Retro Post: 10 Years Ago Today, 21-Aug, Part 1

For the next few weeks, we’ll be observing an anniversary: 10 years since we left San Francisco and moved to Ann Arbor. I’ll repost articles Frank and I wrote at that time for our Ann Arbor blog, aSquared. Bittersweet, very definitely they will be, bittersweet.

[It’s aSquared’s First Birthday … we’re celebrating by looking back at events from a year ago … skip these retro posts if you’re not into sentimentality.]

‘Memphis. Ugh. Tennessee drivers. Ugh. Maybe I shouldn’t have embarked on this journey down memory lane …

Day Seven

‘Day Seven — Memphis, TN, to Lexington, KY

‘Surprise! We were supposed to spend the night in Nashville, but instead changed our plans and elected to get to Ann Arbor a day early and take Friday as a rest day. So, we drove from Memphis to Nashville and looked at some sights, then drove up I-65 to Elizabethtown, KY, then over the BlueGrass Parkway to Lexington. From Lexington, it’s about 347 miles … to our new home. [gulp] Gosh, it’s getting close, and the last week has flown by. This time one week ago, I was having a panic fit trying to fit all of our stuff on a trailer. Right now, we’re approaching Bonnieville, Kentucky, at Exit 71 on I-65N.

‘Let’s get right to it, shall we? Today’s statistics:

‘We travelled 430 miles from Memphis, TN (including driving around to Graceland and Beale Street). Spent $46.00 on gas, $24.68 on food, $11.94 on miscellaneous expenses (okay, on Elvis souvenirs), and $138.53 on hotels (both in Memphis and Lexington). And we crossed our final time zone; we’re now forced to permanently adjust to the Eastern zone. Oh my.

‘First, some miscellany:

‘—Arnold Schwarzenegger’s candidacy for Governor of California is just as nutty when viewed 3,000 miles away.

‘— Speaking of politics, a woman named Janis Feelilove is running for city council in Memphis. I am not making this up.

‘— Speaking of Drag Queen names, the state of Arkansas has radio broadcasts along I-40 that you can listen to for construction updates (the entire state highway system is one large construction zone). On this channel, you can hear two people give you tips for dealing with the Cone Zones. One is named ‘Highway Guy.’ And the other? Anita Buckleup.

‘— There is an actual city park in Conway, AR, called Toad Suck Park. I am not making this up.

‘— On Memphis public radio, volunteers actually come in and read articles out of magazines on the air. We were treated to a man reading to us an article about Annette Bening out of the Ladies Home Journal. Who knew that she really loves Warren Beatty?

‘—There is a Gayoso Street in Memphis.

‘—Beagles like Kentucky bluegrass.

‘—There is a very chagrined woman in the Lexington, KY, LaQuinta who left her diesel-powered pickup truck running … and locked her keys inside. Locksmiths do apparently visit hotels at 11 p.m., however, so she’s just fine.

‘And here once again: All the boring, exhausting details, almost as they happened:

‘—I-65N, Approaching Elizabethtown, KY, 20:00 CDT | 21-Aug-04

‘Well, Frank is driving now, so I can update what’s happened in the last 24 hours.

‘The alarm rang at 09:00, and was followed shortly by a call from the front desk, inquiring how/when I wished to pay for the room. Since I handed them $65.73 in cash the night before, this question was a might puzzling. But given the … … … … … ability (I was searching for the right word) of the clerk last night, I wasn’t surprised. He told me he’d figure it out and let me know.

‘We got up and took and hour-and-a-half to get it together. As we get further east, we get more sluggish. Seven days and 2,800 miles on the road is a very long time/distance. Unloading the Jeep every night and dealing with the beagle (poor puppy) is very exhausting. And the heat this morning in Memphis was beyond oppressive. It was 103 when we left the hotel at noon; humidity must have been 150 percent. At least.

‘When I checked out, the manager had finished an audit and discovered my payment.

‘‘She’s new,’ he said, ‘and didn’t post it. She didn’t know what she was doing.’ Thusly went the biggest understatement of our journey.

‘The room itself was scary. There was a deadbolt, but the device (a metal bracket which is supposed to be better than a chain) was missing and the doorframe and door looked as if this metal bracket had been forcibly ripped apart. I won’t go into the rest of it, but let’s just say the whole thing needed a renovation. And leave it at that. If that’s the worst hotel experience we’ve had (and it has been), then, actually, we’ve been pretty lucky.

‘Before leaving, we made the decision to forego a night in Nashville and head on up the road to Lexington. This accomplishes two things: We’re closer to home, and we don’t have to do any traveling on Friday, the day before we have to start unloading the trailer. Frank felt that just a quick ride through Nashville was enough for him. So, I redid our hotel reservations.

‘After check out, we drove over to Graceland. First, it was obvious I wasn’t taking any tours. A beagle cannot stand the heat just walking around a park or something (and of course not the car – even with the air conditioner running, the Jeep engine gets too hot and the inside isn’t that cool) and we had checked out of the room.

‘We drove down Elvis Presley Boulevard.

‘Now folks, I know that EPB is a LOT different in 2003 than it was whenever the King built the thing. But this is a bad neighborhood now. And when I mean bad, I mean seriously skanky. We’re talking derelict buildings and trash. A strip of truly ugly strip malls and places where you just KNOW you’d get e.Coli if you ate in them. Tacky little Elvis souvenir shops. And an air of being worn-out and well past its shelf life and general seediness. But suddenly, on the east side of the road, is this pristine manse with trees and across the street is an aging DC-8. And then we’re back to seediness.

‘This is a neighborhood in which you not only should keep your doors locked and your windows rolled up tight, you should probably wear body armor and have all your shots up-to-date.

‘We paid $2 just to park, since parking on the street is not only dangerous, it apparently mobilizes an entire security force, none of whom seem to understand that Graceland is a tourist attraction of which people wish to take photos.

‘We were given a security warning, which stated that taking digital photos of any kind while on the tour was strictly verboten and then we parked in a vast parking lot, baking in the sun. Frank went into the visitor’s center while beagle and I idled in the parking lot and took a short nap.

‘On Frank’s return, he reported that this was, in his opinion, a ‘sacrilege,’ and, quoting, ‘It’s an obvious way for Priscilla and Lisa Marie to make lots of money.’ He said that people were standing in line to … have their photos taken in front of a mural, yes, that’s right, just a mural, of Graceland. Perhaps the tackiest place on earth, is, I suppose, our opinion of it.

‘But two things. Graceland is frozen in time, circa 1977. One can’t judge fat Elvis’ taste by the standards of 2003. I mean, I’m sure that by now, the Fab Five from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy would have been all over Graceland like white on rice and that what you pay good money to see now would have been relegated to the dump long ago.

‘Still, as I’ve said before, I’m not a very good Amurrican citizen/tourist. Even if we weren’t under the time/budget constraints we’re under, I still would have probably foregone a tour of Hoover Dam, a night in Paris Las Vegas or Venice Las Vegas (c’mon! I’ve been too the real cities!). We just flew by Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, which one of our tour books reports is probably not the actual cabin where he was born at all. And so forth.

‘I don’t get very excited about where Abe Lincoln had his diapers changed. Where fat Elvis sat in a drugged-out stupor and listened to his old recordings does nothing much for me.

‘But what does excite me is listening to him sing and reading about the influences, from gospel, from African-Americans, from the south, from his mother, etc., on his music and how that music influenced and changed the very world and culture we live in.

‘And what does excite me is the simple and eloquent speech Abe gave at Gettysburg, that he had the chutzpah to free the slaves and send the nation to bloody war to preserve the union and that the man knew what was what. So he was born in log cabin, so what? What the man DID is what’s important.

‘[Steps off soap box]

‘The most important part of the visit to Graceland, even though we didn’t take the tours, was this: Frank accomplished something his mother always wanted to do and never had the opportunity. He’s glad he did it for Mom and I’m proud to have been there when he did. And that made it all worthwhile.

‘We drove up Third Street into downtown and took a short walk on Beale Street. I bought some postcards and a keychain for Frank, we took some pictures, the beagle transacted some business, and we popped back in the car to hit the road.

‘We stopped on the north edge of Memphis for gas and some Dairy Queen food, then headed out on I-40 to Nashville.

‘And it is here that I must say this: On this trip, we’ve been wondering if any one state has the worst drivers, or if it’s an individual thing or just what. A certain someone I know in Washington, DC, swears that Maryland drivers are the worst; after several visits there, I always tended to agree with him. I’ve always thought Oklahoma drivers were fairly decent, just slow. Texans used to be friendly and wave at you out on the lonely roads in West Texas. New Mexicans were middling, Coloradans tended to be aggressive and dangerous and REALLY don’t like seeing California-tagged cars in ‘their’ state. Around San Francisco, Arizona drivers I encountered tended to be cow-ish, Nevadans tended to be decent and Californians, well, Californians around San Francisco are just … basically a herd of deer. Always bunched in packs, sometimes skittish, sometimes mulish, always clueless. They do have, however, the ability to multi-task on the road: They can shave, read, watch a DVD, eat breakfast, poor coffee and smack the kids in the back seat while doing 80 mph on I-80. Arkansans were cool.

‘However, I’m ready to declare that we have an undisputed winner in the America’s Worst Drivers sweepstakes: Tennesseeans, the award is ALL very much yours. Tennessee drivers stand out head and shoulders above the crowd as champions of rudeness, aggressiveness, stupidity, cluelessness and just plain horrible, uncontrolled and anarchic ‘drivers’ and I use the term loosely.

‘I lost track at 12 the number of times we almost shuffled off this mortal coil. My mantra became, ‘Please, God, don’t let me die in Tennessee!’ I was almost run off the road, tailgated innumerable times, almost run over and then honked at while I was making a legal right turn having signaled well in advance; I was almost sideswiped by cellphone-gabbing women twirling their hair; I witnessed a girl cross five lines of interstate traffic during rush hour at 65 miles an hour in front of oncoming semis … in order to make her exit. I was waved at, laughed at and had not one, not two, not three, but four, count ‘em, four people run a red light while I was trying to cross an intersection on a green.

‘We’re now pretty deep in Kentucky, on the Blue Grass Parkway about 50 miles outside of Lexington. And the change between the states has been obvious. Perhaps Kentucky has better driver education programs. Perhaps It’s later at night and most people are home. Or perhaps Kentuckians know how to treat both horses and cars. But our experience in Tennessee over the last 24 hours was one of … I won’t say sheer terror, but complete amazement and sometimes a pounding heart.

‘Kentucky seems so peaceful, let me tell you.

‘Tennessee is pretty. It’s rolling hills and lots of trees. But I’m sorry, ‘them people is crazy!’

‘Still, we’ve had a good time. Seeing things for real that you’ve seen only in photos and books is always an interesting and fun experience. A carefully arranged photo in a glossy book can never do justice to the real deal. Photos of the Ryman Auditorium, for example, never show the neighborhood around it for context, and you can get its feel and sense of scale only by going there.

‘So, other than some road insanity, we’ve enjoyed most of the trip. Last night and this morning weren’t fun, but what’s a journey without a little adversity? Builds character, as they say. It’s been tiring, but a great trip. We’re now 30 miles outside of Lexington, which means we just have to do the final 350 or so to Ann Arbor tomorrow. This is good news and makes us quite happy.

‘I’m sure after this that the beagle will be quite displeased if he’s ever asked to ride in the Jeep ever again. He’s doing very, very well. Now that there are no steep and twisty mountain roads to negotiate, he’s pretty much able to lie down and sleep most of the time. He does not eat anything for breakfast; he’s even been refusing french fries during the day. He does eat dinner at the hotel rooms, though, as long as you do some coaxing and start him off with a beagle bagel. He’s currently even steadfastly ignoring my chocolate chip cookies. Obviously, this is a beagle who has decided on a hunger strike strategy to punish me for doing this to him. Even telling him that his couch will be in Ann Arbor all fixed up for him by Saturday night isn’t mollifying him. Oh well. Three more nights in motel rooms, then he can began to put his life and routine back together. And so can we all.

‘We’ve been hearing not nice things about the Gracie dog from home; she’s losing quite a bit of fur and wondering where Unca Frank has gone. We miss her and the Rudy dog and the Suki cat and the Artemis dog lots and lots and send them plenty of hugs and love and best wishes.

‘And, of course, even more so, we miss all the humans too, and send them the same hugs and love and best wishes.

‘It finally hit me last night, a little later than expected, the panicky sense that, once we rolled east of Oklahoma City, we have truly left behind the familiar, the loved ones, the home and routine and everything else we’ve always known. I’ve never lived east of Dallas/Duncan and Frank has never lived east of Oakland. We both have never lived north of San Francisco (which is roughly along the line of Kansas City). And we’ve now pushed those boundaries. The anxiety went on for awhile, but we talked through it and had a very good night’s sleep. It’s all a part of the experience and it’s all a good thing. We can’t wait to get home and get going. This time next week, Frank will have finished his first day of orientation; two weeks from now, he will have finished his first day of classes. It’s all fun and exciting. Even the first cold front and snowfall will be fun and exciting. But we’re not going to spoil the moment and talk about what happens in January/February, okay?

‘I’m sure some more anxiety will follow. Probably when we open the rear door of the trailer and are confronted with 80 boxes and a couch and a bigscreen TV and various and sundry other things, which, hopefully, are about to arrive in Ann Arbor themselves, and, again hopefully, intact. Not sure about Ann Arbor; they were part of the big blackout, so I have no idea what to expect when we get there.

‘I’m itching to unpack boxes and arrange furniture and hang pictures. These two chile ristras hanging in the back of the Jeep are going to look fabulous in our new kitchen, as will the ‘Elvis’ Favorite Recipes’ postcards I just bought on Beale Street when I put them up on the refrigerator.

‘Here’s today’s trip statistics:

‘• 11:00 — Left the hotel and saw some frightening things at Graceland; went to Beale Street and bought postcards; left Memphis — 0 miles | 2453 total
• 14:40 — East Memphis (gas) — 30 | 2483
• 15:28 — Jackson — 71 | 2554
• 15:45 — Nashville touring — 213 | 2696
• 16:23 — Kentucky State Line/Franklin — 250 | 2733
• 16:56 — Bowling Green — 272 | 2755
• 17:00 — Elizabethtown — 345 | 2828
• 18:04 — Lexington (hotel) — 430 | 2913

‘And now, we’ve arrived at room 247 at the LaQuinta Inn in Lexington, KY, and let me tell you, it’s fabulous. Just like a hotel should be. It’s wonderful. And I’m off to bed. I’ve had enough for today.

‘We’ll probably be talking to you tomorrow night from … Ann Arbor … MICHIGAN!

‘Oh, lord. Now I’ve scared myself.

‘Good night, y’all.

‘—Posted by Steve at 00:30 | 21-Aug-03’