Welcome to Tennessee.
We wanted to make a pilgrimage to Dollywood, that country music theme park in eastern Tennessee, but alas, ’twas too far. So we went to Graceland, Shiloh, and Nashville instead. Let the reminiscing begin.
We set out for Memphis at about 11:30 Thursday night. It was really dark. I kept making the odd joke about changing direction and going to visit Emily in St. Louis, but Nadine and Olivia were having none of that.
We stopped after about 5 hours for gas in southern Illinois. I don’t know if it was fate, but we stopped at the same gas station as a boys high school soccer team. Mmm, yummy.
We crossed the Mississippi river into Missouri at dawn, Friday morning. Missouri smelled weird, but I expected nothing different. We stopped in a small town called New Madrid to see the sun rise over the river, and were promptly chased out by suspicious police. Well, they didn’t give chase, but they did slow down.
Olivia was driving, and insisted on a reflective pause on the banks of the Mississippi. I’d never been in such a small town, let alone a small town with its own museum. I found this confusing, but the plaque (pictured at right) does point out that New Madrid was the first town founded in Missouri.Or something like that.
The morning was beautiful, but for the following minor issues.
- There wasn’t a bathroom available for my personal elimination.
- The local police insisted on driving past us every five minutes until we left town.
- It was superfreakin’ cold.
We got to Graceland at 8:39 am, and went on the Mansion tour. It didn’t seem worth it to buy “The Platinum Package” (mansion, plane, personal memorabilia, and some other crap) when I felt like I was going to pass out at 9:00 am sharp.
I felt energized by the other tourists, who seemed determined to have a good time. Those who stood out from the crowd was a freaky Australian man with a comb-over and his mail-order bride, some cute Euro-trash boys, and the attractive young men who took the souvenir pictures. Mmm. Yummy boys.
I was still reeling from being in a warm place when we were ushered onto a bus, across the boulevard to Graceland proper. The house itself seemed very small, but was maze-like inside. My highlights would be Vernon and Gladys’ room, the TV room (hello, scary monkey) and the horses. The billiards room was like an arts & craft project gone horribly wrong (all pleated paisley materal which was sewn to anything that didn’t move), and the kitchen was strangely modest. Obviously, the jungle room was a treat — how can you not like a room with its own waterfall?
After two hours, and a few tears shed at the grave site, we drove into Memphis for food and sleep.
We hit Beale Street running, much like “The Mod Squad” going after a pimp or your grandma jonesing for her lunch. First, the hostel. When Olivia described this place to me as being a historical residence, I automatically pictured the hotel from the TV series “Hotel”. Or a groovy kind of sixties place with shag carpeting — right on. But instead we registered at a large Victorian kind of place. Being a bed & breakfast in some parts, it was very pretty. Our part was kind of run-down, but I liked it. I felt like I was in a bordello.
The hostel bathrooms were mucho skanky. I’m very picky about my bathrooms, so the charm and history of showering in a dank room lit only by a not-quite-broken table lamp was lost on me. But at least we had cable television. Geez, I’m such a sucker.
Of course, let’s not neglect the hostel manager, who couldn’t help but compliment me on my English. I try hard to keep up the illusion that I’m illiterate. “Me love you long time” and all that mumbo-jumbo. A very nice gentleman would throw “Jesus dollars” at us whenever we passed on the stairs. Nice that the only guy who speaks to me the whole weekend wants to save my soul. The hostel had a separate house for the boys, and I did ses some cute boys smoking in the lot. I hoped they would be around.
Beale Street was kind of cool during the day, but there wasn’t much to do except shop and eat. Having no problems with either of those things, I picked up cheap gifts at Schwab’s and ate a large weird sandwich (chicken breast, mayo, barbecue sauce, swiss cheese, ham) for lunch. Then we went back to the hostel and passed out in front of the television set.
After a nice little siesta, it was time for the single girls to hit town. We showered (I even put on eye shadow) and looked for a restaurant at which to sup. Finding it took us through the rich and poor parts of Memphis, which I found incredible both because of their proximity to each other and their beauty. There really is a “wrong side” of the tracks, which I found striking and appalling in contrast to the luxury of the wealthy neighborhoods.
Kevin’s flight got in at about 8:45 pm, so we figured he’d cab to the restaurant. But having found no such place, and being so far out, we decided to pick him up. But by the time I managed to call his phone, he was in a cab. On his way to the hostel. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!
So after that drama ended, we had ribs on Beale Street, balked at the high cover charges, and went back to, *shudder*, the hostel for sleep on funny-smelling mattresses.
We left for Shiloh early the next morning, making sure to stop at “Booger King” on the way out of town. It’s not that we were no longer interested in sampling the local cuisine — it’s just that French toast sticks are impossible to resist when the opportunity to consume them presents itself so easily.
We took the “scenic” route through Corinth so that we could say we had been in Mississippi, and so that we could see the town from which the Confederate forces had launched their attack on the Union army at Shiloh Church. Scenic my ass. While Corinth had nothing much to offer, the road through Mississippi did smell nice, and the dirt was indeed so red (Nadine made much of this over and over again). We drove through what I suppose was downtown Corinth (proof: two “Greek” columns and an RV dealership) then took another highway up to Shiloh.
I could tell exactly when we were getting closer because there were quite a few cannon lawn ornaments to be found on the road to the actual park entrance. Olivia had mentioned earlier that we were a bit early for the battle’s anniversary, so there weren’t nearly as many people at the park as I had hoped. I wanted Shelby Foote-esque old men lurking behind the ladies’ bathroom, leading clandestine tours of the park, but instead was confronted by well-meaning park rangers with networked computers.
I perked up at the sight of a young girl wearing a bonnet (Kevin:”But she’s a nerd like us! It’s okay!” Me: “Whatever! Call the Fashion Police!”). Things got better with the informational movie, as the actors couldn’t even stand, much less act. But the movie was pretty pointless, as Olivia had already filled us in. We drove or hiked to the important points at Shiloh National Military Park.
I really liked the Hornet’s Nest, where the Union withstood *eleven* charges before surrendering. It was there that Nadine started, ahem, “riding” a cannon. So of course, I had to join her. There were wild scallions growing at Pittsburgh Landing. So me and the hippy (Nadine) ate some. I felt really creeped out by the mass Confederate grave, where 700 bodies are buried. And something about the Peach Orchard, where some of the bloodiest fighting took place, really calmed me. Instead of investigating the cabin down the road with the others, I sat on the fence and smoked some cigarettes.
Next to the Orchard was Bloody Pond, where many of the injured from the Peach Orchard fighting would go for water to drink and heal themselves — snipers would pick them off here, hence the name. I know you’re thinking “That is so fucked up.” because I thought the exact same thing.
Things started to go a bit funny when we got to the tree stump where Gen. Johnston died, supposedly. It was petrified, as well as surrounded by a tall fence. I started giggling uncontrollably, so we just drove past and returned to the Visitor’s Center. Olivia, ever the purist, hiked to the Indian Mounds while the rest of us pulled up some books and laid out in the sun.
It didn’t occur to me why the Boy Scouts were being especially strange that day, but it became more obvious as we prepared to leave. I always seem to forget that Nadine’s stacked, but then some young man will be thoughtful enough to remind me.
The drive to Nashville was incredible because:
- We took the Natchez trace, about 150 miles of rolling hills, cliffs, and forest. This was incredibly beautiful.
- We stopped at a Dairy Queen, where I got a large dip which “bled” ice cream all over my lap.
- I got to hear Kevin singing “Lady Marmalade” at the top of his lungs.
- I got to nap some more.
We got to Nashville early that evening, making our entrance through the very affluent Bellemeade section of town. HUGE houses on rolling hills, I thought I could hear the horses running through. Nashville is smaller than Memphis, but had a lot more in less space, I thought.
We stayed with Katie Romich’s sister, Jenny, at a huge hotel. The hotel was a block from all the touristy honky tonks and theme restaurants. I kind of wanted to eat at the Nascar cafe, but instead we hit a cheap Mexican place. It was there that we ran into a bunch of rugby players.
Rather, Jenny and Olivia sashayed over to their table. It was really funny, listening to Jenny and Olivia plot over what they would say. They went over, Jenny having removed her sweater (hello, tight t-shirt!), and were about to be smoove when the other women said “Sit down.” These chickies were rugby players from Ohio and Illinois, playing in a tournament that weekend. They pointed us to a rugby party at what had to be the only lesbian bar in town.
So up the hill we go to a small little house, not too far away from the frat boy-laden dance clubs ful of Vandy students trying desperately to get busy. It was a cool party (50 cent beer) but after 3 Abba songs in a row, we knew it was time to kick it live. We ended up at the Wild Horse Saloon, another large place (I guess folks can’t do things on a small scale in Tennessee) with live music (the very excellent Sonny Burgess), lots of kiddies running around, and some kinky dancing. But then we all did the Mexican chicken dance, and everything was a-okay.
When the band took their break, a video screen came down, the “Macarena” came on, and it was just like your cousin’s wedding or bar mitzvah, only everyone was wearing cowboy boots. Now, I have never in my life ever wanted to own, much less wear, cowboy boots, but I got this funny feeling in my tummy after seeing a beautiful pair of black boots with red roses. Mmmm, yummy boots.
Kevin took off on Sunday, getting a 9:00 flight back to Chicago. So no, he didn’t have to spend seven hours in the car with us. We spent the morning in search of breakfast at a local place, but instead had to settle for IHOP. It was the waitress’ birthday, so we tried to be nice and act polite in the face of the nasty Vanderbilt parents who had overrun this particular part of town.
The drive home was very spirited, and I think we were all on crack by this point. We had to have been, how else would I have won our game of Road Bingo? I never win anything. The Krispy Kreme donuts acquired in Indiana didn’t calm us down, nor did the novelty lighter I got for Jacinda (“Not the brightest crayon in the box, are we?” read the lighter — I don’t think I’ve seen it used since I brought it home, hmm).