On Friday, May 13th through the 21st, I went on a solo road trip through the American South. I have always wanted to just take some time and hit the road but never knew when I would actually get the time to actually do it. Well, I guess I found the time because I did it. I was surprised to hear from people I told that they thought traveling solo for a week was weird. I was surprised at this because I assumed that because this had always been something I wanted to do, other people would feel a similar way. I don’t want to be a nomad my whole life and prefer to travel with a companion most of the time; But still, the idea of just you being in control of where you go and what you do seemed alluring to me.
I kept an audio log of my travels every day. I’m glad is did, as it served more as a personal journal for me to cement the trip in my mind rather than something made for other people’s consumption. Maybe I’ll listen back to them someday and remember what I was going through at a specific point in my life. More likely, I think I will see the possibility of listening back to the logs as much more attractive of an activity than actually listening to them.
1st Stop: Alton, IL
At the last second, I decided to not start out on I55 and went to Alton, IL via highway 67. There, I went to Fast Eddies and ate some lunch. I’ve been there a few times before and it is a reliable, cheap place to stop that was very appropriate for a road trip.
2nd Stop: Memphis, TN
I ended up in Memphis and took a look around Beale Street and it was ok. I hadn’t been to Memphis since I was a kid and the memory of it was buried pretty far back in my mind. I went to the Memphis in May BBQ fest and it was pretty neat with their 3 story BBQ tents with music and food.
3rd Stop: Tunica, MS
The first night of my trip ended up with me at a cheap hotel in Tunica, MS. I was told Tunica was the “Vegas” of the South but it was more like “all the bad parts of Vegas” of the South. They have a few big Casinos, some golf, and that’s about all. I would not go out of my way to visit there again.
4th Stop: Clarksdale, MS
Clarksdale was a surprisingly great time. It is a smaller town but they have a few really cool blues clubs. Katie booked me a hotel at the Shack up inn. That was one of the most interesting places I have ever stayed. It was converted silos, shacks, and storage areas that now serve as hotel rooms. I went to a club called Ground Zero first and there was not too much going on at 7:30pm so I had a beer and fried green tomatoes. That was plenty for dinner. I heard a couple next to me say that another club called Red’s had music that went on earlier so I walked to that club and the band was warming up. The lead singer, “Big A” was amazing! It was the best show I saw the whole trip. The singer drank 18 oz. Miller Lites with the small audience while the bass player drank from an undisclosed pint of liquor he had stashed in the nook of a near by fan. The club was small but the perfect size for the 20-30 patrons at peak time. It was by all accounts run down, dirty with plastic sheeting in place of a ceiling and a bathroom that hadn’t been tended to in quite a while. Big A filled the room with fun. People were dancing, drinking, and hollering with the music. Everyone was welcome with the price of admission being only that you were there to have a good time. And a $10 cover.
6th Stop: Jackson, MS
This one was quick, I gassed up and ate at a little southern buffet near the state capitol building. I waited for fresh fried chicken to come out of the kitchen. Worth the wait.
7th Stop: New Orleans, LA
I’ve always had New Orleans in mind for this trip I think. This was my only destination that I stayed at more than one night. My hotel was right on Bourbon street. Bourbon Street was a lot like a bigger, always on version of Beale Street in Memphis. After a few minutes though it gets pretty old. Yes, there is live music to see all the time, but it is all jam bands playing all of the same stuff you can hear anywhere. I went out farther into the French Quarter and found Frenchmen Street area. It still had a lot of cool places and was a lot less touristy and had better music. I stopped in a place that let anyone signup as long as they were a professional musician to take a turn on stage. They were constantly swapping people out and it was very cool to see. They were always good too. People who can play music with strangers and do it well astound me.
If I were to go back, I think I would go on a cemetery tour because that looked very cool. New Orleans felt the most different of any place I had ever been in the US. It seemed older somehow. Maybe it was just the stench of garbage and sewer gas I would smell for a block, then it would vanish. Really, it was the building style of the French Quarter. Balcony’s were everywhere adorned with random beads,
8th Stop: Biloxi, MS
I wanted to see the ocean so taking the gulf route seemed like a good option. Driving through the bayou in a rain storm was really different but the gulf itself just didn’t appeal to me at all. The beach was more like what you would see on a big lake. I didn’t even get out of my car to see it. Biloxi was another town with Casinos and so I stopped in to the Hard Rock. It was neat to see and when I went to the rewards desk, they gave me a free buffet since my birthday was close. A free meal and some rest seemed appealing so that was how I spent my evening, losing money and filling up on shrimp.
9th Stop: Some Damn Town, AL
I was driving after the Hard Rock and was really getting tired so I pricelined a hotel. I don’t remember the town name. Best Western was where I stayed. I ate a waffle in the morning. It was good.
10th Stop: Birmingham, AL
Alabama didn’t seem to have much going for it. I was seeing a lot of nothing until I hit Birmingham. There, I went to see a sculpture called Vulcan. Being a Star Trek fan, I was intrigued. There was no trace of Leonard Nimoy. Actually, Vulcan is the god of fire and metalworking. The Vulcan statue was worth a quick look and the story behind it was interesting to learn about.
I have been getting into woodworking and wanted to pick up some wood on my trip to play with as there is not much back home. I stopped at a Woodcraft store and looked at their selection for what must have been an hour or more. They had so much beautiful stuff and I found a piece of Honduran Mahogany that would be perfect for a record console table I have been wanting to build. I measured and it was just a bit too big for my Camaro. So, I had the guy there chop it down a few inches and with the passenger seat leaned forward, I had my project wood secured in my car! No more picking up hitchhikers from then on.
11th Stop: Nashville, TN
With all of the live music I was seeing, I wanted to see more, and Nashville is a great place for that. I went to Broadway and ended up at a cigar bar. Being from Illinois, smoking indoors is a unique concept these days. While there, I met a guy named Jay and we got to know each other. We was in Nashville getting to know the area and go to orientation for college. He was my age but going to school to study pharmacology. We went to a big bar together called Honky Tonk. It was crowded and the bands all sounded alike. In fact, when we checked out the second floor the band there seemed to be playing the same songs we just heard on the first floor. We went to a couple other places and ended up catching the tail end of a band that was actually really good. I requested they play Weezer and they totally crushed it. We asked them what their band was called and they were not even an organized band. They were just playing together for the night. I couldn’t believe it!
12th Stop: Bowling Green, KY
I went to see the Corvette plant! It was really cool. They strictly enforce a no electronics policy and if you are caught with a camera, they will take it from you! Or so they say. So, no pictures of fresh Corvettes straight off the line but I thoroughly enjoyed the tour anyway. The combination of sports cars and seeing a factory in production was just cool. The first area had a rather attractive woman bolting together a Corvette and I think I may have shed a single tear at that sight. I don’t feel patriotic much but that moment mad be proud to be an American! There are robot carts driving around delivering parts, mechanical lifters aiding workers with doors and seats, and tires being delivered overhead. I could just look around in that place for hours as it was always fluttering with activity.
After that, I rushed to see the Jim Beam distillery because my GPS told me I would arrive with only 20 minutes to spare. As I traveled, my phone put my arrival time at 1 hour later that it was when I started. The distillery was in Eastern time zone. I was too late! I went anyway and looked around but really wanted to go on a tour. That is the cost for virtually zero planning but that is a fair trade off.
13th Stop: Louisville, KY
When I got to Louisville, I hit a wall. I was in a new city nearly every night, staying out late, and driving hours a day. My personal energy tank was on empty. I put in a bid for a room and was put up at the Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville. I checked in and my room was at the end of the hallway. Most of the time when my room is far away, it means they put be in the shitty little screwed up room they have for cheapskates like me. I opened my door to a beautiful suite. Jackpot! I put my stuff away and wandered out to grab a bite to eat. I ate my food and was about to fall asleep on my plate. I wet back to the hotel and went to bed early for some much needed sleep.
14th Stop: St, Louis, MO
My final stop was St. Louis. That’s a very familiar town so I was not in the exploring mood there. Also, I had plans to meet up with my friend Jac who I had not seen for over a year. After a week out on my own it felt great to see a familiar face in a familiar town. We got some excellent BBQ at the Shaved Duck. Then, we had planned to go to a concert but apparently they were full so I suggested the Silver Ballroom. It’s a pinball bar with a punk vibe. I had been there before and knew it was a great place for pinball and to just hang out. It was hugely fun. I caught up with my friend, we played pinball, repeat. We stayed there late into the night but we both grew too tired to keep catching up and had to call it a night.
When my head hit the pillow at the Holiday Inn, I knew my trip was over and was so happy I was able to do it.
The last few days of my trip, I was running out of energy and I was ready to be home. The drive home took about a hour and a half and it felt like a third of that since I was so used to long drives at that point. It almost felt weird the first few day to not have anywhere to go and to not have to work to find a place to stay the night. I missed being out on an adventure but was also glad to be home where I could rest and see everyone I care about. I came back home with a refreshed mind and just a little bit different viewpoint about the world around me. When I think about my trip, I can’t help but smile.