Moonbows and Chicken

The wife needed a little break from her hectic back-to-school schedule this weekend, so we arranged some overnight babysitting and hit the road for Corbin, Kentucky. It’s a little stretch of nowhere off interstate 75 that would be completely forgettable if it weren’t for two things.

First, there’s the moonbow, an astronomical phenomenon that can only be seen in two places on Earth: Lake Victoria in Kenya, Africa and Cumberland Falls in Corbin, Kentucky. What exactly is a moonbow? Well as the name implies, it’s a rainbow, only one that’s created by the moon instead of the sun. It only happens within a day or two of a full moon, on a perfectly clear night. And while I have to say I was skeptical, it really was amazing: a glowing, ghostly white arch about a hundred yards wide over the roaring Cumberland falls (the biggest falls South of Niagara, don’t you know). Standing there in the dead of night, it’s one of those am I seeing what I think I’m seeing? experiences. A true s’mores moment.

Corbin’s other great claim to fame is that it’s the original home of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Harland (Colonel) Sanders had his first restaurant there, and it’s still standing. Half the place is a dining room with a replica of his original kitchen (fascinating, and Mr. Spock would say), the other half is a standard KFC that specializes, unsurprisingly, in his original recipe chicken. The whole thing exudes a charm and sense of Americana that I’m a complete sucker for.

Hardland Sanders is a guy I find it impossible not to love. He was a late starter to say the least, not even having thought to fry chicken until he was 40. After that, he experienced a series of ups and downs, one of which, the building of interstate 75, closed his Corbin restaurant. It was at that point that he hit the road with his pressure cooker and 11 herbs and spices, which he sold to restaurants in handshake deals, asking for a nickel kickback for every chicken sold. That was in 1952, when Sanders was 62. Twenty years later he was the figurehead of a fast food empire that now stretches around the world. Not bad for a fatherless kid from Henryville, Indiana.

These days we’re all trained to see face of evil in everything successful, yet every anecdote I hear about Hardland Sanders (and your hear a lot of them here in Kentucky) endears him to me all the more. Everyone I’ve known to meet him describes him as the very definition of the ethical business man, a true proponent of the slow-and-steady-wins-the-race school of entrepreneurship. If you were one of his patrons, he was the consummate host, concerned with every last detail of your dining experience. If you were one of his franchisees you were one of his family, though if you messed up the chicken gravy, you’d be treated to a dressing down that would make a sailor clap his hands to his ears. Yes, just my kind of magnificent bastard. In fact he’s buried not half a mile from where I’m sitting at this very moment. Colonel, this swig of cold tea is for you.

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