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Been Thinkin' About...Green southern mountain whiskey

The southern sun was setting in the haze, the afternoon scorching, the rumble of Interstate 75 a constant, hearkening of lone cypress in sawgrass to the south and the Nashville skyline to the north. Scottish Inn, Chattanooga, Tennessee. I'm just a kid, perched on the cusp of adolescence. My dad, uncharacteristically tired from driving, got us a room. There is dust in the air, big trucks slowly pulling into the motel lot. Heavy beige curtains pulled back, south-facing glass lets in the glare, holds back the heat. Cheap motel air conditioning is smelling something like bleach and that inexpressibly comfortable musty smell motels used to have. I pull out my Disney World books. My mom gets something out of the freezer box for us to eat. And my dad pours himself a glass of bourbon over motel ice. Outside, the truckers — men of the road — continue their long paths over the green southern mountains.

 

The honky tonk is dark and cool, the music loud, and — relaxing against the order and chaos of the day — my thoughts have drifted back some 33 years. There's whiskey and a heartbreak voice cutting through the past. This space was once — perhaps — reserved for an office or something equally boring but no more and for that I am grateful. Southbound Bar & Grill sits just off the beaten path of Highway 13, the old Wire Road, the road to the lake. Once, this was the road to Fort Smith and a hanging judge and lawless Indian Territory and long, winding, forever roads to Santa Fe. Before that? Trading routes between an Aztec empire and the great mound builders of the Ohio River. Isaac Kenneth, John Myer — Country Music & Friends — are on stage.

 

Haunting sounds of the fiddle, the song a tribute to the beautiful brokeness of man and woman, tragedy, triumph, hope and loss. The young, brown-haired waitress in Daisy Duke shorts is singing along as baskets of fries and chicken are churned out of the kitchen. These are the gorgeous, talented, passionate people who aren't famous, but what the hell is "famous" anyway?

 

Real culture is the life that happens as we look elsewhere but tonight, I'm not looking anywhere but here. The songs originals and covers by the likes of John Prine and Shel Silverstein, Blaze Foley and Kris Kristofferson. The crowd is boisterous, the smell of food heavy in the air. There is — I think — a word for this in Mandarin, but not English, this swirl of energy and passion and life in a crowd united by something as simple as soul and soul food and music. Momentarily lost from the demands of humanity outside, the powerhouse vocals from stage stir the soul. These are moments that words do no justice, the same rising leap of the heart as when the fog is on the summer waters at dusk, the lightning bugs a starry night in the trees, and the bullfrogs resonating the universe in their fruitful call. The waitress with white-blonde braids and halter top could be a

Valkyrie in this space but she hustles past with more fries instead.

 

This will be a night of memories, reminding me of a time when I believed the lyrics of every love song. I was wide-eyed, hopeful, and lanky, living beneath a seemingly eternal series of pink prairie sunrises silhouetting a fence row of American elms, elms that would die too soon. Moments — these moments — are important, reminding me of the part of myself I have lost. And also reminding me of hope. Hope in life as a deliberate adventure rather than a series of overwhelming, never ending tasks. More Hercules, less Sisyphus. Music does that, changing, swirling, momentarily altering a space in ways words also do no justice. But in the moment, I know I will return to my life in the daytime changed, no longer virgin, perhaps no longer quite so broken, perhaps more loving, more full, more ready. And I may have drunk too much but I will sit in the black night parking lot, sobering up, waiting for a ride because I have puppies with black forever eyes waiting to nuzzle me closely. Those puppies are my life this short season but their love will be forever. "Nothing like getting drunk and cutting trees," the bass player jokes from stage and the crowd laughs. I could not agree more.

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