On November 18, armed with many country-music CD’s (Dierks Bentley, Brett Eldredge, Jason Aldean, Charles Kelley, etc.), I climbed into my pickup truck and made the long drive to Atlanta, Georgia, to read at the annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of English. I hate long drives alone, and this one was particularly obnoxious: traffic back-ups north of Charlotte and north of Atlanta. Only a quick stop at Bojangles to devour fried chicken kept up my strength. By the time I got to Atlanta, it was 4 pm on a Friday, and the traffic reminded me of what I’ve seen in Los Angeles: six smelly lanes of trucks and cars creeping, creeping, creeping. I’ve never had much patience, and it’s not a virtue I deem worth cultivating, so I was cussing like the foul-mouthed Appalachian mountain man I am by the time I escaped the freeway. “Obscene!” I snarled. “Cities! I hate cities!”
Luckily, said city had a few delights in store that almost made the maddening drive worth it. That evening, I went out to dinner at Pittypat’s Porch with April Asbury, the woman who’d gotten me the invitation to read at the NCTE convention, and her partner. The food was amazing, and the server was one of the best I’ve ever had. The salad bar included okra salad, pickled beets, pickled watermelon rind (it looked like chunks of stained glass), and some of the best chicken salad I’ve ever had. I enjoyed a couple of mint juleps and devoured crab cakes with cheesy stone-ground grits, black-eyed peas, and collard greens. Talk about a Southern feast of some of my favorite foods! I got a to-go order of sweet potato pie to snarf up for breakfast the next morning.
On Saturday, I went out to lunch with a fan of my writing. We talked about Civil War battles around Atlanta and sampled pulled pork at Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q. Later that afternoon, I pulled on my best impression of dress clothes and fought a ferocious wind to make my way to the huge Georgia World Congress Center, where the NCTE events occurred. The title of my panel was “Embracing Identity: Art as Advocacy in the Work of Jeff Mann.” I read poems from my collections Ash: Poems from Norse Mythology, A Romantic Mann, and Rebels, plus some prose from two essays of mine, “The Mountaineer Queer Ponders His Risk List” and “Country Boys, Butch Queers, and Brokeback Mountain,” both included in Binding the God: Ursine Essays from the Mountain South. Everything I read was chosen to illustrate the anger and anxiety I’m feeling at the thought of a Trump presidency. Fellow panelists April Asbury and Angie Vaughan Clevinger helped me field a series of great questions from the audience.
That evening, I soothed my anxiety somewhat with martinis, fried whole-bellied clams, and New England clam chowder at the Legal Seafood in my hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown. The next day, I fled the busyness of Atlanta, grabbed a big breakfast at a Cracker Barrel in South Carolina, and made it home to Pulaski, Virginia, in time for drinks and dinner with my husbear, John. Cities certainly have some memorable culinary options and can be fun to visit for that very reason, but I’m sure to keep my visits short and will always return relieved to my small-town life in the Southern Highlands.