The Egg Roll Machine

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Jellystone National Park. Dinosaur World. Guntown Mountain Amusement Park. Horse Cave. Mammoth Cave. Diamond Cave. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Four Roses Distillery, Heaven Hill Distillery, Maker’s Mark Distillery, Wild Turkey Distillery, Woodford Reserve Distillery, Jim Beam Distillery! (Aforementioned but) Big Jim’s Boobie Bungalow.

The road into Louisville, Kentucky is ridden with attractions. Who knew in just one state–indeed of just one highway–I could visit three caves, six bourbon distilleries, many, many adult video stores, and a theme park about guns!? Why do people ever leave?

Seriously, though, Louisville was fantastic. Our host, Barry, lived in the again-reminiscent-of-Bk-but-better neighborhood of the Highlands. A little bit of Southern kitsch charm, but mostly it was just genuinely cool. Secondhand stores, record stores, a comic shop, even! (Jay was delighted; but he decided not to stop and take a look inside), dozens of restaurants, frozen yogurt, coffee shops, et cetera ad infinitum. Barry was kind enough to walk us to the main drag–Bardstown Road–and show us where we should eat and drink. This turned out to be Cafe Mimosa and Cumberland Brews. Cafe Mimosa (with the attached “Egg Roll Machine”; I guess they make a bunch of different kinds there) was very good, and the name I think is pretty great. Barry spent a few years teaching English in Japan, so he knew which Asian food was good in the neighborhood. I had a seafood soup with a buncha lobster in it–uh, score. The bar was good, too–I had mead for the first time, which I’m pretty sure is something I’ve wanted to do ever since reading Harry Potter as an eleven-year-old.

Louisville itself is a little less hip, naturally, but no less interesting to explore. We ended up taking a glance at the Actors Theater of Louisville, the beautiful Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, the gargantuan Humana building, the Muhammad Ali Center, the Louisville Science Center… but we didn’t go inside anywhere except The Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum. I don’t watch much baseball anymore, but I did love to play softball as a kid. Going through the tour of how they make the wooden bats was interesting, and we got to keep a nub from the bunch of ends they cut off after they finish sanding the bats. Also got one of those tiny souvenir bats complimentary with the tour. Not sure what I’m going to do with mine, but we found it funny that the tour guide specified: “If you’re going on a plane with these, make sure you put them in your checked luggage. The TSA counts this as a weapon.” I’m now picturing several tiny children with tiny bats trying to hurt a plane pilot, or something. Probably possible, but I’m guessing pretty unlikely.

The museum itself was okay, a little kid-oriented, but it should be. I found a little alcove where you could watch mini film clips about this or that topic in baseball. One was “Baseball and the Presidency,” another was “Bringing in a New Generation”, or something, about the passing on of the tradition of the sport from father to son… the one thing I remember was Ken Griffey’s face in the stands when Ken Griffey, Jr. made it into the 500 club. Like Sanya Richards-Ross’s parents when she won the gold for the 400m, it was just the best thing ever. In my opinion. I could watch happy parents in the stands all day long (except for Michael Phelps’ mom, for some reason. She bugs me. Why is that?) The video also had an anecdote about some parents of a now-MLB player. The mom was concerned that her sons were ruining her front yard by playing baseball in it all the time. Her dad just said, “We’re raising boys, not lawns.” I thought that was great.

From there we backtracked a little to the Jim Beam Distillery. Didn’t do the whole bourbon trail–guess that’s on the list for next time–but just the one was pretty neat. Got to step through one of the big warehouses where they age their bourbon in barrels, and it smelled amazing in there. Also got to taste a bit of their Knob Creek and Black Label bourbons afterwards. Quite a nice way to spend an afternoon!

Jay has pointed out that 1.8 million is both the number of bats Louisville Slugger makes every year, and the number of barrels Jim Beam has aging at any time. Cool. In any case, from there we got on the road to St. Louis, which we are about to explore today. Away we go!

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A Brief Interlude on “Uncategorized”

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For some reason, this morning I am bothered. Why does WordPress find the need to label the posts I do not explicitly file into categories as “Uncategorized”? Maybe I’m being dense, maybe it makes sense. But I don’t think that, merely because one hasn’t yet labeled a post as having to do with one thing or another that it has no category. It’s like the Capital-U-“Undecided” major option at liberal arts colleges. Just because one hasn’t specified a path yet does not mean no path exists, that the path instead is the un-path. I know I’m taking a tiny molehill of a thing that annoys me about a blogging site and making it into a mountain, but it’s interesting/frustrating to me how we so need to label, specialize, categorize, separate “this” off from “that” as though there are clear lines between them. Is it so scary to simply be label-less for a second or two? For forever? I know, I’m a product of my education, but running around acting like our world is ordered because we have labeled it so strikes me as naive–ignorant, even. Dwelling in the uncertainty of a lack of label is sometimes necessary to getting closer to figuring out what the thing actually even is. Sometimes it’s only when we let go of the labels that the right one emerges.

But, I’m not a programmer or tech-savvy by any stretch of the imagination, and so do not know how to make my posts have no category. I will therefore try to be very explicit and hopefully whimsically goofy in my category namings from now on. Even if a post doesn’t really have any category, I’ll be damned if it’s still “Uncategorized.”

Meet Me in St. Lou-ee, Lou-ee…

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In the city with the (way) enormous(er than I ever would have guessed) Arch: St. Louis, Missouri, having just hooked up with another Couch Surfing host. I really mean no offense to Britta in Charleston, Kat(ie) in Savannah, Dan in Nashville, or Barry in Louisville; they were all very kind, very generous, and interesting people to have met along our trip.

But… Ed in St. Louis is a dream. Or, well, really, his home is. Jay and I have the whole basement (including Murphy bed with Tempur-pedic mattress, full bathroom, full bar and living room, two TVs!) to ourselves, I’ve already swum in his pool, he has an adorable dog named Cooper… seriously, if you’re in St. Louis and in need of a place to stay, look this guy up. But you better book in advance; his several bedrooms are booked through September already!  His home seems a work in progress; wallpaper here and cabinet fixtures there are still incomplete, but overall this place is a gem. Clearly Ed has money to spare, and I can’t help but think, “What a great way to put disposable income to use!” Of course, there are probably good charities out there, and hobbies to cultivate, and things to acquire and collect, but I am starting to see the appeal of being a host. Because Couch Surfing (for many, I know some feel differently about this) often functions literally like a free hostel–Ed’s term for his place, actually–with the amount of “amenities” more variable and up to the host’s prerogative, hosting is at once personal but not too much so: a real-live-human connection, but without the invasion of privacy (provided that your guests aren’t assholes, which, hopefully, we are not). I can see how it really appeals to some people, both as an act of philanthropy and of entertainment/self-interest. Many of our hosts say they love meeting people they never would have otherwise by hosting. Ed told us he hosted a family of six last night. He said he probably wouldn’t do that again, but he can always sleep tonight.

As for me, as a guest, I really have enjoyed getting to know these cities (albeit briefly, too briefly in the case of some) from the inside-out, if you will. Our first introduction to these cities have all been the homes of our hosts, and so have been a little on the outskirts/”suburbs” of the metropolis itself, and our ventures downtown have felt therefore much more genuine–like the way a local would do it.

All this reminds me I have completely glossed over Louisville, which certainly gives the city less credit than it deserves. Up next: a backtrack to Kentucky!

Big Jim’s…

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Boobie Bungalow. Yep, that was the name of the adult video store–one of several we’ve now passed on Interstate 65–between Montgomery and Nashville. I had forgotten about it before, but our drive into Louisville (to be discussed in a later post) was again dotted with “ADULT” billboards, and I couldn’t let it go unmentioned.

But where was I? Oh yes, couch surfing in east Nashville. We got into Nashville proper in the morning, and it was rather awesome. I had expected to dislike the country music capital, honestly. I’m a self-proclaimed country music hater–well, “hate” may be a little strong, but I usually visibly cringe at the slightest hint of a twang, or a Taylor Swift song lyric (or both: yeesh!). But the place had this charm about it–flashing lights and hints of music and cowboy boots sold everywhere.

The Country Music Hall of Fame was enormous and beautiful, though I have to say my favorite parts were not really part of the Hall itself. I loved a) the congenially-looking man playing ragtime on a grand piano in the grandiose, open lobby area, and b) the weekly demonstration they were offering. In a small mini auditorium, virtuosic mandolin player Bob Grant played “tunes” for us, while explaining how the mandolin worked, where it came from, &c. Ladies and gentlemen, trust me on this: the mandolin sounds fucking gorgeous. I would like to play one. Or, at least, get some recordings of mandolin solos ASAP and so live vicariously through them. The instrument is double strung, but with the same notes as a violin, and strummed like a guitar. It game from Italy, but has evolved a lot since then, in terms of its usage in American music. Bob Monroe–the inventor of bluegrass, apparently–played a mandolin that the Hall of Fame bought for over a million dollars. What?!

It also can play a lot of different roles in a band: the melody, since any fiddle tune can be played on it; the guitar “filler”, since chords can be strummed on it; and the bass line–in bluegrass, since there aren’t any drums, the mandolin and upright bass team up to act like snare and kick drums, respectively. Also, it looks awesome. The body of it looks (to me) like the profile of a turtle, with a little curlicue at the top, and two pointy legs at the bottom. And did I say it sounds amazing? It didn’t hurt that Bob Grant was clearly a very talented musician.

After touring the Hall, we left in search of barbecue and wound up at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. Probably one of the more touristy places, but the Beatles have been in there! Come on. There was not just one but two bands playing in there–one in front, and one in back, far enough apart that it wasn’t disastrous, but it was a bit distracting. Broadway in Nashville is just teeming with honky tonks, and there was live music spilling out of every one of them. On a Sunday afternoon. Must be quite explosive on a Saturday night.

Lastly we stopped by the Parthenon in Centennial Park. It was built in 1897 to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Tennessee’s statehood. Apparently Nashville is “the Athens of the South”, which inspired the only full-scale replica of the Greek Parthenon to be built here. We didn’t get to see the statue of Athena inside, though–guess we’ll just have to go back!

Surfing With Dan

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Finally got into Nashville last night to meet up with our next host, Dan, in his home in eastern Nashville, across the Cumberland River. This whole area–it seems to encompass a plethora of small neighborhoods, from what we can tell, is to Nashville what the hip parts of Brooklyn are to Manhattan. Except, from your correspondent’s purview, Nashville does it better. All the space for outdoor patios and beer gardens one could want, live music any night of the week, rolling hills with cute houses lining the streets in between kitschy bars and rustic-looking-but-still-fancy restaurants, coffee shops with huge slabs of wood for tables and locally grown produce markets. We ate at a cute seafood restaurant, which it turns out was actually connected to the sushi place adjacent to it. First time I’ve ordered miso soup as an appetizer to a distinctly non-Asian entree. Brought back a six pack as per our host’s request (Nashville-brewed Yazoo’s Rye Porter) for a nightcap.

Dan’s house was part of a duplex, small but homey and inhabited by a friendly host. To paint you a picture, he was in the middle of pickling a bunch of squash because his CSA had such a squash surplus (squirplus?) this summer. He gave us the house tour, which took all of forty-five seconds, perhaps thirty of which were occupied by us all admiring the one piece of expensive art he has purchased in his lifetime. It was some sort of doctored photograph of a hotel room, with a bunch of neon lights forming words, which the caption below explained were from a note found on an immigrant trying to cross the Mexico/Texas border. Clearly, this piece of art greatly touched Dan and was a huge source of pride that he was its owner.

Dan was a quiet, deeply thoughtful, always-has-a-million-projects-going-on-at-once type of guy. Apparently he hosts once or twice a week, so he’s a seasoned veteran to this business. We talked about music, about the Nashville scene, about how Jay is going to hate Caltech (based on the Caltech graduates Dan has spoken to about the place). But overall he was very kind, very generous. I can’t speak for my traveling partner, but it certainly gives this writer a sense of gladness to see further proof that this worldwide community exists (and indeed flourishes!). His paisley futon was comfortable, his central air conditioner a blessing in this damp climate. Thank you, Dan!

We’re using the internet in another cafe this morning, beautiful and spacious and containing rather delicious toast. Next: the Country Music Hall of Fame!

Montgomery the Missing

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It turns out Montgomery is empty!

Strange and kind of sad, considering all the important events that occurred there fifty years ago. We stopped in the Civil Rights Memorial exhibit this morning, and it was quite beautiful, albeit a bit of a downer. But all the streets surrounding it–the historic district, the Capitol building, the first white house of the Confederacy (apparently Jefferson Davis was inaugurated in Montgomery, and then a few months later the capital was moved to Richmond to be closer to the war front), the Rosa Parks Museum, &c: all empty. There was, literally, no one around. It was a Saturday, and perhaps it’s more bustling during the week, but even when driving around looking for some trace of a downtown community, we found none. A few tourists her and there doing the same things we were, but that was it.

Our hotel, which the map seemed to indicate was in the center of town, was actually right off the highway and surrounded by every fast food chain imaginable. I read later on Wikipedia that the city is known not only for loving chain restaurants and fast food joints, but also for having, like, all of them. If a chain exists, you’ll find it in Montgomery! In sight of our hotel: Captain D’s Seafood, Zaxby’s (featuring the return of the birthday cake milkshake and the new crispy chicken “zalad”), McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Waffle House, KFC, and a billboard for the Panera down the street.

That said, it was perhaps nice to have a short break from exploring and park our rear ends in front of a TV for a night, while the rather enormous thunderstorm broke overhead. “Waking Life” was on HBO, an interesting rotoscoped movie about philosophy and dreams and consciousness by Richard Linklater. A little Olympics, a little David Foster Wallace nonfiction read aloud; it was a nice quiet evening.

The next morning was another free breakfast, a chance to people-watch a little. Hard to say where all the guests were from–we certainly weren’t locals–but I did notice a trend: sequins. It was before nine a.m. (Oh! Also we crossed a time zone without realizing it. Hello, central standard time!), and I saw at least three women in the span of fifteen minutes walk in with rubber flip flops and a bedazzled item of clothing, whether it be jean shorts, tank top, or t-shirt.
Another trend: accents. Yes, finally we are fully immersed in the Southern accent. The thing I hadn’t counted on is it seems that I am just as–if not more than–difficult to understand to them, as they are to me! So many “Sorry, what?”s and “Excuse me?”s are exchanged in me trying to order a simple Diet Coke, you’d think we were both hard of hearing.

You’d think we’d be hitting up the Nashville scene already (this is written on the 4th at 5 or so pm) since we left Montgomery early, but surprise! Traffic jam. And so I am writing. At least, Jay pointed out, the concurrent thunderstorm was a lot easier to drive through at five mph than at 50.

The being-on-the-road bit may be getting to each of us a little bit. Tonight we’re surfing with a man in Nashville who seems very friendly and knowledgeable about the city. He’s lived in San Francisco, so his phone number is a recognizable area code! Somehow comforting to me.

Got out my cowboy boots, though, with my cutoff shorts at the ready. Bring it on, Nashville!

Sometimes You Just Gotta…

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We spent the rest of yesterday in Savannah. It was really nice to have a day where we didn’t have to worry about getting to a new city; could actually explore the place a bit more. We did indeed do another tour by carriage, I think because we found the smallness and slowness of it is rather ideal for getting to take in what the guide has to say, and look at the scenery around us. Also, it’s really fun to watch how the car drivers figure out how to share the road with horses.

At the end of our tour (which was coincidentally private! No one wanted a tour at that time, apparently, and funnily enough they still offered us the “private tour” at an added $20 bucks a head. Uh, no thanks!), our guide said the best views of the city could be seen at the bar at the top of the Bohemian Inn next door, so we went upstairs for a drink and “tapas” light lunch. I had an “American Mule” (Jay says it’s actually a “Moscow Mule”), with ginger beer and vodka and lime juice, and Jay had a really fancy bloody Mary, complete with shrimp and okra on a skewer and Old Bay seasoning around the glass’s rim, and we shared a “chicken and waffles” appetizer, though I think it was a lot fancier than the Southern dish it was representing. Strawberry sauce and peppercorns and some herb infused butter, I think. Quite tasty. The guide also told us about the only microbrewery in Savannah across the street, so we had a beer there as well. Moon River Brewery. I had an IPA (turning out to be my favorite type of beer, I think. I was never a huge beer-er before Jay, but he likes scouting out good beer bars so much I figure I better find at least one favorite), and he the Belgian style. Normally he tends to go for the darker brews, but the weather called for a lighter, more refreshing feel, I think.

And then we were just ready to leave when a HUGE thunderstorm hit! And us with both our computers still in tow and no umbrella. The hostess was nice enough to give us an umbrella from the lost and found, and we made a mad dash for our parking garage. The crazy downpour ended soon enough, with only light drizzling after that.

We then stopped by Juliette Gordon Low’s house, but decided not to take a tour. We did learn, however, that JGL founded the Girl Scouts 100 years ago! So 2012 is the Year of the Girl, or so the JGL House gift shop informed us.

Another fun fact: almost all of Savannah’s gardens are in the back yard, because Savannah ladies thought it was embarrassing to be seen working in your garden. Well, as soon as Juliette Gordon met Mr. Low (forget his first name, but he was very wealthy and their house had a ton of iron work on the outside–that was Savannah’s code for “Look! I’m rich!”), she moved the garden to the front yard. Moreover, when she worked in said garden in broad daylight, she wore pants, which was doubly shameful to Savannah ladies at the time. Our tour guide told us she still knows Savannah women who refuse to wear pants in public.

So apparently Savannah, like Charleston, has a large ghost story culture. The Pink House was especially noted as being quite haunted–look it up on Youtube if you’re into that sort of thing. What I thought was so cool about the house, though, is that it was not meant to be pink. The original owner made it out of brick, but then brick was so not hot at the moment, so he did what many people in Charleston did and stuccoed it over and drew on the lines to make it look like big blocks of stone. He wanted the house white, so he didn’t paint it. BUT, the bricks bled through the stucco, and turned the house pink! But don’t worry, he whitewashed it regularly for the rest of his life to keep it looking fashionable. Or something.

Had ice cream (well, sorbet for me) at the famous Leopold’s ice cream. Apparently it’s been around for a hundred years almost, and the owner’s son went and became a Hollywood producer and put his daddy’s ice cream shop on the map. Cute, although I don’t know if the ice cream quite stood up to its reputation.

Went back down to River Street. Unfortunately, we didn’t plan well drink-wise, because we were already a couple drinks in, and the cool thing about River Street (well actually, all of the historic district I think) is that you can have open containers outside. Yep, you can order your whiskey sour or whatever the case may be in a to-go cup. I just thought that’d be a lot of fun to do. Guess we’ll just have to go back!

Ate seafood–including “peel ‘n eat shrimp” as an appetizer–for dinner, and then journeyed a little outside the city limits to Foxy Loxy: a Texas-inspired café with a small gallery and delicious brownies. I had the vegan one, Jay had the (get ready) bacon and bourbon brownie. Whoa. I’m told it was good, but perhaps the bacon didn’t work as well as it could have with the brownie.

The reason we went there was for a Couch Surfing mixer our host had organized. Apparently when picking out our Savannah host we happened upon the “key to the city” as one of the Savannah hosts present called her–a very active and generous Couch Surfing host, who has taken in everybody from drag queens to DJs to witches. Not everybody in the community is so undiscriminating, though; one guy there has all couch requesters fill out a ten question survey before he’ll consider hosting them. The site really does allow you a lot of freedom how you want to go about it! Probably why it works so well. Also at the mixer were two women stopping through Savannah on their way to Florida–who both went to undergrad with Jay. Again with the coincidences! Nice when that happens. Overall, it was really fascinating to meet and talk to so many veterans to this way of life. Even if they were new to the site, many of these people had offered up their homes and used others for a night here and there–had adopted this temperament of openness and flexibility and made it into a lifestyle. Our host, for example, was living in a one-bedroom apartment, and gave us her living room for two nights. Sure, air mattresses make me feel like I’ve been sleeping like rocks, but she surrendered her privacy for two days just because she’s friendly! Pretty impressed, I am.

Another woman at Foxy Loxy had recently given up her apartment in the East Village in New York–right around the area Jay and I like to frequent for bars and restaurants–to drive and couch surf literally all over the country, working on a visual art project she wants to mount in Savannah, ultimately. She was living in the tiny village of Tybee Island, the same beach our host Katie loves to visit.

We decided to check it out ourselves this morning, before getting on the road to Montgomery, Alabama (a six-hour trek we’re in the middle of now; woo-ee! The hotel pool will feel good after this one!). Beautiful little beach community, complete with fishing pier, frozen cocktail snack shack and “department store” full of conch shells and t-shirts with the images of a necktie, a bumblebee, and an island (Tie-bee Island! Get it?). The highlights, though, were definitely the art gallery displaying pieces of scrap metal, old guitars, &c made to look like fish, and the “Stop! Peaches! Now!” sign on the side of the road. We had a sample from a tupperware container in the guy’s truck (parked in front of what was ostensibly his property), and decided yes, these were indeed a good pick for our desire to have a Real Georgia Peach experience. We wanted to get only one apiece, with the lack of coolers and/or fridges on our trip, but they were only sold by the bucket. “They were darn good,” Jay said. “And y’know, sometimes you just gotta buy a bucket of peaches.”