In 1970, Cookeville, Tennessee, was just another gas stop off the interstate between Knoxville and Nashville, but it did have a reputable state-supported college that I could afford to attend if I got a night job and watched my savings account closely. At first, I was staying in an inexpensive ‘business class’ motel just outside of town while I looked for a place to live. I had arrived a week earlier from a small town in the Cumberland Mountains—where I grew up—and registered for classes using money saved from my job at the Valu-Mart working nights and weekends during high school.
The college had dorms, but I needed to find a place I could afford on my own. Checking the bulletin board in the university center for ‘spaces to rent’ from local residents, I spotted a couple of likely ads. But the first one turned out to be a made-over garage behind a widow’s house, and the ‘apartment’ was more like a tiny warehouse with a cement floor, a half frig, a laundry sink, and a single bed tucked in a back corner. It may not have had a tub or shower—I can’t recall now—but I know it didn’t have a real door. To get in or out, you had to open and close the garage bay door. I confess I was attracted to the idea that I could sleep with my car—you know, like a cowboy might sleep in the livery stable with his horse. But I never went back to the place for a “second viewing,” as the real estate agents say.