Sam Burnham, Curator
In the Charleston episode of Parts Unknown, Chef Sean Brock led Anthony Bourdain to Rodney Scott's famous joint out in the country. He made the point that there are BBQ joints all over the South but a minority of them are elite. He was actually a bit more harsh in his assessment. His statement was that if you want really good BBQ, you have to be willing to drive. And he is mostly right. But there might be another option.
Enter Matt Morris.
Matt had a successful previous career in the hospitality and entertainment industry. He has more recently followed a passion into a career in aviation. After reading some of my commercial flight complaints on Twitter, he suggested I take a flight with him. Getting in an airplane with a Twitter acquaintance might sound misguided but I figured I knew Matt better than any of the pilots on my previous flights and my previous Twitter meet-and-greet with Crackers and guns was safe enough. So why not?
We chose Huntsville as our flight destination. Matt was going to handle the flight end of it and I was going to find us somewhere to eat. Faced with locating a place to eat BBQ a reasonable distance from the Huntsville airport I knew exactly what to do. I contacted another Twitter friend, Dr. Sean Busick, guru of Southern History and BBQ. He provided me with a few options to choose from. Considering I was going to be in his neighborhood and have the opportunity to enjoy lunch with him, it seemed only appropriate to invite him along with us. He accepted an told us to meet him at his home.
I met Matt at the airport in Rome. After a walk around where he explained the working parts of the plane and their functions, we loaded up and took off. The experience of flying in a small plane is quite different than commercial. at roughly a sixth of the altitude you can identify landmarks much easier. The plane makes a good platform for some photography. And the headset allows you to carry on a conversation over the sound of the engine.
Matt interrupted the conversation to make contact with the tower in Huntsville to request landing instructions. Redstone answered immediately. We were approaching the restricted airspace over the arsenal and were instructed to reroute immediately. Matt's reaction was swift and effective, no fighter jets were scrambled and we were not blown out of the sky. That could have ruined our day. Instead, upon clearing the restricted airspace, we were given instructions to the appropriate runway.
After an uneventful landing, we taxied over to Signature. For those who have never experienced it, Signature is like walking into the lobby of the friendliest, most hospitable hotel around. a smiling face behind the desk, an impeccably clean restroom. A large flat screen TV hung on the wall near comfortable chairs and tables, several current magazines available, and and a well stocked old style popcorn machine over by the coffee pot and water pitchers. It's a hospitality center for pilots and their passengers. We were able to secure a courtesy car from signature to head over to Decatur and meet Sean.
This is more of an account of the day than it is a restaurant review but I would like to give a recommendation to Big Bob Gibson's BBQ in Decatur. Sean highly recommended it and I trust his input in many matter, not the least of which is BBQ. Great food, nice atmosphere, I especially enjoyed the unique Alabama white BBQ sauce. The most impressive parts of the decor are the numerous trophies and magazine articles highlighting the restaurant. If you are in the area, stop by Bob's and get a bite.
But the best part of the day was enjoying lunch with Matt and Sean. They are both fine gentlemen and we enjoyed many laughs. Given just a little more time, we could have solved all the world's problems.
Sean gave us a quick tour of downtown and explained some of the history of the area. There is a lot there for people interested in history and small towns. I imagine a return trip to Decatur will be needed.
In answer to Sean Brock's earlier quote, yes, you do have to drive sometimes. That is, unless you can fly. The flight, while not usually practical, cut the trip time by more than half. If fact, the round trip was probably shorter than the drive up there. And for this experience I am grateful for the hospitality of Matt Morris and Sean Busick.
Sam Burnham, Curator
Korea has been in the news a lot lately. I shared a photo from this weekend over on our Instagram account. A visit to the Korean War Memorial in Washington gave me a face-to-face encounter that I can’t get out of my mind.
The memorial is truly poignant. The 19 men represented stand in their heavy gear to brace them against the harsh weather. They are all alert, they are looking around for any hint of danger. Then I saw him.
These are the kinds of statues that follow you with their eyes. This one statue caught my attention. I thought he might speak. In a way I wished he would. I knew I was looking at an inanimate metal object but in that moment the artist’s goal was achieved. I connected. I wasn’t looking at a piece of metal, I was face to face with a 19 year old who was thousands of miles from home and scared of what the next moment had in store for him. He was tired, cold, and homesick. But he was also vigilant and brave. The fear and bitter cold weren’t keeping him from his duty.
In that hat moment I wished he’d unload some of it. I wished he’d tell me what he was thinking, what his hopes were, how scared and tired he was, how bad he wanted to get out.
At the same time there was the feeling, the realization that one thing he would say is that we need to make that moment worth it. We need to live free, support freedom at home, demand our rights as Americans because of Americans like him who went far from home to defend those freedoms.
But most of all, the message that was reinforced in me is that if we are going to send our kids where this man had gone, be it in Europe, Asia, Africa, wherever, it had better be for the cause of liberty. It had better be justified. We had better be prepared to support them when they come home, to deal with the task we sent them to do.
And that needs to be in all of our minds any time we talk about war. Look into this face. Catch that glance. Know where you’re sending him. He’ll go. That’s what he does. Let’s not send him flippantly.
It’s unlikely for an interstate to make a great drives listing but there are exceptions to every rule. For over 300 miles, I-81 carries sightseers, intentional and otherwise, through Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
The valley is a work bucolic art, painted across the landscape with a pigment of agrarianism and the brush of time. Farms, complete with barns and silos dot the rolling hills as the picturesque ridge lines frame in the valley in the distance.
The highway seems to have been placed with the economy of space in mind. Rather than the typical interstate, 81 is situated on just enough property. It is slid in among the homesteads without taking more land than is needed. Not one unneeded foot is designated for right of way or even a rest area
Along the road you’ll find storied Southern locales:
Bristol: “The Birthplace of Country Music” and the home of the famous NASCAR short track.
Natural Bridge: Breathtaking natural geological formation so impressive that when Thomas Jefferson saw it, he decided to buy it.
Lexington: Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson are both buried in this town. It is Home to their respective instructional charges: Washington & Lee University and The Virginia Military Institute. Even if you don’t visit the generals, this is one of the most beautiful towns in The South.
Blacksburg: Home of The Virginia Tech Hokies.
That’s just scratching the surface. There too many towns, local attractions, and stories to mention. It’s not you average interstate drive.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire