The cop was beating so hard on the window of my Econoline I was afraid he was going to shatter the glass. It was the middle of the night, pounding rain, and I was in a small, forgotten town an hour south of Knoxville, Tennessee.
It was the day after Hank Williams died.Or the anniversary of the day Hank Williams had died back in 1953. I’d been in Kentucky on the Cumberland Highlands when a radio adman advised that Hank’s grandson, Hank the third was playing a concert at a nightclub in Knoxville.
I was planning on heading home to Texas anyway so I bumped my departure up by a day and hit Knoxville for an afternoon of eating fried baloney sandwiches, and drinking sweet tea in the old Mechanicsville neighborhood.
Hank III’s a deep cat, and I knew he wasn’t going to let the anniversary of his grandpappy’s passing get by without pulling out a heavy set of old Hank numbers.I wasn’t wrong. Hank came on around midnight and was still playing when I left the show at 4am to get a few miles down the road toward Austin. When a monsoon hit on I-75, I took it as a sign to get off the freeway and catch some shuteye on the bed in the back of the old Ford.
I found a gas station a few minutes east of the Interstate and had just drifted off when the lawman showed up with his nightstick. Later when I told my daddy what happened he said I was lucky. When he was a young buck, the police would routinely cave the heads in on longhaired, van-driving ruffians.
Back on the highway.An hour later it’s dawn and I’m pulling into downtown Chattanooga on the hunt for Innside, an old diner that opened in the 60s and is rumored to put out a fine meat and three breakfast.
I’m hunkered down at the horseshoe-shaped bar reading the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the strippers walk in. They’re raising a ruckus, flush with cash and ready to eat like starving farmhands. Innside’s a good place to do that.We all sit around for an hour or so eating fried eggs, Jimmy Dean sausage and swapping sections of the newspaper around the bar. The coffee’s a thick black crude that keeps the mood festive. Newport cigarettes keep the room aglow. I swear this is my new favorite restaurant and can hardly wait to return.
15 years later I’m back.
I was at loose ends in New Orleans and decided some Fall color would do me good so I headed to my uncle’s place in rural Knox County, Kentucky. After a week of soaking in the foliage it was time to head home so I wheeled up onto I-75 and pointed south toward Chattanooga three hours away.
Not much has changed at Innside.There are no strippers and the ashtrays have gone missing but the coffee is still good and strong and for all I know my waitress was the same old gal that served me back when Bush II was president.
How’s the food? I ask after a bacon cheeseburger and whether or not they cut the fries in-house. Most restaurants just bring in frozen bags of potatoes these days and Innside is no different. The burger comes smoking hot off the antique griddle and it’s a good one. A half pound or so of beef has benefited greatly from time on the old-timey flat top. Unfortunately the bun was just pulled from a bag and straight-dressed without being griddled.
Service is fine. The waitress checks after me periodically to fill up my sweet tea and make small talk. The afternoon sun is casting in on the faded old dining room giving a pleasingly mellow glow to the diner.I have a supper appointment at a friend’s house in the woods outside Birmingham so I clear my check and walk outside into the warm autumn air. On my two hour drive southerly, the Appalachians slowly begin to peter out as I cross through Georgia and meander down the side of the earth towards the middle of Alabama.
800 Chestnut St