A story from the road: Accepting help in Wisconsin

(It’s been a while, but with baseball over I thought I’d try to post again.)
As humans, we are not quick to accept help, much less ask for it. But there are times that we have no choice and so we swallow our pride and admit we can’t do something for ourselves.
Recently, Deb and I got new Master Cards. Hers had come, but mine hadn’t. So, for the last 2 weeks of my travels, I used her card for rental cars (4 times!). I explained the situation and the counter agents never blinked an eye… except for the Enterprise in Eau Claire, WI. (Turns out mine was returned with a wrong address – Deb and I have the same address.)
I was feeling pretty good about getting things done early Wednesday and having some time to sightsee. The hope was to make the 45 minute trip to see the Laura Ingalls Wilder birthplace on the border with Minnesota (Yep, wild times for me), then add that state to my list of travels.
I arrived with my customer’s truck at Enterprise with the hope of knocking the paperwork, etc. out of the way, then after delivering my truck, be on my merry way.
That was until the counter agent said I could not use my wife’s card because it didn’t match the reservation. Nor could I use my debit card. I was stunned. She asked if my wife could come up and sign for it. Debbie is 1100 miles away. The agent’s next option was for me to take a shuttle to Minneapolis and fly to Chicago.
Oddly, this rental I was taking from Eau Claire to Chicago to pick up an Enterprise fleet vehicle, that Enterprise was paying me to drive to Atlanta. But let’s not let logic get in the way here.
In reviewing my options, including another rental company that didn’t have a discounted rate with the company I work for, I realized I had no viable options that were not going to be costly. So, I called the customer I was to deliver the truck to. I explained the situation. I then simply asked, would you mind putting the payment on your card and I will go to an ATM to get you cash. The gentleman couldn’t have been nicer and so we got all squared away.
Before I went to the ATM, he asked about going to breakfast. Truthfully, I was embarrassed and sort of ignored the question and hoped it wouldn’t come up again. But upon my return to Enterprise to pay him, he asked again. Breathing a defeated, still embarrassed breath, I said, “sure.”
So we meet at a breakfast dinner. While the meal was your basic eggs, bacon, pancakes, etc., it was one of the top 10 meals of my life.
Here I am with a total stranger in Wisconsin and we shared about the pride we had in our families, our jobs, our homes.
I don’t like being needy. I don’t like feeling I can’t do for myself as I have this machismo of feeling less like “a man”.
It was one of those moments for me to let my barriers down, to push the pride away and to just be honest.
So at the end of the meal, the gentleman picks up the check. I protested – again with the machismo – but he said, “I don’t want you to leave Wisconsin with a bad taste in your mouth.”
I left Wisconsin with a few memories of the beauty of the land, but I also left with a new friend – yes, we’ve connected on FaceBook.
I also left with a lesson on how we humans – okay, me – treat God and his response to us. We strive and toil and labor and we want to do it on our own. And sometimes, we just have to step back, admit our shortcomings and failures and say, “I can’t do it.” It is in those moments we really receive God’s blessings that pour like a waterfall into a coffee cup.
Fall Creek Wisconsin.jpg

An Ode to BBQ

In living and traveling this great country of ours, I’ve had the pleasure of eating many things called BBQ and/or experiencing many events called a BBQ.

From the now-defunct Melear’s in Fairburn, GA to a buffet in Rocky Mount, N.C. that had the pig on the buffet, to a Samoan BBQ in Albuquerque, where the pig was cooked underground, to San Antonio and beef brisket BBQ to Corky’s Restaurant in Memphis and their scrumptious ribs to Kansas City BBQ to 12 Bones in Asheville and those melt-in-your-mouth Blueberry-Chipotle ribs, it’s all delicious and I wouldn’t tell any of the people that cooked the meals, “that ain’t BBQ.”

There is a saying that people in the South “eat” BBQ, while folks elsewhere “do” a BBQ. I suppose in my travels that’s true, but I’d venture to say that people in the south also “do” BBQ. But not in the same way as a person in California lighting a grill.

I thought about this when I happened upon Smitty’s BBQ in Carnesville, GA, located on GA HWY 59 in NE Georgia. You see, in Georgia or North or South Carolina, to me there are certain hints as to whether or not a place is going to have good BBQ – the pulled pork stuff, I’m talking about here, or even the Brunswick Stew. My first look at a place will help me decide if a BBQ restaurant is worth trying.

Now, I mean no disrespect to Sonny’s or Dickey’s or any other chain places. I mean no ill will to the fancy wine-and-dine places in the big cities that I’ve had the pleasure to eat at. It’s BBQ, but it AIN’T BBQ.

See, to me, a place like Smitty’s, I knew it was going to be good before I walked in. Why? The parking lot was full. I’m in the middle of “NOWHERE” and people flocked to this place. But there were other clues.

The place is situated across the 2-lane highway from a cow pasture, bordered by a barbed-wired fence. When you arrive at Smitty’s there’s a gravel driveway, with muddy, Georgia red clay along the sides. It’s a wood-framed house and before you walk in, you smell the fire upon which the remains of the pig has encountered.

I walk in and, man, this brought me back to my childhood. I sat in an area of a now-enclosed porch. Around the walls were a collection of items that certainly had no interior decorator’s touch: A deer’s head, a calendar from 1967, a local newspaper front page from 1953, a potato sack, framed pictures of Georgia Bulldog football players, American flags, scripture verses. At the cash register are York peppermint patties for sale.

This, my friends, is the final telltale sign.

Since I was eating light that day for lunch, I went with just a plain bowl of stew. What kind of stew, you ask? If it’s a BBQ restaurant, it’s the one-and-only Brunswick Stew.

Before it comes, I see others with pork sandwiches and pulled pork on a plate, baked beans, cole slaw (That I can do without)… and as my mouth waters, I know.

I text my wife to tell her what I’m having. She responds, “Is it going to be good?” From what I see and smell… oh yes.

First, I get a small tub of sweet tea in a plastic red cup. I think it was about 87 ounces. On the table, bagged by twos in Ziploc bags, is white bread. And then… here it comes.

It’s not fancy. The bowl looks like something you would’ve eaten out of in grade school. Contained therein, a thick, tomato-based stew with chicken and pork and corn and beans and who knows what else – it’s Brunswick stew. I add the obligatory anointing of BBQ sauce and 65 crushed Saltines and… The taste. I can’t describe it other than to say, it tastes like home. It tastes like New Year’s Day at my Papa’s house, when he’d make it for the occasion. It tastes like a run-down Melear’s restaurant, my first memory of eating BBQ, complete with white bread. Add in the pickle spear and the bag of Lay’s potato chips and I am 7 years-old again. And all this cost $6.84. Cheap at half the price.

You see, yes, BBQ is a food for us here in the South, but it’s more. If you do BBQ in the South, it’s what you ARE. Smitty’s, like so many small BBQ joints in the South, are family-run operations. It’s what they do and are. Their reputations are on the line. You can’t fake this stuff.

Folks, I can’t stress this enough. If you are in the South, and at meal time you see a full parking lot at a BBQ place… stop in and await the heaven-come-down-to-earth that is on hand.