Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas Break: Gainesville and Rogersville (to date)

Sorry that I haven't been up to date on the ol' blog of late. My trip to Gainesville and subsequent journey to the Promised Land has left me away from the internet for a few days (yes, yes, I know: how did I survive). Anyway.

GAINESVILLE

After all the post-semester parties, I drove down to Gainesville to see Kat. On the way, I ran into some pretty heavy traffic, and a trip that normally takes seven hours took twelve.

Needless to say, Kat was not very happy: she had arranged dinner plans for us with some of her friends who she doesn't get to visit with much because they are married and feel funny inviting their "single" friends (which apparently includes Kat, since I'm 600 miles away).

Anyway, because of my traffic delays, Kat had to cancel our dinner plans with her friends. So, as "punishment" I got to buy Kat dinner at one of Gainesville's nicest restaurants. It was a nice, little bistro called "Cafe 1245" -- which is, apparently, their address, not an assemblage of random numbers that have no significance.

The food was good, though, and the atmosphere was even better: Kat and I got to sit down to a nice, romantic dinner for the first time in a long time. We enjoyed a lil' fermented grape juice and proceeded to order a rather indulgent dessert which we shared. It was really good.

After dinner, we went out with Kat's friends to downtown Gainesville. The downtown area is fairly nice, and one can tell that the local officials have tried really hard to keep it vital through redevelopment. There were a couple of fairly classy bars, but we didn't stop in there. Instead, we met some of Kat's friends at a dance club, and watched as they proceeded to dance the night away.

The music and the atmosphere certainly fit with a little more left-oriented crew than I'm used to, but I was with Kat: I didn't care where I was, as long as I was with her.

We had a lot of fun, and we both got a little silly trying to dance to the uber-hip music they were playing (a combination of an Abercrombie-store soundtrack and techno club music).

It was the first time I had been in a club with "the public" since sophomore year at Vandy (hey, what can I say: once I started dating a Greek and was a Greek myself, renting clubs out to share time with lots of people you know is a lot more fun than being bumped into by random, possibly-sketchy people). Still, though, it was a lot of fun, and it was good to get to meet and hang out with Kat's friends. Let me say this, though: I hope I'm never in a dance-off with any of them (equal parts of me being bad and them being good).

The next day, we woke up around noonish and proceeded to grab lunch at Moe's Southwest Grill (to which I was duly introduced to by the Lieutenant when we were back in Nashville -- there's one over by the Hundred Oaks shopping center off I-65). After lunch, we went to see Kat's new digs, and make sure her new roommates were ready for "Operation: Katharynic Relocation."

Turns out no one was there, but we knew where the "secret access device" was located (e.g., we knew where they kept their extra key).

We started moving Kat; ultimately, it took three trips with my (beloved) 4Runner crammed to the brim. On the third trip, Kat's new roommates arrived, and surveyed the vast holdings that are Kat's belongings in Gainesville. Kat was slightly embarassed, and I made a joke about hwo much stuff she had in order to try to settle things. Kat, of course, smoothly took things over and served as peacemaker, being self-deprecating, in order to secure their assent to our continued transfer of Katharynic belongings.

After we finished moving Kat, we went to dinner with the couple who we had stood up the night before; we ate at this pizza place on University Avenue (right across from Florida Field, a.k.a., "The Swamp"), that has gigantic slices of pizza. I mean, seriously: they serve slices of pizza that are approximately 16-18 inches long. I was in heaven.

After dinner, and some great conversation with the couple (they're from Wisconsin), we went back to Kat's very-bare room and did a last once-over to make sure that we hadn't missed anything.

The next day, we duly prepared for departure, and finally left Gainesville around 10 am (eastern). It was, of course, raining -- I say "of course" only because the Lord has seen fit to cause it to rain every single time I have ever moved Kat, except for once (last year, senior year, at Vandy).

Anyway, our journey began. We took a Florida highway, instead of the Interstate, to Jacksonville, where we dropped off Kat's Corolla, so that she could drive back to Gainesville when she flies into Jacksonville after Christmas Break.

We consolidated vehicles at the airport, and began our journey to the Promised Land.

Our route:

--Interstate 95 north from Jacksonville to Savannah, GA
--Savannah, GA to South Carolina, at the junction of I-95 and I-26 west.
--From the junction, we travelled toward Johnson City, TN via Columbia, SC; Spartanburg, SC; and Asheville, NC.
--From Johnson City, we took the local roads home to the Promised Land.

Once we got to the South Carolina up-country, I could feel myself-- well, it's difficult to describe. As I began to see the mountains, and as we watched the temperature drop from the fifties (in Florida, and along the Georgia-South Carolina route of I-95) to the thirties and twenties (of the mountains), I just felt like I was being recharged; like there was some force that was filling me back up with the essence of who I am.

I know that's all pretty weird-sounding, and probably a little too metaphysical for the ol' blog, but anyway: as Kat and I made our way into the Smokies, in North Carolina, it felt right. When we crossed the line into Tennessee, I remembered why this place is always going to be in my heart.

I was home.

ROGERSVILLE

Kat and I got to my house around midnight-ish, and mom and my sister were waiting up for us (which was a very nice gesture). We were both pretty worn out, from our twelve hours of driving (it ended up taking 12 hours to get from Gainesville to Rogersville), so we both went straight to bed (though, of course, I did not get to enjoy my bed).

The next day, Kat and I joined my sister and my mom in going to my home church, First Baptist Church of Rogersville. It was great, great day. We celebrated the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and it was a wonderful worship experience. Our Minister of Music, Justin Nelson, arranged a beautiful service that included congregational singing of "O Come All Ye Faithful" with the organ, a handbell choir, and a trumpet. I could keep going on about the other hymns, and the method through which the Advent candles were lighted and the children helped to assemble our church's nativity scene at the front of the Sanctuary -- but I'm probably falling into my old habits of making a boring blog. So, moving on.

After church, we went to Charlie's (yes, that is spelled correctly) restaurant over on Highway 66 in Rogersville. After enjoying my usual post-worship meal (hamburger steak, baked potato, green beans, a roll, and sweetened tea), Kat and I went to Wal-Mart (a.k.a., the "Devil"), to go finish some shopping that she needed to do.

That evening, I went back to church (with Kat and the family), because Justin (minister of music) had asked me to sing with our church's Sanctuary Choir in our annual Christmas cantata, "The Story of Christmas."

The cantata was designed by Justin, Mae Brooks (our venerable director of the Drama Ministry), and Eutha Hageman (apparently, the person Mrs. Brooks has chosen to be her apprentice, since Mrs. Brooks is getting-on in years).

It consisted of three primary parts: there was a narrator, played by Rogersville resident Bruce Campbell, who (with his purposefully-grown, white beard) looked astonishingly like a shepherd (which is good, since that is who he was supposed to be). After Mr. Campbell came in and narrated a segment of the Christmas story, the lights would go off of him, and come up on the second part of the cantata: our Sanctuary Choir, accompanied by organ, piano, and an orchestral ensemble consisting of several violins, a few cellos, French horns, clarinets, flutes, and a couple of trumpets.

The ensemble was diverse enough to beautifully play portions of Handel's Messiah, elements of which served as prelude and postlude to the cantata.

We sang a wide variety of pieces, including one from Handel, and three or four from John Rucker (I believe that is his name), including the always-special "Shepherd's Pipe Carol."

When Justin asked me to join the choir in presenting the cantata, he gave me the music to review before the service that night. It was a great compliment, I suppose, that Justin believed in my musical ability enough to suppose that a few hours' review would be all that was necessary in order for me to make a positive contribution to the overall sound of the cantata. In reality, though, the pieces that Justin chose were so beautiful because they were so difficult. Our choir had apparently been rehearsing this music for almost a month-and-a-half; my make-shift preparations were not exactly up-to-par with the choir's significant (and well-done) rehearsals.

Nonetheless, I persevered, and attempted to give back to God with the gifts that He gave me (namely, music).

The third element of the cantata was carried on while the choir was singing a song that illustrated a portion of the story of Jesus' life upon which the narrator had just expounded. For instance, after Bruce (our narrator) made mention of the prophecies of Isaiah, an actor (in this case, the Pastor, Rev. Bob Riley), made his way through the sanctuary to the stage, and acted as though he were receiving and copying the prophecy about which the choir was then singing.

Overall, the cantata was both well-planned and well-performed. My fiancee, no stranger to well-conducted and well-orchestrated musical performances, said that she was very impressed with the presentation. I told her that it was performances like this that led to my appreciation of music, and my desire to worship God through music. If there's one thing that Baptists do well, it's sing and play and act to give praise to God.

The next day, Kat and I desired to go shopping for Christmas presents for her friends, for her family, and for my mom and sister. At first, we were going to go to the mall with my sister after her dental appointment, but she was a little woozy after they had to some repairs to dental work that she had undergone in the past. Not wanting to waste a trip to the mall (since I need Brooke's prowess and insight to purchase good gifts), Kat and I decided to instead remain in Rogersville, and just "unwind."

We had lunch at El Pueblito Authentic Mexican Restaurant on East Main in downtown Rogersville. It's my favorite Mexican restaurant in the world, and it did not disappoint this time.

After we finished our lunch, we decided that we would walk around town and enjoy Rogersville at Christmas-time (after all, one of the reasons I love Kat so much is that she loves Rogersville almost as much as me -- almost). We decided to check out Rogersville's first coffeehouse, Coffee & Tea on South Church. We had some great hot chocolate, and we both got excited to realize that my mom's (and others') efforts to promote economic growth in downtown Rogersville have been working.

There has been a veritable explosion of shops in the downtown area, remniscent of the glory days of downtown Rogersville in the late nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries (the last two times that downtown was a center of economic activity).

Katharyn and I ended up spending the whole afternoon in downtown, at the various shops and galleries that have opened there, including my favorite: the Local Artists' Gallery on the corner of East Main and South Church.

Finally, as we realized that the sun was beginning to set, we realized that we had spent (literally) the entire afternoon shopping in downtown. I was ecstatic.

After that, we went home and grabbed some dinner after watching a bit of the news. My good friend from high school, Michael Anderson, called and asked Katharyn and I to try out Rogersville's newest watering-hole, assuring us that, unlike past venues, J.B.'s was actually a fairly classy establishment.

He was right. Kat, Brooke, and I joined my high school friends Robert Galvez, Elizabeth Beach, Megan Price, and Michael at the new place, and had a lot of fun catching up on all the goings-on among our friends (and foes) from the heart of the Promised Land.

The next day, Kat and I joined Brooke in a trip to the mall to shop for mom and (unbeknownst to P.L.S.) my sister. We came away with our mission accomplished, and in good order.

Kat and I had dinner at Peking Chinese Restaurant & Buffet, another fine, Rogersville establishment.

The next day, sadly, Kat had to fly back home to be with her family for Christmas. After an emotional, tearful good bye, I turned her loose into security at Knoxville's McGhee-Tyson Regional Airport as she prepared to fly to Washington's Dulles International.

After I was sure that she was safely aboard, I began the journey home, but got a call from my friend Evan Schlank to go grab some dinner since I was in Knoxville. We went over the West Towne Mall, and while I was there, I saw fellow Rogersvillians Eric "Stick" Sandefur and Tyler Pace (though I don't think Tyler saw me: he was with some attractive, young lady, who I gather was consuming most of his attention).

Well, I believe that brings me to the present: I lounged around the house today, determined to watch Star Trek and check my email (which I haven't done for real in four days -- thanks Kat -- lol).

Once again, mission accomplished (four episodes and email is done and done-er).

This has turned into quite a post: if you've made it this far in reading, congratulations. Maybe you should leave me a comment on why (or why not) you enjoy checking out the Annales.

FEELING: At home in the Promised Land
LISTENING TO: Streaming radio from WNAZ in Nashville

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