On The Road With Bob

Sunday, 13 Apr 1997
Knoxville TN-Athens GA

Chickamauga National Battlefield

In the morning I went back downtown for postcards and coffee, figuring I could get a decent cup at the coffeehouse in the revitalized "market district," where I'd caught the end of Richard Buckner's set the night before. Unfortunately, nothing was open. I asked a policewoman why all the shops were closed at 11am. Perhaps sensing that I was not a local denizen, she regarded me with distaste and informed, "People around here like to go to church."

Back to the highway. I stopped at the Georgia Welcome Center to scarf maps (cartophile that I am, I can spend hours at a time just reading my road atlas and dreaming of all the roads I want to travel before I die). Having plenty of time to kill (an off-day for Bob, so there was no venue to rush to), I asked the receptionist if there were any places of interest worth visiting in the area. She said, "Chickamauga National Battlefield is just off the next exit." I was on my way.

We Americans seem to harbor a peculiar national nostalgia for the Civil War. It's an affliction that predates the work of Ken Burns and even Bruce Catton. Perhaps it was fostered by the brother-against-brother theme, or those haunting Matthew Brady photographs, but whatever the attraction I too am drawn by it. There's something profoundly moving about standing on the ground where so much blood was shed, now a place of eerily compelling serenity and beauty. The mind recoils at the thought of all the soldiers, most of them just kids, really, who died here. My great-grandfather, Joseph W. Paul, fought with Company I, 2nd North Carolina Regiment. His rifle still hangs on the wall of the house, now abandoned and listing, where my mother was born in Pike Road NC. (I sometimes wonder what a conversation would be like between him and my other great-grandfather, the one who during this time was a rabbi in the Baltic seaport of Memel. I don't imagine they would have had a whole lot to talk about.)

I reached Athens in late afternoon, just in time to turn on the TV at the Super 8 and watch Tiger Woods win the Masters. I called David Barbe, whom I hadn't seen since the 1994 Sugar tour, and met him and his charming, mordantly witty wife, Amy, for dinner, after which Bob and Kevin O'Neill joined us for a tour of the recording studio David was building. It was a long and satisfying day.

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