Day 12: Brad's House of Rehab

by James

The morning of Sunday, May 29, the two of us awoke to sunlight streaming through the open door of our hut behind the Cumberland County fire station. I got up pretty immediately, grabbed my hygiene gear, and headed inside for a walk through the station to the bathroom.

On the way to the bathroom, I passed a few of the firemen watching TV in a dimly lit room — a great plan for around 6:30 in the morning. They told me that I was welcome to take a shower and that there were clean towels in the bathroom. Having woken up feeling slimy and grit-covered, I wasted no time in accepting.

After the hygiene dance, changing into bike clothes, and repacking the bikes, Mike and I requested a picture with the firemen.

Firefighters and I
These guys know how to have a damn good time. I'm apparently trying to catch more Zs.
Mike & firefighters
Did I mention they let us sleep in their shed?

After expressing our gratitude and chatting a little more, we skedaddled for the McDonald’s.

McDonald’s is always an interesting scene in the morning, and it varies from town to town. Sometimes, there’ll be tables full of people munching and talking quietly, out of reverence for the early morning. This particular morning, there was a lone, well-dressed guy sitting in the McDonald’s looking friendly but forlorn. We said hello, then made a beeline for the food.

After McDonald’s, we started the long, empty road to McMinnville. The route lacked the usual abundance of gas stations, so we had to be careful with water consumption and take advantage of any opportunity that came along. The terrain was a little hilly, but nothing too bad.

We only had 42 miles to go before hitting the Walmart in McMinnville, which was where our CouchSurfing host for the night lived.

Road to McMinn
There's nothing between McMinnville and Crossville.

We stopped in the early afternoon for lunch at the only restaurant we’d seen all day, a place called Gribble’s Landing. I wish I’d gotten a picture of the inside, because it would immediately explain what I may struggle to describe with a few paragraphs.

Gribble’s Landing was an alter of home cookin’. Maybe 20 families were seated at the establishment, which was a single giant room with large, cheap tables and flimsy, plastic chairs. Blond, tan southern girls ran around taking orders and refilling sweet teas. The distribution of age in the place was bimodal: a customer was either 6 or 60.

Mike and I walked in looking like we were from another planet. We were totally lost in the chaos of this place, and we milled around for a few minutes before getting approached by some kind soul who saw that we were obviously out of our element. She told us to find a table ourselves, despite a sign telling us to wait to be seated.

We seated ourselves and I flagged one of the girls down for two menus. Minutes later, she arrived back at the table with a Dr. Pepper for me and a sweet tea for Mike. Extremely hungry, we then attacked the buffet, where food was dispensed at the whim of an older, unenthusiastic woman. I got roast beef, fried chicken, green beans, potatos, and a dinner roll.

We returned to our table and disappeared the food without pause. The girl would periodically land next to our table, asking questions or alotting refills, taking off immediately afterwards to some other corner of the room.

After we’d finished our refills, a woman who seemed confident and gaudy enough to be the proprietor came over and asked if we’d like some pie for desert. The two of us responded quickly in the affirmative and so she started rattling off a list of pies available, the number of which must have been near 20. Mike apparently took interest in one of the flavors and asked her to described it (I think it was French Coconut). She replied that it was sort of like a “chess” pie. I asked her what a chess pie was and she turned to me looking as though I’d just stabbed Elvis. The woman must have stared at me a solid 5 seconds without saying a word, and she didn’t respond to my question. I ordered chocolate and Mike went with the still-mysterious french coconut.

After inhaling the pies in the amount of time it would take a normal person to put on a shirt, Mike went off to the bathroom and I sat, letting the boulder in my stomach erode. I couldn’t help but feel slightly out of place. Though, in some sense, that’s what the trip is about.

Mike came back and we did more sitting until the pie-woman came over again and told us, in the saccharine language of a steel magnolia, that it was time for us to pay up and get the hell out. We gathered our stuff and found the register, where the tan girl squared us.

The ride from the Landing into McMinnville was uneventful, but hot. I hadn’t put sunscreen on my face, so when we arrived at the Walmart, I felt like I’d shaved with a welding torch.

Seen the light at Walmart
We saw the light... then ran the hell inside.

We kicked around the Walmart for a while, picking up sewing supplies so that we could attach the Cumberland Co. Fire Dept. patches that the firemen had given us to our panniers. Like true vagrant cyclists, we roosted in the Walmart McDonald’s for hours, Mike sewing and I pounding out an update. Eventually, it got to be around 6PM, so I called our host for the evening, Brad.

Brad told us to come on over to his place any time, so we paid up at the Walmart, loaded our bikes, and headed for Brad’s. I managed to discover a broken spoke on the way over1, but we decided not to fuss with it because we were so excited to get to Brad’s.

Meeting people from the internet is always interesting, and it’s a rare treat when someone lives up to their internet persona. Brad was one such case. We’d been swapping a few messages with Brad for the past four days. Each message from Brad was a well-written, friendly encouragement to come on by his house for some food and relaxation.

I didn’t know what to expect from the guy, but not one minute after walking into his house, he had us laughing. Brad was a totally natural fit for the two of us and we settled into conversation without a seam.

Knight and NASCAR
Brad had an awesome house; unfortunately, I didn't take as many pictures as I should have.

We sat talking with Brad about music, the trip, himself, McMinnville, and a variety of other things. We enjoyed the atmosphere of his house; everything was extremely clean, but very cosy and full of eclectic decoration. He had a knight covered in Mardi Gras beads caty corner to a wall on which his TV/computer feed was projected. Good music was playing.

We changed, cracked some beers, and settled in. Brad showed us a music community he’d set up on facebook, The WELL, and comically explained the stringent requirements necessary to gain (and maintain) membership. Brad had some concerns about his network security, so Mike and I checked out his router configuration. For a self-described “non-tech” guy, Brad had the lingo and concepts down pat.

Eventually, a banquet broke out. Brad served up some awesome barbecue, in addition to various other dishes and some killer ‘slaw.

Brad's spread, pt. 2
Oh god the barbecue.

Brad’s longtime friend Mark showed up later on and was curious about the trip. We talked to him for a while. He seemed to be broadly knowledgeable. A few other people showed up (“Sketch,” Jimmy, Jessica, and Dale, a big dude in overalls who, in Brad’s words, is “country as cornbread”).

We all hung out a while, drinking brews and watching the projector throw colored light up on Brad’s living-room wall. I stuffed myself silly with barbecue and Mike talked a good amount to Mark. Brad showed us a few of Widespread Panic2’s live covers on DVD, which included songs from The Grateful Dead and Buffalo Springfield.

After watching a few episodes of a certain television program about debaucherous antics in the South3, everyone cleared out. Mike and I turned in for a solid night’s rest.

CouchSurfing has worked out really well for us so far and has added numerous dimensions to the trip. Meeting new people keeps Mike and I sane, and when the hosts are as cool as Brad, it’s really enjoyable.

  1. the count is at four

  2. A jam band, a la Phish but a little more classy

  3. I won’t name the show, per Brad’s drunken request

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