It is said that those with Aspergers have a hard time with social events and sensory stimulation. This past Saturday, I put those fears aside and went to the National Cornbread Festival in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, which is located 25 miles west of Chattanooga and is held every year on the last weekend in April. Even though I knew the event could potentially be a sensory triggering event, I always wanted to go to this festival and did not let my limitations stop me.
The festival began in 1996 as a way to spur traffic into downtown South Pittsburg after the main artery through town, U.S. 72, was bypassed to the east of town. The event is centered on Lodge Cast Iron, which is well known for its cast iron skillets and other cookware, and different types of cornbread. A cornbread cooking competition brings in competitors from across the United States in hopes of winning first place and a nice take home prize.
Last year at the event, parking was such an issue that people had to be turned away. Fortunately, I easily found parking. It helped that a shuttle took festival goers from the parking lots to the front gate.
Once I paid the admission fee and entered the gate, I will admit that it was a lot to take in with the carnival rides, the demonstrations, food trucks and the crowds. South Pittsburg is a small town and a lot of the festival is funneled onto Cedar Avenue, the town’s main thoroughfare. Even though it was crowded, the good thing was that people kept moving.
One thing I like about the festival to keep people in motion so that they can see all the festival has to offer, they encourage festival goers to participate in a scavenger hunt. After entering the gate, you are handed a card that shows where the different booths and exhibits are located. Once at the appropriate spot, your card gets stamped. The goal is to collect as many stamps in order to win a prize. Collecting 10 stamps nets one a small trinket from Lodge Manufacturing while collecting 16 stamps not only gets one a trinket but allows the participant to be entered into a drawing for a gift basket from one of the main sponsors, Martha White baking products.
Since it was hot on Saturday, I was relieved to get on an air-conditioned tour bus and take a guided tour of the town’s historical homes, churches and other buildings in South Pittsburg. The tour was narrated by a gentleman who grew up in the town. I learned that Joseph Lodge, the founder of Lodge Cast Iron, took great care of his employees. Also, I saw the home of Judge John Raultson, the judge who presided over the famous Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925 in nearby Dayton, Tennessee.
For lunch, I ate at a local dairy bar called the Dixie Freeze. The restaurant has been in South Pittsburg for nearly 70 years and is known for its thick milkshakes, malts and a double burger known as the “Dagwood Sandwich”. Despite the difficulties I have with small talk, I managed to strike up a conversation with a mother/daughter duo from Nashville in which the daughter went to the Nashville School of the Arts, a high school specializing in different forms of art ranging from ballet, to painting to drama.
After lunch, I was joined by a few of my friends from Huntsville. We toured the Lodge Manufacturing plant, where Lodge Cast Iron products are made. I saw the different furnaces where the products are made. Since I have experience with working in a shipping and receiving department, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see where Lodge’s products are shipped to the outlet store just down the street and to different retailers across the country. The plant is only open for tours during the festival.
I cannot talk about the National Cornbread Festival without talking about one of the South’s favorite food staples. There were smaller free samples that one could try and big pieces that one could try for $5 at a booth called Cornbread Alley. Different organizations made different types of cornbread ranging from salsa cornbread to bacon maple cornbread and even jalapeno hush puppies. The great thing about the funds from Cornbread Alley is that the fees from the booth went to local charities. My friends and I definitely got our fill of a variety of yummy cornbread.
After the festival had ended for the day, my friends and I stopped for dinner in Scottsboro, we all had a great time. Even though there were times I experienced sensory stimulation, I would say the event was a success. It was my idea to ask my friends to join me at the festival. This shows I can plan a social event by myself and handle attending a big event by myself. Although I cannot say whether every Aspie would be able to handle the National Cornbread Festival as well as I did for this family style event. After telling members of my church about the event, there is already talk of possibly taking a group in our church van to next year’s festival. If you are interested in going to the National Cornbread Festival in 2018, get more information here.
In my next blog, I will explain the tricks I use to handle attending a sensory stimulating event. Subscribe to my blog in the section below to be the first to read these tricks and how someone with Aspergers can apply the same strategies and figure out what works for them.
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