnson City, a family this time. I’ll keep you posted.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mountain Roads

Tomorrow Arrival
(Thanks to Christopher James Heyworth for the title)

I’m sitting at a butcher block table looking at the swaying tree-tops of Appalachia in Johnson TN. Unfortunately for them, it’s storming again. The last thing this drenched and flooded area needs. Is it possible to find a silver lining in the steel grayness beyond the tree-tops?

The storm and severe storm warnings on the radio has caused my hostesses boyfriend to delay his departure. Is this good or bad for them? As a complete stranger at her table, I have no true idea, but I can deduce by the atmosphere. They are engaged in a creative activity together. They are attaching her grandmother’s buttons of all colors, shapes, sizes and material to her new bedroom curtains. There is occasional laughter, neither boisterous nor muffled. Easy laughter—to me. He does walk past occasionally and murmur about the rain needing to stop, but he’s not pacing, and there’s no sense of aggravation. So, from this objective observer, I say it’s neither a good or bad situation, merely acceptable.

Of course, there is also my own state of being as a distraction from the storms and what they may be doing to others outside of this pleasant mountain cocoon. I am content, calm, and wistful. This house is on a dead-end of a residential street. All of the houses sit on fairly large size lots surrounded by trees. Decks and deck furniture (not from Wal-Mart—if you know what I mean), and perfectly manicured lawns rolling down the hills. Window boxes of petunias, deck railing boxes filled with petunias, miniature English gardens tucked neatly along the front of the houses. All so very lovely, and yes, serene, and yes, I wouldn’t ‘mind’ having it and the entire splendor. I’m just no longer willing to put in the effort and time required to acquire, sustain, and maintain the splendor. Besides, it’s not really me.

I’m looking for the little cottage surrounded with trees and a spot to grow my winter sustenance. An area for my egg deliverers, and my milk lady who will wait patiently for my warm hands on her swollen teats. A deck yes, but not splendor, natural, simple and welcoming; comfortable enough that words flow from these fingertips to touch hearts and minds of others, possibly the world.

Now, I know there are some waiting for the trip details from Hopkinsville to Johnson City. No stress for the ‘tomorrow arrival’ of today. Well, that’s not exactly true. Nothing outrageous, just kinda white-knuckling—for me. See, it’s been about six years since I’ve driven full time. I borrowed a vehicle here and there to do Christmas shopping or, well really that’s it, but when you live in a city like Chicago, the public transportation is so good, there’s really no need for a vehicle. Why pollute more, and give the oil barons even more profits if you don’t have to? Right? The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), though ALL Chicagoans complain mercilessly about it, is one of the best transit systems in the country. Okay, so I went wayyy off topic there, maybe coz’ I don’t want to really talk about the white-knuckling.

So, here’s the thing, here’s me in my 1992 GMC V8 gas guzzler pickup driving through the Appalachian mountains. Haven’t driven in so long that even on a straight road, I have trouble keeping it straight—only a little, don’t freakout that there’s some middle-aged woman swerving all over the roads—it’s not that bad. I just have this thing about straight, and I can never keep it perfectly straight. Can you? Anyway, the mountains. One thing I thought of while driving is why is life so slow down here, and driving is so fast? Chicago highway speed limits are 55, Wisconsin is 65. Down here, where the living is easy, where it takes folks 10 minutes to say the word ‘hello’, down here where the roads curve at 90 degree angles and the inclines are upwards of 40 degree. Down here the speed limit is 70, and NO ONE does it. I tried to keep it at 75 and every single vehicle on the road passed me by, from semi’s to Harley’s to little old ladies from Pasadena. And here’s Donna, gripping the steering wheel, making half-moon fingernail prints in the palms of my hands (yes, both hands), radio blasting oldies (there’s that little old lady from Pasadena), and thinking, “What the hell is the matter with you?  Why aren’t you sitting on your sofa with Rocky and Lola purring warmly, watching the Cubs or something?” No! You see, that’s not slow enough for ME.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Dip in the Road

The Dip in the Road

There’s always at least one, more often than not, several.

My road started back in June 2010 (if you don’t count the 53 years of journey before that), then it hit a 10 month road construction detour. No need to get into all of THAT!

This first part has been somewhat enjoyable. The flooded, green and gold scenery down, and the semi-wild acreage I’m staying on is perfect for writing—and I’ve done some. The family is a nice, wholesome brew of pagans, and the doll of a 4 month old is sooo entertaining. I was just biding my time to head over to Cherokee National Forest to check on that campground host volunteer position, or to float around until the summer cabin I was borrowing came open in Asheville, NC. Just a’hanging.

I had a couch waiting for me in Johnson City, TN found through (check it out—couches all over the world), but mobile phone difficulties made me plan to delay. Then I got another message from the Johnson City couch that said availability needed to go from a week to 2 nights only. Arriving there on Saturday would only give me one weekday to visit the ranger. What if he was off that day? Or on vacation? Then what? So I emailed the ranger instead of visiting live only to find out that the one position was taken already (what do you mean already? I applied in January?), and the other might not come open until mid-June of July 4th. “Terrific,” I replied.

Still technical difficulties with the TN couch, so postponed departure until maybe (obviously), Sunday. No problem, just had to wait for the cabin to come open the first week in June, so I’d float a bit more—two weeks more—but so be it. Had no clue where I’d float, but ok, let’s keep going forward.

Then, wonderful Facebook—the 21st century way of finding out all and any bad news. Mind you, I saw none of these bumps, hell, Chicago potholes in the road, so I went banging and head-bouncing over them. The friend whose friend had the cabin comments on my departure post, “You just getting that far? Did you get my text messages? (Of course not. I don’t have text messaging, AND YOU KNOW THAT!), I have to talk to you about Joan. I can’t get hold of her?” Now the vehicle (me) has hit a damn black hole in the road.

I scrambled to call only to find the technical difficulty is with my phone. I can’t be heard. The call goes through, I’m connected but no one hears me. Funny, isn’t it, how quickly old phobia’s arise? No one ever hears me. It’s like I’m invisible. Only now, it was absolutely accurate. I frantically emailed my son asking whyyyyyy, why can’t anyone hear me? “idk. did you try turning it off and back on?” Do I really need to answer that for you, or to explain what happened next? I didn’t think so. I make the call about the cabin and he’s having dinner with friends so he’ll have to call me later. “Terrific,” I replied.

That was all yesterday. One thing after another after another. I called a Chicago friend and whined a bit. I went back on to arrange something. And then I took a long bath and went to bed. Because that’s the way I roll under stress. I’ll think about it tomorrow. I am indebted to Scarlett O’Hara!

It’s another day, the sun is shining, birds are singing, the baby is laughing and it is what it is. The TN couch called and she was able to hear me. We rescheduled for a tomorrow arrival. I have another couch in TN right after, and that will take me up through Thursday, the 26th. I have another couch in Knoxville, TN on the 31st. Hell, that’s only five days floating. It’ll be fine.

By the way, I called about the cabin and he was getting a shoe shine at the airport. He’ll call me back. I know. The road has smoothed out slightly now, but I’m braced for the dead-end at a gravel pit. In this moment, the hawk glides above (of course, the camera is inside) and the coyote peeks from behind a tree. Messenger and trickster. Oh boy!