My dad taught me that Tennessee, like any other state without any coastline on the Gulf, was not to be trusted. Parts of the state were extremely far north, abutting known Border States that themselves shared borders with states in The North. The music there was a sugary sort of blues-lite, with too many songs in a major key. And, as was demonstrated on many a Saturday morning, Tennessee sports fans were hopeless douchebags.
I tell you all this so that, as I try to keep a level head during this travelogue, some anti-TN bias I grew up with might show through. The irony that my home city has separate interstate connections (counting I-22) to the three largest TN cities is not lost on me.
Gadsden is the first city after Birmingham on I-59, and it suffers from an inferiority complex, just like Tacoma, or St. Paul, or Ft. Worth, or Camden, N. J. Still, it’s worth a stop. I like Gadsden.
I-59 is an easy six-lane drive through here, with no predators in Fennicup swamp to attack you anymore, and you’ve only been on the road an hour. Still, we always stop here, no matter what time of day, and eat at Pork Pullers on Meighan Boulevard. It’s a strip club with the best Boston pork butts for miles and miles around. Stripper butts and pork butts. And cigarette butts, if you smoke. I get it po’ boy style, grilled garlic bun, medium sauce, and a Hurricane Ale. Awesome. Even at 9:30 am.
Just past Sulphur Springs is the Georgia State line inspection station. It adds about 15 minutes to your trip. You have to declare any banjos you’re taking inside, and answer a few other questions. But they’re nothing if not mannerly: at the end, you get an 8-0z icy peach smoothie. You’re saying, yeah, we get it Georgia, you got peaches, but damn the fresh ones taste good.
After the state line is a big blue sign reading “Georgia. Welcome to our beautiful state. Signed, President Mikhail Saakashvili.” I always chuckle at that.
I-59 merges with I-24 (signed as I-24 only) going into Tennessee. You only cut a small corner of Georgia. The trip to Chattanooga is very scenic, but if you’re driving, you’ll miss a lot of it. A healthy sense of self-preservation will keep your focus on the road ahead. I-59/24 is two lanes in this area.
After Chattanooga, I-59 picks up with I-75 after I-24 ends. There’s a funny thing you notice about the town names as you go by, especially along US 11: Cleveland. Charleston. Athens. Philadelphia. Jefferson City.
All named after faraway places.
Why? People in Tennessee hate living there.
Knoxville had a World’s Fair in 1982, decades and decades after they stopped being cool. There’s also Fort Knox, which they keep guarded because they don’t want anyone to know that all the gold was sold off years ago.
In Johnson City, you pass I-26. Soon, the Volunteer State will have I-22, I-24, and I-26. Then I-59 merges with I-81, where it will stay until they both (but signed only as I-81) reach the Canadian Border.
We’ll enter Virginia in a future post.