Wednesday, October 10

A Return to Appalachia

Odometer: 9868
Location: Harrisonburg, VA
States visited: Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia

When I was about thirteen years old, an article appeared in Sports Illustrated discussing the rigors of travel on NBA players. It mentioned how on road trips, players would consistently feel disoriented and often wake up in hotels not knowing what city they’re in. My jumper may leave much to be desired, and I don’t have groupies staking out the hotel lobbies (yet), but at least on one small level, I can relate to the NBA lifestyle. After covering so many miles and staying in enough random Motel 6s, Best Westerns, and Super 8s, it’s all starting to blur together. The differences between Dallas, Seattle, Madison, and Lincoln should be obvious, but unless I stop for a second and remind myself where I am and who I’m talking to, I can easily get lost in my own journey. I think I said “y’all” to a group of people in Seattle a couple weeks ago. But I can’t remember for sure. It could have been anywhere, really. Considering I have eight more weeks until I arrive at home, that raises some potential concerns for my personal sanity. But if I can maintain focus on the task at hand, I can always get my mind right upon my return to Chicago.

I originally had planned to make my way to Harrisonburg, VA at a leisurely pace, maybe stopping and spending a night in Memphis or otherwise seeing some sights. But because of this disoriented feeling, I decided it was best to get my butt up to the Harrisonburg Econo Lodge as quickly as possible so I could have as many nights in a row in the same location. Of course when I got there, they told me that I would have to switch rooms after the first night. Bipin, the night manager is a mustachioed Indian fellow with really long fingernails. Apparently he erred in this whole room-switching thing, and I should have been put in my permanent room from the get go. Rebel, the day manager is a squat woman with a really long mullet. She’s vastly more on top of things than Bipin. Only in America can these two characters be colleagues. Well, I suppose it’s fair to say that only in America would someone name their daughter Rebel, but you get my meaning.

In Hermitage, TN, I stopped at an Advance Auto Parts because my wiper blades had become entirely ineffective. I couldn’t even tell if they were making contact with the windshield anymore. I told Donny, the guy helping me, about my project and he said, “Oh, my team is USC. That was a rough one this week.” He grew up in the LA area, but has been in Hermitage for 14 years. In that time, he’s developed quite a serious drawl – I was shocked to hear that he wasn’t from the area – and an affinity for statements like, “This thing is slower than pond water.” Encountering Donny was a great reminder of the universality of this game. There’s someone in the middle of Tennessee who hates Jim Harbaugh right now.

Trev Alberts used to have a column on I seem to remember bloggers and various other people having a lot of disdain for him and his work. I can’t recall any of his articles, save one where he lauded the tastiness of Chick-Fil-A. Being from the north, his compliments were totally unactionable. We don’t have the restaurants in Chicago and I just wasn’t spending enough time in Chick-Fil-A country. Since Trev left such a big impression on me, I vowed to give it a shot. However, Sundays have been my biggest travel days on this trip. Chick-Fil-A is never open on Sundays because of religious concerns. So despite many hungry miles traveled through the southland, opportunities have been limited. I decided Monday was my day. But by the time I planned to grab lunch at the next Chick-Fil-A I encountered, I didn’t encounter another one. Lo and behold, I arrived in Harrisonburg to find was a spankin’ new Chick-Fil-A directly next door to the Econo Lodge. But by then I was totally famished. People who know me best are fully aware that I am no fun to be around when hungry. Rather than dropping fifteen bucks on chicken sandwiches, I opted for a strip-mall Oriental buffet named the Dragon Palace for ten. It wasn’t great food, especially since it was mainly warmed over dishes that had been out all night. But the quantity was stellar. I finally hit the bird joint on Tuesday and came away agreeing wholeheartedly with Trev. That was a damn fine chicken sandwich, even if the owner wouldn’t want me to say it that way.

I spent some time on the Bridgewater College campus today, and everyone was really excited for me to be there. It’s a far cry from the Texas/Oklahoma game where I couldn’t get through to the Athletic Departments. I already met with the Sports Information Director and the University President, who by all accounts is a very impressive guy. Some people have made comments about how their town is so small, but next to Crete, Nebraska, it’s a bustling metropolis. While quaint, the downtown area has a certain charm and is in great condition. I think every house I saw featured a front porch. It’s homecoming week, and all the alumni, staff and student excitement has already rubbed off on me. I can’t wait for the festivities to begin.

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