Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Savoring Small Town America

Our family has spent a lot of time travelling this summer (which is part of the reason why my posts on this blog have been so sporadic the past few months). While we've mostly had large cities as our ultimate destinations we;ve discovered quite a few hidden treasures in smaller towns. It's amazing what you can discover just by venturing a little way off the Interstate highways every now and then. Here's a sample of what we've discovered on our summer road trips:

In Corbin, Kentucky, you can visit the original site of the Harland Sanders Cafe, which was the birthplace of what we now know as Kentucky Fried Chicken. Somehow the chicken tasted better knowing that we were eating in the same restaurant where the recipe was originally created.

Lexington, Virginia boasts two institutions of higher learning each with its own storied past: Virginia Military Institute and Washington & Lee University. The campuses are right next to each other and are well worth a leisurely stroll. While we were at Washington & Lee, we stopped at Lee Chapel. The chapel was named for General Robert E. Lee who served as President of Washington College from 1865 to 1870 (later renamed Washington & Lee University in tribute to his contributions to the college's survival in the post-war years) and constructed at his direction. It still serves as a central part of the campus but is most importantly a museum to General Lee. The Lee family tomb is in the basement of the chapel as well as museum that pays tribute to him. You can also visit his office which was in the basement of the chapel and is exactly as he left it when he died in 1870.

But the best part of the trip to Lexington is a visit to Sweet Things Ice Cream Shoppe. They make all of their own ice cream including some unusual flavors that you may not have thought of. The most interesting sample I had was of their Guiness Ice Cream. It tastes exactly like the beer. That's because that is what they use to make it. I can't imagine eating a whole lot of it at one sitting but apparently it's a pretty popular flavor because there wasn't much left when we got there.

Just down the Interstate a short distance from Lexington is another place that's worth stopping in especially if you like barbecue. Daleville, Virginia is home to Three Lil Pigs BBQ which has some of the best barbecue around (certainly the best I've had outside of eastern North Carolina which has the best by far). They offer both the vinegar-based barbecue commonly found in North Carolina as well as tomato-based barbecue that is more common in Virginia. Best of all, you can play Pass the Pigs while you wait on your food.

But our favorite small town we visited this summer has to be Mount Airy, North Carolina. It's main claim to fame is that it's Andy Griffith's hometown. Much of the town also served as the inspiration for the fictional town of Mayberry in The Andy Griffith Show. Just from walking around the town you sense that you've stepped back in time to a simpler, less hectic time.

Our first stop was Snappy Lunch, which was made famous in an early episode of The Andy Griffith Show. It was also where Griffith ate lunch as a child since the local schools did not have a cafeteria. But the best reason to eat there is the pork chop sandwich which folks from all around have traveled to sample including many celebrities. Owner Charles Dowell has been working there since 1943 and is still going strong cooking the pork chops himself.

We also stopped in at Floyd's City Barber Shop and I had my haircut from owner Russell Hiatt who has been cutting hair for 56 years. Mr. Hiatt knows everyone in town (or so it seems). We had a great time chatting with the folks in the shop and learning more about the town as well as some stories related to the cast of The Andy Griffith Show. Not only was it the best haircut I had ever received (and most fun I've ever had getting my haircut) but it was about half the cost of what I would normally pay at home.

If I've learned anything through these travels it is this: there are many wonderful things waiting to be discovered if we are willing to take a little time out from our rush to get where we are going to stop and savor the journey. The next time you set out on a road trip take a look at the map and see what you could discover just by being willing to venture off the highway a little bit. I bet you will be pleasantly surprised as what you discover.

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