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We drove through the mountains on a narrow two lane road. The long ride from Memphis had placed us in the Smokey mountains at dusk and then night. We came into Bryson City and after finding a room for the night, went out for Mexican food. The whole mountain town is built on the sides of ridges. Driving up several switch backs, we were really high above the road we had come in on.  We were here to ride on Great Smokey Mountain Railroad in the morning.

The train left the station at precisely at 10:30 am. We were comfortly seated in a climate controlled car with a meal served on the way. Shortly after leaving the station, a banjo player and guitar player entertained us with some blue grass.

Then there was Tim. He billed himself as a story teller and a mountain man. He talked about how many mountain peaks he had climbed. He had white hair and a white beard,  that would have made Santa lust. His voice was that of a prophet. He roamed from car to car keeping the passengers amused. One rant was passionate about ginseng and how greedy people are stripping and depleting the forest of of such a powerful root.

The train stopped for an hour break at a park consisting of several restaurants, and a couple of wilderness outfitters. One hour later the whistle sounded and we all gathered for the return trip.  At 3pm the train arrived back at the station and all passengers got off the train and funneled into a gift store.

As I was walking to retrieve my car, I saw Tim one last time. He was sitting in front of a storefront with the name, “Storytelling Center” sign behind him. I nodded and he nodded in return. Later I looked him up online. He is a man who is on a mission to keep alive the culture of the people of the Appalachia. He is located in the small mountain town of Bryson City and he works to make the world a better place. On the train he told stories with passion and a deep love for the mountains and the people there.  He is a teacher, working to create grea
te understanding with every person he meets. What he is working on in is to make the world a better place one person at a time. So he hitched a ride on a tourist train and shared what he knew with people he didn’t know and created deeper understanding of the world we live in. I doubt I will ever be able to see ginseng again without seeing the fiery and wounded eyes of the story teller talking about the cost of greed.

Our daughter graduated from college today, from Concordia Moorhead. What an achievement! Her brothers, her sister, and their two kids. We drove into Fargo to find a place to celebrate. The first place we came to was an Irish pub theme to it. We all sat do
wn and then were informed that no one under 21 could be in the pub. Management refused to serve our party because we had a 3 year old and a 1 year old. The pub wasn’t even that full.

We left, frustrated but ready to find someplace else. Which we did. Turns out that it is the company you keep more than the place itself that makes for a good time.

 

Memphis is a city of contrasts. In the morning we made our way to Beale Street. Rock and roll is a night time affair so even at 11m congregants  wandering the street didn’t seem quite awake yet. A band was setting up, but it took a while so we missed them.

We made our way to the Peabody Hotel where watching ducks was a spectator sport. Five ducks live on the top floor of the hotel. Every day  at 11am they march into an elevator on the top floor and when they emerge on the first floor, they waddle down to a fountain located in the main lobby. They entertain themselves there until 5 pm where they are observed shaking their tail feathers and marching back to the elevator to take them back to their penthouse suite. There is some jostling for position from the tourists in the lobby as they awaited the advent of the ducks.

Ducks are not very complicated. People are. We visited the NationalIMG_0932.JPG Civil Rights Museum. It is built around the Lorraine Motel, the very same building where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated by a sniper. Having seen it in pictures, now to see it in real life brought the past to the present. So much has been done, so much remains . As we walked the plaza, a Caucasian family of four gathered close to where MLK was gunned down. The mother pulled out a selfie stick and extended it. They all pressed their faces close and smiled for the camera, because that’s what you do when you take a picture. Smile!  At such a sacred site? Is it sacred? I guess each of us have to answer that question for ourselves.

The trailer was packed, our car was packed and our daughter’s car was packed. She was headed to Memphis to start a Master’s program to become a licensed dietitian. We left our home around 8 am. We realized that it was going to be a long drive, an optimistic 12 hours.  All told, it turned into 18 hours, between the weather and the trailer.

The first part of the trip went smoothly. By lunchtime rain developed and for the rest of the day we drove through bands of showers that poured so fiercely that you couldn’t see the road ahead, and the large trucks were a faint outline ahead. After about 10 minutes the storms would pass, and the road would continued.

The sunset came and it got harder to navigate. Hazard lights, rain, and dark made the drive more difficult. To break up the drive we agreed to stop for dinner. Because of deitary needs we headed for a restaurant called St. Louis Bread Company. It looked similar to a Panera Bread, diet issues solved.

On my way to the restaurant a fire engine came barreling out of the station in front of me, lights flashing. Colors exploded in my face and I jammed my foot on the brake until the truck passed and night had returned.

It turned out that St. Louis Bread Company was a Panera Bread right down to the header on the receipt.  Broccoli cheddar soup never tasted so good. We as red-eyed travelers, convened on what to do next. After a short deliberation it was decided that it would be best to spend the night and head out in the daylight hours. We were all fast asleep soon after entering hotel for the night. The next day traffic cones and shifting lanes confirmed that we had made a good choice, a very good choice.