Last weekend for the first time in quite a few years, I set out on Saturday morning (husband accompanying, which is rarer than not and doing the driving) for a preaching/talking ministerial gig more than three hundred miles away. It was for a lovely, warm thriving UU fellowship in the Florida Panhandle, with wonderful home hospitality — a custom constructed showplace worthy of the most extreme house envy: carved wood built-ins, amazing blinds, a massive living/entertainment space — and a couple whose graciousness was beyond belief.
I had forgotten how much I enjoy visiting a congregation for the first time: seeing the building, checking out the sanctuary and the grounds, meeting the people: alike but not alike from place to place. I love talking UU shop: especially curled up in a comfy chair in my beach sweat pants and bare feet, sipping Merlot, comparing stories about membership attraction and retention, staffing, budgets, board relations (I know: totally wonky).
Since it is a guest pulpit experience, I usually haven’t stayed up all night putting the sermon together. It is what it is, carried in a UU GA canvas bag, gone over lightly for cadence and emphasis, but not the source of the usual angst. I can relax some and put my part of the service in perspective: what does the rest of the liturgy look like, feel like?
These are the positives of the long trip: not the quick turnaround, the time zone disruption.
The downside was/is the monotony of the mostly flat and impoverished scenery out my passenger-side window. The Panhandle coast is often called the Redneck Riviera and the bedraggled, scrawny pined, over-farmed, empty billboard look of the countryside inland on the way to the Gulf Coast is depressed and depressing.
The meal choices — we’re talking a quick lunch — were almost nonexistent on Saturday as we passed through a few small towns with more check-cashing places than places to eat. We were not expecting to be able to choose among the 52 foodie wonderlands available to us within walking distance in our GenX/Boomer hometown. But we had held out some hope that we would not have to settle for one fast food chain or another.
Which is what we did. Picking the Burger King in Dothan, Alabama, we ordered veggie burgers. I asked for one with just lettuce and tomato. Richard opted for cheese, no onions, and mayo. Neither one of us got what we asked for. Hungry enough, cold enough, tired of driving enough, we put up with the mix up and the pretzel bun, for dead white bread, was pretty good.
On the way out of town we saw at least one local independent option. We didn’t imagine being back in this same town at the same time Sunday for another road meal, but we kept it in mind.
Of course that is what happened: we left the Fellowship after the service and a Second Hour, a lively session on reproductive justice, coffee-fueled, and drove a couple of hours before we both got too cranky/hungry to go any farther. Pulling into Dothan only to discover that the whole town was shut down for the Sabbath — except the ubiquitous chains and the single semi-agreeable option of a return visit to Burger King.
Where the order was botched even worse than the day before. Where the order of a frayed young father who was there with three of his seven children was wrong — twice. Where families in church clothes watched their kids play in the indoor playground and stopped themselves from public spankings. Where we were the elders in the booths by at least 20 years, and certainly the only ones not inhaling chicken or beef.
Where at least the person who took those orders and who never could get them right didn’t call me Honey.
This for another time.