On Friday we were, as Mr. Chalmers would say, staring down the barrel of a long, hot weekend without Internet access, and we needed to get out of town. So we boarded the dogs last-minute and took off before dawn on Saturday, heading in the general directions of north and west, and not sure how far we'd get (the bug has been somewhat terrible in the car lately, because it's hard for her to fall asleep in her very upright front-facing car seat, she can't get comfortable, she wants to be driving or something, and all of this makes her angry). She did get a few good naps in, though:
On a whim, we splurged on tickets for the Chattanooga aquarium thinking it'd be dull but maybe fun for the bug, but it was much better than we'd anticipated. I guess the elder Chalmerses hadn't been to an aquarium in a while, because the sharks and penguins and jellyfish and whatnot were really impressive. And of course the bug got a kick out of it.
Our first food stop was in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, the Slick Pig. I'd never had their famous smoked chicken wings before, and Mr. Chalmers wanted us to try them. Here they are:
They were remarkably similar to his re-creation of them, but they seemed to have been smoked a bit longer and there was something slightly spicy in the marinade—maybe just a little black pepper? Anyway, they were great, and the bug was happy with that slice of garlic toast and a few bites of intensely flavorful chicken—we'd been feeding her car-trip snacks to keep her calm (-ish) on the road: steamed zucchini chunks, rice cakes, graham crackers, oyster crackers, grapes.
We made our way to Nashville, walked around downtown in the incredible heat awhile, then drove around trying to decide what to do. Of course there was only one thing we could do, and that was make a stop at Prince's Hot Chicken Shack—none of us had been there before, but we'd read plenty about Nashville's hot chicken. This was some weird stuff:
For the life of me I can't figure out how it's done. It's fried chicken—very expertly fried chicken, crisp outside and moist inside, freshly made and probably not in a deep-fryer—but it's got these spices . . . sort of attached to it. Some of the spice mixture is in the dredge or batter, but most of it seems to be added after the chicken is fried, which results not in a sauce exactly but in a spicy, hot paste all over the crust. Served on top of white bread and topped with pickle slices. The woman behind the counter insisted we get "medium" spiciness on our first visit, and move up to hot or extra-hot the next time we came. The medium was not too spicy, but it was good anyway. I would've liked more salt in the spice mixture, though, which I think would have brought out the actual flavor of the chiles rather than just the heat. It was a bizarre experience all around: grim strip mall, no air-conditioning (it was about 108 degrees out that late-afternoon, and the sun was streaming in the front window), a guy sitting next to the garbage can for no apparent reason other than to make sure you got all your bones and paper plates in the can, and there were two hipsters (for lack of a newer word) heading in as we were leaving.
We stayed in Clarkesville, Tennessee, had a couple of beers on the patio of a strange Korean-Chinese restaurant across a vacant lot from the motel, and I have a question for any parents who might be reading this: How on earth do you get kids to fall asleep in a motel room? The bug eventually did, while watching my new favorite show, Ice Road Truckers, but her four hours of sleep came at great cost and we were up at 3 a.m. Central Time, before anyone in Clarkesville makes coffee to sell to travelers like us.
We took the mountainous small-windy-road route on the way home yesterday, stopping for lunch at the Hole in the Wall diner, in Blairsville.
The bug's dress is buttoned up like that so that the car seat strap wouldn't irritate her neck. Her dad had the special catfish, which was fried, of course, but in a dark-brown caramelized batter rather than the usual (in Georgia) cornmeal crust. The waitress specifically recommended the Reuben, and since I'm a fan of the sandwich I had to order it. Fantastic. The perfect Reuben, you might even say: good corned beef (I'd prefer to save pastrami for a plain old pastrami sandwich on rye with mustard), super-tangy sauerkraut, Swiss, old-fashioned Russian dressing, and buttered toasted rye. It wasn't overstuffed, either, so it was all too easy to eat.
We stopped for a death march—excuse me, short hike—at De Soto Falls, and the bug liked running along the trails so much that I've been fantasizing about taking her on a real hike sometime soon. When fall comes.
As it should be with all vacations, we're glad to be home and glad we left.