Home > Book (Nonfiction) > Memoir > An Incredible Journey to the South - A Home away from Home > Chapter 5
An Incredible Journey to the South - A Home away from Home
The Grand MeetingAmazingly, after not sleeping in over 30 hours, seeing as I got no sleep prior to leaving for Alabama on Thursday, I only slept till about 10:00. I texted Andrew to ask him what time I could meet him up at Ole’ Hickory, the barbecue restaurant he’d told me about that he said we could go to. He said within the next hour, so I reached over and woke my mom up (the cheapest room only came with a single bed; seeing as we’re both bed hogs, the somewhat un-comfy sleep is what likely led to me waking up at a not-to-obscene time) and immediately changed clothes and brushed my teeth, somewhat rushing my mom. In the midst of getting ready to rendezvous with Andrew at long last, he texted me again, asking me to let him know when we were leaving, I replied, and resumed my procedure.
Within the hour, we’d somehow managed to both be ready to go by a little before 11:00. After I acquired the address from Andrew, we grabbed Lola, I grabbed my wallet and phone, and my mom grabbed the dog, then we were off!
Everything in this unfamiliar territory was much easier for us both to navigate, now that it was daytime. Our estimated time of arrival was about fifteen minutes, I texted Andrew to let him know we were on our way. My heart was pounding through my chest with excitement; my fear had dissipated; the grandest of meetings was about to become a reality, after weeks of planning, and months of knowing each other, dreaming of the day when we’d come face-to-face—it was finally going to happen.
It was the last turn we had to make according to Lola, and Andrew had just texted me saying he was waiting outside. We were approaching a bit of a shack-looking place that read, “Ole Hickory” on its broadside.
As we were about to pull in its parking lot, I saw someone sitting on one of its outdoor tables – besides using pure logic, without even noticing it, I said to myself aloud, “That’s him.” The whole time he was looking into the car and must have seen me; I had to program the GPS to take her back to the hotel, so I hit the “go home” button, and told her I’d call her later. (Little did I know, that wasn’t how to get her back to the hotel.)
I turned around and faced Andrew with an ecstatic grin, inexplicably happy to finally see him. We simultaneously said hi to each other as we both walked into Ole’ Hickory. His dad was there waiting for an order; his parents—especially his mom—weren’t really aware of or would be keen with the fact that Andrew had met me online, therefore didn’t know him in person the whole time—he wasn’t even supposed to have given me his phone number; I’d felt somewhat nervous in his presence, but Andrew had told me before that his dad is at least moderately cool. I stood adjacent to Andrew and diagonal from his dad as we waited for his order. My right leg was quaking somewhat, as I disliked standing still enough as it is, but I was both in Andrew’s and his dad’s presence—I didn’t know what to say or do; I just tried to avoid much eye contact for now and remained quiet, only planning on speaking once spoken to.
Within a couple of minutes, a lady emerged from the kitchen area with some food and called out with a mild Southern drawl, “Mr. Gilbert?” Andrew’s dad signaled to her and she handed him his doggy bag.
“Y’all have a nice day, now,” she said with a sincere smile. Andrew’s dad talked quietly to him for a moment and left, driving off in a forest green 1990’s Ford Taurus.
I took us a few moments to realize there was nobody ahead of us in line until the lady behind the counter beckoned us. Their menus were right there on the counter; they were plain, mostly just listing their options by the typical categories: appetizers, sandwiches, sides, main dishes; but they had a few cartoonish pictures of chickens and cows on them. The roast chicken on the main dishes caught my eye with its enticing description, paraphrased, of course: “Smoke-grilled chicken leg, seasoned with special herbs and spices, served with special sauce.” I could eat chicken in any form essentially, but this sounded quite different from anything I’d ever tried, and as my tendencies always went, I had to have French fries on the side.
We looked up almost at the same time as we were ready to order, we smiled softly, and Andrew ordered first; he ordered a pulled pork sandwich, with fries on the side, and sweet tea to drink. I never would have guessed him to be a tea person—I was not, sadly; nor did I like coffee. People have questioned—myself included—if I even have a soul or am human because of this. I got the usual Coke.
Andrew picked out a table by the window and we both sat down. At first, we didn’t say much, I guess it wasn’t a bad thing, seeing that we had our mouths full for the most part. We were both stuffing our faces with our food, I had to blot the gobs of grease that were on my chicken before I feasted on it, but once I’d taken the first bite, it had a tantalizing, spicy, almost sweet taste to it; if this were what most Southern cuisine was like, I was already heavily satisfied.
Dear Emerson had texted me while we were eating to ask if I was with Andrew, in all caps. I replied with a “YES I AM,” having my finger dance across each key on the screen—I might as well have been belting out a ballad and have small tweeting birds flying around me with how joyously I replied to her message; within seconds, she texted me again saying, “PICTURES PLS.” I shared what she said with Andrew and I showed him my camera, nonverbally asking him if he wanted to take a picture together when we were done eating.
“Sure,” he said in a garbled voice, his mouth brimming with pulled pork. I told Emerson she’d have her picture shortly.
A few minutes later, my phone rang quite loudly, but went unnoticed by others among the raucous chatter throughout the tables—it was my mom. I wasn’t sure what she could be calling for, I answered it with a speculative expression on my face as I said hello.
“Justin,” she forebodingly addressed.
“… Yes?” I responded, my eyes quickly scrolling side to side.
“The ‘go home’ button didn’t take me back to the hotel; I’m back in Tennessee, and I am not happy,” she said with an indignant tone.
My pupils essentially fell to the bottom of my eyes as the only thing I could gather to say was, “… Oops.”
“Yeah, oops is right, Just,” my mom prodded.
I apologized and told her the address to the hotel should and surely was under the “recently found” option on the GPS. I told her we were playing by ear on what we were going to do next until it was 5:00, the time Aaron said the party for me would begin; Jake was coming to the party too. Andrew must have been listening while he was eating, because after I got off the phone, he spoke up and said, “I was thinking we could go to Lowe Mill. It’s that one run down warehouse that got turned into a mall basically I think I told you about.” My memory was instantly jogged as an aha moment popped up in my eyes.
“Sounds good,” I happily obliged.
As usual when I went out to eat, my stomach tried fighting me the whole time, but I’d managed to eat all of my food and not take a year doing so, with the help of drinking an excessive amount of Coke. When we finished up, I called my mom and asked her to come pick us up in a placating tone, she sounded much calmer than she did earlier.
Andrew grabbed his backpack and we threw our scraps away, heading outside and staking out on one of the picnic tables. We sat side by side and I fanned out my feet, the heels of my black Vans slip-ons still touching; at first we didn’t say much, even though we both knew it would be some time before my mom came to pick us up, seeing as she had to make her way back into Alabama.
“You’re probably used to this kind of weather, aren’t you?” Andrew guessed. It was in the low to mid 40’s and somewhat breezy, and I’d only brought my gray jacket that looked like a work jacket instead of my winter coat.
“Somewhat, I guess,” I told him. “The winter’s been pretty mild so far.”
“Yeah, this is usually as cold as it gets down here.” As soon as he said that, the wind intensified and a gust sent chills down our spines and I involuntarily quivered.
As usual, I was fidgeting the whole time, repositioning my feet and arms, folding them and placing them on my lap and laying them down across my legs. Remembering my camera was in my coat pocket and I sunk my hands in both of them, I pulled it out and asked Andrew if he wanted to take a picture now.
“Suuurrre,” he complied.
I wasn’t really sure how we should have positioned ourselves or how I should have held the camera so it didn’t look too awkward, plus my nerves had me shake the camera when I tried holding it with just one hand, but I feared it’d look too weird if I held it with both hands. After we’d situated ourselves, I struck my typical, goofy smile that I didn’t know how to avoid making, teeth showing and all; Andrew cracked a goofy smile himself, looking like the Joker almost, and like he was guilty or busting out a bad joke. The camera clicked and we looked at the photo—it was perfectly picturesque, it captured the true essence of our friendship, and it wasn’t too extravagant of a photo or too forgettable, but just right—the kind that would always be cherished.
The atmosphere after that felt so serene and tranquil, we watched cars pass by until Andrew said, “If you haven’t noticed there is an abundance, and I mean abundance, of trucks here;” just as Andrew pointed that out, a glistening red Ford truck came zooming by, we both glanced at each other and smiled.
Eventually, we’d grown tired of the escalated breeze, so we decided we’d wait inside; conveniently there was a vestibule at the restaurant where we could see all the cars. Andrew pulled out his laptop from his backpack that had all of the things he needed to stay the night at Aaron’s once the party started, it had a sticker that read, “This machine kills fascists”—a reference from the novel Paper Towns, by John Green, an author we’ve both read and adored. He opened Steam and started playing a game whose name escapes me, but he told me it revolved around killing monsters with tears, and it sounded like an interesting enough game, so stretched myself over the table (we were sitting on opposite sides) to look—we were sitting diagonally from each other, too, and I hadn’t thought about moving over a seat, so I didn’t quite reach and had to hold myself up in order to not fall on the table.
While part of my brain was focused on holding myself up and stretching across the table, I found myself quite intrigued with the game; however, as time went on—with us saying little, enthralled with the game—my arms started to tremor from supporting my weight for too long, so I had to slink back into my seat and recover. Andrew was getting quite into the game as he made all sorts of sounds, ranging from enthusiastic to devastated, “Oh god!”s, groans, and overly-dramatic sobs, [he must have picked up that talent in his Theater class, which he pronounced differently than I: thee-a-ter, instead of thee-ter]—it was uniquely different.