Six Days on the Road
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Day 1: Albuquerque, NM to Oklahoma City, OK
Laura, my former college roommate, graciously agreed to fly out to Albuquerque to help me drive my car back to DC. Neither of us had ever spent much time in the South, so we decided to forego the efficiency of a direct route and extended the trip a few days t hit Memphis, Atlanta, and Savannah.
After breakfast at the Range in Bernalillo (Laura is now spoiled for eating Mexican food in the rest of the country), we set out on I-40. We drove about 8 hours to Oklahoma City, stopping for lunch at a McDonald's near Amarillo. You will be happy to hear that it was our only McDonald's stop for the trip. It had to be over 100 degrees in Texas that day. It was to get progressively cooler as we drove across the country, until we arrived in DC, where it was so cold I had to dig out my coat.
We passed the Giant Cross in Texas, which claims to be the largest cross in the Western Hemisphere. This brought up a number of questions: how do you measure the largest cross--is that height, or width, or volume? And are they counting the southern hemisphere? We think there's a larger cross in Sao Paolo. And also are they counting Spain as being in the Eastern Hemisphere (it's west of England)? Because I think El Escorial's cross was bigger.
We also passed the six cadillacs planted in farmland. Laura's mother, upon hearing this, was shocked that we didn't get out to take a closer look. We're pretty sure we saw all there was to see from the highway.
The scenery changed on cue at each state line. I looked out the window and said "looks like Texas," and a minute later we passed the Texas welcome sign. More or less the same thing happened at the Oklahoma border. I was surprised to see, though, that Oklahoma wasn't completely flat and has some reddish dirt, like parts of New Mexico.
Day 2: Oklahoma City, OK to West Memphis, AK
After spending the night in Oklahoma City, we followed the advice of my food guidebook, "Eat Your Way Across the USA," and stopped at a place called Cattleman's for breakfast. It was similar to a diner, but dark inside. I seem to recall that there were antlers on the walls, but I could be making that up. Anyway, that's the kind of place it was. Laura ordered the steak and eggs, and she says it was the best steak she's ever had in her life, and she eats a fair amount of steak.
We drove another eight hours that day across the rest of Oklahoma and Arkansas. For your information, the entire state of Arkansas is under construction. People were very polite about it, though. When the signs said, "Lane ends 1/2 mile, merge here," everyone would take turns merging. Nobody would speed up the other lane to cut in. When you came to the end of a construction zone, there would be three or four signs with cheery messages informing you of the end of the construction. "Another project completed by the Arkansas DOT!"
We pulled off the road to have lunch at a picnic area by a lake in Arkansas. We were almost attacked by a family of geese, who wanted our food, but Laura kicked some pebbles their way and they backed off. She was good to have around--I probably just would have given them our food.
We stopped again when we came to Memphis, or actually to West Memphis, which is still across the Mississippi from Memphis and is still in Arkansas. This turned out to be a good move.
We had heard that we should go to Beale Street for barbeque and blues, and I thought that maybe we'd also walk around downtown to get a feel for the city. We entered the city, however, in a bad part of town, and it didn't look like it was going to get better fast. If Laura had been driving I think she would have turned us right back around to Arkansas, but I was determined to experience barbeque and blues. So we drove along the boarded up storefronts of Beale Street, and I thought "This can't seriously be where they send the tourists." We did eventually come to the three block section of Beale where the barbeque and blues were, and those three blocks were fine--well lit, lots of people around, restaurants and clubs open. We had an excellent dinner of barbeque ribs.
We saw that there was a trolley car running at the top of the street, so I convinced Laura that we should take the "Downtown Waterfront" loop, which ran through the main street downtown, a pedestrian-only zone. Strangely there were no pedestrians. There were hardly other passengers on the trolley. So we rode down the main street, past closed stores and "coming soon" signs, but we never saw anything that looked open. It was sad, because it could have been such a nice lively place, something like Denver's downtown mall. But it looks like the only money in Memphis is brought in by the tourists, and they don't bring enough.
On our way back to the car, I saw a sign for ice cream. Laura wanted nothing more than to get back to Arkansas as quickly as possible, but I said that I was going alone if she didn't come, so she came. When we got to the store, however, it was closed, for good. So we went back to the car and left. On our way out, we paced ourselves not to run into any red lights and avoided looking at other drivers.
Day 3: Memphis, AK to Atlanta, GA
We had breakfast at a Waffle House near our hotel, our first of three Southern chains that we wanted to try. The others were Sonic and Arby's (where I'd been before, but Laura hadn't). All three of those chains exist in Albuquerque, so I'm not sure how authentically Southern they are.
We set out after that for Graceland. Graceland, for those of you who haven't been there, is located on a busy street amidst stripmalls and gas stations. You park on one side of the street and buy the tickets. Then they make you wait in line to take a shuttle across the street to the mansion. While we were waiting we browsed the gift shop, and I bought a postcard for Matt with one of Elvis's recipes on the front. I think it was for peanut butter and bananas. It was a joke, because his mom had bought him a cookbook, and he didn't understand half the ingredients in it.
So, we finally got across the street to the mansion etc. and took the tour. We expected it to be bizarre, and it was. They treat the place like it has religious significance. We enjoyed seeing all the crazy decorated rooms. The man had unusual taste. We were glad that we went, at least so that we don't have to hear, "What, you were in Memphis and you didn't go to Graceland?"
That afternoon we drove down through Mississippi and Georgia on our way to Atlanta. We pulled off the highway for lunch in Tupelo, Mississippi. We saw a place called Lisa Marie's cafe, but we thought we could do better. Then we saw Billy Bob's BBQ. I really really wanted to go, but Laura refused. She said that it was "sketchy." I said it wasn't, and said "Look, it's next to a fresh vegetable stand!" She said she wouldn't care if it were next to a church. So we kept driving. After checking out the rest of the street, we thought our best option was Lisa Marie's after all. But when we got back there, we realized it was closed. So we next tried a place called Mama's subs. I hopped out to check it out, and it too was closed. The sign said "Sunday: Closed for family time and worship." We then tried a cafe that was in an antiques store, but it was closed too. "Ha! Now we have to go to Billy Bob's!" I said. "Your mother won't approve of you eating at a place called Billy Bob's Barbeque," she said. I insisted that my mother wouldn't care, but Laura could not be convinced. It seemed to be our only other option, though, and the sign outside did say "Open daily." So we went back, and lo and behold, found it closed too. I guess in Mississippi, everyone knows that when you say "Open daily" you really mean open every day except Sunday.
We finally found a Shoney's a good distance down the road, where we had a mediocre meal and bad service. It did fulfill one goal of mine, though: I had wanted to have fried green tomatoes somewhere in the South, and I had them at Shoney's.
After Memphis, we were glad to see Atlanta. It looked like a real city with people and everything, even at 10pm, which is when we arrived.
We were beat, so we went to bed. I was almost asleep when I heard loud sounds from the room next to us. The wall seemed to be vibrating. “I wish those people would turn down their music,” I muttered, still half-asleep, to Laura. “Um, Paige, that’s not music,” she said. It turned out to be the most incredible snoring you’ve ever heard. We listened to it for about two minutes, decided there was no way we were going to get to sleep, and called the front desk to ask to be moved. The guy at the desk sounded kind of skeptical, but when he came upstairs, he said, “I could hear that guy from all the way down the hall!” He moved us to a different wing.
Day 4: Atlanta, GA to Savannah, GA
It was a good thing we had gotten our sleep, because we had a busy day in Atlanta. We started out at the Margaret Mitchell house, where we watched a video and took the tour. Laura and I both love Gone with the Wind. There was an exhibit there that I found especially interesting, called “A Writer�"Made or Born?” which displayed samples of Margaret Mitchell’s early writing. Her grade school writing could have won essay contests at the college level, but she never thought her own writing was any good. At the museum we also learned that in Mitchell’s early drafts, Tara was Foutenoy Hall and Scarlett O’Hara was called Pansy. Can you imagine?
So after the Margaret Mitchell house, we drove to the Coke building. We decided against taking the tour and instead spent a good chunk of time in the gift shop, which contained every conceivable item in a Coke theme. You could decorate your whole house in Coke: they have Coke bedspreads, Coke curtains, Coke lamps, Coke cutting boards, Coke ice cream scoopers, you name it.
From there we went to the CNN building and took that tour. They took us to the studios, and we saw a live show being broadcast. I don’t watch a lot of CNN, so I couldn’t tell you who the anchors were. It was neat to see, but we felt by the end that Ted Turner was trying to brainwash us. We had lunch at the Arby’s in the CNN food court, fulfilling another Southern fast food chain requirement.
Atlanta drivers are unbelievable. On our way out of town, we were going 65 miles per hour in a 40 zone (we had to, to avoid being rear-ended) and we were being passed like we were standing still--by everyone on the road, including little old ladies and cops.
It was only a three or four hour drive to Savannah, so we got there with plenty of daylight left. We drove around the old town, which is barely large enough to drive around, and then we got out and walked by the river for a while. Savannah is pleasant�"old, shady, quiet. It has a park every few blocks, and all of the old museums and churches are well preserved, but all of the buildings between the old museums and churches are run down. Like Memphis, it isn’t living up to its potential, but unlike Memphis, we liked it anyway.
We were watching the weather closely, because all trip we had been 24 hours ahead of the bad weather, but we suspected that it would catch up with us, now that we were slowing down. It sounded like the rain would hold off till that afternoon, so I convinced Laura that we should stop at Hilton Head beach on our way up the coast. When we got there we found a pretty beach and parked. We walked past a really cool tree, which I wanted to climb. Laura humored me and took a picture of me in the tree, though she kept her own feet solidly on the ground. Later I went for a swim, though Laura didn’t, as she decided she’d rather not be sandy and salty for the rest of the drive. No spirit of adventure!
South Carolina flew by. I 95 is an unexciting road: all you can see are trees on the side, and it looks pretty much the same from Georgia to DC. The highlight of drive was a couple of boys in a dirty white van who kept pacing their van alongside our car. They pulled up to us again and held up a piece of cardboard against the window with the words “YOUR PRETTY.” I swear we were laughing so hard that I don’t know how we maintained control of the vehicle. We wonder if they wrote the sign just for us, or if they keep it in the van just in case. We also wonder if that has EVER worked with anyone.
Just south of the South Carolina-North Carolina border is a rest stop/amusement park/arcade/shopping complex called South of the Border. It’s not quite like anything else I’ve even seen and is definitely worth a stop if you’re ever on that part of 95. There are a couple of towers topped with huge, brightly painted sombreros that you can see miles down the highway. Also they have a half a dozen warehouse-like stores that sell completely random things. I bought a hula hoop and some fireworks. Laura bought a keychain and a coconut shell bikini top to wear to the next Christmas in the Caribbean party she gets invited to.
When we had crossed most of North Carolina, we thought that maybe we would just keep going and make DC that night. It was getting late though, and I really wanted to catch Six Feet Under that night on HBO. It seemed like I tried to watch Six Feet Under every night of the trip, but we always missed it for some reason. We decided that if we could find a reasonably priced motel in Roanoke Rapids, NC, we’d stay the night.
We found a Days Inn for $40, so we stayed. We were chatting with the woman at the front desk and mentioned that we had been thinking of going straight to DC. “But DC is three and a half hours away!” she said. Look, we don’t think you understand. We don’t even change drivers for three and a half hours.
Day 6: Roanoke Rapids, NC to Washington, DC
Virginia seemed to pass by in the blink of an eye. As we neared DC, I made Laura listen to “Six Days on the Road,” because she had never heard it before. Actually I made her listen to it twice, as she didn’t seem to appreciate it enough the first time. “It’s just like us, except we’re not truckers,” I said.
So, that was pretty much it. Laura made it safely back to Rhode Island on Thursday night, and I will see her again next weekend, when we go up to New Hampshire to visit her and Chris.
"My hometown's a comin' in sight
If you think I'm happy, you're right!
Six days on the road and I'm a gonna make it home tonight."