Welcome to part two of TDN editor Trevor Johnson's blog about his and his girlfriend's five-week road trip from Washington DC to San Francisco. Read Part One here
We drive to the Shaker Village, which is, erm, a village where some Shakers lived. They were a puritanical Christian movement which kind of died out (in this community, at least) in the 1920s.
Which doesn’t explain why the people running it were dressed as Shakers. It felt rude to ask. They kept asking us if we had any questions. That could have been one of the questions: “Are you neo-Shakers or is that just the way you dress?”
Anyway, it made a nice place to visit.
And guess who found some quilting to do?
We get tickets for the short, introductory tour, which suddenly plunges us into the starkly contrasting coolness of the cave. Graffiti on the ceiling includes that of Stephen Bishop, a boy slave turned famous guide who suffered a mysterious death. The graffiti was made with the smoke from the candle on the end of a long stick.
21) Don't bite off more than you can chew, culturally speaking. We did the one-hour tour – this was enough. The six-hour one would have been too much. Don't feel obliged to go crazy when sightseeing. If you're crossing the country you won't be short of things to see.
We then decide to push on to Nashville and get back on I-65. Upon arrival, we check out the Grand Ole Opry, the most famous country and western venue, but nothing’s going on there and they’re closing up. Doesn’t stop us from posing beneath some giant guitars, obviously.
Check into the First Great Western on 7th Avenue. Straight out to Broadway a few blocks away, an electric mix of honkytonk bars with live music, record shops and restaurants. We stumble across BB King’s Bar (Who’s BB King, grandad?) and I have my second bourbon of the trip.
Barman Ben tells us of his time living in Ruislip wtf. Sitting in BB King’s bar on a sweltering night, drinking bourbon and talking about... the convenience of the Central Line? Seems wrong. Suddenly a really good band starts up and we find ourselves having another drink. Hic.
Finally we manage to leave, and play pool at Big River bar and restaurant while waiting for our table. We sit outside, right in the thick of Broadway, and watch the world – and quite a few horse-drawn ponies – go by.
22) Not a tip, just a rant. Why all the TVs everywhere? They turn every bar and hotel breakfast room into a living room full of gawping idiots. There are enough chances to hear the news throughout the day. These things kill so much character of the nation. Get rid of them.
Down to the Country and Western Hall of Fame, where the lady who greets us asks where we are from. London, we say. “Oh really? You know, we had Paul McCartney play here last year! We sold out, of course.”
I’m about to initiate an elaborate con in which I claim to be McCartney’s tour manager but Rachel whisks me into the exhibition, which is brilliant.
Afterwards we have a look round Broadway, including Hatch Show Print, a printers which has made striking rock 'n' roll posters from the early days and continues to do so.
Then it’s on to Memphis, 200 miles, but considering I have a bit of a hangover it’s actually not too bad. Rachel navigates us perfectly to our hotel, the Vista, and we head out to Beale Street, the centre of the action. Memphis – which I’d been a bit uncertain about, hearing that parts were very dangerous, which is undoubtedly true – turns out to be Nashville’s naughtier, more raucous brother, with even more bars and even louder music crammed into an even more compact area.
23) Pool halls are a great way to pass the time. They're more plentiful than in the UK and give you something fun to do when having a drink. Seek 'em out.
24) You get asked for ID unless you're really quite old. Take your ID everywhere. Rachel gets asked for ID (we both do) but she doesn’t have any on her so she can’t get a beer. I could have given her some of mine but why should I? Okay, I let her have a sip.
25) Don't panic if the car goes wrong. Before we leave Memphis, I drive off to find Firestone garage, having been directed there by a woman on the National helpline. The dashboard has been telling me the car needs an oil change. Bit annoying considering they knew at the depot at Dulles that we would be travelling over 3,000 miles to San Francisco. Anyway. They sort it out within half an hour. Amazing.
26) Don't make assumptions about opening times. Rachel has had her own difficult moments crossing a dodgy area to get to the civil rights museum, which it turned out was closed on Tuesdays! Why is nothing straightforward? The same thing happened to me with the Musem of Modern Art in New York – closed on Tuesdays. Always check.
Rachel did get to see the motel room where Martin Luther King was assassinated, and took this snap.
We then set off for Graceland and initially have trouble finding the right road, instead driving through the sort of railroad-and-urban-blight-heavy landscape that we have made our own. We blunder on to the right road and soon get to Graceland. If you’re picturing Elvis’ home as some kind of typical rock star home hidden in acres of lush countryside, it’s not.
It was no doubt a lot more isolated when he first bought it at the tender age of 22, but today it sits about 150m from a main road in a crummy part of town, visible to all motorists passing by. Quite strange.
Elvis songs and interviews blast out at us as we cross the car park on a warm and windy afternoon. A shuttle bus takes you the very short journey across the main road and up to the gates of the mansion, where the usual litany of rules is read out, including no video, which I ignore, managing to take some shaky footage.
Walking round the house has an intimate feel, and the place is surprisingly unflashy and modest.
We drive to Hot Springs, Arkansas, childhood home of Bill Clinton, which probably explains the “gentleman’s club” on the otherwise upmarket main street. We check rates at the posh and imposing Arlington Hotel and then check in. Yeahhhhhh.
Gorgeous room – again! Out for dinner, pizza, then back to hotel for a glass of wine on the patio. No-one else much appears to be staying here. Our corridor is totally and eerily silent, and the hotel bears more than a passing resemblance to the Overlook, especially the lifts...
The hotel is obviously proud of its second place in a Pumpkin Carving Contest, as it displays the award on the reception counter.
I go in search of – you’re ahead of me – breakfast but – yes, you’re still ahead of me – there is nowhere open in Hot Springs apart from the Starbuck’s concession at our hotel.
Rachel goes to check out the row of bath houses with their fancy treatments on main street but decides against it, nice as they look.
We do a lovely walk through the park and take a lift to the top of the observation tower on Hot Springs Mountain.
Back into town for a rarity – a non-fried lunch. Very tasty sandwich in a shop then we make the initially very bendy but eventually thoroughly tranquil drive through the Ouachita Mountains, listening to an Agatha Christie dramatisation I’d brought (racy!!!).
Sleepy, I’m glad when we check in to our Best Western Hotel off the highway near Van Buren, Arkansas. My last port of call of the day is Walmart, where I desperately ask a customer where the booze section is.
“It’s a dry county – we drive to Oklahoma City to get ours,” she says, with the hangdog expression of someone who has to drive to Oklahoma City to buy their alcohol.
27) Beware the dry counties. Just because you can buy a drink over dinner at a restaurant doesn't mean you can always buy one in a supermarket.
Our goal for the day is Oklahoma City but I have no great desire to stop there. Oklahoma was always going to be the least promising state (sorry, Okies!) and besides, wikipedia tells us that crack cocaine is “readily available on the streets of Oklahoma City” (hurrah, I hate long waits).
Also, that “up to 6,000 gang members are on the streets of Oklahoma City every night”. So we have two choices: push on past it or pick one of the local gangs and shop for a suitable bandana.
We start driving, enter Oklahoma and make just two stops in the state, one for a wee (top class) and one for a lunch (Waffle House on Garth Brooks Boulevard, Yukon: rubbish, the waitress nearly exploded with mirth and surprise when I asked for a white coffee).
I want to keep pushing for Texas, but Rachel thinks that Elk City is far enough. We stop there and it’s a ghost town. Not literally but only about one in three shops is open. Rachel insists we go to the Route 66 Museum.
I sulk a bit but soon liven up, albeit slightly, as we look around the exhibits (which are okayish) and then a collection of slightly “random” other museums clustered around it, their only theme seeming to be: “Get a load of this stuff from the past”.
But there are some bad mannequins, which always makes my day.
We start driving again and the excitement mounts as we approach Texas. I’ve always pictured this as a watershed moment in the trip – the point where desert kicks in, and cowboys and poker chips and the easygoing charms of California. East is gone, we’re going west.
Texas, or the first hour of it anyway, is uncompromisingly flat, but we’re still very excited about being here. We arrive at our Rough Guide-recommended destination, the Big Texan restaurant and Opry Motel, at Amarillo, just off the I40.
Straight out to the cavernous restaurant where I have the giant, 32oz beer. We’ve travelled about 440 miles so I reckon it’s okay.
Rachel writing her journal in The Big Texan.Tweet