The low, mechanical whine of an engine, the lullaby hum of tires on asphalt, and miles and miles of hills and grass. We had more road to go and more gas to burn. The sun pushed past cloud and mountain to shine into my eyes as I squinted toward the border sign. “Welcome to Tennessee.” Immediately thereafter, a massive Confederate battle flag was held proud by the stiff breeze. I snorted and shook my head as the highway continued to blur into memory.
As gas tank and stomach emptied, I arbitrarily picked an exit for a fill-up. A massive firework store, a Wendy’s, and a gas station were the primary points of attraction in this little slice of the mountains. “Where the hell are we?” it was wondered aloud. “The South,” someone posited dismissively. We hopped out of the car to stretch in the sunshine and the stink of exhaust.
Hours later, riding through Nashville, I was among the shining buildings and neighborhoods of every type. Cranes everywhere were expanding and reinventing the cityscape. From the passenger seat of his car, I listened to my brother-in-law point out things of interest. He named restaurant after restaurant along with the rest of it, and I realized that I had grossly miscalculated this place. “So it sounds like the food scene here is pretty great,” I said. As he sped past a hot chicken stand, my brother-in-law snickered, “You have no idea.”