Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Necessary Thing.

West of Amarillo, TX
Morgantown, WV.  4/3/13:   When you travel the Interstate system as much as I, you appreciate whatever comfort the road can offer.  While it's not my intention to upset "sensibilities," I do want to point out what's sensible.  Rest Stops are sensible.  After all, there's no coincidence in states choosing to warn you as much as two miles in advance (I've seen four miles) of an upcoming rest stop and in going further to warn you that the next one is between 40 and 90 miles more.  Forewarned, much are you good for?

  Beyond that, I've found a kind of competition..particularly in the western build stops that are out of the ordinary.  The one above is a showcase of Texas' leadership in energy production; oil, solar and wind.  There are picnic tables, a dollop of history and a great view to boot.

  But when you get right down to it, you stopped for basically one reason, and the "facilities" are worth it.

  Check the tile work in the men's room there.  That's art, above and beyond expectations..pleasant to see, nice surroundings for a few minutes, not what you'd think of finding out there among the hills and the long-haul trucks.  I usually stop there just to look around, if nothing else, and I am assured on good authority that the lady's room is every bit as nice.  I wouldn't know, of course, but I wouldn't doubt it, either.

  This one is at Clines Corner, New Mexico..50 miles from any large city.  Clines Corner goes back to 1934, a veritable oasis at the intersection of I40 and a back country approach to Santa Fe.  It's a small town all by  itself; a Truck Stop, Gas Station, Restaurant, Gift shop and more of the kind of facilities you don't expect to find out there.  The place has its own name on the map.

   I never pass Clines Corner, if for no other reason than to say "Thanks for being here."  
Clines Corner Men's Room


Eastbound near Amarillo
  Ironically, the one above is right across I40 from the one that started this discussion..but on the eastbound side of the road. 

  I40 either runs on..or parallels..old 
Route 66, and this one is a sort of museum dedicated to the old road. Look at the Art Deco motif.

  The idea, of course, is to get you to stay out of the car a little longer so you really can "rest" or take a break.  You get a cup of coffee and check the decor.  Pretty soon, you find yourself humming Bobby Troup's old tune about where to get your kicks.  

  Oh, sure..even in the rest rooms.  Notice the signs from the old time gas stations that used to populate the highway.  Remember the Disney movie, "Cars?" 

  If that doesn't rest your mind awhile, nothing will.

  I used to think these rest stops ought to be relabeled "Stop and Go."  Maybe not so much after you've been to one like this..more like "Stop and Gawk."


  One of Arizona's Governors got in big trouble awhile ago an economy move..she elected to close every other rest stop on the state's big roads.  Now, in a state full of retired people, that didn't go down so great.  For awhile there, traveling through Arizona required careful planning, particularly for those over, say maybe, the age of fifty.  

Texas Pass, AZ
  The one above stays open--and combines the "necessary" with fabulous views in three directions; west toward Tucson, south to Mexico and east toward New Mexico.  Texas Canyon and Pass are the stuff of legend from the pioneer days and the rock-bound summit is unforgettable.  This is another one of those you don't pass up, no matter what.
  Before you get there (going west), there is this one in Cage, NM, which combines local architecture with desert views and desert warnings.  I have been there often and have never seen a rattlesnake, but I always watch where I step.  No need to rile the locals.


  I think I could do a book on Rest Stops I Have Known and Have Been Glad to See.  If you know one or two I ought to go out and collect, leave a note..who knows where the trail might lead?


   And, of course, sometimes you just plain go out, stop and rest.  That's good, too..and you sure can't beat nature's artwork..either.

   I love it.



Sunday, March 31, 2013

The National Storytelling Festival at Jonesborough, Tennessee

Jonesborough, TN.  First Light

Morgantown, WV.  3/31/13:  On the first weekend in October--every year for the past forty--the oldest town in Tennessee is magic.  Suddenly, thousands of people from all over the country..the world..are there with happy grins on their faces.  I'm telling you this now so you can make arrangements to join them.

  Jonesborough is host to the National Storytelling Festival each Autumn.  The very best storytellers go there like singers go to the Grand Old Opry.  This is the big one..where they want to be seen and heard.  And the audience is always willing.

  You can get 400 to 600 people on folding chairs in a tent like that one (right). There are five set up around the town and people get there early to fill them.  Storytelling starts at 10 every day, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  On two of those days, it goes to midnight.  

  The whole thing started in the courthouse square on a hay wagon where an old mountain man told "Jack Tales" to a crowd of about 150.  And it snowballed.  The organizing committee started on next year's show..word spread..invitations to professional "Tellers" went out..and the rest is history.  Mary Alice and I started going there in the late 80s and never missed one.  I'm going back with my kids and a bunch of friends this fall, and so merrily we roll along.


     Donald Davis (below) is the undisputed "Dean" of the tellers.  His specialty is 
stories about his family in western North Carolina.  His characters are richly drawn, the stories are warm and usually hilarious.  

  Donald writes numerous books and records stories, but there is absolutely nothing like watching him in person.  He lives the stories and the audiences love him.  I have seen them pick up their traps and follow him from tent to tent.

  One of the amazing things about these folks is their depth.  Tellers are not allowed to repeat a story during a given festival, so they always bring a big selection since each is scheduled several times a day.

  Just picture..a bare wooden stage in the front of a tent, a microphone and a stool. That's all. These people light that up.

Bil Lepp

     Bil Lepp (right) is known as the Grand Champion Liar of West Virginia.  He won the title five times in a row at the state's annual Vandalia festival.  His brother won it five times before him.  So who's going to argue?

   The stories Bil spins are about his teen years with his friend Skeeter in Half Dollar, WV.  I don't think there is a Half Dollar, but it sounds like a lot of little towns in the southern part of the state and what he claims they got into raises a lot of guilty memories in anybody who ever was a teenager with a buddy.  The stuff is waaay out there and funny, Friend.  He writes books and does recordings, too..but anybody who ever saw a 17 year old with a ball cap on the back of his head, hands in his hip pockets, one hip thrust to the side..knows where Bil Lepp is coming from.  And you want to be right there with him.

  This is Barbara McBride Smith, Oklahoman raised in Texas.  A librarian in her other life, Barbara rocks audiences with stories about ranchers and, believe it or not, Greek Gods described in a western accent.  

  Wonderfully talented and warm, she's been a star at Jonesborough from the beginning.  One of her favorite things is talking with fans between shows..and they flock to her.

  She does records and has written books and there is a tent at Jonesborough that sells them.

  That's just three.  There are many, many more..and after you've heard them once or twice, they seem like family.


     As I may have mentioned, it's a beautiful little town.  Daniel Boone had a place near here when that street was just a stage coach road. 

    If you decide to join us this fall--and I hope you do--start hunting a hotel right now.  You'll have no trouble getting tickets to a full weekend of shows--you register up near the library--but hotels are something else, as you can see by this sign posted on one of them downtown.  I think people pass along hotel reservations to their heirs like others pass season football tickets.

   You should bring a seat cushion with you, bottled water, and probably a light jacket, just in case.  A heavier jacket in the trunk of your car is probably not a bad idea, either.  But percentage-wise, we've usually found gorgeous autumn weather there.  

   I can also say that we have rarely, if ever, found a grouchy person in Jonesborough.  They all come for just one thing..and it's not to watch TV.

   There's an ice cream shop on the main street, places that cater box lunches and others that have full sit-down meals. There's a tent with everything from pizza to roast beef.  But don't miss the hot-dog stand up the alley.

Waiting to go on.

It's just wonderful, and I wouldn't miss it for (almost) anything.