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Travels with Bubba the Bus: On the Road in Tennessee

The south is an amazing place. Yes, it is humid. Yes, it is hot. Yes, there are tornadoes and yes, the politics are conservative, a conservatism that is highlighted for television rating and viewership; but, the south is a gem; an art in hospitality and good manners, that is becoming extinct in the modern world. It is a place where the terms ma’am and sir are consistently used, doors are held open for ladies, the neighborhood ‘welcome wagon’ exists, desserts are always served and the unhurried conversation ends with a hearty and sincere “Y’all come back now, ya hear?” Southern hospitality is a real thing, in which you immediately feel like family…and you are.

I have been spending most of my time in the rectangular, landlocked state of Tennessee, whose name comes from the Cherokee word, “Tana-see”, and means “The Meeting Place,” which is the perfect backdrop for meeting new friends and creating my new adventure with Bubba the Bus.

Tennessee, like most places where humans reside, holds simultaneously contradictory ideas. Drinking, for example; on Beale Street in Memphis, you can get a beer or a cocktail and walk around, looking in shops and enjoying Blues music pouring from every alleyway, while enjoying said beverage.

Or you can visit the Jack Daniels Distillery–which is located in a ‘dry county‘. If you don’t know what that means, (and I did not), here it is; “a county in the United States whose government forbids the sale of any kind of alcoholic beverages.”

The world-famous Jack Daniels Distillery is located in Lynchburg, Tennessee, a city with a population of less than 6000 and home of one traffic light; a literal dot on the map, that wouldn’t exist, if not for Jack Daniels. The distillery, which was the very first registered distillery within the US, has a fascinating history which includes learning the art of making the elixir from a slave to Prohibition to Jack’s untimely death, which stemmed from a broken toe that got infected. It is also located in a ‘dry’ county; but, through a recently created legislative loophole, Jack Daniel’s, has some leniency.

Once you arrive at the dot and navigate to the distillery, which is located on a roadway, unmarred by things like divider lines, you may select a tour from the variety that is offered. The tours last anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours, are historical in nature and cover the whiskey-making process and Jack Daniel’s legacy. There is a ‘dry tour’ and the name alone tells you not to choose that one if you want to sample the whiskey. Even though the distillery is located in a dry county, there are tours that end with a tasting–read the fine print. ‘Taste‘ may be a liberal term here, as you get to dab your tongue in the liquid, and that is as far, as even Jack Daniel’s will venture; however, they do offer an astounding array of lemonades, (sans alcohol), for your drinking pleasure. A must see and taste when you visit Tennessee.

The next day, the sun rises around 5 a.m. in the morning, (or so it seems). By 10 a.m., I find myself wondering if I am actually on the surface of the sun. I walk to a Publix Grocery Store, anticipating an ice-cold beer to ‘whet my whistle‘. I go to the freezer, select a brew and place it on the counter. The clerk informs me that he can’t sell me the beer. I assume he needs to see my ID–(they are vigilant about checking them here). I produce my California Drivers License. He looks at it; ‘that is a lovely picture, ma’am,‘ he nods sweetly and hands it back to me. We exchange expectant looks. Finally, I ask how much the beer is and he tells me that it’s Sunday. I await the rest of the sentence, which never comes, so, I break the silence by asking ‘and?’

“You’re in the state of Tennessee ma’am and you can’t buy alcohol before noon on Sunday.”

“Are you saying that I can’t purchase this beer at 10:00 a.m. on a Sunday?”

“I’m saying, you can’t purchase that beer at five minutes to twelve on a Sunday.”

This is a new concession, as until recently, you couldn’t buy alcohol in the stores at all–on Sundays. Living here would require a bit of pre-planning for me.

I am in Memphis now and have been for the past few days. Memphis is a lovely city, with vibrant neighborhoods and friendly people. The BBQ is off the hook and I have eaten better here than is recommended. I know I have put on at least ten pounds. (BTW: If you know of better BBQ–I doubt it exists, but, please share!)

On Thursday, I went to the tourist mecca Beale Street to grab some postcards and stopped into an Irish bar, called Slinky O’Sullivan’s, where I grazed through plates of fried okra, fried green tomatoes, fried pickles and my favorite (so far) BBQ Pork sandwich. Have you noticed, the ‘fried’ theme? While here, I discovered an incredible beer–(Junt Cream Ale)– made in Memphis, and appropriately named Memphis Made.  The beer itself was smooth, silky, very lightly hopped, easy to drink and extremely refreshing. Memphis Made is a small brewing company located in the heart of Memphis–aka the Cooper-Young neighborhood.

On Friday, I joined up with photographer and Memphis native, Troy Glasgow and explored a bit of the South Main area; an uber-cool section of town, with hidden recording studios tucked into brick alleyways and vintage neon signs overhead.

We visited Memphis Made, located next to a funky pigeon mural, where they brew the beer. It was amazing and although they don’t serve food, they have food trucks parked outside for your dining pleasure–and TONS of fresh, local brews on tap.

Another cool distillery I stopped into on Friday, was Old Dominick, whose Vodka and Bourbon offerings, displays a fine looking rooster on their labels.

Tennessee is the perfect mix of generous people, great food, music and brew, parks and a vibrant arts scene. I love discovering her. Until next time….

Go forth

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