I’m stuck in Nashville traffic. And so, apparently, is everyone else in the Western Hemisphere.

Nashville scares me. The main culprit here is the highways. Nashville’s highway system is a mess because these roads were built to accommodate approximately 11 cars, whereas there are currently 229 trillion Nashville residents.

So this is a problem. A big one. Because right now I am idling in a thousand-mile line of cars, stuck in a cloud of blue exhaust, and we are moving approximately one nanometer per hour.

I think I’ve figured out the problem in this city. The problem is, everyone in the state of Tennessee is trying to use the interstate at the same time. Which is a bad idea, this is just common sense.

If we all tried to take a shower at the same time each morning, the world would run out of water. It’s the same principle. A plus B equals C.

But the traffic problem isn’t getting any better. Because nobody is doing anything about it except buying more electric cars.

Tennessee Department of Transportation reports that, on any average afternoon, in Davidson County, there are strings of electric cars longer than the ladies-restroom line at a George Strait concert.

If you took all the electric cars in the world and placed them end to end, you’d have Nashville.

“The traffic is really hard,” says my friend who lives outside Nashville and commutes to work. Each morning, he spends 120 minutes in his SUV, fighting hundreds of motorists just backing out of his driveway.

He wants a new job, but of course, there are no new jobs in Nashville, only new buildings. Because new construction is out of control here.

Nashville is one of the leading cites in the nation for adding new real estate. In the time it’s taken you to read these paragraphs, Nashville has already built two arenas and one NASCAR súper-speedway.

And they…

OXFORD, Miss.—It’s a beautiful night in the Little Easy. I’m walking downtown. Taking in the chilly evening. It’s cold. I can see my breath. My hands are numb. The rock rattling around inside my shoe is my toe.

I am walking these arctic streets tonight because I have a hunch that I’m going to find inspiration for a column here. And that’s all being a writer is, really. You work from hunches.

The city is busy. There are college kids everywhere, laughing and carrying on. Live music drifts from pocket saloons. Restaurants are thumping. The air smells like Mick Ultra and adolescence.

There is, apparently, a college-age dress code this evening. College guys all wear warm jackets. College girls all wear miniskirts so short they wouldn’t qualify as belts.

“College girls have antifreeze for blood,” says a local lady on the sidewalk.

I walk inside Square Books to escape the cold and browse the shelves. On cue, a group of college kids traipses past loudly. They reek of perfume and kid-sweat.

“It’s Thursday night,” a store employee explains. “Thursdays

are party nights in Oxford.”

“How long does a typical party night last?” I ask.

“Until they graduate.”

Oxford is the “Literary Center of the South.” The mecca of the printed word. Think of this town as Dollywood for authors.

You can’t spit in Oxford without hitting a published author. They’re everywhere. And you can always spot published authors on the street. They’re the ones eating supper out of garbage cans.

Because being a professional writer is hard. Few realize how difficult. Hardly anyone gets rich by constructing sentences. The only way to make a small fortune as an author is to start off with a big fortune.

Moreover, it’s tough putting yourself out there. Being a writer is all about rejection. Rejection is an everyday routine. Rejection is the breakfast of the artist. An average writer will get rejected at…

“Hello, I am Deaf,” said the young woman. Her voice was loud. Her words were enunciated.

Her grandfather translated our conversation in sign language.

We were in the hotel lobby. Eating breakfast. Three strangers in the dining room, nursing plates of lukewarm eggs. Hotel breakfasts—even on good days—taste like reclaimed sewage. But if you set your mind to it, you can swallow anything.

The young woman was mid-20s. She wore a pink dress and high-top basketball shoes. Brunette. Brown eyes. Her personal style is one her granddaddy calls “funky.”

The young woman was reading my lips, eyes focused on my mouth. I tried to talk slow, but she was having problems understanding. So her grandfather began signing.

“I can read lips,” the young woman finally explained. “But not yours. You have a beard, your mouth is hard to see with all that hair.”

I told her that next time we met, I would make sure to give the old Chia Pet a trim.

She was born Deaf. Her biological mother was didn’t want her, so

the girl was given away to one of her aunts. But her aunt didn’t want her either. Her aunt was more concerned sustaining a lifelong pain-pill buzz.

So her aunt just left her in the crib all day, until the infant girl almost starved. A neighbor found the baby when they heard her screaming. A baby has to be crying pretty loud for neighbors to hear.

Someone rescued her. Within months, she was adopted by an older couple in their 60s. And this is where Grandaddy takes over telling the story.

“It was my wife,” said the old man. “She was the one who heard about her first. There was no way my wife wasn’t bringing this baby home.”

The young woman blushes when the story is told. She calls the old man “Grandpa,” and her adoptive mother used to be called “Grandma.” Grandma is…

Kentucky. Downtown Bowling Green. Norman Rockwell eat your heart out. This is what America used to look like before we started building Olive Gardens.

I’m visiting town. Taking in the views. Main Street is perfect. There’s a pub on East Main. Pabst Blue Ribbon signs in the windows. The joint is doing pretty good business on a weeknight.

The Capitol Theater sits next door. The marquee bears a neon sign advertising a performer nobody’s ever heard of before.

A water tower stands guard over the city, painted like an American flag. Stars emblazoned on top. Stripes on the side.

The downtown park is magnificent. Big trees. Flowers. The park’s masterstroke is a circular fountain with sculptures depicting naked people spitting water.

As a young man, I hadn’t seen much of America. I was a hick. I had been nowhere. Done nothing. Experienced little. Never traveled.

I was the guy in the bar who sat beside you as you told the bartender about your recent church mission trip to Honolulu.

You would have seen me staring silently into my Pabst as

you described the greatest tourist attractions on earth. Meantime, I’d be feeling like the world’s biggest loser. Because I hadn’t traveled anywhere of note, unless you counted Texarkana.

I didn’t come from world travelers. I came from blue collars. Ironworkers. Dropouts. I grew up in hand-me-down clothes. My mother reused her teabags. I inherited my older cousin’s underpants.

All my college-age friends, however, were hellbent on traveling. They were obsessed with seeing Europe. It was all they talked about. Spain this. France that. Italy, Italy, Italy.

Not me. My family was so broke that, for dinner, we went to KFC just to lick other people’s fingers.

Moreover, I didn’t really care about seeing Europe. Oh, I’m sure it’s great. But there was way too much of America I wanted to visit first.

As clichéd as it sounds, I have always…

You’re going to be okay. That’s not an opinion. It’s not a guess. This isn’t some trite little catchphrase from some crappy motivational book that reads like it was written by a greasy televangelist.

You’re going to be okay. It’s the plain truth. You really are going to make it through this junk you’re going through.

So relax. You don’t have to do anything to make everything okay. You don’t have to close your eyes extra tight, grit your teeth, use magic words, or clap for Tinkerbell.

Deep in your soul, you know it’s coming. You know everything will be all right, eventually.

Yes, things are bad. But you have a little, infinitesimal voice speaking to you right now. And this voice is reading these very words alongside you and saying to you, “This guy’s got a point. It really WILL be okay.”

This is not your voice. It’s a voice that comes from somewhere else. The problem is, you can’t always hear this faint voice talking. Namely, because you’re too busy freaking out.

But believe me, the voice is there. And every time you take a

few moments to breathe, you’ll hear the voice. It chatters softly, originating from somewhere near your chest area.

“You’ll be okay,” the gentle voice will say again. “It’s all going to be okay. You’ll see.”

Also, the voice says other things like: “You’re not fat. You’re not stupid. You’re a smart person. You’re good enough. You’re very fortunate. You’re a miracle. Everyone really likes you, with the possible exception of your mother-in-law.”

Yes, you’ve been through some tight scrapes. Yes, your body bears the scars of private wars you’ve waged. But you’ve survived each cataclysm. You have proven everyone wrong. You’ve always been okay.

So I know you’re sitting there scanning this paragraph, wondering why you’re still reading this drivel, when I obviously know nothing about you.

But you’re also thinking about how…

She sits there behind the cash register. Every day. Reading “Better Homes & Gardens” magazines. Sometimes she reads “Real Simple” or “People.” She rings up customers in the modest, side-of-the-road Alabama café. I am one such customer.

Her husband recently died. He was 74. It was sudden. He had just retired. They were going to travel. See America. Live out their golden years in a 28-foot RV. Have fun. Now he’s gone. Now she works here as a cook. She sold the RV.

“You lose your husband, and you lose your place in the world.”

Warren. That was her husband’s name. There is loneliness in her voice when she speaks of him. Half of her heart lies six-feet below the soil, she tells me.

“I met Warren when I’s fourteen,” she said. “He was fifteen. My daddy made us wait two years to marry. Warren said he would’ve waited until Jesus came back if he had to. I thought he was so romantic. God, I miss him.”

The place does a

nice little lunch business. It’s rural food. The kind of fare the American Heart Association wants to ban.

Our mothers ruin us early in this part of the world. They feed us smother-fried steaks, biscuits the size of regulation softballs, sausage gravy for breakfast, battered poultry, and casseroles which primarily consist of cheese topped with more cheese, garnished with cheese.

And we eat lots of vegetables, too. Only, our vegetables are cooked with bacon grease from a Maxwell House can which sits on the stove. Every family has a can like this. The suet inside the can has been accumulating since Nixon was in office.

My grandmother raised my uncles during World War II on a steady diet of bacon grease until they developed 42-inch waistlines. Granny would force my uncles to clean their plates. During each meal she would say, “Remember boys, every time you leave food on…

Becca is 10 years old. She waits for me patiently outside the restaurant because—big surprise—I am late for our meeting. I will be late for my own cremation.

Becca’s hair is pulled into a side ponytail. She is wearing corduroy pants, floral top, and roper boots. The girl sits waiting, grasping her guide cane. Her eyelids are closed. She is smiling. Becca, I will soon learn, always smiles.

Becca’s mother makes our formal introductions. The little girl presents her hand. We shake.

“Nice to meet you,” she says, pumping my hand in her tiny grip.

“Nice to meet you,” I say.

The restaurant is alive with sounds. The place is packed. Everyone in Sardis City must be eating at Bama Bucks steakhouse and wild game restaurant today.

Becca and I sit across from each other. Becca’s mom sits beside her and reads the menu aloud, but Becca already knows what she wants. Chicken tenders. French fries. Side of ranch.

Our server delivers hot dinner rolls. Becca’s mom guides Becca’s hands to the bread basket. And Becca is still smiling as we get

to know each other.

There’s a scar underneath Becca’s jawline, from where doctors recently removed her lymph nodes.

“How are you feeling since your surgery, Becca?” I ask.

“Oh, I feel really good,” Becca says.

“Has your energy come back?”

Becca’s dad answers this one. “Becca has a lot of energy.

Becca has been blind for one year now. It’s still new. But somehow, the smile never goes anywhere.

“When I first woke up,” Becca says, “after they took out my eye, I could feel the patch on my face, and I knew what they’d done to me. It was pretty obvious. My eye was gone. I was so scared, I started screaming ‘Mom, I can’t see! I can’t see!’ But then after I got scared, you know, I was okay.”

Becca explains all this to me as…