Thursday, 20 November 2008

Knoxville – Dandridge (November 19)

Day 66

At 8 am it was 18 degrees – not Celsius unfortunately. Again Trisha's work had given her the day off; she said that since the recession people were taking animals to the vets less. Made amends on the Scrabble battleground this morning, winning two out of three against Trisha. Scrabble is just about winning for me, especially in hard fought games like these, where poker faces are maintained, challenges are taken seriously and clocks are used (there's a 10 point penalty for every minute over time and I usually need every second). Challenged TEARIER to no avail, then came up with FIELDING on the triple in the nick of time to take the first game. In the second one three of my risky plays were removed (WOODER, WOOZE & BARNIES) and Trisha's SLANTING & DIAMITE (I should have challenged that) levelled the score. In the third I played the brilliant ARDENTLY astride two double words (98) and Trisha never caught up.

The temperature had reached a balmy 40 by the time I left at noon. Knoxville - which has had its soul ripped out by great, fat roads crisscrossing every which way - has a population of 300,000, yet I had clocked up 20 miles before leaving the city limits. By now I was on Magnolia Road, along which Routes 9, 11, 25 & 70 (take your pick) also ran. Americans sure go overboard on numbers. Tennessee's roadsides, like Kentucky's before it, are strewn with rubbish, and this together with unrestrained dogs and the hilliness puts me off this part of the States.

Arrived in purty little Dandridge early, so whiled away some time in the library (“Have a good fall y'all” a poster exclaimed on the door) and when that closed, at Smoky's Steak & BBQ – this being the edge of the Smoky Mountains. I didn't have an address for tonight's Couchsurfing host, so had to leave a message on his cell phone. After trying to make two cups of coffee keep the zealous waitresses at bay for as long as possible, gave in to the calorific delights of an Angus beefburger. I don't usually have desserts in restaurants, but listening in to other diners complimenting the waitress on the pumpkin cheesecake, I had to see what all the hullabaloo was about. The hullabaloo was well deserved. I also overheard a lady of advancing years say to a man of a similar age, “Hey big boy, how's it hanging?” I take it she knew him, or maybe such behaviour was part of this 'Southern hospitality' I'd heard so much about. Borrowed a phone book and looked up my host's surname in the hope he would be in there. There were several, but as one was round the corner, I thought there was no harm in knocking on their door, and if it was the wrong place I would go to a motel. It was his parents' house! His mother let me in, in the company of a one-eyed dog, a dog with funny teeth and a cat with no tail. Barbara was very friendly and tried to phone her son, Jobe, but she too had to leave a message and said I could stay put. It turned out he lived 10 miles from there, so I was secretly glad things hadn't worked out. She showed me round her big, hundred year old house, with many original features and wild wallpaper. Another collector of nicknacks, she also had some nice paintings and old furniture. She and her dogs had been eating popcorn when I arrived, she gave me a beer, told me all about her life and then led me to what she referred to as the 'smoking room', which was actually a veranda, and we shared a cigarette. A nurse from Illinois, with nine siblings, three grown up children and a husband who worked in haulage – he would be home very late. She was good company and said that America was the 'land of the free and the fat'. I was given one of the many guest rooms, decorated in blues, golds and greens, with similarly coloured floral wallpaper.

Barbara left before I got up, but her husband, David, who had returned late last night, was at home, and fixed me some pancakes and coffee with coconut creamer. He had a number of customers who needed things delivered at short notice, and he drove anywhere and everywhere at the drop of a hat. The tailless cat wasn't going anywhere however, and would be lapping up the sun's rays in a box marked 'kitty day bed' for the duration.

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