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Travels with Space Cat

image of a metal bridge in front of a lush green forest
Railroad Bridge, Rocky Top, Tennessee

I’m a sucker for travel literature.

It probably started in high school when I read John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie, a journey I hope to recreate sometime before I leave this world.

I didn’t have a dog with me on my drive west, just a small stuffed cat toy Corie and I bought in the Rutherfordton, North Carolina Walmart to give to our cats, Sassy and Gremlin, when we return to Tbilisi.

The toy was a small stuffed cat dressed in an astronaut’s helmet and a colorfully striped outfit that might or might not be suitable for interstellar travel. Since Corie and I are both writers and purportedly good with words, we named it Space Cat.

image of a colorful cat toy shaped like a cat

Space Cat wasn’t Charlie, but I found myself having random conversations with it, a mental affliction that sometimes happens after spending several hours behind the wheel.

A common thread in the travel literature genre seems to rotate around some personal revelation as one moves from Point A to Point B. The last book I had tried to read was by a man who was trying to figure out his marriage during a complicated road trip in the West. There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of books where writers try to come to terms with their past, then receiving enlightened answers somewhere around Page 236.

That wasn’t my intent for this road trip. My marriage is fine, my parents didn’t make me eat cooked spinach when I was young. Like most humans, I have my issues, but I wasn’t seeking any insight as to why I feel sad whenever I see an abandoned stuffed animal.

As I mentioned last week, my only goal was to see the country from the perspective of someone who’s been away for a year and a half. If returning to the States was somehow going to be strange, as several people had told me it would, I was going to enhance the sense of strange by driving three-quarters of the way across the country while talking to a cat toy.

Space Cat and I left Asheville, North Carolina around one in the afternoon, heading west through eastern Tennessee before detouring north to Kentucky, a state I had never been to before.

On the way through Tennessee, I passed Rocky Top. The old bluegrass song of the same name started playing in my brain’s jukebox, so I had to stop. Do they really get their corn from a jar?

I have a peculiar habit of stopping at places during trips that were mentioned in a song or book. I’m not quite sure why I’m compelled to do so, but if I ever write a travel memoir book, I’ll let you know on or before Page 236.

Many people in Georgia believe everyone in the United States live like kings. In some ways, it’s easy to understand why. The average Georgian earns the equivalent of $600-$1,000 U.S. a month. By comparison, expats are a privileged bunch with the financial means to travel and live overseas.

A quick drive through parts of Rocky Top would quickly dispel the myth that all Americans live near a beach, drive several fancy cars and live a life of luxury.

I don’t say this to be facetious. Seeing poverty is never amusing.

As I drove through town, I saw two older women in a Dollar Store parking lot filling a rusted car’s gas tank with a gallon of gas pumped into a milk jug. They were not having a good day. Being poor often means the small inconveniences in life are magnified and often more expensive to fix. It’s a narrative that is seldom mentioned in our popular movies and TV shows.

I continued my journey north to Lexington, Kentucky for dinner, where I met two longtime friends, a couple I had known since moving to Las Vegas.

They asked me if I was as happy as I seem in these newsletters and, if so, what was my secret.

The answer to the first part of the question is yes. The answer to the second part was a little more difficult. Since the three of us worked together at the university, I explained that freedom from back-to-back meetings played a large part in my current happiness. Being married to Corie is a constant source of joy for me.

But why am I happier now?

The question was on my mind that night as I drove from Lexington to Evansville, Indiana. I had never given much thought to why I’m generally happy these days.

I discovered part of the answer almost 600 miles later in an unexpected place.

I’ll tell you all about it later, much sooner than Page 236. But first, we’re going to detour and go to the dogs.

See you next week.

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