Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
Snow flakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
Silver white winters that melt into springs
These are a few of my favorite things
– Barbra Streisand
I sort of hate sitting down to write these types of posts. Vacation posts take so much time and thought. I try to write everything exactly as it happened, but at the same time, I have to make it readable. You know that feeling of trying to capture the raw beauty of something in a photo; however, not a one ever turns out exactly how you saw it? That’s what these posts feel like for me. I feel as if I’m leaving out things, or failing to describe something enough, or forgetting small details that might tell the story better.
But, I digress.
Because the Ballas get what the Ballas want.
I knew that road tripping across the country would be something magnificent. I knew Kristen and I would see things and do things we would never forget. I knew this trip was the opportunity of a lifetime. What I didn’t realize, is how much it would change me…
Here’s the story you’ve been waiting for… well, half of it at least.
Wednesday, March 12: Hickory, NC, to Nashville, TN (378 miles)
Thank God I worked from home. Why I decide to wait to the last minute to pack, clean, drop Sonny off, and tan is beyond me. When Kristen showed up to my house I was still throwing shit in bags, grabbing beer out of the fridge, and finishing up stuff for work. At 3:15 p.m., I finally said to hell with it all and shut the door. We sat in my driveway with the windows rolled down as we took this picture:
We were on our way.
It was actually in the ol’ HKY when the first alarming quote of the trip was uttered. Kristen was driving. She chose an odd way to get to I-40. When I mentioned something to her about it she replied with, “Wait. Are we going east or west? Like, do I go towards Asheville or Statesville?” Ahhh shit. It was going to be a long week with this yayhoo driving.
We had a quick little “You are here.” trivia session and then she was back on track.
Our drive to Nashville – or Nashvegas, if you’re into that sorta thing – was dreary, wet, and curvy. We didn’t stop much, except for some gas and Cheetos. It was around 8:15 p.m. CST when the lights of Nashville’s skyline twinkled in the distance. They came up on us fast. I think we both just kind of assumed the entire trip would pan out that way – quick, painless, and easy. It wouldn’t, but more on that later.
As we were checking into our hotel downtown, our phones started ringing one after the other. “It’s your freakin’ sister,” I said. We had just barely made it out of Carolina and we couldn’t keep the vultures at bay. Kristen picks up her older sister’s phone call, and then I hear her say, “Do I have my makeup bag? Shit. My f*&king makeup bag. No. Damn it! I guess just ship it to San Diego. Hopefully, it’ll be there when we get there.” Geesh. That sucks. A makeup-less cross-country trip. Ugh. Good thing she’s already got a ring…
Once in the room, we got dressed for dinner and a night out on the town. Kristen was a little on edge because of the no makeup debacle. However, I came to the rescue and let her borrow mine. We crossed our fingers in hopes her face wouldn’t swell up like the belly of a starving Ethiopian kid (too far?). Me, on the other hand? Well, I had to spend an hour curling my hair because – unbeknownst to me – my best friend doesn’t own a hair straightener. When I asked her what she thought I was talking about when I said, “Hey, can you plug up your straightener for me?” she said she thought I was talking about the itty-bitty little straighter I use to straighten my bangs. The girl seriously expected me to straighten my entire head with a hair tool the size of my index finger. Oh sweet Jesus.
Regardless, we got a good laugh out of the makeup and hair situation.
A note to all my tiny travelers: Nashville on a Wednesday night, at 9:30 p.m., is basically one live song away from flat-lining. No food, empty bars, and bare streets. For a while there, we thought we would have to call the car back out of valet and find a McDonalds for dinner. Second Avenue was shut down… well, that’s not entirely true. There was homeboy standing outside of Coyote Ugly who shouted out, “Laaadies, why don’t y’all come in and dance on my bar?” when we walked by.
Huh, how’d he know?
I only dance on stages and stripper poles…
Moving on. Kristen and I held hands all the way down Second and half-way up Broadway looking for food. It was windy and our Mommas had us brainwashed into thinking everything with a set of balls was out to lady-snatch us. We played along like we were lesbian lovahs just out for a stroll. And then finally, we found Merchants – the only restaurant in Tennessee still serving something other than peanuts and light beer.
The place had a real nice retro vibe. Almost 1930s-ish, maybe? Who knows. They were wearing slacks, white shirts, and suspenders. Most of the men had quirky facial hair, our waitress was sportin’ red lipstick, and the floor was a black and white pattern. Instead of bread or peanuts, you get popcorn in a tin cup. Kristen and I ordered a couple of their signature drinks and weren’t disappointed. While we waited on our dinner we watched the people pass by our window on Broadway. And when we got our food – divine. I had the chicken fried chicken and Kristen had the brisket. So good.
After dinner, the two of us walked next door to Honky Tonk Central. We could see people packed in around the bar from the street and live music was blaring from inside. You see, that’s the cool thing about Nashville – music is literally everywhere. At one point, I thought I heard Elvis crooning to me from a pedestrian walk sign.
The Honky Tonk was packed with all kinds. Kids our age, men older than Dad, and women with hair stacked higher than Dolly’s in her heyday swigged from bottled beer and sang along with the band. The band was good. They were the type that had probably done this every other night for the past 10 years. If you could think it, they could sing it. And even though Hollywood hasn’t yet made a major motion picture about Honky Tonk Central, I will have to admit, the show there was most likely leaps and bounds better than a couple tired ol’ redneck waitresses two-steppin’ on top of a bar…
I took a few video snippets of certain songs and sent them to Mr. Big (“Something Like That”) and Bubba (“Sold”). Kristen and I had a good time singing to old country songs and people watching. Buuuut 6:00 a.m. comes early to a coupla road trippers… so we grabbed a hold of each others hands and headed back to the Double Tree.
Thursday, March 13: Nashville, TN, to Memphis, TN (213 miles)
It’s amazing how much easier it is for me to wake up at the crack ass of dawn when I know it’s not for work.
And I managed to look cute…
The valet guy actually made a comment about my maxi dress when I went to get in the car, “You look nice today, but not exactly dressed for the weather this mornin’.” I smiled, my bright red lips beaming, “Thank you, but I was sweatin’ my balls off up there, sir.” He smiled back and shook his head as I hiked my skirt up, hopped into the 4-Runner, and slammed the door.
Will they ever learn?
Kristen mumbled something about needing to take her coat off but having to wait. “Why?” I asked. “Did you not see the homeless lady standing right beside of my window staring in at us?” “Huh. Nope.” “She must have saw our beer when we opened the hatch.” “Probably.”
Does that little conversation make us douche bags? If you answered, “Yes,” to that question… you might just want to stop reading now.
We stopped at the worst McDonalds ever on our way out of town. Another traveling tip, y’all: Don’t get the biscuits and gravy. Like, ever. They are never as good in any other state as they are at Carolina Mickey D’s. Not to mention, they gave us kiddie cups and two packets of ketchup. I could kick a bitch over two packets of ketchup.
Anywho, we were well on our way to Memphis.
Beale Street was our first stop. March Madness games were being held at the FedEx Forum that day but the city was calm for the most part. Beale was blocked off for the tourney so we parked and moseyed down the infamous street reading the music notes as we walked down sidewalk. BBQ smoke wafted out of the open restaurant doors, blues music filled the air, and the morning sun lit up the brick covered street. Memphis felt like home. Not my home, but a nice home to come home to. We commented on how fun it would probably be to walk the streets of Memphis on a Saturday morning or a hot Friday evening after work. But the interstate was begging for us to move on…
Thursday, March 13: Memphis, TN, to Graceland, TN (2 miles)
When I signed up for this road trip there were very specific things I wanted to accomplish.
Going to Graceland, was number one. Eating spectacular food – numero dos.
Dinner the night before had kinda set the bar high. Buuut, we were in Memphis. Just what could go wrong?
Well, for starters, the Diners Drive-ins and Dives website does not advertise restaurant open and close times. So, when we drove up to Marlowe’s Ribs and saw the closed sign I was just a tad thrown off my game. My b. I Google Maps’ed the next joint, it was right across the street. Howevs, seeing a sign that reads “As featured on Restaurant Impossible!” doesn’t exactly tickle my fancy… ya know what I mean?
We settled on Best Wings of Memphis.
Tiny Travelers note: They aren’t. They probably aren’t even the best wings on the block… or maybe even in the parking lot. Just eat on Beale Street. Or for shit’s sake, get a two-piece meal from Captain D’s.
Okay, so back to The King. My love for Elvis Presley might be the only thing I inherited from my father. I can remember him having a portrait of Elvis hanging in his bedroom ever since I was a little girl. For my sixteenth birthday, I asked Momma and Dad to get me the Elvis #1 CD sets for my new stereo system in the Neon. And one time, on our way home from a weekend stay at Nana’s, I managed to read Elvis and Me from cover to cover without getting carsick.
At first, Kristen wasn’t as thrilled about the stop as I was and Mr. Big tried to convince me it was a waste of time all together. But I was hell bent on going to Elvis’ house if it meant I was walking.
The home tour is jam-packed with so much information and so much history that the story alone is worth the drive. However, the grounds and home itself are immaculate. It literally looks as if someone came in on August 17, 1977 (the day after he died), roped the house off, and set up shop. Although, the house isn’t as grandiose in size as one would expect, the decor and details are just beautiful. Kristen and I walked around with our mouths hung open.
You get to see just about everything: the mansion (with the exception of the upstairs), Vernon’s office, the racquetball building, the trophy building, the meditation garden (where a memorial marker for Elvis’ twin brother can be found and Elvis, his mother, father, and grandmother are laid to rest), his clothes, his awards, old memorabilia, the car museum, and the private planes. Everything was far out but the house and jets – a must see!
Kristen called her Momma and raved about Graceland. “You’ve got to come here! It’s so cool!” It really was. So glad we stopped. So glad I had the opportunity to see where The King lived, walk where he walked, and pay my respects.
We hated to leave but it was… on to the next!
Thursday, March 13: Graceland, TN, to Dallas, TX (488 miles)
Crossing over the Mississippi was pretty cool… if it wasn’t for the fact that we were crossing over into Arkansas.
If any of you out there grew up with a Social Studies teacher who beat the acronym MIMAL into your head during the fifth grade… you know what I mean when I say, “Not surprised Arkansas is the ass of MIMAL.” Why? Because Arkansas blows.
Sorry, not sorry ’bout it.
Kristen and I literally drove from one side of the country to the other and did not have to deal with as much traffic in any other state than what we had to put up with in Arkansas. What. The. F*&k. Where ya goin’ Arkansas-ians? ‘Cause ya sure as shit ain’t in a hurry to get there. We prayed the entire way across the state. Honestly. We shouted out at baby Jesus, “Please, oh for the love of God just get us out of Arkansas!”
I know, what did I expect… it’s Arkansas. The funny thing is, I’ve been to Arkansas once. About 8-ish years ago, I flew into Little Rock to spend a few days with my father. He was planning on proposing to his fourth wife at her sister’s wedding. But that’s neither here nor there. My point is, as soon as my plane landed I called my best man-friend at the time to tell him I had made it safely, and I can still distinctly remember saying, “Dude. There’s like a bank here. That’s it.”
It’s been nearly a decade and nothing’s changed. Way to go Arkansas.
Moving on… just barely. We stopped for food in Texarkana. “Oh, I see what they did there,” Kristen said as we passed by a road sign. Sometimes I wonder ’bout ‘er…
Big Jake’s BBQ had us at “Fried Pies! Fried Pies!” We had already struck out for lunch and weren’t trying to tank it twice in a row, so we stopped. It was a good choice. The BBQ wasn’t dry, the mac ‘n cheese was pretty good, and the fries were homemade. My fried pie of choice was the chocolate (of course). Imagine chocolate pudding in a turnover. Momma would’ve died.
When we walked out of Jake’s, and turned towards the car, both of us stopped to take pictures of the sunset. The sky was pink, and orange, and bright blue. It was a sweet ending to our first full day… but Dallas was waitin’ up on us.
Gah. Whatever, Arkansas. I’ll give you BBQ and friggin’ sunsets. Ya, happy now?
I took the wheel after dinner. By this time, we had made it into Texas. Road signage had drastically changed. Every two miles the headlights would shine on a “Left lane is for passing only.” Oh Texas, you sneaky bastards. These signs kept the drive interesting but I felt like we needed a little something more… “Hey, watch out for any mutant pigs.”
I nonchalantly dropped the mutant pig bomb on Kristen as if I had asked her to look for the next rest area. “The what?” “Mutant pigs.” “You’ve got to be f*&king kidding me.” “Uhh. No. I watched a documentary about them on Animal Planet with Momma and Dad a few months back.” “So. I’ll just shoot them with a shotgun.” “Really. Are you nine? And just where the hell is your shotgun, buddy? You can’t just shoot them with a shotgun, Kristen. Like, they hunt these bastards in helicopters. Look that shit up if you don’t believe me.”
So this is what she found:
Yeah. These f*&kers mean business, my friends.
Lucky for us (or them, depends on how you look at it [you know, with Kristen’s fictionary shotgun and all]) we never ran into any mutant pigs on our way to Dallas. What we did run into, was a whole lotta cops. Droves of ’em actually. It seemed like we passed blue lights every 10 or so miles. And once we made it into Dallas – we might as well have been at the frackin’ city cop circus. My anxiety shot through the roof.
“Just get me to a bar,” I thought.
And to the bar we went. After we checked in at The Belmont, creeped on a conversation between the front desk girl and a coupla fire marshals (at 11:00 p.m., no less), and then snapped a thousand pics of the view from our room, we changed into something more comfortable and walked back over to the hotel bar. So cool. So laid-back, so eclectic, so chill, so vintage, and have I mentioned… so effing cool. We felt like we had walked out of 2014 and into 1960.
The hotel is nestled in the side of a hilltop – bungalow style. The grounds are well maintained and manicured. And the views of Dallas are spectacular. The Belmont was the perfect place to hang out for a couple of hours, and then crash after last call. Kristen and I crawled into bed together and tried to fall asleep.
I’m not sure what time it was – maybe 1:00 – 1:30 a.m. – when I vaguely heard what sort of sounded like a baby crying right outside of our door. Maybe I was just dreaming. You know, maybe it was one of those dreams that is so real you end up jumping out of bed, flipping the light on, and forcing your girlfriend to check the bed for snakes (cough, cough… Mr. Big). The difference between me and most people though – I just try to sleep through it. Kristen… not so much.
“Hey. Hey,” she whispered in the dark, “I think I hear… the mutant pigs.”
“No. It’s just the whores,” I mumbled back.
Whores? Where the hell did that come from? Sure, there were some sketchy broads in the bar but I wouldn’t necessarily call them whores.
Oh what a little liquor, a lot less sleep, and some Arkansas traffic will do to a girl…
Friday, March 14: Dallas, TX, to Amarillo, TX (355 miles)
I was kind of heartbroken when I realized it was going to take us at least 15 hours to get to the Grand Canyon from Dallas. I was originally planning on 11. Where I got 11 hours from? Who friggin’ knows. My little road trippin’ heart was hurt when we made the decision to skip any Dallas day excitement and get back on the road. I wanted to ride up to the tippy top of the Reunion Tower, and walk Dealey Plaza, and tour The Sixth Floor Museum. And then, when we were packing the car back up that morning in the dark, I was starting to get afraid we wouldn’t even get to see Dallas in the daylight.
But we did (sorta), and my heart was happy again.
That morning, we stopped at Chic-fil-A for breakfast. Oh thank the sweet little chicken angels for some Chic-fil-A. Look, you people may have beef with those fools over this, that, and the other but I’m into chicken… on biscuits, specifically. And it’s their pleasure to whip up a mean #1. I called Big and told him, “You know, I could live in Texas. They have lots of restaurants, lots of shopping, and Chic-fil-A.” He responded with, “I couldn’t. They got the Cowboys.” Ehh, ya win some, ya lose some.
Texas was mostly flat, dry, and just big. We saw some tumbleweeds, so umm, that was kind of exciting. Oh yeah, and I think Texas is the state where we went through the tiny town that had the zombie sitting in the rocking chair. So that was sorta odd, but basically, that was the extent of it until we reached Amarillo.
Originally, my thought process for wanting to stop in Amarillo was because of George. You know, Straight. I figured if it was good enough for George, well then, the town had to have something good to offer a coupla weary road trippers. I was right. It didn’t take long for TripAdvisor (basically, a travelers crystal ball) to offer up The Big Texan.
You may have heard of The Big Texan. It’s the restaurant home to the free 72 oz. steak… if you can manage to eat it all, plus the fixin’s, in under 60 minutes. While on a stage. In the middle of the restaurant. And streaming live on the internet. The Big Texan has been featured on Man vs. Food, No Reservations, and Food Paradise. When Kristen and I walked in, we were greeted by a life-sized stuffed bear and a snaggle-toothed hostess in a cowboy hat. There were animal heads covering the walls, and not just normal animals… I’m talkin’ moose, and bear, and mountain goats. Oh my!
I sent Mr. Big a picture of the lunch menu and asked him what he thought I should get. When he didn’t answer promptly, I ordered prime rib outta respect. That was the first time I have ever ordered a steak for a meal. Hey, when in Texas…
Lunch was spectacular but the gift shop was even better.
Bubba had asked me to pick him up specific things from each state. In Texas, he requested a belt buckle. When I saw the belt buckles with “Texas” scrolled across the middle were $69.99, I made the executive decision to nix the belt buckle idea. That fool could hold his pants up with a piece of old rope or his hands for all I cared. He got a koozie made out of cow hide and a Texas Ranger badge. Hey, you’re welcome, Bubs.
Kristen and I took pictures out front for a few minutes before we hoisted ourselves back into the Runner and turned back onto Route 66. Our next stop was just around the corner and we were excited to get there.
Friday, March 14: The Big Texan, TX, to the Cadillac Ranch, TX (13.4 miles)
The Cadillac Ranch is just right outside of Amarillo city limits. Actually, had Kristen and I made this trip about 20 years ago, the Ranch would have been closer to the city itself and two more miles to the east. The vintage Caddy display was originally created in 1974 by three men affiliated with an art group called Ant Farm. When installed, the piece was to depict the evolution of the Cadillac from 1949 to 1963. And according to our trusty Wikipedia, all ten cars are buried nose-first into the ground at an angle corresponding to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.
When you pull off of the interstate and onto the frontage road you can just barely see them resting out in the distance. As you climb out of your car and walk towards the spray paint-laden gate, you notice a sign stating, “State Of Texas Property – Graffiti – Painting Of Anything On This Side Of The Fence Is Illegal.”
And then, two 4-year-olds holding their Dad’s hand walk by you carrying a couple princess pink-colored cans of paint.
You know, you’re probably right. Throw ’em in tha pokey! That’ll teach those little bastards to color outside of the lines.
Anywho, we walked through a dirt field and up to the brightly painted cars. They were beautiful, yet, eerie. Any remnants of luxury had been stripped from each vehicle. There were no windows, or tires, or seats, or leather. All that was left was the shell of something that once was magnificent. And now, kids were climbing, and swinging, and painting on them. It was sort of sad. Even though these cars were buried in the desert in the name of art… isn’t it kind of symbolic of how we take advantage of, and wreck, and strip the raw beauty out of the things we have? Instead of keeping these cars as a reminder of how we’ve evolved… we have chosen to cover them with paint, and glitter, and God knows what else.
But at the same time, it’s beautiful. It’s so neat to see the faces of people young and old light up when they walk through those gates to make their mark in history. It is cool to watch someone build on top of what decades of so many others have started. And although the three men who created this structure probably knew they were creating something pretty badass… they could have never guessed America would have taken to it the way we did.
Kristen and I didn’t bring any spray paint. We really wished we had though.
Stay tuned next week if you want the deets on New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and finally… California!