Traveling to Tennessee almost requires a passport. Not quite – but almost.

DISCLAIMER: I LOVE the state of Tennessee. And that’s the truth.

If you’ve never been to the Deep South, you probably don’t know the finer subtleties that vary between the southern states. [Take sweet tea, for instance. Would you like it Mississippi sweet, Alabama sweet, or Georgia sweet? There’s a difference.]

There’s an old saying ’round here that Georgia tells jokes about people from Alabama; Alabama makes fun of Mississippi; Mississippi makes fun of Arkansas* and Tennessee.

So keep in mind that when this Georgian, who grew up in Alabama, makes fun of her Tennessee neighbors, it’s for two good reasons: (a) I’ve been the brunt of Alabama jokes most of my life, so now it’s my turn; and (b) Tennessee is really a whole other country (though not quite so “whole other” as Texas. Trust me on this one).

*Mostly Arkansas

Prize turkeys. A few of them. I’ll get to this in a minute…

Two weekends ago, I broke out of my bubble for a weekend with friends, leading me down country roads [cue John Denver song here] to the almost-need-a-passport, possibly-qualifies-as-another-country region otherwise known as the state of Tennessee.

I knew I had passed through some rip in the fabric of the universe once I made it past Chattanooga on I24, and stopped at one of those fast-food/gas-station hybrids that caters to no one by trying to be everyone.

Judging by its layout and color scheme, the McDs was around in the 70s, and the gas station a cancerous growth that popped up over time. Motown blasted over the speakers [nearly broke out my most embarassing awkward dance in celebration – love Motown!], and the manager was seeing omens in the drive-thru orders. [NOTE:  I am not making this up.]

Adding to the tableau was the manager’s mother, sipping her coffee at the counter and telling him how his omens were bogus, and he wasn’t running the local Golden Arches worth a mule’s rear end anyway. Angry words ensued. If it hadn’t been snowing and sleeting to beat the band outside, I would have stuck around a while…looked like things were going to get interesting real quick (as if they weren’t already). But I wanted to see my friends, and I also wasn’t entirely comfortable with getting iced in with a McD’s manager who might start searching for oracles in my apple pie.

Behold the proof! 
Yes, I toured the Jack Daniel’s distillery.
No, I do not drink alcohol – let alone whiskey.
Yes, I did have fun on the tour…and remained sober.
Incidentally, the distillery is in the middle of a dry county.
No I am not making this up.

I did arrive at my friends’ house safely, just in time to crash a lovely slumber party with a slew of kids, numbering somewhere between 4 and 6000, half of which offered me copious amounts of “party trail mix” [Skittles, MnMs, and sweet tarts). Next morning, everyone slept off the sugar rush while the wife (my oldest childhood friend) decided that my visit would not be complete without a tour of the Jack Daniel’s distillery. Being a staunch teetotaler, the distillery had never quite made my bucket list, but my friend insisted I get the full flavor [no pun intended] of the region by going down for a visit in “the holler.”

I can proudly say that not only did I thoroughly enjoy the tour [there’s a lot of science and history in that operation….stop laughing, I’m being serious here…], but that group #11 also had a very entertaining tour guide named Bob [they’re always named Bob at these things, aren’t they?]. About a third of the tour was outside, during which it constantly snowed, and at one point we were flash mobbed by a flock of the biggest turkeys I’ve ever seen.

And no, there was no taste test at the end. I was quite serious with my photo caption – the only Jack Daniel’s distillery in the world is, in fact, smack in the middle of a DRY county. They can make it there, they can give it away, but they can’t sell it* or serve it within that county.

But we were served nice little cups of non-spiked lemonade at the end of the tour. Go figure.

*Before anyone corrects me, there is a loophole that allows the Jack Daniel’s distillery 
to sell “commemorative bottles” at the end of the tour. Makes no sense – but there you are.

The Opry Hotel – Nashville, TN. This place is huge.

After a quick lunch at a local place called the Celtic Cup — which was MARVELOUS, by the way, I highly recommend it if you’re out that way — we headed on to Nashville to wander around the fabulous  Opry Hotel – which is not really a hotel at all, but several small villages, two or three biomes, an amusement park, a saltwater aquarium and conference center all under one roof.

I should mention that we had forgotten about the “conference center” part.

We spent an hour trying to find a place to park that wouldn’t require a three day hike with provisions to find it again, or put us in a likely way to be mugged, or cost us a firstborn child and a pint of blood each. We finally managed it, but had to squeeze between treelines, scramble over medians, dodge traffic and hike a small marathon to reach the nearest door.

Then we got inside and started walking, ostensibly to find the Cascade Atrium, before we realized we were swimming upstream against a tide of people – mostly men – and almost all dressed in hunting camouflage. We passed a few fellows who were, with a serious and studied air, practicing their turkey calls on a potted plant in the corner.

We were baffled as to what had landed us in such an incongruous netherworld of plush carpets, camouflage, chandeliers and turkey calls – until we rounded a corner and found:

….we had inadvertently crashed the National Wild Turkey Federation convention. How fun is THAT???

You want to talk about prime people-watching time? O honey, you just need to go see this for yourself. The hotel alone is a wealth of humanity at any time of the year [2800+ hotel rooms alone – figure three people to a room and do the math); but when the inmates start practicing turkey calls on the potted ferns, you know you’ve struck gold.

Inside the Cascade Atrium at night – yes, this is all indoors.

We spent a couple hours just wandering around, watching people, identifying all the exotic plants in the gardens (or trying to), watching the water-and-light show, wondering how a person would woo a turkey, people watching, wandering aimlessly over bridges and unwittingly stumbling into people’s dinner parties, and people watching.

But mostly just people watching.

Am I being sarcastic and snobbish here? HECK NO. I had an absolute blast and would do it all again – turkey conference, drive-thru divinations, whiskey tours, all.
My only regret? I never did learn how to properly woo a turkey.  *sniff*
Please know that this is, in truth, a love letter to the state of Tennessee.
I may not be a hunter or a drinker, but that’s neither here nor there.
If I didn’t live in Georgia, I would sure as heck live in Tennessee – it is a grand old state.

Any thoughts? Questions? Alabama jokes? Let me know in the comments below!