Quora, Southern Hospitality, 1977 Corvette

Quora.com question: Do the people of Knoxville, TN in general epitomize Southern hospitality?

When I was 11 and mom moved us “back home to the farm” there were 18 relatives over the age of 70 who lived within 10 minutes of our new house on great-grandpa’s old farm. I went to the University of TN, Knoxville, an hour from home, like my daddy did before me, and lived in “K-town” almost 8 years all told. Ten generations back, my family has lived in East Tennessee. More now. If that isn’t redneck, I don’t know what is.

Knoxville is NOT like the rural south. It’s a big “town,” with outlying areas, maybe half a million people within an hour’s drive. You hold open doors for people behind you — ESPECIALLY women and seniors — you say please and thank-you, but it’s not the rural south where we don’t lock doors and we jump to your aid when you need it.

Growing up, way before cell phones, if you were driving yourself to high school in your mom’s CJ-5 — hypothetically — on some feeble excuse to miss the bus, and you zoomed out and passed somebody on the winding 2-lane highway that used to be Hwy 27 since Reconstruction and before some knavish Dummy Do-Right made the state widen it to 4 lanes and cut out all the lovely hills and swoops and huge old trees and 2-lane trestle bridges. If you passed somebody going a bit too fast, before you got back into your lane, someone would have called up and told your mama on you. BEFORE cell phones, I don’t know how they managed it. On the other hand, if you were broke down with a flat tire, the third person to pass would pull over and help, because they were some kind of cousin, twice removed, by marriage, or at least used to date or live next to someone who was. Or just because they could. (And that didn’t mean some jerkwad Guthrie from across the tracks wouldn’t let the air out of all four tires on the jeep while you were swimming because of some imagined slight between your baby brother and his baby cousin. But he didn’t SLASH the tires, he let the air out. And your mother thought this was the perfect opportunity for her oldest daughter to learn how to change tires in the age-old method of see-one, do-one, do-another, and-a-third-while-you’re-at-it.)

When I graduated high school, there was a week after finals and before the ceremony when Seniors tended to go wild. No classes, no responsibilities. Mom got tired of my restlessness and sent me to the grocery store. And because I was a grown-up now, she let me talk her into driving — I still wince at the memory — I got to drive mom’s 1977 Corvette (her I-got-a-divorce car) all by myself. This car had been driven hard, cross country several times and mom drove it to work every day. The driver’s side window didn’t run down anymore and there was a tiny shimmy in the rear end at 62 mph. Which was easy to fix, just go faster or slower than 62, right?

I strutted all the way around the grocery store, let me tell you. Me and the keys to the vette.

It was raining on the way home from the grocery store. Remember the winding 2-lane highway that had been here since Reconstruction? The trees? The massive trees? Remember it’s a 1977 Corvette. This is a fiberglass car with a standard Chevy 350 big block. And a teenager at the wheel.

(Can you imagine my mother’s insurance rates on a CJ-5, a Corvette, a 17yo girl and a 15yo boy with a learner’s permit?)

Turns out the other thing Corvettes have is posi-traction rear ends. Which means, for instance, if you hit mud on one side, the posi-traction rear end throws all the power to the other wheel. Sounds fine in a jeep, for instance. But in a Corvette with a teenager at the wheel in the rain? Can you say HYDROPLANE?

Yeah, so it’s a winding 2-lane road, it’s raining, I want to get home. I don’t want to be stuck behind some old fogey who is poking along at the front of the line of traffic because… RAIN. On the straight-away just to the south of town, the guy behind him cuts to the oncoming lane to pass. The guy behind him does the same. The teenager behind him decides she can make it even though the hill is coming up. Because the rain has let up, and she’s got a 350 block under the hood.

I pull out to pass. I get even with the slow poke in my lane. Someone comes over the hill. The guy in front of our little stupid train cuts over, the second guy doesn’t have room yet and holds his line, I can’t move back over into our lane because slow poke is still there.

I tap the brakes. There’s a puddle in the road. Instant hydroplane. I spin out.

Next thing I know, I’m sitting looking up at the sky. I’m still in the car. But the nose of the car is pointed straight up. The butt end of the car is down in a deeeeeeeeep ditch. Such a deep ditch that the nose of the car is below highway level. I look left and there is a little tree right next to my door so I can’t open that door and the window doesn’t roll down on that side. I look right and there is only trunk out the passenger side window. Filling the entire window. Groceries are Everywhere. Carefully I roll the passenger side window down and shut off the engine. I climb over the groceries in the passenger seat and squirmed out the window of the near-vertical car. (I was much thinner than but I still managed to bang my shin and scrape my whole back against the tree, but I got out.) I scratch and claw my way out passed the giant tree cradling the passenger side of the car, up the bank, and to the highway.

It’s raining again.

Apparently, and I have no memory of this, but apparently when I tapped the brakes and hydroplaned (going considerably faster than the speed limit with my big block 350 chevy engine in a fiberglass car with a posi-traction rear end,) the vette spun out. Like a whirling dervish. Reports later said the car spun at least 6 times. On a narrow 2-lane road. The vette is 11 feet long. Somehow I missed the car (slow poke) beside me by inches. I missed the car behind us in the queue by inches. I missed the oncoming car by inches. Standing on the side of the road looking back into the ditch with the nose of the vette just visible, I could tell that the little tree (out the driver’s side window) is against the side of the car. BUT I had missed the ginormous frickin 200-year-old oak (visible out the passenger side window) by scant inches.

Here’s the Southern hospitality part.

One of the kind souls I missed by inches turned right around and came back and coaxed me into the back seat with a towel and a jacket — I left mine in the car. And it was RAINING again. I thought nothing of climbing in their back seat because it was that kind of a time and place. Even though I didn’t know this person and she didn’t know me.

Someone called a deputy sheriff — personally, mind you, not dispatch. Someone else called a wrecker but not the po-lice.

Another of the cars I missed by inches recognized the car (it was a corvette in a country filled with trucks, jeeps, and buicks) and drove the minute to their house and called mom. The line was busy. Back in the day, you paid extra for call-waiting on your landline, and there wasn’t anything but landlines. So that kind soul got back in their car, in the rain, and drove the additional 10 minutes to mom’s house and pounded on her door.

Meanwhile mom had hung up the phone and it had immediately rang again with ANOTHER person I nearly killed with my shenanigans who was repeat dialing the phone because they also recognized the car. So when they told mom I had been in a “fearsome” accident speeding in the rain, mom literally (correct usage of the word here) dropped the phone, didn’t hang up, and bolted for the door. Where someone was pounding on the door.

I held it together when the deputy arrived. When the wrecker arrived. But when mom got there, that’s when I lost it and burst into tears. Huge wracking wordless ugly crying.

I had wrecked mom’s divorce car.

Mom got me calmed down. Spoke to the sheriff’s deputy and the wrecker guy, and I do remember the wrecker guy asking mom if she had brought along a basket because with a “plastic” car, wrecked at those speeds, this one was gonna come out in pieces.

Mom climbed down into the gully when the wrecker got hold of the car, and she had to pry the little tree against the driver’s side door away from the car while he wrenched it out of the ditch. Whole and entire.




Everyone was standing around in amazement inspecting the car. Not a single, solitary scratch on the car. Despite the little tree leaning against the door. No leaks under the car. It started right up and ran smooth. A-maz-ing. The deputy posited the idea that I had been going SO FAST…

(How fast was she going?)

…So fast, that the speed of my passing had created an air buffer which PUSHED the tree out of the way until the car came to rest in the ditch. Then the tree gently leaned against the side of the car in some kind of arboreal shock at what had just happened.

The wrecker guy had never seen anything like it. I had threaded the needle between the little tree and the GINORMOUS tree. Backwards. Spinning. At well above the speed limit.

So the men decided, as men tended to do when presented with the idiocracy of teenaged girls driving mom’s muscle car, that the alignment would be trashed.

Mom drove the car up the road, back down the road, everything seemed — miraculously — fine. Mom paid the wrecker and asked the deputy, Is there a ticket?

The deputy said, For what? There’s no damage. No proof of anything except she hydroplaned.

Mom said, Good, let’s go. And handed me the keys.

I, being an almost high-school grad on the way to college, the first in my generation, gonna be an English major, said the insightful words, “Huh?”

Mom looked me right in the eye and said, “You drive.”

Wisest thing anyone ever said to me. So shaking so hard I dropped the keys, twice, I got back up on that horse and I drove it home.

PS. The tiny little shimmy at 62 mph, my mother reported to me much later, had smoothed out. I have no knowledge of how the car drove at that speed after the wreck.

TL/DR: Now, I didn’t know all my neighbors in Knoxville as well as I knew all the folks an hour away in my home town. I never had reason to find out if they would drop everything and come to the aid of an idiotic teenager who escaped with her life when she really shouldn’t have. But they were nice enough folks while I lived there. Said please, and thank-you, didn’t cut lines, and held doors open for women and the elderly. But we locked our doors at night in Knoxville and didn’t leave keys in the ignition either.

We were a friendly, easy-going bunch on the main. Unless it was game day and you weren’t wearing Volunteer orange. Then you were toast, bubba. Burnt toast.

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