Last Saturday as I returned from the Farmers Market, two young women walked up and asked if the shop were open. I affirmed it was.
“Great. We just want to look around.” The pair seemed … subdued, but also exuberant. An odd combination. Also, the more I thought about it, the more alike the girls looked.
Besides, it’s rude to leave browsers alone unless you know that’s what they want, so I ambled into the shop and asked if they wanted help finding anything. The taller of the two said, “We read your book, and we drove from Kansas yesterday just to visit your shop.”
“How long did that take you?” I asked, blinking.
“About 13 hours. We stayed in the hotel here last night,” said the one who would later identify herself as Leslie.
“Oh, what a pity we didn’t know you were here! We had a murder mystery. You could have joined in the fun.”
“We might not have been good company last night,” said Anna, back to me, voice tight. “We came down that Black Mountain Road.”
OMG. Jack and I were in Kansas last year for book publicity, and we remember the 75-mph speed limit, perfectly feasible because you can see for-bleedin’-ever down those long, straight roads. Black Mountain is not so much hairpin curves as a series of interlocking mobius strips. There are places where you drive a two-lane road against a rock cliff, a 90-foot drop down the mountain on the other side.
I couldn’t think fast enough to cover my response.
“You come from a state where ant colonies are designated hill country, and you drove through Benham, Kentucky?” My voice squeaked. “You could have been killed!”
Leslie rolled her eyes. “That’s what Anna said. Several times.”
Anna, investigating the history section, snorted.
Leslie had read Little Bookstore some six months ago, and told her family about her intention to road trip to see the place as soon as the weather let up. (Think snow on a surface so flat, you can see for three days’ walk in any direction, and you’ll understand her sensible urge to wait.)
Her dad was succinct. “Whyya wanna drive two days to see a bookstore?”
Undeterred, Leslie, an accountant by trade (“But I have a personality!”) invited her twin sister along. Anna works for the Immigration section of Homeland Security. We joked that she probably processed Jack’s citizenship claim.
Picture it: two happy-go-lucky career girls, out on a long weekend, headed for some wild and wooly times visiting a bookstore, careening around curves that make truckers wake screaming in the night.
“We looked at the map, and that seemed shorter than going around by the highway. So we figured, what’s the difference?” This from Anna, whose hands only stopped shaking after a second cup of tea. “And then my cell phone lost reception, and we had to kind of guess which way.”
There are places along Black Mountain where you not only don’t get cell reception, but they never find the bodies.
I shook my head. “I’m flattered,” I said. “And grateful you two are alive. Would you like to see some of the town before we map you a different route home?”
So my friend Elizabeth and I took Leslie for a nice relaxing walk on the town’s Greenbelt, where all the curves are gentle. We traded small town anecdotes and poison ivy remedies, and on returning to the bookshop showed them how to go back via the expressway. Anna still looked dubious, but we elicited promises that they would text when they reached safety, and waved goodbye.
We’ve heard from the twins since their return to Kansas, so we know they made it home. And for anyone else from the flatlands planning a visit to our curve in the neck of these woods, please call first. We’ll be happy to advise you on routes.
Wendy and Jack, only you could have been there for these young women in just your special, warm way! I wonder if there are any other bookshop owners anywhere in the world who would take a customer/s for a walk around town? Bless those twins! Wish we could meet them! We thought WE had the record, driving down from Harrisonburg, VA!
What an adventure! Thank you for sharing this with us. I’d love to do the same thing…hairpin curves and all. Although as I think about that, maybe not. I’m quite prone to motion sickness. But it would be such fun to do a spontaneous road trip with a sister or a girlfriend and end up at your Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap. Maybe someday I’ll do just that. I’m proud of those two girls! They’ve got grit!
Audrey, the next time we’re in Big Stone Gap, we’ll let you know and you can come down as well! The bookstore and meeting Jack and Wendy made the trip worthwhile, probably everything I imagined it could have been. Thanks again for the walk and the chit chat.
Next time you come, drive out from Knoxville, and we can give you lunch without fearing road sickness. :]
Little Mexico?? 🙂
Bless their flatlander hearts! Our 2 lane is curvy, and all GPS sends them around the mountain, via roads that arn’t there, never were there. We also send advance directions to those who we want to come visit and delivery men. One ended up in a ditch, and the sherriff’s office called to say he’d be there once the wrecker pulled him out. His shiny big boy truck had Texas tags. Last thing he said to me: “I quit this job! “. Probably for the best. Jan Janice Brooks-Headrick 865-429-1783 Storyteller Author Instigator facebook.com/janice.brooksheadrickCorresponding SecretarySmoky Mountain Storytellers Association
What an adventure the twins must have had.Glad they made it home alive.I would love to visit your bookstore someday.I think i could handle the mountain, there is alot of those here in WV.I would love to meet you and Jack hopefully get a signed copy of your book.Then of course i would get a pic of my book on your shelve.And eat at your cafe, your town sounds lovely.
Having been born in Stonega, VA, I was told that Stonega was the end of the road and that Kentucky was on the other side of the mountain. I don’t know whether HIghway 160 was there at that time 80 plus years ago.
Jean Hart Stewart
OMG. I live in Kingsport, TN, an hour’s drive away, and it took me months to make it to BSG! They drove from Kansas over a nighmare road. I’m humbled and impressed.