Days 38-39/ Apr 5th-6th – Middlesboro, KY: Bedded at the Billionaire’s Convenience

“Soon after, I returned home to my family, with a determination to bring them as soon as possible to live in Kentucky, which I esteemed a second paradise” – The Adventures of Colonel Daniel Boon, Formerly a Hunter 

In almost all of the motels we frequent there is a rack of brochures by the reception desk that aim to entice the weary guest to attractions in the region.  They have titles like ‘Lexington: Bluegrass Country’, ‘Mount Vernon: Gateway to Bluegrass Country’ and ‘South-Eastern Kentucky: Within a Surprisingly Manageable Drive of the Gateway to Bluegrass Country’.  We read through the last brochure over breakfast, and it soon became clear that we’ve arrived in a region of America with a striking paucity of tourist attractions.  There are a couple of scenic forests, the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken, a tunnel back into Tennessee for people who positively can’t stand it any longer, and that’s about it.

Posters and road signs in Middlesboro Kentucky

The heavily used road out of Middlesboro

For us, though, Middlesboro had one compelling attraction: a bookshop.  We had long since run out of reading material, and had been reduced at times to perusing receipt stubs and even the Employee of the Month wall of local fast-food restaurants.  The great oracle of Google Maps had indicated that a shop called Book Haven was close to our motel, and after calling to check it wasn’t a Christian bookshop (about three out of four book retailers around here are) we wandered over with high hopes. 

Book Haven was a second-hand shop, the only outlet not closed down in a forlorn strip mall surrounded by fast-food restaurants.  It stocked perhaps ten thousand books but, wandering down its aisles, we realised with growing despair that almost every single one was a pulp romance novel.  They were mostly from an outfit called Harlequin, which specialised in highly literal, rather unreconstructed titles. 

Nuclear and biological novels at Book Haven in Middlesboro

Book Haven had some pretty esoteric departments

We dithered between ‘The Millionaire Boss’s Reluctant Mistress’ and ‘The Millionaire’s Chosen Bride’, though other volumes recognised the corrosive effects of long-term inflation – ‘Mistress: Hired for the Billionaire’s Pleasure’, ‘Billionaire Doctor, Ordinary Nurse’ and ‘Bedded at the Billionaire’s Convenience’.  As well as extreme wealth and mild sexual coercion, the other dominant theme was what my grandmother might call ‘swarthy men’ – ‘The Ruthless Italian’s Inexperienced Wife’, ‘Claimed by the Desert Prince’ and even ‘Sheikh Surgeon’.  If you are reading this and you happen to be a) a doctor b) very rich c) of Mediterranean or Middle Eastern extraction and d) an enthusiastic rapist, then hie you immediately to south-eastern Kentucky, where a legion of women would appear to be ready to fall at your feet. 

Book pile at the Book Haven

Millionaires, billionaires, doctors and Italians. Swoon.

Middlesboro is built in the crater of a large meteor – the only town in America that has this distinction.  The meteor struck this area about 300 million years ago, wiping out all life in the immediate vicinity and, more importantly, punching a neat hole into this stretch of the Appalachians, which is one of the main reasons why Cumberland Gap is such an ideal pass through the mountains.  Not much else happened in the town until 1879, when surveyors discovered significant local deposits of coal and iron, triggering an investment boom, led by a British industrialist called Alexander Arthur.  Arthur built steel and iron works, and laid out a new town on a grid plan to house all the workers who poured into the town.  Middlesboro became the first place in the Appalachians to have electric lighting and running water, and was nicknamed the Magic City.  It built one of the first golf courses in America, and had just completed a 700-room resort hotel when a stock market crash triggered the failure of many of the British banks backing all this investment.  Arthur fled to Alaska to join the Klondike Gold Rush, and Middlesboro fell into a long decline.  Looking around at the charmless strip malls, fast-food outlets and discount cigarette shops that dominate it today, it was tempting to conclude that another meteor strike might be just what it needs for a fresh start.

One Response to “Days 38-39/ Apr 5th-6th – Middlesboro, KY: Bedded at the Billionaire’s Convenience”

  1. Helen Says:

    Does poste restante still exist? You could do to a poste restante for somewhere on your route? Otherwise if you’ve got an Amex you can use their offices for parcels.

    Would offer to post something from here, but you know – volcanic ash cloud and all that, the economy is on its knees etc etc.

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