Been a few days since I posted here…have spent a lot of time catching up on sleep, life, and getting used to being stationary for more than a few days at a time. But I’ve also compiled some (totally random) stats on my trip that I thought I’d share! Without further ado…
More thoughts and reflections on lessons and experiences from my trip coming soon…
There’s not many times that you’ll see a climate advocate really honor a car. But hey, this guy worked hard and got 39.9 miles per gallon for the trip. So, it seems only fair to give the car that was nice enough to carry me safely and relatively efficiently around the country some good press. Thanks, bud, for all the miles…we saw some cool things, you and me.
Well, as referenced in last night’s photo post, I made it back to my apartment a bit before 10pm last night. It was a bit of an anticlimactic ending to an amazing trip: I walked through the door of my apartment like I have so many times over the past 7+ years I’ve lived there, threw my keys in the bowl in the front hall like I do every time, said hello to my roommate, and sat down at our kitchen table for a brief catchup before bed. It was in so many ways like countless other nights, just with 8000 more miles on my belt than the last time I’d done it. But it was good to be home.
I’ll be writing up some other posts with some stats, reflections, and other “wrap-up”-y kinds of things soon, but for now I thought it was only appropriate to write one last post about my final drive. It’ll be relatively quick, I promise…
The morning of my last drive started early, after a later-than-expected night that had been happily extended past midnight due to wonderful music at a great show. I can’t say enough how perfect the music was for the mood I was in - pensive, reflective, and joyful. And everyone at the show was friendly and happy. I couldn’t have asked for a better final night on the road.
I was on the road by 8am to start the 8-hour drive to DC, hoping to avoid hitting the heart of the horrible DC rush hour that I know so well…and headed straight to my parents’ house (my childhood home) as I spoke about in my earlier post.
For the first time in a few days of driving for me, it was a gorgeously sunny, nearly cloudless day. Without the clouds blocking the view, I was able to take in the full expanse of mountains that quickly surrounded me…and they were more impressive than I expected. Spring hasn’t quite fully bloomed up in the mountains of North Carolina, but it was close - where there were greens, they were deep, and the browns and grays of later-blooming trees presented a beautiful contrast.
After not too long, it was time to turn north onto Interstate 81 and make my way into Virginia. I-81 is a highway I know well, from times playing in the Shenandoah mountains in western Virginia. Back on a road I know well, I let my guard down a bit and started to get ahead of myself thinking about home.
Well, it turns out that wasn’t such a great idea. At the bottom of a hill, all of a sudden I see a car pull out of a highway cut-across, look down at my spedometer, and think, “Uh oh”. Sure enough, the car slowly but surely makes its way behind me and those hidden police lights lit up. I pulled over, and he pulled over, and I knew my luck of no tickets in 8000 miles had come to an end. I was given a ticket for going 10 over the posted 70mph and I was on my way, with over $100 soon to be leaving my pocket. As a friend put it, a small price to pay for a wonderful trip, I guess, and not wholly unexpected with so much driving. Even so, it’s the first ticket of any kind that I’ve gotten in over 10 years, so I was pretty bummed to get it.
The rest of the drive was far less eventful…I made my way through the Shenandoah Valley, onto I-66 (another highway I know well), the Beltway, exited onto River Road and made my way to the pandemonium that is my parents’ house at the moment.
I spent an hour or two with my mom, sorting through the random things that my parents happened to keep from my childhood. And yes, we’re talking random. Everything from random trinkets bought on family vacations to my high school diploma to the pennants that covered the walls of my bedroom to letters from camp friends in middle school. My favorite, though, might have been a poster from my campaign as a 3rd grader in which I became the first 3rd grader in my school to be elected to the student council (I ran for treasurer). Still proud of that, after all these years, I’ll be honest.
So after a couple hours and a few bags of trash and recycling (and a box of keepsakes too, not to worry), it was time to head to my “other” home — my apartment, that is…and that’s where we get to the start of this post.
I walked in my door as I’ve done so many times, and like a flash the road trip was over and it was back to “real life,” whatever that is. It sort of felt like when Doc “Moonlight” Graham stepped off the field in Field of Dreams and transformed from a young baseball player to an old doctor to save a little girl from chocking.
Except for me, I went from a guy blissfully living life on the road to an unemployed dude in DC in need of a job. Hmmm, maybe I should have stayed on the road?
Today, I’m driving home. After nearly 5 weeks on the road, I’ll be driving straight to my parents’ house — my childhood home — where they have spent the last couple of weeks sorting, cleaning and packing as they get ready to sell the home they’ve lived in for 29 years. In a short while they’ll be moving to a new town house they’ve just bought in downtown Bethesda. I’ll be coming by to sort through things they’ve put aside for me, to decide what to keep and what to discard…and to help with some cleaning as well, I’m sure.
It’ll be a strange, yet somehow also fitting, way to end my trip. Over the past five weeks I’ve made countless new memories on a daily basis; I’ve seen new sights, experienced new adventures, caught up with old friends, reminisced with family. And now I’m driving home to look back on a life in a house where it all started.
But first, I have one more drive, 8 more hours, 500 more miles. Looking back on these five weeks, it could not have been more perfect — perfectly random, while also perfectly according to plan; filled with friends and family at times, while wonderfully isolated at stretches; incredibly new in many ways and yet often familiar.
Today, my trip will finally yet suddenly come to an end. Today I’ll open up the file of old memories and make some room for the new ones I’ve built over the last several weeks. Today I look back and reflect on the roads I’ve traveled, and look forward towards new horizons.
I’m writing this post from my last stop on this trip — Asheville, North Carolina. It’s a bit strange to think that tomorrow I’ll be heading home after nearly 5 weeks on the road, but I guess we’ve all heard that saying about “all good things…” But more on that tomorrow, perhaps.
Since my last written post, this blog has been updated with pictures of two things: food and music. Add some great scenery and a nice drive, and that pretty much sums up my last few days.
Yesterday started off northbound from Birmingham, through a good chunk of Alabama, a very (very) short jaunt into Georgia and back into Tennessee with a lunch in Chattanooga thrown in. This part of the drive was actually a bit surprising to me. I am not sure what I expected Alabama to look like, but it honestly reminded me a lot of the mid-Atlantic. The trees seemed familiar (although it’s full-blown late spring down there, so they were covered in leaves, not even flowers!) and the small rolling hills seemed somehow familiar. It was a perfectly pleasant drive up to Chattanooga, with light Saturday traffic, beautiful green hills all around me, and skies just cloudy enough to be interesting.
Lunch in Chattanooga was totally delicious. Fried chicken, garlic greenbeans, mac and cheese, and corn bread. Just perfect, if perhaps slightly decadent for lunch.
Back on the road, I quickly got into the Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee and eventually western North Carolina. The Smoky’s could be divided into probably three zones, on my drive at least. The first, was along a beautiful winding river. The river started with some mountain-encircled lakes on the western edge (as below) but quickly closed to narrow rapids as I headed east.
As I headed east, I rant into what was apparently a kayaker’s and rafter’s paradise. Around every corner was a couple more rafting outfits, the shoulders of the roads were packed by parked cars with empty kayaks, and the river next to the road was swarming with brightly colored kayakers and rafters navigating the rapids. It was an incredibly distracting drive, what with the winding roads, kayakers carrying their boats to launch points along the side, beautiful mountains above us, and school buses full of rafters ahead and behind me. The sky was full of clouds, but in this area they were not quite acting on their threats of rain and storms. That is, until I got further east, when the skies opened up and the lightning lit up the sky. It reminded me to some extent of my drive through the Ozarks in Arkansas — a beautiful road with what I’m sure are gorgeous views, but I couldn’t really see them.
Luckily the truly stormy section lasted only for a few miles, and then it was back to interesting skies, gorgeous views, and slightly drier roads. The clouds on this homestretch were pretty amazing, and as my Dad reminded me, likely the reason for the name of this mountain range. But rather than smokey, these clouds were brilliant white cumulus clouds. They created a stark dichotomy with the greens of the mountains, puffy cottonball mounds lurking behind the earthen mountains. Sometimes it would grow darker and rain for a bit, and then the sun would peak out, the clouds become illuminated, and the views extraordinary. It was a great end to the drive to my destination, Asheville.
I arrived in Asheville a bit later than I expected due possibly to my long lunch in Chattanooga, so I quickly checked into my hotel and basically turned right around to find some dinner. After wandering the town for a bit (amazing how a plethora of choices can sometimes be paralyzing!), I found a nice spot for some comfort food. On the counter was a local newspaper so I browsed the music listings and settled on a show starting soon by a local band (Big Daddy Love) touting a “blend of grass, roots and rock” which sounded right up my alley. After I finished my meal, I walked the few blocks to the Irish bar where they’d be playing. And it didn’t disappoint. I walked in to the warmup band playing — two local guys playing their guitars, singing melodies, and generally having a great time. A good sign that these were the openers. I found a spot to sit at the bar, next to some nice folks on either side who had just spent the day cleaning up trash along the river with the band all day. Another good sign, I’d say. And sure enough, when the got to playing, their description somehow worked — a good helping of bluegrass, a little Led Zeppelin, a little Lynard Skynard, and lots of fun (ok, yes that’s corny but it was). Lots of foot tapping, dancing, hooting and bouncing accompanied the songs for the rest of the night until I wandered home past 1am. A great night, just what I was hoping for in this town I’d heard so many good things about.
So after the late night, this morning started a bit…lazily. I wandered over for brunch (really it was breakfast as lunch) at the Tupelo Honey Cafe, based on recommendations from quite a few friends. The picture I posted earlier today should suffice to say it was as delicious as promised. The afternoon was spent wandering around the town, poking my head in some cool stores and galleries, and generally enjoying being “away” for one final day. Tonight I’m headed for some final tastes of local barbecue and to another show in town before hopefully getting to bed on the early side so I can get rolling on my final drive at a reasonable hour.
It’s hard to believe that this is my last stop before home. But before it’s over, I’m looking forward to one more night of enjoying a new town, good food, and fun music before hitting the road one last time…on this trip at least.
As you likely have seen, my last post generated a bit of controversy and offended a number of people. For that, I continue to be sorry…and I believe I’ve learned many lessons about, among other things, community, judgment, sensitivity, and the power of words. I previously posted an extended explanation and apology, which should be below this post, and can also be found here. Obviously there’s a lot more that could be said, but I’ve realized (among the other lessons) that this may not be the best forum from which to say it, so with much respect and continued apologies to those who I’ve offended I’ll be refraining from talking about it further here.
Since Tuesday, I’ve had some truly positive experiences, which is what I’ll be focusing on moving forward. I only have a few more days on this trip, which on the whole has been absolutely amazing and one in which I have learned a lot, and will always appreciate.
So……Tuesday night I stayed in Tulsa, Oklahoma which turned out to be a very cool town. I ate a delicious meal of “puffy tacos”, Elote Cafe's specialty. I don't want to know how healthy or not they were; all I know is they were delicious. After dinner I decided to wander over to the "Blue Dome" district of Tulsa and happened upon one of the more fun bars I’ve ever been to. This place is devoted to all things 80s and early 90s, and comes with a truly fitting name: The Max Retropub (if you don’t get the reference, you weren’t watching the same TV shows I was as a kid). I walked inside not really grasping what I was walking into, but all of sudden saw a row of Pez dispensers glue to the wall behind the bar, a long row of 80s-era televisions with 80s movies playing on mute above the Pez dispensers, and a Don Mattingly poster on the wall. Amazing already. Turning to my right, I found the largest Tecmo Bowl arcade game I’d ever seen, next to a Mortal Kombat game, Tron, NBA Jam, Galaga, etc etc etc. It was incredible. I ordered a beer and was given my 5 free tokens…and quickly remembered that I’m not very good at video games. I swear everyone in this place was giggly, having so much fun reliving their youth (regardless of their skill levels). It was a great way to entertain myself for a night, that’s for sure.
The next day can only be described with one word: rain. I drove from Tulsa to Memphis, and it seemed as if the entire state of Arkansas was under a torrential downpour. Rain, rain, and more rain. Farms on either side of me were flooded and I was thankful every minute that I got new wiper blades before I started this trip. I had chosen a route that would take me through the Ozarks, following an impressively winding road through the hills that I’m sure would have been absolutely gorgeous had the clouds not been filling the valleys with fog. But even with the rain and fog, it was a fun and pretty drive through the woods and hills and small towns. I stopped in Little Ark to get some coffee, wave a quick hello to the Clinton library (very impressive looking) and stretch my legs a bit, wishing I had more time, as it seemed like a cool town. Finally, towards the evening, I made it to Memphis. That night was spent on my computer reading a lot of comments, to be totally honest, but I won’t get into that here.
The next morning, after a transition call with my replacement at CAN, I found my way to a hopping breakfast spot in downtown Memphis. A short stack of blueberry pancakes and some delicious home fries were exactly what I needed. From there I drove down to the Lorraine Motel and the accompanying National Civil Rights Museum. The Lorraine Motel, for my international friends (I’ll assume the Americans have heard of it…) is where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. The front of the Motel, including the balcony where he was shot, has been maintained to look as it did in 1968, including some cars that were parked in front. It’s a very moving scene to be standing looking at that sight that I’d only ever seen in photos before. There’s a wreath at the spot of his death which has been maintained since that day. Before going inside the museum I stood and took the scene in for a while (it was a beautiful day, too, especially after all of the rain of the day before), and was struck by the way almost everyone casually walked up the sidewalk until they realized where they were standing and quickly their gates and faces would change. It’s a powerful spot, and that becomes clear to everyone that comes to it, it seems.
The National Civil Rights museum was, somehow, equally powerful. It’s extremely well done, with illuminating, thorough and thoughtful exhibits chronicling the history of the civil rights movement from its beginnings. As someone who hopes to play some role in organizing a movement towards a more sustainable future, it was so inspiring to see the roots of so many of the tactics used in organizing today. I must have spent some 3 hours wandering the museum (the audio tour for 2 extra dollars was well worth it) and taking it all in. On a day when my email inbox was filling up by the minute, it was especially fitting to be in this place, being reminded of the many lessons of this struggle, and learning so many more lessons at each turn.
After a powerful few hours at the Lorraine, I shifted gears almost entirely…and headed to Graceland! Now, as my father reminded me, Elvis very clearly played an important and transformative role in the US, and indeed I enjoy his music as much as the next person. However, I have to say that at least parts of Graceland are entirely over the top. Mainly I’m talking about how much they try to profit off of your visit: First you pay for parking. Then you pay for a ticket. Then you pay for add ons if you want to see some of the coolest stuff (cars! planes!). Then they take your photo (only $20 for a set!). Then after every exhibit you are funneled through a gift shop. There must have been 10 gift shops all within a hundred yards of eachother. But with all that said, it was still pretty cool.
The tour of the mansion allowed me to see the Peacock stained glass, the wacky Jungle Room, all of Elvis’s Grammys, his racquetball court, the impressive kitchen, the crazy pool room with (ugly) fabric all over the walls, carpet on the ceiling, and even Elvis’s grave. And then I saw his car collection, followed by his plane (named the Lisa Marie, of course), which I can only imagine saw its own share of raucous scenes. Despite the over-the-top gift shops and such, it was a wonderfully cheesy and fun afternoon with the King.
A quick nap back at the hotel and then it was off to dinner. I found the famous Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous restaurant and found a seat at the bar. As some of you know, I gave up beef and pork a few years ago to try to lower my impact from what I eat. Well, that doesn’t mean I didn’t like beef and pork before I gave them up. And let me tell you, eating at this restaurant was quite the test — the ribs that the gentlemen on either side of me were eating looked absolutely mouth watering (and their audible repeated “yums” didn’t help). Perhaps it was a bad idea to go there, I thought. But I ordered a chopped chicken sandwich, and smothered it with the bbq sauce…and promptly devoured it. Actually, if I could, I probably would have just drunk the sauce straight, it was that delicious…but I decided that might be uncouth.
From there I wandered to Beale Street to find some music. I quickly realized that the place is like Bourbon Street in New Orleans, minus the strip clubs, add more kids, and perhaps better music. I watched some blues in a courtyard off the street, enjoying the beautiful spring weather for a while, and then made my way to the BB King’s Blues Club at the top of the street. I got a good seat and watched a 6-person blues band totally own the stage for a good hour or two. Then my stomach started growling for some more delicious food and I found my way to a place that sold me some amazing bbq’ed shrimp which turned out to be wonderful late-night grub before I finally went to sleep. A great night full of music and food that really restored the soul.
And that brings us to today. I made my way out of Memphis and into Mississippi. A delicious lunch in downtown Tupelo followed by a short drive to Birmingham, Alabama, some more delicious bbq for dinner and good company with new friends and basketball on tv…and now I’m ready to pass out after an exhausting few days.
Tomorrow I’ll go see the 16th Street Baptist Church and then make my way up into the Smoky Mountains and finally to Asheville, North Carolina. A day or two in Asheville, and then suddenly this trip will be coming to an end back in DC. Hard to believe I’ve only got two more long drives left. After over a month and 7000+ miles, it’s hard to imagine I’ll be stopping soon. But home calls and I’m sure it’ll be good to see it. But first, more fun times over the next few days with more delicious food, great music, and beautiful drives in store!
I’ve received a lot of feedback on the post I wrote about my visit to Cushing. I just posted the reply below to some of the commenters, but as comments often are hard to find I thought I’d throw it into its own post as well…
Dear John, Sarah, Betty, Kristin, Mr./Mrs. Turner, all,
Thanks for taking the time to read my post, and for your comments. Before I start, I just want to be totally transparent and say that I edited two of the earlier comments only to take out some bad words, as I have young family members who read this blog.
The sentiments you all have expressed have certainly come through, and have caused me to reflect on what I wrote and what I meant to say. You and others who have commented elsewhere have taught me a lesson today, and I appreciate that. I wanted to give a brief reply to clear up some things that I was not clear on in my original post. I do not expect you to necessarily change your feelings of me because of this one response, but if nothing else I wanted let you know that I am listening. I’m sorry I was not able to spend more time in town though, so that we could have this conversation in person perhaps.
I first of all want to apologize for offending you and others with what I wrote about your town in the post. In my mind, I had tried to make a distinction between the people and town of Cushing and the broader issues surrounding the pipelines and other oil industry activities in the area. I tried using Obama’s visit to the area and the town of Cushing as a hook or metaphor to get at the larger issues. While I did not invent the experiences I had in seeing, smelling, walking and driving around the oil storage area, I recognize that there was some insensitivity in how I wrote about them. Obviously the distinction between the town and the broader issues did not come through, though.
You’re right that I only spent a small amount of time in the town, and drawing conclusions about a whole town from that short visit is unfair. I recognize that even if I had spent a week there I would not have gained a full understanding of what life is like in the town. But I’m sure if I had stuck around for a while I would have met great people in Cushing as I have in so many towns, and I’m sorry I didn’t have time to do so.
My point in writing my post was not to judge those of you who live there, or anyone who lives in a small town or even anyone who works on a pipeline. It also was not intended to judge or condemn Cushing as a town either, although I can see how it could come across that way. I was trying to say that I’m sad that the President is coming to a town to push for more oil drilling and more pipelines, when the future that I want to see moves us in a new direction, away from dirty energy sources that cause so many problems for our country.
Thanks again for your comments, and for the lesson I learned today.
There’s a lot that I could write about today — the way driving on country roads rather than interstates lets you have a feel of the land and country you’re driving by, images of the colorful diner where I had lunch in the middle of nowhere in western Oklahoma, the sublimely random and awesome retro ’80s bar I happened upon tonight in Tulsa, etc etc etc.
But tonight I’m going to focus on one experience: I drove through Cushing, Oklahoma today.
Cushing, for those who don’t know, is known as the “pipeline crossroads for the world.” I’m aware of it because it’s been one of the cities at the center of the Keystone XL pipeline debate. The Keystone XL pipeline would, if constructed, transport the world’s dirtiest oil from Canada through the heartland of America to the Texas coast to be refined and, for the most part, shipped overseas. It’s a terrible project, and the President was right to reject it not once, but twice…and yet it keeps coming back like a zombie waking from the dead. Cushing would be a major point in the pipeline, and even today sits at what could be a crucial junction of the Southern portion, which it seems Obama may unfortunately be ready to push forward.