Over the past weekend, I drove cross country from Wake Forest to Kansas City, Missouri. Going through the Appalachian mountains, through Asheville, Knoxville and Nashville, I stopped for the night in Nashville to see a buddy. Instead of the usual, fastest route from Nashville, I took a slightly longer way which expanded the usual total of 14 hours of driving to about 15. My reason for doing so was to avoid going through St. Louis and making the grueling haul across I-70 which is littered with semi-trucks as well as increased traffic which can easily raise one’s blood pressure.
I had never taken the new, more southern route I chose that morning. It pops up from Nashville, cuts across the western corner of Kentucky and shoots you just underneath Cape Girardeau, Missouri to head west on I-60 to Springfield, then up to Kansas City. It was during the last moments of being in Kentucky, however, that something of a miracle occurred. It was coming up upon 1 p.m. and I had not had anything to eat all day. Having just been sipping upon a bottle of water which I acquired in Nashville, my stomach was starting to poke at me.
“Hey, loser, are you planning on getting me some chow or what?” He inquired with increased rapidity in a New York accent, which I have no clue where he got. I wanted to heed his demands but rural Kentucky near the border was remarkably bare in terms of dining options. There wasn’t even a Hardy’s in sight. Going along the road, gas stations all seemed to be on vacation as the roadside lay naked.
Half past 1 p.m. and my tummy from D’Bronx was getting really upset. The border of Kentucky was about to come up and I was not looking forward to bearing down until Cape Girardeau which was not going to be coming up soon. I was getting nervous, hungry and thirsty as my water had run out now. Like a camel-backed convoy going through the Sahara, I yearned for at least a mirage.
…the result was far different. I had found a gem where I never would have thought one existed.”
And, that’s when it happened. Along the horizon, on the side of the tiny, two-laned highway I had ended up upon, I saw a little chimney with smoke wafting up into the cloudless November day. I lowered my car window and the sweet smell of smoked meats filled my car. My heart leapt as I pulled into the miniature gravel parking lot that bordered the equally petite shack that was expelling such angelic fragrances.
“Kentucky Hillbilly BBQ” was scrawled in red across a white, nailed-in sign on the awning. Picnic tables sat in front and a wooded creek rolled behind.
Stepping up to the ordering slot in the side of the building, a little lady with charcoal hair and an accent I did not know could exist inquired:
“Now what can I get ‘cha, hunn-knee?” I looked at the menu and, kabam, right there in the middle of the board was the meal for me: a barbecue bologna sandwich. I had never had one before but, in the moment, it just sounded like something sent straight down from heaven. I asked the cashier if it was good and she confirmed that it was:
“Probably the best thing this side of the Mis-sipi.” That was all I needed to hear. Getting in the car, I set the bag of Lay’s Originals and a Dr. Pepper in the passenger seat as I whipped out the foil-wrapped sandwich from the brown paper bag. I almost drove off the side of the road after that first bite. It was simply a thick steak of bologna which had been smoked and subsequently placed between two thin buns. No sauce, no frills, no funny business. Just straight up, real deal, river barbecue. What they did to that bologna, I’ll never know. Honestly, I’m not even sure what bologna is made of. But, I do know that it was probably the top five sandwiches I’ve ever had. Passing over the Ohio River then the Mississippi, I felt so glad I had chosen to take this new route.
Although the original intent had been to eliminate the headache that is the stretch between St. Louis and Kansas City, the result was far different. I had found a gem where I never would have thought one existed. We should not be afraid to take more backroads in our life. Who knows how many awesome sandwiches might be hiding out?