Futility Wins the Day in Central Tennessee

The rain I drove through on my way to Summertown, TN, this morning.

Lewis County, TN – The day begins on a sour note, with torrential rain and a headache. I wake outside of a gas station 30 miles south of Nashville to the sound of sweeping gushes of rain pitter-pattering against Purple Thunder’s windows. Due in Summertown a few hours from then for a tour of The Farm, an eco-community established in the 1970s, it doesn’t appear any outdoor excursions are in the forecast. I gather my things – my toothbrush, toothpaste and change of clothes – and bolt inside the store.

The clerk, a frumpy middle-aged woman, asks, “Is it wet out there?” despite there being a window right behind the counter against which the wetness is splashing. Questions like that I thought were only asked by Midwesterners (i.e. Stayin’ warm?, when it’s -10, Stayin’ dry?, when it’s pouring). In my best southern accent I reply, “Yes, ma’am. Rain is fallin’ right outside that window.”

In the bathroom, things get worse. At the sink is a wiry fella, probably in his early 20s, who tries striking up conversation while brushing his teeth. Between his accent, the frothing and swishing of toothpaste and the toothbrush strokes obfuscating his syllables, I can’t make out a word he says. Through my own frothing and swishing, I mutter a few “uh-huhs.” He rinses his brush and steps into a stall. A few rudely gaseous moments pass before I again hear his voice. Only this time I understand him all too clearly. “Sorry, guy, I dun mean to stink up the place,” he says, chuckling. Hehehe. “Yah got about 10 seconds ‘for the secuhnd un.”

Hehehehe.

Rain pours as I drive toward Summertown, arriving at The Farm around 11 a.m. I am to meet with a guy called Albert after first checking in at the Welcome Center. But no one is at the Welcome Center. It is closed. The sign says someone will return at 2 p.m. Instead of waiting, I drive on, into The Farm, searching for Albert. Everyone I pass is very friendly, offering wide smiles and friendly waves. Broke down school buses are scattered about and houses are nested deep in the forests. Finally, I arrive at a store called, The Store. Inside, I tell the clerk I’m looking for Albert Bates. She isn’t sure how I can reach him, but suggests I try the Eco-Village.

In the Eco-Village, which you get to by driving down a primitive, gravel, Purple Thunder unfriendly, road, I meet Jason, who tells me Albert is in Estonia.”Is that around here?” I ask.

Jason informs me Estonia is in northern Europe.

D’oh!

I explain that I contacted Albert, telling him when I’d be out to visit, and he told me, and I quote, “To bring it on.”

“Albert’s very busy,” Jason said. “Sometimes he forgets things.”

The ultimate travel vehicle, one of many found on The Farm's 1,100 acres.

I leave The Farm, hoping to catch up with Albert in June. But I’m left grappling with what to do with my life today. By then, the clouds had cleared to reveal a bright shining sun against an azure sky. I am in the middle-of-nowhere. In Tennessee. Not much space between north and south. I head north, toward Columbia, following signs with the arrows pointing toward its historic district. All towns have historic downtowns. You never see signs guiding you toward the modern parts.

I’ve realized this is a trap, as though maintaining tracts of old, rehabbed buildings in-and-of-itself makes a place remarkable. It doesn’t. It often times makes them less so. They just begin to look like every other old town. Most towns’ historic districts are glorified commercial spaces – banks, legal offices, a restaurant or two, a general store and maybe a public space, like a park – all emptied by evening. Businesses shuttered. Closed signs flipped. People in their homes. Completely deserted. I fall for it every time.

So, I get my oil changed. The tech talks on his cell phone the entire time. Doesn’t wear a smock. Doesn’t get a splash of oil on his beige khakis. No splatter at all that I can see. I once worked at Valvoline. Avoiding splatter is difficult, but this guy makes it look easy. When he’s off the phone, to ring me up, I tell him I’m impressed. “I’m the shit,” he says. “Keep it clean. Keep it real. Most people don’t get that.” He doesn’t charge me for the extra quart of oil Purple Thunder requires, even though I’m pretty sure that I, too, don’t quite “get it.”

I drive up the road. Don’t even know which direction I’m going. I find a pet cemetery. Didn’t know those really existed. Have never seen one. Maybe there’s a famous animal buried here. A dog that played Lassie, Rin Tin-Tin, Spuds McKenzie? A monkey or something. Nobody’s there. The place is closed. I peek inside and see a little waiting room with a display of tombstones. Chairs with polyester floral patterns. It looks like a funeral home. Only this is a mobile home, with a big glass door and two stone Great Danes flanking the porch. I stroll the grounds. Lots of drug-sniffing K-9s. Pets with names like Pearl, Murray, Pebbles and Bob. Hundreds of them. Most don’t say what kind of animal is buried there. Some of the tombstones are huge. There is even a memorial wall for a dog named Susie, described as “a very special friend.” I wonder if that means Susie was retarded. Many gravestones express the owners’ desire to meet up with their pet in the sweet hereafter. One reads, “I’ll see you on the other side Burt.”

With no one available to answer questions, I leave, and soon arrive at the Honey Farm, which is super, because I love honey, and am hoping they have a bunch of bees. Perhaps they’ll let me suit up and hang with the bees for a while and teach me to make honey. So I drive down a very long, freshly paved road when I realize the Honey Farm isn’t a farm of any kind, but rather a subdivision under construction. Plots are available. Few homes have been completed. “Argh!” I say, turning around. Tricked again. The day is beginning to look like a total bust.

On my way out I pass a sign. “Thank-you for visiting the Honey Farm.” I can’t recall seeing a subdivision ever using a definite article in its saccharine-sounding name, but they really shouldn’t. It’s misleading. I hope it isn’t a trend.

Back on the road, I have accomplished nothing today. Everywhere I’m seeing “Sheila Butt for Tennessee House of Representatives.” A terrible surname for a power-seeking woman. For anyone, really, but especially a woman. One who seeks respect. I can’t help but wonder if she has a nice one. Doubt it. Politicians never do.

After driving for a while, I’m almost back in Kentucky. Before, I was almost in Alabama. Not much space between north and south. I turn east. A lot of Tennessee is in this direction. Lots of space between west and east. I’ll just keep driving while I wait for Albert to return.

3 Comments

  1. blue says:

    thank you for your note, which leads me to this wonderful blog.  I will be back 🙂

  2. Nathan says:

    Thanks, Blue! Your blog was a pleasant discovery, too.

  3. Roan Carratu says:

    The website is the international website of the Zeitgeist Movement, so don’t get lost there. lol. I haven’t had a site for some time now, just a few old ones. I used to live at the Farm, for about 8 years, during it’s communal days, and I agree, Tennessee takes some getting used to. Albert is a great guy, but he is very busy in his work, so it’s not surprising he wasn’t there. If I can answer any of your questions, I will try, but there are others now living at the Farm that can answer more, I imagine. I haven’t been there for decades. It is not the Farm of legend. But it is a delightful community with great people even today, many of them active in one effort or another. I keep in touch. Same for the Zeitgeist Movement. I’m active there. Peace and good health to you. Roan Carratu

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