No color copiers

I grumble as much as the next person — I admit it.

I often grumble about my job.

I don’t like office politics.  I’m not particularly fond of planting my butt in a swivel chair for eight or 10 hours at a time.  No matter how much I try to disguise them behind paintings and framed art and kid crafts, my cubicle walls tend to betray themselves for what they are — cubicle walls.  They suggest that I work in an office with color copiers and staff meetings and restrooms and performance evaluations and deadlines and the whole nine yards.

And just like the next person, I should be ashamed of myself for complaining.  First of all, the fact that I have a job at all is a blessing beyond belief.  Fifteen years as a road-dog musician doesn’t normally qualify a person for much beyond being a competent road-dog musician.

Secondly, while it’s true that I spend large chunks of each month behind a desk, I am also insanely honored and lucky to be paid to travel the back roads of Tennessee to meet and hang out with some of the nicest people a former road-dog musician could ever hope to encounter.

Last Friday was a prime example of this.  I drove roughly an hour and a half from Murfreesboro to Putnam County, near Granville, Tenn., to interview a man named Joe Stout.

Joe Stout uses a file to etch a decorative pattern into the top of a hunting knife.

I almost missed my chance, though, because I found myself lost about a mile from his house. No cell service.  No GPS.  I traveled back and forth along the same one-mile stretch of Hwy. 96 for 20 minutes, straining to spot the correct number on a mailbox before turning down Martin Creek Road out of desperation.  Ten minutes later, I was a half-mile up a narrow valley bisected by a stream, and I was beginning to panic.

No way to call Joe!  No way to call anybody!

Just then, in a stroke of luck, I approached another vehicle, a Ford Expedition, coming the other way.  We had to slow to a crawl to inch past one another, and I rolled down my window.

“Howdy!  Do y’all know where Joe Stout lives?” I asked the two older gentlemen in the Ford.

“Joe Stout?  He’s back this way,” the passenger said, gesturing toward the direction opposite of where I was headed.  “We’re gonna go past his farm now.  Get in behind us and we’ll show you.”

And they did.  I thanked them profusely and told them to look for Joe in the January issue of the Cooperator, my publication.

“I read it every month!” said the passenger, beaming.

They waved and smiled, and the Expedition disappeared down Hwy. 96.  It was my first encounter (of the day) with Putnam County hospitality.

I navigated the long drive up to the Stout house and met 79-year-0ld Joe, who was unconcerned that I was 30 minutes late.

“People always get lost coming here,” he said.  “I’m used to it.”

Joe is a retired farmer and businessman who makes hunting knives and their wooden cases with his own slightly-gnarled hands.  He’s been doing it for years, mainly just for fun.  Every day, he gets up at 4:30 a.m., has a cup of coffee, and heads out to his shop — a “rat’s nest,” he calls it — to create another masterpiece.  He spends six to seven hours out there daily.

“Otherwise, I’d just be sitting in the house watching TV,” he told me with a laugh.  “What good is that?”

I spent around three hours with Joe, his wife, Sue, and the couple’s grown son, Jerry.  By the time I left, these perfect strangers from the craggy hills of Putnam County had become friends.  Sue sent me home with a still-warm loaf of the best banana-nut bread you’ve ever tasted.  Joe presented me with a print — framed himself, of course, in barn wood — of a 19th-century steamboat that used to dock in Granville.

Then, I got to drive through some rough-as-a-cobb countryside — the same kind of terrain I grew up in — along a road that had more hairpins than your grandma’s dresser drawer.  A red-tailed hawk patrolled  in the trees above and I spotted several deer.

No cubicle walls.  No office politics.  No color copiers.

No grumbling.

(Note: Read the story that resulted from this trip here.)

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5 Responses to “No color copiers”

  1. Holly says:

    My favorite part of this post (which is great, by the way) is that you were in a place where you could just ask where Joe Stout lived – not the road or house number or the closest gas station to find a map. I love that. I miss that.

  2. Jason Jenkins says:

    Mark, you’ve just described my professional life at Rural Missouri in a nutshell. I’ve been in the office most of this month putting together the results of our 2nd annual reader photo contest — with no road trip in sight. Just the office, day after day. Mediocre coffee and gossip, day after day. No interesting character to get to know, no new county highway to explore, no time to drag my feet and watch a sunset. Just the office…I can’t wait until next month!

  3. Walter says:

    Nice article. Love the video as well.

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