Calhoun County, South Carolina…the name on the highway sign rang a bell. Ah yes! I recognized it from Stormy’s records. That’s where a rescue snatched him from euthanasia at the pound. So I pulled off the highway to give him a walk in the swampy pine woods.

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Stormy’s victorious return

We crept through the Great Smokies on I-40, trapped in a Dollywood tourist swarm.

A respite from Pigeon Forge traffic in the French Broad River

My Knoxville venue was a drag club, The Edge. I found the sign in a strip mall cluster, but there didn’t seem to be anything there except a U-Haul store. I asked the U-Haul employees where the Edge was – they’d never heard of it. One did recall seeing the sign in the parking lot, but he’d never thought about it.

The entrance turned out to be in the back alley, behind a knife store. I assumed this was because a drag club had to operate secretly in a conservative Southern town, but was later told that the club had been there for 30 years and was wildly popular, no secret at all. Perhaps it had once been hidden.

The staff was completely unaware that there was a magic show booked that night; the owner had forgotten to tell them. But they were cordial and showed me to a gorgeous stage.

The splendor of the Edge’s stage

A live band was setting up, but they graciously stepped aside for half an hour so I could perform. About seven people, mostly members of the band, watched me race through an abbreviated set. I think my performance was lousy – it’s hard to connect with the audience when you’re that rushed. Still, they came up afterwards to tell me they enjoyed seeing magic. Over and over again, I’m discovering how rare it is to have the opportunity to see a magician live on stage.

The band was called Pulp Friction and played 90s covers. They were a huge draw. After their first set, they accompanied the drag artists, who all did celebrity impersonations – of course, there was a Dolly.

When there’s no one to stay with, I sleep in the van. It’s normally pretty comfy, with plenty of room for a short magician and a huge dog. Usually, I look for a spot on the commercial edge of a town, where perhaps there is an an abandoned store with a quiet lot and morning shade, but also a gas station with all the amenities close by.

But after getting a little ways down the road on this night, all I could find was a noisy truck stop. It got hotter during the night, and Stormy started panting, so I slid the side door open and spent the night half-awake with Mace and knife near at hand. (I don’t rely on Stormy for protection – I’m pretty sure he’d kiss an axe murderer.) I woke up alive, bathed in a creek, and had some pancakes with a post-church restaurant crowd before heading on to Asheville.