When Lane and Juliet of Southwest Compass tagged me as the next travel blogger to write about “travel regrets,” I was seriously stumped. I am not a woman who regrets much in life and usually veer toward the direction of doing everything imaginable so that I won’t regret missing opportunities later. But I gave this challenge some thought and decided that the closest I could come to a regret during my travels might have been the day we stopped at Scotty’s for lunch.
If you’ve ever driven up or down I-75 through Tennessee, you’ve probably seen the unforgettable Thacker’s Christmas Inn sign. You probably haven’t stopped, but no doubt you’ve seen it. We’d never stopped there, either, in our numerous trips back and forth from Florida or Georgia to Ohio. We make the trek a few times every year. We also follow our own set of travel rules and one of them is that we never eat at chain restaurants and we try not to eat at the same place twice.
As you can imagine, it gets hard to find independent restaurants after a while. Especially when you’re on your fourth trip to Georgia in as many months. So, it was time to pull off at the Christmas Inn exit. It was bound to happen sometime.
To our surprise, the Christmas Inn had been closed for years. It was condemned and crumbling. We wouldn’t be eating there. But across the highway we saw a sign for Scotty’s. So we shrugged, picked that as our new culinary adventure, and stepped inside.
One step in and we were practically sitting at the long, sticky counter already. A row of ten cracked-vinyl stools tilted at different angles. We found four together and placed our sweaty, naked legs on them, wondering whether really, truthfully, we should use a little common sense and run while we still had the chance. But like a game of chicken, none of us was going to be the first to priggishly suggest we go somewhere else and by then, the waitress had wandered over to us. We took a deep breath and gave her our drink orders.
The adventure had begun.
She turned on the grill and scraped the congealed grease to the back as the grill started to smoke. The menu was pretty limited, so with the exception of my mother’s order of nachos, it was Scotty burgers all around. We watched as she took a handful of nachos out of a bag and placed them on a plate, using an ice cream scoop to place loose meat on top and then, holding the mound underneath the spigot, proceeded to push the lever down to dispense the cheese. (Think movie theater style). Then she threw them in the microwave to heat up.
She got the drink orders for us: sweet tea, Dr. Pepper and water. My daughter immediately took a drink of her Dr. Pepper and exclaimed that it was watery. My mother busily poured sugar into her tea without looking. She took a drink and gagged; it was the Dr. Pepper. The two quickly switched and I thought about how glad I was that we would soon be done. The nachos were served, steaming hot and looking like a blob of school food that we would make the janitor clean from the walls. The Scotty Burgers were served with fries; old school greasy sliders that could clog your arteries just looking at them.
We dug in and looked around. The old, yellowed newspaper clippings framed on the wall were covered with a coating of smoke and grease. The edges of the napkins were stiff and stuck together. We were discreetly trying to point out all the little greasy-dive nuances to each other when we noticed the most alarming thing of all: a fly, buzzing nervously inside the sugar dispenser, desperately trying to escape. The same sugar dispenser that my mother had used to pour sugar into her iced tea and my daughter’s Dr. Pepper. He looked like he’d been in there a while. So had the sugar.
We survived the Scotty’s debacle and still insist on stopping at independent restaurants on our many drives down I-75. We figured nothing could be as bad as Scotty’s – but that was before we stopped at Pizza Inn in Jellico, Tennessee and discovered that the “secret sauce” on our pizza was mustard.
Still, I can’t say I regretted these travel experiences. We have stories and inside jokes that will last us a lifetime. Sometimes we even veer off the highway and park at Scotty’s if one of us has fallen asleep in the car on our I-75 jaunts. What a fun way to wake up, huh?
No, I don’t regret Scotty’s, but it’s as close as I come.
What sort of travel regrets do you have?