Four weeks, nine states, 3987.7 miles later, I'm writing you from Nashville. Home again, home again, and not a moment too soon--I've lost my voice and can't find it anywhere. In the meantime, I'd like to give you my "Best Of" from the road. These are awards given out by me, and are obviously subjected to and a direct result of my own personal biases and prejudices.
(My travels took me through Nashville, , Washington, D.C., Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Charlotte, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Memphis, Little Rock, St. Louis, Chicago, Champaign-Urbana, and all the interstates, outlying towns, and greater statehoods therein. These are my findings...)
Washington, D.C. to Virginia Beach (95S to Richmond, then 64E to Norfolk). Opening with the obvious sigh of relief that any sensible driver might feel while heading away from D.C. and closing with a water-view trip across the giant bridge that leads into the Virginia Beach area, this trek is quick, easy, and filled with nice scenery and notable landmarks. When I say "nice scenery," I mean vacant roads, tall pines, beach-side views, and a gigantic stretch of coal heaps. When I say "notable landmarks," I mean "cities where Virginia Tech players are from." Ahhhhh, God's country.
Uncommon Ground, Chicago. I got to Chicago about six hours before showtime and had nowhere but the venue to visit, so visit I did. And stayed. For six hours. Drinking coffee. And what I'm trying to say here is that Uncommon Ground has a good cup of coffee. Like liquid-crack good. Ask for Kat--she's my dealer.
Best Driving CD:
While I relied heavily on mixes for the bulk of this trip, a metric ton of actual albums saw rotation. The tricky thing about driving in the winter is that lots of great music simply doesn't suit itself to long-term winter listening. Weezer, for example, is not something I strap into for Hour Four of a Six Hour Tundra Hike. "Surfwax America" just doesn't speak to me at that moment. But Lucero's That Much Further West does. It's dark, distant, and melancholy (suited for winter) while still vibrant and energetic (suited for driving). It's also especially good if you're--you guessed it--traveling west.
Here I'm excluding a few terrific meals I had at especially nice restaurants because I was someone's guest and ate a meal that particular night that I wouldn't have normally eaten. I'm also excluding home-cooked meals, which we all know are the best but are something entirely different. Here we're dealing with your run of the mill meals at your run of the mill local place in your run of the mill town. And I've gotta give the nod to Whatever The Hell I Got at Las Margaritas (aka Las Mas) in Chattanooga. I know there was rice, queso, vegetables, chicken, and shrimp, and I know there were chips and salsas, and I know there was beer, and I know that the Mexican people are brilliant and deserving of many, many awards. And that is all I know.
A tie here. I really lucked out and got on some good bills with some great artists, so let me just point you in their general directions and let you figure it out for yourselves:
The Nim Nims
Go enough places you're not supposed to go and eventually you'll have some pretty good mental snapshots from America's roof. The picture above was taken in the middle of a snowstorm in downtown Chicago, the Majestic Mile, facing Lake Michigan. I saw a huge blue stretch of Appalachia gather below my car somewhere outside Asheville, North Carolina. But I gotta say the best view on this trip was from the top of the Pink Building in Charlotte, visiting my friend at the top. I don't know what Charlotte is or where it's headed, but from up there it looks alright.
Best Time to Take a Nap While Driving:
If you're headed from St. Louis to Chicago, hit highway 40E heading into Illinois. This becomes 55N to Chicago. And for the first 25-30 miles of Illinoi-an road, you will not move your steering wheel. The road simply does not curve at all for about a half hour. And, were it not for Katrina-like winds rampaging the midwestern prairie, trying to take your car east too, you could conceivably set the cruise control and take a nippy-nap. If you had good alignment. And there weren't any other cars on the road. Don't try this at home, kids--Uncle Chris is an expert.
That's Tessa. Tessa rocks.
Everyone knows that St. Louis birthed Anheuser-Busch. What you might not know is that its other local brewer, Schlafly's, is the deal. And while most local bars toil in the Bud's indentured beer servitude, a handful of local places stay true to the Schlafly's roots. Off Broadway is one of these places. They set their drink specials around Schlafly's most nights. And they're real nice folks. Tell them I sent you. They won't know what that means, but they'll still give you good beer in exchange for little money.
Best Driving Song:
There are obviously six billion great driving songs. The one that stuck out most to me, on this trip, in this month, as the most enjoyable (and probably most memorable) was Jack White's "Portland, Oregon." Big, fast, melodic, harmonic, singable, hummable, strummable, versatile (good regardless of weather or time of day). I know the song's lyrics are about staying in one place and drinking the night away, but the song's music does nothing but make me want to go, and go now. Like any great driving song should. Honorable mention also goes to Atherton's "California," Uncle Tupelo's "Atomic Power," My Morning Jacket's "Rolling Back," and The Decemberists' "California Youth and Beauty Brigade."
Best Karaoke Version of Prince's "Purple Rain" By a Dehydrated and Delirious Bargirl:
Would have to go to That Chick From the P&H Cafe in Memphis way, way, waaaaaaaay after the show was over. (In Simon Cowell voice) "If I'm being honest, it was dreadful, humiliating, and physically painful to watch. I absolutely loved it, and I think America did as well."
Best Trite Movie Quote to Sum Up My Feelings Upon Returning to Nashville:
"There's no place like home." Thank God.
I'm only sleeping,