Long gone are the people endlessly checking their cellphone for messages—living life chained to digital devices— and looking over the shoulder to see if the person who just walked in is more important than you. Gone are the endless rules, policies and posturing. And gone is the frenetic pace of life, backstabbing and short tempers. Oh yeah, and the gallons of hair gel and the latest fashion statements.
I’ve a feeling I’m in a time-warp. The tornado of life has somehow ironically landed me in a delicious, surreal, and cozy journey back to the past.
Going in to set up my water account I met Sally. The water company corporate office is a little one room white frame building without a sign. Now Sally has lived here over fifty years, and did I know there are lots of Elrod’s ’round these parts, and she’s happy to welcome a fellow Tennessean back home. Now, where she lives is the country, but where I’m movin’ is plain ‘ole out in the sticks.
I told her I moved back home to have peace and quiet and she assured me I would have more than my share of both where I was goin’. I paid my $40 to start my water service and I asked her how I get water up to my homesite. She looked at me funny for a second and then laughed out loud. “Well, however you want to get it up there.” Still not fully comprehending, I asked, “Will someone be coming to run the water from the main?” She said, “No, honey. You have to run the water, understand.” I stuttered, “Well, do I use copper, iron or PVC?” She laughed again and said, “Anything you want to. Makes no never mind to us. The only thing we care about is that you don’t mix your spring water with ours in the same pipes. You can water your crops and animals with spring water—just don’t put it in the same pipes.”
As I stumbled out, she yells, “Welcome to God’s country and let us know if you need anything at all. Is this afternoon too late for us to turn on the water? Oh, yeah, and sometimes we don’t get around to sending out the bills for 90 days or so, but don’t worry it will eventually end up at your place. Bye-bye!”
Next to the electric company. There are two signs as you enter the building. One reads “Pay your bills here.” The other, “New Customers.” There was a line out the door for paying customers, but not one person at the new customer line. I walked right up. Just as I started to explain—I was asked to wait a minute and one of the other employees took a group shot of everyone behind the counter. An attractive older lady back there apologized to me saying, “Just wanted a picture to remember everyone.” As my clerk turned back to me, I noticed tears in her eyes, I looked over at the other teller and saw tears, even the lady at the drive-in window was sniffling. My heart warmed a bit.
It warmed even more as I was introduced to the engineer who would help me get power up to my homesite. His name was Bubba. I swear. He was young, big, clad in Liberty overalls, and possessed a firm handshake. “How can I hep you?” I told him what I was thinking and, “Oh, yeah, think I could get power down to my garden dining area at the same time—just to kill two birds with one stone?” He replied, “What on earth do you need power down at your garden? I never heard such.” I was about to blurt out about Italian gardens and al fresco dining areas and romantic pergolas—but thought better of it.
I suddenly realized that he meant why would I pay him to do something I was perfectly capable of doing myself. “Heck, dig a little ditch and just run a heavy extension cord down there. That should do the trick.” Yep, I suppose it will. Little twinkly lights here we come.
Next to get a license tag for my new (to me) truck. Again I walk right in to an old renovated schoolhouse and plop down at this older matronly looking lady whose sign said she was head clerk. It was evident she was in charge. I readied myself for a typical government experience of entitlement, endless rules, and lack of customer service. Instead she says, “Welcome to ___________, where ya movin’ from?” I told her I’d been gone a long time, but was finally coming back home to the Appalachians. “Well, we’re glad to have you back, son.”
As I explained what I needed, she starts pounding away on the keys of an ancient adding machine. She looks up and says, “Hmmmm, that will come to $546.18 counting sales tax for your new truck. Honey, are you sure this truck wasn’t a gift? Or did you happen to get it from a blood relative?” I replied, “Well, it actually was my nephew’s truck.” She grins and says, “In that case, it will be $84.16. Think that’s okay?” Stunned I wrote out the check and like a drunk man stumbled out to the car trying to comprehend the last few hours.
It was like I had landed in Mayberry and any moment Sheriff Andy Taylor would walk up with a big grin and shake my hand to welcome me home. Randy, you are certainly not in Nashville anymore.
“Well, I’ll be.”