In the summer of 2003, I decided to burn off a few of the nearly 200,000 Marriott points I had accumulated during my life as a consultant. My friend Matt and I worked out the following arrangement. He would do all the driving (in his Toyota Prius) and pay for meals. I would pay for all the hotels and do the planning. Sweet deal for me.
The trip would involve Matt picking me up from my office in North York (near York University in fact) Friday at 5pm. From there we would procede down to Ft. Wayne, Indiana, where he makes is home. After that we would bounce through Nashville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Birmingham, Pensacola, Mobile, New Orleans, Jackson, Memphis, St. Louis and skirt the edge of Chicago on our way home again. We would do all of this, in a whirlwind 8 days (Friday night through to the following Saturday night.
Full of interesting characters, weird sights and at least one harrowing near death experience, this was a great trip along the major stops on Old Man River.
My thoughts on the Mississippi River locations
We saw a lot of regions and I have a lot of stories I could tell, so if you really want to know... track me down. In the meantime, I'll pick out some of the highlights.
This was actually a mistake... we intended to drive by but got stuck on a road you can't turn around on due to dividers and it leads right up to the main gate of the base.
Sir, this is front gate. We have two foreign nationals requesting permission to enter the base. Sir, over sir. ~ G.I. Joe, Front Gate Guard, Fort Knox
Thanks to some quick research in the Wal-Mart atlas Matt had in his car, I discovered that the General George S Patton Tank Museum was located on the base. So we had a perfectly valid excuse for why we were infiltrating their base. Whew. Sadly, the guard who filled out our paper work misspelled Patton - even though it was on the building behind him in 8-foot high letters.
I loved this city. By complete coincidence, we were there the same weekend as the biggest annual gathering in Nashville, the Country Music Festival. This is a huge deal and the city was jumping... well, in the evenings. In the mornings you could fire a cannon down the streets and not hit anything. Everyone was sleeping off their hangovers I imagine. A fun and vibrant city with lots to do. They had fireworks going off the night we arrived and we watched them from the hill the state capital building sits on. Surprisingly no one else was around.
This place was great as well. It has one of the worlds lagest aquariums... and is no where near the ocean. The drive here was nice too with lots of very green rolling hills. I can see why people love Kentucky and Tennesse. They are beautiful states.
Home of the Georgia Panthers and Coca-cola. The Coca-cola museum is actually a fair bit of fun. Not that big, and you get to sample weird and wonderful Coke products from around the world.
We went to the botanical gardens here. A lovely engligh rose garden as well as a zen garden to occupy us.
The First White House of the Confederacy, now you know you are in the heart of the south. Still southern and still proudly defiant in many small ways. The war rages on.
The side trip to Florida was completely spur of the moment. I was looking at a map and bascially said:
Hey, we're not far from Florida! Let's add another state to our trip, turn right... now! - Me, giving navigational directions spur of the moment.
We saw a marine sanctuary sort of place and went there.
We made it! Halfway through our trip. It was great to see New Orleans outside of Mardi Gras. It is a gorgeous city and the French quarter is really a fabulous place to st and watch the world go by. We took a city tour on the bus to give Matt a break from driving and saw the Garden District, the levees, the 'cities of the dead' and all that other great stuff. We also spent some time exploring yet another aquarium. I knew I liked New Orleans and would have to go back... which I did the following year on my 2004 New Orleans Mardi Gras trip.
Birthplace of the frog. This is where Kermit the Frog grew up. The museum was very small and not that great, but I did have a great conversation with Kermit while there.
It wasn't long after leaving here that narrowly avoided a life-ending car accident. A flatbed truck pulled out across our lane (while we're doing 80 mph). Caught between a bus on our left and the flatbed deadahead, Matt managed a great bit of driving and squeezed in front of the bus and behind the back corner of the truck as it continued across the lanes. It was so close in fact that the back of the truck caught Matt's driver's side mirror and sent it through his window to shower us in broken glass.
'Bo', the plantation owner whose truck it was, calmly made and smoked a roll-your-own, while his little black manservant used a wisk to brush broken glass out of our car, all the while telling 'boss' how we was okay. Talk about something straight out of Archtypes 101. It was freaky. Our attempts to report the accident left us in a run down trailer that was the local police station in a 'black' community. The houses looked to be made out of cardboard. A far cry from the 'white' community 20 miles back down the highway. It's easy to see why issues of black and white continue to haunt the United States over a century-and-a-half after their civil war. The war may be ended, but equality is a long way off in some areas.
Everything that was great in Nashville, was wrong in Memphis. Same state, and also trying to capitalize on music... where Nashville makes you feel welcome and at home, Memphis makes you feel like someone is out to get your wallet. What was old is torn down and big new stuff built in it's place. The culture of the city feels destroyed in Memphis by corporate interests. While I realize that Nashville has it's own share of corporations and money makers, and I'm sure somewhere in Memphis the heart of the blues and rock n' roll still beats... these were my initial impressions of the two cities. Best part of Memphis? The homeless man who appointed himself my tour guide and walked me around the city. That's him with the status of Elvis.
The arch messes with your mind. Seriously. Even in the photos it doesn't look real. It looks like it was edited in there. In person, the effect remains the same. Surreal. We woke on the Saturday morning to the site of ten thousand pink bunnies marching in support of breast cancer.
Many more stories to tell, and maybe at some point I'll put them here, but for now, I'll let the photos speak for themselves.
Ol' man river,
Dat ol' man river
He mus'know sumpin'
But don't say nuthin',
He jes'keeps rollin'
He keeps on rollin' along.
- Paul Robeson, singer, from the song Ol' Man River from the musical Showboat.
Hope you enjoy the photos!