Day 24 – Country Music, Kudzu, and Copters

Sean’s Journal: I had a little chat with myself this morning. I remember at the beginning of the summer when I planned my cross-country trip. I thought it might take months or even a year. Those estimates were too long. I will be back in Utah after about one month on the road. It’s a good thing. It has been a marvelous month—educational and inspirational. As the fall approaches, I realize that I want to get serious about my education and other important things that lie ahead for me such as helping my dad finish the new home, getting clear about my career goals, and preparing to get married in the not-too-distant future. So, I’ve got a few interesting states yet to cover and then I’ll be happy to be home again.

Country Music Capital. I’m headed from the Kentucky “Horse Capital of the World” to Nashville, the “Country Music Capital of the World.” Tennessee is also known as “The Volunteer State” for its role in the War of 1812 (worth a history read). Vince had hoped I’d be able to visit the green hills of the Chattanooga area, but it’s too far south for this trip. Vince knows where to get the best pork chops in the world at Knoxville, but I’m sure I’ll find some equivalent in Nashville. I must admit that I am anxious to attend a concert at either the famous Grand Ole Opry or the historic Ryman Auditorium. I’m a fan of many country musicians. Vince and Marie are fans of Johnny Cash, Collin Raye, Shania Twain, and Dolly Parton, among others. I also won’t make it to Memphis, which is a citadel of blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll. Vince is an Elvis fan and would probably encourage me to go to Graceland. Mostly, it’s going to be the Nashville scene for me. And, I want to leave time in this blog for Vince to tell you one of his most adventuresome client connections over all his years of consulting.

Cool Culture. I found some finger-licking, barbecued pork ribs accompanied by fried pickles, sweet potato fries, and corn bread. The catfish here is also great. A favorite dessert is banana pudding, not very exotic, but a door-buster for any kid between the ages of 6 months and 99 years. Folks here are very friendly. I had some great conversations with college students who love the universities in the area. Known as “Music City,” Nashville is a happening place for the college crowd. Older Tennesseans are just what you’d expect: colorful, laid-back, and full of stories. I heard many. The topic of “politics” is all over the place. Some City dwellers are Democrats, but many of the older Tennessee natives and the rural folk were Republican at birth. Reminds me a little of Utah.

Enjoy the Music. I had a great time in Nashville. I attended a matinee concert and ate too much. Tonight, I will camp in the western woods of Tennessee. I’m hoping to find a campground on the banks of the Mississippi River. I look forward to crossing the mighty river early tomorrow morning. To wrap things up, here’s one more taste of this special region of the USA, also known affectionately as “The Bible Belt.” I don’t have a photo for you today, but how about some sweet gospel music by a popular Nashville-grown, American Christian band, Anthem Lights. Here’s the YouTube link:

Vince’s Response: Hi Sean. We just listened to “How Great Thou Art” by Anthem Lights. I hope we eventually have a wide cross-section of Americans who read our blog, including those of many different faiths and philosophies. Like you, Sean, I have a Christian heritage and love the songs that lift me up beyond the cares of this world to know our Creator and His Son who was sent here to become better acquainted with us and to teach us the principles of faith, love, and service to one another. Thanks to you and to Anthem Lights for the music. 

Tennessee Gas Pipeline. Now, about that adventuresome client connection that took me to the skies above where you have been traveling. This client was a Houston-based conglomerate that managed the Tennessee Gas Pipeline, which stretches from the Gulf Coast to New England. Their stewardship was the protective care of thousands of miles of large-diameter pipe that carries natural gas from the Gulf of Mexico to homes in the northeastern states. Most people know there is a massive maze of underground, unseen pipes that cross through the countryside and the mountains to accomplish this. What they probably don’t know is that every so many miles (30, 50, 100—can’t recall exactly), there is a compressor station nestled in the woods that includes gigantic diesel or newer turbine engines that keep the gas pressurized and moving along toward its ultimate destination. 

My Consulting Assignment. In the 1990’s, it was my assignment to provide motivational training to the teams at these stations. To get there, I traveled in a corporate helicopter with my key client contacts. I have looked down from just hundreds of feet at all the geography you have been seeing from the highway. It is beautiful country. I learned how dedicated and hard-working these pipeline crews are. It’s a 24/7 job and “failure is not an option.” The mechanical skills of these employees are exceptional. The engines and turbines are the size of those that power ships and airplanes. These are intricate pieces of machinery and sometimes temperamental. I enjoyed my many meetings with this important company and their capable employees. 

Helicopters and Kudzu. Now, to conclude, here’s one of those extra adventurous “helicopter” moments. We were headed for one station in the woods when a giant storm started to approach from the southeast. The pilot said we needed to get out of the way or land somewhere. Below were farms and huge swaths of the crazy Kudzu vine. This vine was imported from Asia somehow—perhaps as an erosion-preventing ground cover. It turned out to be terribly invasive. As we looked out of our helicopter cockpit, I could see old farm implements, fences, and barns literally overgrown with the vine. Anyway, the storm got closer and our pilot could not outrun it, so he said, “Hold on, we’re landing in that farmer’s field just below, the one covered in Kudzu. I hope to miss the tractor and the barn—just kidding.” The helicopter descended. We landed safely and sat in the farmer’s field for about 45 minutes until the worst of the storm blew over. I love helicopters.

Bookends: (1) Country music has its sad songs of lonesomeness and heartache, but, generally, it is just good fun. (2) These days, I prefer the healthier diet of catfish and cornbread. (3) Thanks to God for all the natural gas stored under the earth and for the hard-working folks who built and maintain the pipelines that get it to your home and mine.