Archive for the ‘road trip’ Category

Road Trip Reflections

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

Here’s a snapshot of my entire 3,835 Mile trip.

View Larger Map

Google Maps are cool. Don’t be afraid to click on that “View Larger Map” link to get the full effect of my trek.


Each post on the trip seemed to unfold with a chronological recounting of the events of each leg of my trip. I still think that’s probably the best way to convey things as they happened, but there were a lot of bigger picture themes to the trip that need addressing. Now that the whole trip is in hindsight, hopefully these reflections will be 20/20 in their clarity.

All By Myself

This is the first trip I’ve ever taken by myself, and at the outset it wouldn’t have been my first choice. In the end though, I’m really glad I couldn’t find anyone to go with me. I had such a good experience and it would have been so different if I hadn’t been alone. Don’t get me wrong, I would have really enjoyed it with company. It just would have been a very different trip and a different type of adventure.

This trip taught me that the world (or at least the US) can actually be a pretty friendly place if you’re traveling alone. I struck up a lot of conversations with both fellow travelers and locals at each place I visited. I also made some new friends that were very kind and willing to show a stranger around their hometown. I hope that I can use this experience to remember to chat up locals whenever I travel, but I fear that when I’m back to traveling with company my social perspective will shrink again.

Domestic Vacation

Before this trip I was in a mindset that my time off from work would likely only consist of two types: long weekends to visit friends who lived in other parts of the country (or who were getting married), and “proper” vacations which would likely only take place at a ski resort or somewhere out of the the country. Sounds pretty snobby now that I re-read it, but I think it was true. This trip taught me that exploring the US is a great use for a vacation. It is definitely worth “spending” your vacation days to do. I will find time take a vacation to the grand canyon to spend some proper time there, and I’d also like to spend more time in Memphis and New Orleans. Who knows what other spots in the country are so deserving – I’ll have to do more exploring.

How much you can do with a day

A big part of why I bothered to document the trip in the blog was so that I would reflect on and savor the experiences. I also like thinking that I’ll have a record of the trip to look back on. And if anyone out there is actually reading this, that’s a nice bonus too.

The blogging took a LONG time, partly because the pictures take a long time to format, but mostly because I did a lot of stuff every day. I created a lot of memories on that 15 day trek across the country. Whenever I have an experience like that – where the days are so full – it makes me realize that there’s no reason I shouldn’t be getting that much out of every day. That may not be an achievable goal, but it seems like a good one to shoot for.

What’s Next?

At this point I’m not sure what else I will have to write about here. Sure, there’s plenty of adventure to be had in Atlanta – finding a job, finding a place to live, starting a band, getting un-single. I guess I’ll post a little update as I make progress on each of those (except the last one), but blogging (even in mediocrity) takes a long time.

Still, it seems like there are still a handful of people checking out the site every day. I’ll be curious to see if they disappear now that my road trip is done. If the visitors don’t dry up, I’ll keep trying to find something to write about occasionally. I’m going to see Regina Spektor in a week, so you’ll probably get a review of that.

thanks for reading.

My First time in Memphis

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

Even though I spent four years in Nashville, somehow I never made it over to visit Memphis. No good reason why not, but I just didn’t. Not to worry, that deficiency would be remedied shortly.

Getting there by Hwy 61
I was advised that Highway 61 through the Mississippi delta was a worthwhile detour on my drive from New Orleans to Memphis, so I cut over to Vicksburg and then headed up 61 to Memphis.
MS sign (it’s hard to focus at 75 MPH)

View on Hwy 61
(shot of 61)
I guess the scenery was a little more enriching than the major highway would have been, but maybe I didn’t make the right stops or the right turns along the way. For the most part there wasn’t really all that much to see along highway 61. Oh, I did see this cool formation of birds flying across the sky:

birds(click for full size)

Dry Ribs at Rendezvous

rendezvous sign
I think I have tried dry ribs before – ribs that are coated with a dry rub of spices rather than a wet sauce. When I had them before, I was not impressed. Several people I asked listed Rendezvous as the #1 “must do” thing in Memphis, and their words were wise:

rendezvous ribs

WOW, these were just amazing. I think I shook my head several times while eating them – simply in disbelief at how good they were. My waiter up-sold me from a small order to a full order, and I am grateful he did so. I reiterate what my friends had told me, if you go to Memphis, eat these ribs!!

I sat at the counter while there, and wound up chatting with both of the guys who sat next to me. Both guys were friendly, but the second guy named Skip (from Charlotte) would enter the story again.

Beale Street
After dinner, I went to wander around Beale Street. It’s the happening area near downtown Memphis, even if it’s a little bit touristy. Well this was a Thursday night, and it happened to be Valentine’s night and after I had wandered down and halfway back up Bealle, I was about to conclude that it was pretty dead.

…then I ran into Skip again. Skip said there was a good blues band at one of the bars and offered to buy me a beer. I wound up hanging out with Skip for a few hours, checking out 3 different venues on Beale street and taking in some really good bands.

Venue 1: a straight-up blues band consisting of very talented musicians. They were doing a cool cover of “hey Joe” when we walked in, but promptly took a set break.
blues band 1
Skip & Flips
Before we left that bar, Skip recognized one of the guys who is a street performer and tipped him to give us a little performance of his flipping skills:
You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

Venue 2: Fat Elvis impersonator. A must-see when in Memphis
Fat Elvis

Venue 3: B.B. King’s Blues Club

BBs painting

Fantastic blues band, and the singer was really a great entertainer. She got a random assortment of people from the crowd up on stage to turn around and “shake their tail feathers.”

band at BBs

Back to Venue 1, where some of the members of the band had changed. I love that only the drummer is wearing a Tux:

venue 1 pt. 2

Here the guitarist on the left actually paused after the first song I heard to ask if anyone had a guitar pick. Such a Haber moment 🙂

Back to Venue 2:

It seems like nobody ever covers Prince, but this band did, and they did a great job with “raspberry beret”

prince cover

I called it a night after that one. I wound up having two late nights in New Orleans, and this one snuck up on me too, but I had to get some sleep.

Ducks at the Peabody

My brother-in-law gave me a post-it note with some Memphis “to do’s” and one of them simply said “ducks at the Peabody.” I didn’t really know what he meant, but I lucked out by walking through the Peabody hotel shortly before 11 AM. Apparently for years they’ve had trained ducks that walk across the lobby at 11 AM every day and then hang out in the fountain until 5 PM when they walk back. I timed it perfectly and saw the 11 AM duck parade. It was all over with pretty quickly, but it was an entertaining novelty and I’m glad I saw it while I was in Memphis:

duck parade

ducks in the fountain

Fried Chicken:

So many of my aspirations in these cities revolve around food. When I was at Rendezvous, I asked my waiter which of the restaurants remaining on my list I should try to hit. He stopped me mid list when I got to Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, and said “go there.” So I did:

gus sign

the sign suggests no frills, the interior won’t change that impression:

gus interior

but the spicy fried chicken needs no frills – it was fantastic on its own merit. I imagined this would be the case, since Gus’s was packed.


Oh yeah, guess who I ran into at Gus’s?  Yup – Skip.  This wasn’t really a bizarre coincidence though – Skip had heard our waiter at Rendezvous raving about how good Gus’s was, so it’s not that surprising that we both wound up there again.  Thanks for lunch Skip!!

I had planned on heading on to Atlanta sometime that day, but there were still a couple of things that needed doing in Memphis:

Sun Studio

Sun Studio Outside

This is the famous studio where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins (among others) have all recorded. When I got there, it was surprisingly small. I got there about 45 minutes before the next tour and figured I needed to miss it if I was going to make it to Graceland and then to Atlanta today. After I looked around and left, I had a change of heart and went back for the tour and it was an excellent decision.

I didn’t take many pictures in there ( you couldn’t use a flash for much of it), but the tour guide is what made the tour so great. He did an excellent job of explaining the significance of the studio to the industry (not Studios – just one room to record in). He also did a great job of playing snippets of various songs and explaining how they fit into the story of the studio. Here’s a picture of some old-school recording equipment:

recording equip

Elvis the Music Fan

Maybe my favorite part of the tour was when he talked about the Million Dollar Quartet. This was when Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins were all in the studio at the same time for a recording session. There are a couple of tracks where there is a dialogue of Elvis talking about how he went to see another musician named Billy Wharton who played “Don’t Be Cruel,” and how Elvis liked Billy’s version much better. I LOVED hearing Elvis break down the details of what he liked about this version. I hope Elvis’s lawyers don’t come after me, but here are the tracks in question. You’ll have to turn them up loud to hear the dialogue, but it’s worth it:

Don’t Be Cruel 1

Don’t Be Cruel 2

Don’t Be Cruel 3

MDQ pic

You can buy the whole “Million Dollar Quartet” album on iTunes for $9.99. I got caught up in the moment like a chump and bought it at Sun Studio for $21.

On to Graceland

Graceland sign

After how much I enjoyed the tour at Sun Studio, I decided that a trip to Graceland was a must. Tangent: If you’re a Flight of the Conchords fan, you might be familiar with one of the tourism posters hanging in Murry’s office. I think it says something like “New Zealand: don’t expect too much and you’ll love it!” This is about the same caution that I had heard from friends who had been to Graceland.

I’ll start with the good: I didn’t know much about Elvis before I went, and I’ll admit I wasn’t a huge Elvis fan. The tour of Graceland really did give you a feel for how Elvis was larger than life, and that he seemed like a genuinely good guy who deserved all the fame he found. The house is barely a mansion by today’s standards. It’s big and it’s nice, but it’s not really overwhelming. Also Elvis seemed to be a big fan of monkeys, so that raised his stock in my book:


The Bad: The tour was $32, and parking was $8. I don’t know how long this has been the case, but someone told me that Graceland was sold a little while ago to someone who has been trying to turn it into a money maker. I could definitely feel the cold hand of an MBA mindset here and I didn’t like it. There were several components to the tour beyond just the tour of the mansion, but they all seemed like up-sells to me. The overall vibe was just a little too much like Disney and too little like insight into a person’s life. The Sun Studio tour felt kind of intimate, the Graceland tour not at all.

So while I’m glad I can check Graceland off my life’s “to do” list, I would definitely advise that the Sun Studio tour is not only a better experience, it is a vastly better economical proposition. With all that said, here are some other pics from Graceland:

living room

Elvis’s Grave

More Ribs

By the time I was done at Graceland, it was like 5:30 and I knew I didn’t want to do the drive all the way to Atlanta that night. I was also hungry, so I figured I better eat some more ribs while I had the chance.

Corky’s Sign

My brother-in-law said Rendezvous is all about dry ribs, and time-permitting I should try the wet ribs at Corky’s. Ok.

wet at Corky’s

These were also really really good. Still there was no competition – Rendezvous wins hands down in my book. And I felt disgustingly full after Corky’s, but that’s not really their fault. It was just another piece of poor planning on my part as I was about to get back in the car for hours.

After dinner, I didn’t want to do the whole drive to Atlanta and arrive after midnight. I also didn’t want to stay another night in Memphis and have to drive all 7 hours on Saturday. After looking at a map I decided that Birmingham would be a good place for a pit stop. I made it to Birmingham before 11 PM and slept at a Holiday Inn. There are no stories or pictures from Birmingham, and I got on the road to Atlanta after breakfast in the AM.

Closing Time

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” I’m writing this from Atlanta now. The road trip is over, and my life in Atlanta has begun. I’ll follow up with some “closing thoughts” on the road trip and the “10 things I’m looking forward to in Atlanta” that I promised a while ago.

Next Stop New Orleans

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

Ok, back to the roadtrip. When I left off, I was saying I stayed in San Antonio a day longer than expected. It was nice to hang out with my sis, and one of the greatest things about this trip is that whatever exists of an agenda is very flexible.

best tacos

Before I left San Antonio, I had a breakfast/brunch at taco taco cafe which houses the above boastful banner. The tacos there are indeed very very good (but I forgot to get photo documentation of said tacos for the blog… I guess I was hungry). It was a good last note to leave San Antonio on, only to be followed by…

The Crappiest drive of my trip

From San Antonio to New Orleans. The picture explains most of it…

crap drive

it was also 2-lane highway most of the way, and every time one 18-wheeler decided to pass another one, the whole procedure seemed to take 10 minutes slowing down everyone behind them. ugh. But at least I had…

Local expertise and hospitality in New Orleans. My friend John is a good guy to know. His network proved invaluable during my stay in New Orleans. First he put me in touch with his friend JR in NY who grew up in New Orleans who gave me an excellent insider’s list of bands, bars, and restaurants to check out. Then John got in touch with his wife’s cousin Annie who currently lives in New Orleans. Annie and her friend Liz showed me some tremendous New Orleans hospitality by meeting me out after my craptastic drive for dinner and drinks. And on short notice nonetheless – so cool.

Dinner at Cochon

Simply put, I never would have found this place if it weren’t for my insiders’ help. Cochon is apparently a relatively new restaurant, and it was delicious New Orleans fare. For an appetizer we had fried alligator:

fried gator

I admit I was a little scared of this menu choice, but one look at it allayed all fears. And like my friend Rob likes to challenge “name two fried foods you don’t like.” It was surprisingly tender, and whatever sauce was on it made it delicious!

I had the namesake dish of the restaurant (the cochon) for my entree:


it was wonderful. I forget what desert we split, but we followed that up by sharing some moonshine! It was surprisingly flavorful. Awesome experience overall. We followed that up by heading to Lafitte’s Blacksmith shop:


Rumored to be the oldest building standing in New Orleans, this bar is lit only by candlelight (ok, and one TV above the bar). It gives it a really unique vibe – the daylight picture above doesn’t do it justice.

The bartender at that bar had a very curious accent that sounded to me like a bizarre twist on a Boston accent. I asked my hostesses where they thought he was from and they said confidently that he had a New Orleans accent. I was dumbfounded. I had traveled to New Orleans for a few months for work in 2000, and I had never picked up on that accent during any of those trips to this town (but I was also spending most of my time working and was miserable at work at the time, so maybe I just wasn’t paying attention). If you’re in New Orleans, listen out for it – it will surprise you. I hear two other people with the same accent before I left town. It’s almost beyond description.

Cafe du Monde

The next morning I hit this New Orleans institution. Beignets and cafe au lait – $4. Were they delicious? yes. Was there an obscene amount of powdered sugar involved? yes. Did I manage to cover myself in the aforementioned powder? indeed. but it was worth it.


After breakfast I wandered around the city, along the moonwalk, down Bourbon street. I took some pictures, but nothing that noteworthy. Maybe I’ll upload all of my road trip pictures and put a link up here if you really want the unfiltered view. Late in the afternoon I decided to eat more food and try to check another recommendation off my list, so I went here:

mother’s and ate this:

ferdi and gumbo

the Ferdi special and a cup of gumbo. If you’re like me, you probably think you’ve had a Po Boy sandwich before. I found I was wrong. I had only had weak imitation Po Boy’s before this gem of a sandwich. It was messy – it had gravy on it as well as “debris.” I’m still not even sure what that involves, but it’s excellent. The gumbo was very good as well, but the sandwich was the main attraction. Oh, one more thing you might need to know about Mother’s:

ham parts just FYI.

My Swingers moment
After Mother’s, I got a little curious to stick my head into the Harrah’s casino to see how it compared to Las Vegas. I took a quick lap around the floor and figured it couldn’t hurt to sidle up to the 3 card poker table for just a few minutes. I play the minimum bet and the dealer gives me my three cards. Once everyone has their cards I pick mine up, and slowly spread them out to have a look. Then this happens:

Dealer (speaking to me): “One hand”

Me: blank stare, mouth ajar.

Dealer (more firmly): “One hand, sir”

Me: still silent, but thinking “I’m only playing one hand, I only have one bet on the table. Surely I don’t have to play more than one hand at once I…”

Players on either side of me, louder and firmly: One Hand!!

Just when I’m about to start thinking I’m in the twilight zone, they clarify that at this particular casino I am only allowed to touch my cards with one hand, not both. Oooooh. Um, ok. Later I emerged from my shame to humbly ask why things were different than in Vegas. I was informed that they just were. That helped encourage me to not stay in the casino too much longer.

That evening, another great dinner at at a restaurant called Luke (that I think has an umlaut over the “u,” but I don’t know how to make that happen). Again I forgot to photo the food (I had shrimp and grits – mmmmm), but here’s the view in the back of the restaurant where you can peer into the kitchen.


Afterwards, I was convinced that despite having a great bill that evening, the House of Blues was to be avoided at all costs. Instead, I was told that the authentic New Orleans experience could be had on Frenchman street. First stop was here:

apple barrel

to see a guy called Washboard Chaz. I think there were a total of about 12 people in the bar (which seemed like a little under half of the venue’s full capacity). It’s Chaz on vocals and washboard, a guitarist and a harmonica player. Their sound of blues was so fantastically authentic and unique (to me), it immediately put a huge grin on my face. I had to buy a CD. Unfortunately I was too concerned about using a flash in that very dark & small venue, so none of my pics there turned out.

Then it was on to DBA to see Walter Wolfman Washington. Awesome venue, great band. That ear-to-ear grin hadn’t had long to leave my face, but it returned again as soon as I entered this venue. Here’s the best of the crappy pictures:

WW Washington at dba

so fun!

Overall I had a much much better time in New Orleans than I anticipated. This experience successfully erased the negative impression I had associated with the city from that crappy work project back in 2000. Again many thanks to John, JR, Annie, Liz, John (a different one), and Holly for all their help and advice.

The next morning on my way out of town I had my last N.O. meal at The Camellia Grill. I had the chef’s special omelette:


the restaurant had a cool vibe. I sat at the counter and chatted up my neighbor who happened to be from Memphis (my next stop). He also gave me some good suggestions before I hit the road. It was a great note to leave town on, even if that omelette + coffee was an unwise meal to eat right before spending hours in the car.

Next Stop: Memphis – hope you like ribs…