Saturday, August 25, 2012

What We Learn...More Thoughts from Bristol

Bristol Caverns Bristol, TN
What did we learn in the last few days on our continued adventures in Bristol, TN?

I don't like grits.  I tried.  With some cajun spiced shrimp, mushroom gravy and cheddar cheese.  Everything in the dish sounded good--including the grits.  They are corn.  I like corn in almost every iteration.  Popcorn is possibly one of the most divine creations on the planet.  Corn bread, corn dogs, hush puppies, on the cob, with I couldn't imagine I wouldn't like grits.

But I don't.  There's something missing.

Richard does not like white lightning, also known as moonshine.  Even when sweetened with Mountain Dew.  Still, the mason jar the drink was served in is really cool.  In case you're thinking we went up in the hills and found a local still, nothing so exciting happened.  They're selling it at the track in collectible jars.  We like the nostalgia associated with it, though.

Yesterday afternoon we visited the local tourist spot, The Bristol Caverns.  I've done the cave tour thing before, and it's always cool to look at our planet growing and changing from underneath.  But there's usually a story that goes with the cave.  In this case, it goes back to the early settlers in the area and their relationship with the Cherokees.

Now, in my everyday world they are definitely referred to as the Native American Cherokee tribe.  They suffered at the hands of the white man and we are admonished to remember this in our daily lives.  In the Bristol Caverns, we were told the Cherokee Indians used to pillage the locals' crops and use the caves to hide in, using a tiny entrance that required extreme agility to climb down the 180 ft. to the bottom and escape through the underground stream.  And then the Cherokees would attack again.

Eventually, the Cherokees left (insert your own history is not discussed in the tour) and the locals opened a better entrance and used the caves as a giant root cellar.

I found it interesting what is important to the area is not the Cherokee history, but the mayor's use of the cave as a conference chamber because it has awesome acoustics. I felt something is missing here.  Then again, the geography was only briefly talked about and more time spent pointing at formations that look like hamburgers, sharks, the nativity, etc.  And the gift shop sported lots of trinkets from China, a few made in Ohio.  Even the duck decoys were carved in Indonesia. Something better could be made out of this little tourist spot.  Just sayin...

Meanwhile, this area is undoubtedly suffering from the economy.  Many strip malls are empty, corner stores hidden beneath a carpet of kudzu. We drove down back roads where tiny houses are decorated by sad looking dogs and a single rocking chair on the porch.  It speaks of a depth of poverty I haven't seen since living in Downeast Maine.  The green hills and city of RV's that currently decorate them is misleading.  This neighborhood needs something more than a single race weekend.

Well, that's all for today.  NASCAR thoughts?  There will be my usual column in the Frontstretch Newsletter on Tuesday and probably another blog for the extraneous thoughts the column doesn't fit.

Friday, August 24, 2012

You Know You're Not in New England When

Steele Creek Park  Bristol, TN
If you're traveling, it seems that effort should be made to appreciate the local flavor. As I'm currently sitting in Bristol, TN--a very long way away from home--these are some of the new annd different things I've experienced down here.

Peach Nehi: We've all heard of a grape nehi, except like me you probably never realized it was actually a brand of soda forever and ever. In the soda aisle, above my usual orange Sunkist soda, sat a...peach colored 12-pk labeled Peach Nehi. Huh. I like peaches. I can love them when ripe just so. So, I bought it. Awesomeness. I went back and bought more. It tastes like the candy Sour Peaches without the sour. I can't seem to figure out how to order it online. It will probably become a flavor memory of our Bristol trip. How sad.

Hot Dogs: In New York, it's pizza. In Philly, you have the cheese steak. In Boston there are beans and seafood. Each region seems to have a food that appears with regularity on menus without explanation. It's just there. Around here there's BBQ and hot dogs. In fact when I asked somebody where a good place for lunch might be, I was directed to Sonic or the market across the way that had "really good hot dogs." Let's not talk about the Mexican restaurants that appear every two blocks. Nobody mentions them. Want a hot dog? I'll stick with the BBQ myself.

Chicken Cordon Bleu: No, not something you can buy in the area. It was just my RV fancy dinner. With cream sauce. I'm sure not every trailer in the campground added cooking wine, cream and paprika to their shopping carts. It came out rather pretty. I didn't have toothpicks, so the cheese sort of joined the sauce. But well done! Yummm... We're camping next month, too. What dish will I explore?

What was added to the shopping carts (buggies! We have buggies at the Food City, not carts.)

While wandering up and down the aisles, we noticed lots of racing t-shirts. Most of them didn't belong to the shoppers, but to the employees. Talk about a town that gets into the race! Bristol has mastered the art of the "really big show." And of course this means stocking what the fans want. We added chicken, onions, orange juice, chips, ice cream, bread...our buggy looked rather like a normal shopping trip.

We turned into the beer & wine aisle, while being muscled out of the way by a rather eager trio.

"Hey! We found it. Now we're good." All performed in an accent that reminded me of Billy Bob Thorton in Slingblade. They checked out in front of us with three cases of brew and a loaf of bread.  Oddly enough, I've heard that Billy Bob gravel tone repeated a few more times in and around town.

One wonders why NASCAR fans get the labels we do.

And last but not least for the Bristol flavor, we have a sound effect. "Woo!" I can't spell it any other way. An exclamation that seems to erupt spontaneously from folks who are happy. "Woo!" We first noticed it in the stands on Wednesday night, during hot laps our section passed this sound, "Woo!" from person to person. We chocked it up to too much moonshine--which is sold on the premises. But no, last night as we are going to sleep and someone nearby was still into a killer game of rings, we'd hear it.


And usually followed by laughter.

We laugh, too. It's a happy noise. And one we will forever associate with Thunder Valley, the track built into the mountains.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On the road again...Bristol!

We're camping on The Dragstrip at the track. 
This year's vacation involves a visit to Bristol, TN for the Food City 500. 

Before we left the house, we felt exceptionally well organized.  Things were clean, put away, laundry done for the return...very odd.  Which only added  to the feeling of anticipation.  I got home from work, we threw those last few things in the truck and hit the road.

And then blew a tire.  Yep, 10 minutes from the house.  Shredded it, in fact.  The sort of horrid blowout you see and are happy it never happened to you.  But, you know, Rich is a boyscout.  We are prepared.  Jack, wrenches, spare (which was flat), compressor and generator to run compressor...good thing we're RV'ers.

Back on the road!  Suffering through road construction late at night in Connecticut, a brief respite from the road in NY and then the long day of driving through Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia.

I love the Appalachians.  One of my favorite drives is I81 down Virginia.  Hills, farms, cows, greenery and a sense you have left the hustle of the East Coast behind.  And we've noticed from years on the road, once you're out of the I95 corridor, people just get much more patient.  (Dr. Zhivago soundtrack just came on my MP3 player...*sigh*) Merging isn't the panicky thing New Englanders make it.  Please and thank you.  Yes, despite that blown tire, we really could feel vacation seeping in.

We stopped in Fort Chiswell, VA at a campground run on the honors system.  Please leave money in the mailbox, we've gone to bed.  We slept to the sounds of crickets and the smell of freshly mown hay.  A baby bird was on the ground and Mama was feeding it.  Apparently somebody hadn't quite learned to fly yet.  In the morning I checked in with the office, the very pleasant lady wrote my name down on a piece of paper and thanked me after wishing us a happy race.  No computers or verifying we had actually paid on-line.  Signs that not everywhere on the planet have we succumbed to technology.

And then Bristol...the whole point of the vacation. 

Each time we book a new race destination, we look on the journey with a bit ennui.  We know how to do this.  We've got the bumps, bruises and flat tires to show our road weary experience.  But as we drove down the road and turned a corner, suddenly the track appeared on our left rising out of the hills.

BRISTOL!  We both succumb to pointing and smiling and yelling.  Look at it!  A giant colloseum rising out of the woods.  Terraced camping is to be seen in all directions.  We will most likely perish climbing around the facility this week.  But we don't care.  It's a new track, one full of history and excitement. 

The folks parked next to us were at Michigan last week. The campground shuttle took them on an extended tour of the track grounds yesterday.  Tonight there are modifieds and trucks.  The wonderful.  Somehow summer has departed and left in its wake cool, dry nights and warm sunny days. 

The spare tire is replaced, thanks to Danny at Appalachian Tire in Bristol, VA.  The nice lady in the bakery at the supermarket welcomed us to town as we gushed over some cute racing cakes and lunch at the cantina yesterday was quite good.

It's a vacation.  It's at Bristol.  We should have lots of memories to share when we return.