Barbecue Road Trip: The Smoke Road
We could have stayed all afternoon, rubbing our bellies and listening to the dulcet tones of happy eaters. But we motored on, bound for Covington. Two stops don’t make a barbecue road trip, I told Jess. Three is the minimum. Everybody knows that.
By the time we left Covington, we didn’t need another sandwich. We had eaten well and often. But we pushed on. That’s what you do on a barbecue road trip. You push on, no matter how full you might be, goaded by the promise that the next experience might prove to be the best.
As rain began to splatter the windshield and night began to fall, we pulled into Millington, Tennessee. Our goal was Woodstock Store N’ Deli, a cinderblock rectangle where Anthony Bledsoe serves a green-hickory-smoked shoulder sandwich, piled perilously high and capped with slaw. He calls it the Sleeper.
The source of the moniker became clear when Jess and I stepped back into the gloam and spread paper towels on the hood of our station wagon. Our sandwich was an overstuffed behemoth. Fatter than fat. Stacked like a napoleon of meat, slaw, and sauce. Wretched and lovely excess. Enough to put any eater to sleep.
As we picked at stray bits of meat that had fallen from the sandwich and worked up the courage to take yet another bite, a woman approached us. She was stooped. And slight. She carried a ragged umbrella. Her hand was out. She said her belly was empty. She looked directly at Jess. I reached into my pocket for some cash. Jess folded the sandwich back into its tinfoil pouch and asked if she would accept it. She did. And then she was gone.
Five miles from home, I asked Jess what he learned on our barbecue road trip. “Respect what you have while you have it,” he said. That insight applies to issues of hunger and poverty. And to the barbecue traditions of the South. Not to mention father-son relations.
Though our barbecue buzz had faded by the time we rolled back into Oxford, my road-trip-fueled appreciation for Jess had grown, as had my conviction that we needed to plot another expedition. Before his hunger fades. Before he grows up.