The Great American Reach Around - "Appalachia and Japan"
I know, I know, where is Memphis? Where is Nashville? I selected Cookeville to represent Tennessee because I've actually spent time there, as opposed to Memphis where I have spent time wishing I was not there.
Just south of Kentucky the illusion that you might not be in the backwoods dissipates as you drive interstates blasted through Appalachian mountain stone. Tennessee is a state that owes its modest prosperity, in part, to the efforts of the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930s and 1940s. The Great Depression made people jump off of buildings in New York and eat dust in the West. In Tennessee, people starved and entire towns fell into disrepair.
The TVA was a grand public works corporation sponsored by the Federal Government that set to employing Tennesseans and rebuilding the Tennessee Valley. Its success can still be seen today in the form of multiple hydroelectric dams and, more recently, nuclear power plants.
Tennessee is also the home state of former Vice President and Presidential Candidate Al Gore. According to research I conducted at Little Green Footballs, Gore maintains a 200,000 square foot mansion in Tennessee that he heats to 120 degrees year round by lighting aerosol cans.
Cookeville is nestled on top of the Cumberland Plateau in the middle of nowhere. It is the home of Tennessee Technological University, one of the better universities in the South. No, this is not the same thing as a "deluxe trailer."
Cookeville provides a unique juxtaposition of conflicting social and economic strata. It's sort of like a "Beverly Hillbillies" reunion special where Jethro and Elly May go to college to get their degrees in aeronautics and microbiology.
On the one hand you have a bunch of party-oriented sports bars, and on the other hand you have people who have chickens loose in their front yard. I once ate at an Applebees full of cheerleaders in uniform in Cookeville, walked outside, and found two shirtless fat guys sitting in the grass watching the fuse burn down on roman candles they had duct-taped to a lamp post.
Cookeville is total hillbilly madness, by way of Girls Gone Wild, and it's hard not to find that at least a little bit endearing.