7. After Augusta
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Seven After Augusta “Let’s swear,” Joan said. She extended her pinkies, one to each side. The arrival of the okra had inspired her. I ignored trucker stares from the nearby tables and linked one little finger with Joan, the other with Jessie. Over a heaping plate of fried okra, we hammered out a pledge to keep the Augusta spirit, the music—and our connection—going strong. “We promise to practice every day on our own.” “Well—that might be tough. Six days a week?” “I’m up for that. Six days a week.” “And we check in by phone once a week?” “Great! And we keep on having our jams—how often?” “Let’s say at least once a month.” “Done! Here’s to les Femmes!” “Les Femmes d’Enfer!” It was Saturday night, with Chicago on the horizon, when the three of us decided to stop for one final meal together. We didn’t really feel hungry, but we had a shared, unspoken wish to hold onto our music camp experience for a little longer. That week in West Virginia had been an intense time, the air saturated with too much sound and feeling to fully absorb. But I had come away with a sense of freedom and possibility. I wondered how to hold onto it, once I stepped back into the routine of my life. I had felt so carefree at Augusta, even though the week involved hard work and some degree of frustration. It was like going back to college, before adult responsibilities started to creep into my life. At music camp, I could navigate the entire day armed with nothing but my name tag and my accordion, along with a room key and meal ticket suspended from a lanyard around my neck. I needed some kind of transitional space—a place to pause, to ease the reentry. We 75 76 Beginnings all did.We began scanning the horizon, searching for a place to pull over. Then the Petro Truck Stop came into view. The Petro would have been hard to miss. First, in the distance, we saw a tall sign proclaiming the name of the place, like those personalized water towers that let you know you are nearing a country town. Then, as we approached the looping cloverleaf of the two freeways, the sprawling complex unfolded. We pulled off the highway, parked the van in the lot, and made our way past the herds of semi trailers and banks of gas pumps. When we walked through the door, I blinked at the suddenness of stepping into another landscape. I felt like Alice, but my wonderland was a smoke-filled, vaguely southern oasis in Indiana, an hour from Chicago, just off the Interstate. The Petro had that timeless, airless, too-bright quality shared by places that never close, whether they are casinos, emergency rooms, or twenty-four-hour restaurants. The three of us drifted in, feeling disoriented and a little punchy, not quite sure where to go first. This establishment catered to truckers, no doubt about that. Breakfast buffet at all hours,“country style” food served in individual cast iron skillets, telephones at the tables. A giant stuffed bear behind a glass case reared up on its hind legs, guarding the entrance to the restrooms and showers. Smoke and stares filled the air. We wandered into the big all-purpose store adjoining the restaurant and began to roam the aisles. They revealed a jumble of treasures: packaged snacks, country music tapes, six packs, lottery tickets, turquoise jewelry, cigarettes, Levi’s, assorted hardware, cowboy boots, Harley Davidson gear, Stetson hats. I half-expected to find a guitar propped against the wall, or a beat-up old fiddle on some dusty shelf. Finally, we pulled ourselves out of the maze and headed back to the restaurant. Pairs of eyes followed us as we made our way, single file, to a table at the very back, in the vain hope of escaping the smoke. We scanned the menu, not sure what we wanted to eat. The truth is, we were more in need of sleep than food. Then we saw it, the perfect choice: deep-fried okra. Okra. Who would have expected that, at a truck stop in Indiana, so close to home? Not exactly gumbo, but at least it could pass for southern cuisine. We chose to take the okra as a good omen, a sign After Augusta 77 that we could find a bridge between the musical...


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