Unfolding the Map
"At last the mountains opened, and I came into Livingston, Tennessee, a homely town. Things were closed but for a highway grocery where I walked the fluorescent aisles more for entertainment than need. Had I come for lard, I'd have been in the right place: seven brands in five sizes, including one thirty-eight pound drum.
"I drove back to the square and pulled up for the night in front of the Overton County Courthouse. Adolescents cruised in half-mufflered heaps; a man adjusted a television in the appliance store window; a cat rubbed against my leg; windows went dark one by one. I think someone even unplugged the red blinker light after I went to bed. And that's how I spent my evening in Livingston, Tennesee."
Blue Highways: Part 1, Chapter 13
If you've grown up in a small town in America, you've grown up in a place where nightfall means silent streets, empty sidewalks, and an eerie feeling as the traffic lights turn over to blinking reds and yellows. My town was no different from Livingston. At night, everything shut down after a certain time. The places that did remain open had something of the sinister about them. The bars that remained open always had characters around and in them that were kind of scary, and I always got a vibe from my mother that they weren't places that you'd want to be in at night.
But that didn't mean that things completely went quiet. As a high school kid, I knew about activities that happened in town. If somebody's parents were away, it usually meant a big party at that house. At times, parents didn't have to be away, because we had the gravel pits on the outskirts of town, or various places in the woods, or even the beaches. Combine kids, cars, and alcohol, and you had a deadly combination. A few of my high school classmates died before we graduated because of alcohol and driving.
I kind of liked the quiet of my town. Night meant real darkness. At home, about a mile out of town, I could walk outside and look up and see the vastness of the universe and the matter speeding away from each other in the form of stars and galaxies almost like they were at my fingertips, and so clear and bright that you almost thought the ground could be illuminated by them. Night was quiet too. Not many cars on the roads to mask the sounds of the nighttime frogs and insects.
Since I left home, I've lived in cities. In most of them, nighttime is just another time of day with different activities. In the cities, the streets have activity at all hours. In cities, you are encouraged to go into bars to socialize with friends and people you hope to meet. In cities, the sky stays softly illuminated at night, drowning out the stars in a golden halo from the myriads of streetlights and porchlights on the ground. In cities, the sounds of cars on the streets or freeways gives a constant hum to the night. You might not hear the frogs and insects unless you are standing in the right spot at the right time.
What's better? I like the fact that I have so many things at my fingertips in the cities. Restaurants, taverns, music, people. In a few days, however, I will make my way to my hometown. I will once again go to bed and when I turn off my light, I will be enveloped in complete and comforting darkness. I will hear, instead of the whoosh of freeway travelers, the soft roar of the ocean in the distance. When I look up at night, I'll again be fooled into thinking that I can touch the stars and galaxies. And like in Livingston, the red and yellow traffic lights will blink their lonely signals into the night.
If you want to know more about Livingston
Next up: Gainesboro, Tennessee