So…Where Are You From?

I’m always interested in where people are from. Maybe it’s because it allows me to end a sentence with a preposition without fear of reprimand. After all, no one asks “From where do you hail?

Maybe it’s a Kentucky thing. One thing you often hear in Kentucky is something like this: “He ain’t from around here. He’s from somewheres else.” Seems like we’re always asking people where they’re from–Eastern Kentucky, Western Kentucky, Northern Kentucky, etc. You might even be from Louisville, which is part of Kentucky in only the most technical, geopolitical sense.

Everyone is from somewhere. I’m sure someone famous said that at some point. I live in Lexington, Kentucky. Lexington is a college town and, as such, most of us Lexingtonians are from somewhere else. I suspect that’s true of most college towns. In fact, one of the first things you want to know when you meet someone here is “Where are you from?

Where you are from is important. Okay, it might not be as important as where you are. How you got from where you’re from to where you are is even more important. After all, that’s your life. It’s certainly more important than where you’re going since you might never actually get there.

When I’m out of state, I’m from Lexington. For example, I was in Newberry Springs, California a few months ago and a guy named Shaggy asked where I was from. I said “Lexington, Kentucky” without hesitation. Truth be told, I’m not from Lexington. I only live there. Actually, I’m from Harlan, Kentucky.  If you were familiar with Harlan, I’d never tell you I’m from Harlan, though. Harlan is a town, and I never lived there. I’m from Harlan County, a much broader designation. To a fellow Harlan Countian, I’m from Loyall. I might even specify Rio Vista or Park Hill. If you knew anything about Loyall, that would make sense.

My father was from Evarts, also in Harlan County. My Mom was born in Detroit but grew up on Island Creek and in Cumberland. So, she was from Pike and Harlan Counties.

I’ve probably met people from all 120 counties in Kentucky, which is an ungodly number of counties. By contrast, California has 58 counties. Texas, on the other hand, has 254. I’ve met very few people from either of those states.

I’ve traveled through a lot of small towns in America. They all have one thing in common. Someone is from all of them. Some folks are so well-known that the town claims them.

In Kentucky, we claim Abraham Lincoln who has born in Hodgenville. Nevertheless, Illinois is The Land of Lincoln. Honest Abe is one of those folks claimed by a lot of places. Will Rogers is like that. He’s all over Oklahoma. If you fly into Oklahoma City, you might land at the Will Rogers Airport. If not, you’ll land at Wiley Post Airport. Oddly enough, Rogers and Post died in the same plane crash but not in Oklahoma. Claremore, Oklahoma honors Rogers even though he wasn’t really from Claremore. He’s also not from Vinita, Oklahoma, which has a statue of him near what used to be the world’s largest McDonald’s.

I read an excellent essay by Ander Monson, The Exhibit Shall Be So Marked, in which he notes the generic qualities of small towns. In my travels, I’ve noticed the same thing. Small towns are small everywhere. There are scandals and gossip, good people and bad. They all have an air of folks living easy and hard. Being there because they love it and because they can’t leave. Not all small towns are friendly. Some people are friendly and some won’t give you the time of day. It’s not all Norman Rockwell.

With the exception of geography and accents, I’m not sure that you could tell the difference between Prestonsburg, Kentucky and Commerce, Oklahoma. That’s not entirely correct. The major difference is that Mickey Mantle is from Commerce. Folks in Commerce know it, too.


Brantley, Alabama, knows it’s the home of Chuck Person aka The Rifleman, former Auburn University basketball star and long time NBA player. Brantley is an otherwise quiet, nondescript town that has seen better days.

Brantley loves Chuck Person.

Brantley loves Chuck Person. I’m sure they love his less famous brother Wesley, too.

 Brantley isn’t a lot different from Binger, Oklahoma, home of Johnny Bench. Schools, churches, stores, city hall and better times long ago.

JB's sign needs straightening

JB’s sign needs straightening

A lot of people are from Oklahoma. Eric, Oklahoma is the home of Roger Miller. How do I know? Well, they have a Roger Miller Museum, just as Binger has its Johnny Bench Museum.

IMG_7795JB Mus

Twenty-five or so years ago, I was in Yukon, Oklahoma. Someone told me that Garth Brooks was from there. I had never heard of him. Of course, that changed. Now, no one has to tell you that Garth is from Yukon. They’ve painted it on their water tower.

Elk City, Oklahoma is notable not for elk but for a huge oil derrick in the middle of town. It’s also the home of Jimmy Webb, who wrote the  MacArthur Park and bunch of other great songs.

Canonsburg, Pennsylvania doesn’t have a Perry Como Museum, but they have a Perry Como statue in a down town that could be anywhere in the country, except for the Perry Como statue. Perry doesn’t stand on Bobby Vinton Boulevard, though. That would be awkward.

Your author and Perry Como.

Your author and Perry Como.

Canonsburg is close to Washington, Pennsylvania, home of Jerry Sandusky–no statue of him.

I’ve been to Wailuka, Hawaii on the island of Maui. Baseball player Shane Victorino is from Wailuku, but they don’t have sign or statue or museum for him–yet.

Carthage, Missouri has a beautiful courthouse. It also has both Marlin Perkins and Old West outlaw Belle Starr as natives.

Edd Roush was from Oakland, City, Indiana, through which I happened to drive when I was lost once. If you don’t know Edd Roush, don’t feel bad. He was one of baseball’s great stars in the early 20th Century. That’s why they have a park named after him.

I once spent a couple of days in Newark, Ohio, which is pronounced “Nerk” from some reason. I didn’t spend as much time there as Wayne Newton did. That’s where he’s from.

Cuba, Missouri is the City of Murals. As far as I can tell, no one is from Cuba (which can’t be literally true), but Bette Davis and Amelia Earhart visited Cuba–at least according to the murals. I’m not sure if they were together, but that seems unlikely.

Kennesaw, Georgia is a nice town. It’s best known as the town with an ordinance requiring everyone to own a gun. I didn’t have a gun when I was a there, but I was just visiting. Thankfully, I didn’t get caught. A lot of people are probably from there. And they’re packing.

You can get some good barbecue in Clinton, Oklahoma. Country singer Toby Keith is from Clinton, at least that’s what a waitress told me. Why would she lie about that? She wouldn’t.

I ate lunch in Needles, California on a 115 degree day. It was probably that hot when Charles Schulz lived there, but I don’t think he was born there. Then again, maybe he was. Snoopy’s brother Spike is from Needles, too.

What about Loyall? We have Jerry Chesnut.  Jerry is a country music songwriter of some renown. He’s in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. He even has a website. It’s no wonder we named a road after him.

Other people are from Harlan County. Wallace (Wah Wah) Jones was a famed basketball star at the University of Kentucky. Legend has it that Nick Lachey was actually born in the county, but we don’t have a sign or anything for him.

Kentucky claims a few people. Muhammad Ali is from Louisville. So was Hunter Thompson, but Louisville is a big city. Lots of people are from big cities. It’s a numbers game.

Charles Manson is from Ashland, Kentucky. As far as I know, they haven’t built a museum or park in his honor. Maybe after he dies….

Jesse James wasn’t from Kentucky, but he robbed a bank here. So did Willie Sutton. Col. Sanders was a Kentuckian, but you probably knew that. He wasn’t a criminal.

Larry Flynt is a Kentucky boy, from Magoffin County. Unrelated but just as interesting, famous White House correspondent Helen Thomas was from Winchester. We also claim Johnny Depp, George Clooney, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Lawrence and Ashley Judd, so we have are fair share of beautiful people, too. Flynt and Thomas are not two of them.  You probably wouldn’t guess that any of these folks were Kentuckians (except for Flynt), but they are.

Some people have a hard with identifying where they are from. Military people are a good example. They’re from all over the place. Some folks are embarrassed about their origins and will only vaguely answer with something like “Eastern Kentucky” or “back East.” If you push them, you can get the details.

Of course, accents can give you away unless you are from Kansas or Nebraska or some other accent-less land. I have an Eastern Kentucky or Appalachian accent. I knew a woman from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and found it odd that she would say “eh” of “hey” at the end of sentences. I found out that was a dead giveaway of the UP.  Similarly, folks from New England speak with an odd brogue and say things like “aayuh” during casual conservation. There’s no hiding where they are from.

We’re all from somewhere, even without road signs, museums and parks in our names. I guess most of us are proud of where we’re from or, at the very least, we don’t lie about it. Taking pride in it does seem a little odd given that we really have no say in the matter. Oh well… so, where are you from?

© 2014

Trolling Through The South

When I was a young feller, I read Jack Kerouac’s classic On the Road. I’ll be honest.  I didn’t care for it.  I was much more fascinated by the fact that he typed it on a long, continuous scroll of paper.  I recall that Truman Capote made a humorous, disparaging comment about the book.  Of course, I can’t recall what it was, but I’m sure I agreed with it.  I just completed my own sojourn through the southern United States.  I won’t write a book about it, although I’m certain I could write something at least as interesting as Kerouac’s babblings.  I will, however, blog about it.

I should note that I travel alone for work quite often, but this was my first “vacation” alone.  Unlike a work trip, where my days are filled with productive activities, on this trip I had to entertain myself.  There was a time when I would never have been allowed on a trek such as this, out of fear that I might never get to my destination or perhaps hole up in a hotel like Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas.  

My son plays high school baseball, and his school played in a tournament in Fort Walton Beach, Florida from April 1 through 6.  He traveled by bus with his team and stayed in a hotel room with three of his team mates.  I traveled alone and stayed alone.  While he and his mates stayed on the first floor of the hotel, I stayed in the separate high-rise in the back, overlooking the ocean.  Very nice.

The view from my palatial room. My son suffered through the week in a ground floor room with three room mates.

I drove from Lexington, Kentucky.  The drive is a long one, taking about 11 hours with the obligatory gas, food and restroom stops.  The first leg of my journey was the Bluegrass Parkway connecting US 60 in Woodford County, Kentucky, to I-65 South at Elizabethtown (known to us as “E-Town”).  From there, you drive due south for an eternity.  Actually, it’s probably 400 miles, but I’m not sure.  Not much to report on that part of the trip.  The only thing that caught my interest was a large sign in Alabama touting something called “The Sons of Confederate Veterans.”  Really, now.  There can’t be any “sons” of any Confederate Veterans left, can there? Because I left very early in the morning, I was forced to break one of my travel rules–I stopped at truck stop in Smiths Grove, Kentucky.  Truck stops frighten me.  I don’t like gas stations with showers, I guess.  Plus, a high percentage of truck drivers are probably serial killers.

The drive gets more interesting just south of Montgomery, Alabama.  This is where you drop off I-65 and drive about 150 miles on the back roads.  There are several things which caught my interest:

Cemetaries:  Alabama was WAY too many cemeteries.  I mean, every town and turn in the road has a cemetery.  When the Great Zombie Apocalypse starts, stay the Hell out of Alabama.

Luverne:  I like this town.  Why?  Because it’s “The Friendliest Town in the South.”  It says so on a sign.   I stopped and bought a Coke in Luverne.  The clerk was friendly enough but nothing special.  So , I’m not sure about it being the friendliest place, but I’ll admit that a one person sample is too little to draw any conclusions.  Luverne is also the home Sister Shubert dinner rolls.  I like those rolls; thus, I like Luverne.

Highland Home:   It has a restaurant called the “It Don’t Matter.”  Good name.

It Don't Matter Restaurant. I'm sure it's my kind of place.

 I didn’t eat there, but I think I’d like it.

Brantley, Alabama:  This is one of those small towns where there used to be something happening.  They have a downtown, schools and houses, but the town looks mostly abandoned.  I’m sure that if I bothered to do any research, I’d find out what used to be there.  But, they do have a one thing:  A big sign declaring it to be the home of Chuck Person.  Chuck played basketball at Auburn and for many years in the NBA.  He could shoot the lights out.  For this reason–and because his full name is Chuck Conners Person–he was called the Rifle Man.  I loved the TV show the Rifle Man, starring Chuck Connors.  It was the story of a homicidal widower and his son in the old west.   Great show.  Brantley is proud of Chuck (Person), so much so that they have this big, nice sign:

Brantley loves Chuck Person.

No matter how badly things have gone for Brantley, they remember Chuck.  Chuck’s brother Wesley was a heck of a ballplayer at Auburn, too, but he doesn’t have a sign.  I’d like to think Chuck comes back to visit from time to time.  The folks in Brantley would appreciate it.

Opp:  Opp is the name of another Alabama town.  I just like the name:  Opp.  Plus, they have something called the Rattlesnake Rodeo.   I can’t imagine what that it is, but I’m intrigued by it.

Whatever it is, the good folks of Opp have had 52 Rattlesnake Rodeos

I came to the end of my trek at Fort Walton Beach, Florida, where I spent the week.  Actually, I was on Okaloosa Island, but that’s just a technical difference, if any.

Fort Walton is not as nice as its newer neighbor, Destin, but still pretty good.  I blogged earlier about eating in Fort Walton, so I’ll spare you those details.  I worked out at Gold’s Gym everyday, which was across the street from this place:

No one does transmission work like a Bigot.

I’m sure he’s a fine fellow, but I’d think about changing my name.  Who is his biggest competitor?  Joe Racist Transmission?

All I did all week was the gym, the pool/beach, baseball games, naps, Starbucks and dinner.  Not too bad.  Substitute work for the pool/beach, and that’s pretty much what I do at home.  The only real downside to my trip was that my beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats won the NCAA Championship while I was there.  I watched it in a restaurant crammed full of UK fans, but it wasn’t the same as being in Lexington when it happened.  We have a tradition of burning furniture when the Cats win the title, but I just couldn’t do it that far from home.

Fort Walton has an inordinate number of tattoo parlors.  I’m sure they cater to the nearby military bases and spring breakers, but it still seems like WAY too many.  I counted 14.  That just seems like a lot.  I thought about getting a “UK” tattoo, but my wife shot it down.  That’s probably for the best.  The next time we suffered a bitter defeat, I’d probably be stabbing it with an ice pick.

Since I ate alone, dressed like a bum and had unkempt facial hair, I was mistaken for a local almost everywhere I went.  As my son would say, I was “rachet.”  I liked that. For four days, my trip was great.  After that, I ran out of things to do and was ready to head home.  I lost one of my credit cards, but no one used it for a bunch of tattooing.

My drive back was uneventful, but laborious.  Two traffic accidents and road construction turned my 11 hour drive into 14.  Plus, I followed this frightening vehicle for about an hour:

Possible tarp-covered corpses.

Oh, I almost forgot, I did this, too:

Your author at his most rachet

I may take another solo road trip, maybe not.  I didn’t get into any trouble (except losing my credit card), so my wife may let me do it again sometime.  By the way, my son’s team when 4-1 in its tournament, and he played well. So, there you have it:  My version of On the Road, only much shorter and only slightly less interesting.

© 2012