Friday, December 24, 2010


Days Six and Seven

Memphis. I had the same feeling here yesterday that I did when I stood on the Grassy Knoll. Nobody was around here yesterday. Apparently, the hotel site remains exactly like it looked in 1968. It made me feel like it was my little moment in time to have it to myself. It was powerful to stand in the parking lot and look up at the balcony and think.

He wasn't the only important person I paused to consider in Memphis ...

Elvis and Graceland is 15 minutes but a world away from MLK. I splurged on the platinum tour and got to see his mansion, his cars, and his airplanes. Gold records cover the walls all over the place. The mansion was smaller and much more like my Aunt Laura's house than I expected. She had the same Franciscan Apple dishware as the Presleys and the same curtain fabric in her basement that Elvis has on the window off his Jungle Room. And the shag level on the carpet was similar. And the brown and yellow-ness.

Wouldn't you think that Elvis would have a fancy kitchen? Not at all! It's a regular circa 1970s kitchen with a regular fridge and a regular sink. The whole place made me want to frost my hair and have a cigarette. The home is in fantastic shape considering the amount of people who traipse through there, and I found every detail to be fascinating. I have been thinking about Elvis all day today. He was a beautiful man, great looking. Tons and tons of his clothing is on display. His airplane, the Lisa Marie, has a proper dining room and a bar. What a life.

I'm all done driving, back at Becky's tonight watching The Dukes of Hazzard. I love it when Uncle Jesse gets involved in the car chases in his white pick-up truck. A minute ago, he was at home making crawdad bisque and peach pie. Next thing, Bo and Luke need him to run Enos off the road into a swamp.

My lungs hurt. Every time I get a cold, it sinks into my chest on the third day and stays there. I got some nice plump shrimp today for Christmas dinner, but I can't taste anything, even a tangerine. Even a tangerine! It's very sunny and clear here, and I am glad for the light on my face.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Day Five: I guess Hank Williams is a really big deal?

Today I stopped in at the Country Music Hall of Fame in downtown Nashville. I am certainly no fan of contemporary country music, but I always liked classic country music, and I respect country's place among the musical genres. I get it.

The museum is full of fascinating objects and sounds and photos way back from bluegrass to Taylor Swift. Now, why in the world is Taylor Swift already represented in the museum alongside Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton? She is seemingly a lovely and talented young woman, but I couldn't name a song of hers if my life depended on it. Maybe in a decade or so when she's proved herself to be a legend like everyone else shown here ...

I had forgotten all about Hee Haw.

I really want cowgirl boots with my name tooled on them. Brown leather with turquoise letters border-stitched in orange. Someday ...

After the museum, with light feet and a quickly beating heart, I walked over to Third Man Records south of downtown. I had checked the web site three times this week to make sure I was going on the right day. Yes, extended holiday hours for Dec. 22. My shopping list was ready.

Not 50 yards from the store, a man came up to me on the sidewalk and said, "Naomi Judd? You are Naomi Judd, right?" "No, sir, I am not," I replied. I am a redheaded compulsive eater with full cheeks, fair skin, and a blousy top, but I am not Naomi Judd.

I approached the front door to the store and saw a little laminated sign that showed customers should ring the doorbell to get in. My insta-fantasy at seeing the sign was that Jack White would answer the door himself (seeing how it was three days before Christmas, he would be home in Nashville, perhaps minding the store for the fun of playing cashier). He would swing the door open for me, holler back inside, "Hey, guys, we got a redhead at the door!" Then he would pull me inside, offer to take my coat, and start showing me super special limited edition records and the Jack and Meg thumb drives. I pressed the button and heard the bell ringing.

Then tragedy struck.

No one answered the door.

I lost my pride and rang the bell three more times. I pressed my face against the door to squint through the tinting. A young man came up the front steps, also hoping to get in. We shared stories about how far we'd come to get here. How it would be terrible if we couldn't get in. Just terrible. He had already been to the store once today. It was closed then, too. The man called the store's phone number. No answer. Music was coming from inside the store. Voices could be heard in between the songs. The doorbell was definitely working.

We gave up, and his mom and dad gave me a ride back downtown.


I have been thinking about coming to Third Man for almost two years, and it's unlikely I will be in Nashville ever again. I saw merchandise through the window that is not for sale on the web site. However, I believe that disappointment is about the person being disappointed choosing to be so. I will be fine tomorrow. But for today, I truly feel let down. I really wanted to see the store and check it out and buy some cool records today.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Day Four: Nashville

I decided against Atlanta and drove to Nashville today.

This is the back side of the mansion.

I stopped first at The Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson's plantation east of the city. I have always wanted to visit a plantation. The wallpaper in the house is 194 years old. Most of the rooms are viewable only through glass sheets in the doorways, but it didn't take away from the experience. The furniture is gleaming and gorgeous, and the blue and turquoise walls in the library and dining room make me want to paint a room one of those colors someday. I thought the house would be larger, but I suppose that for the first half of the mid-1800s, this was a pretty nice pad. Except if you were one of the several dozen slaves. A couple of slave quarters are on the property, something else I'd never seen. I can only imagine that life ...

I'm staying in an area east of Nashville called Music Valley, trying to get my country on. I made my hair big and walked over to Opryland tonight. It's just like Las Vegas, only country fried. My throat is on fiery fire and my sparkle is missing. This is the third round in four months. Sleep and lots of water tonight might help.

Oh! On the way back from Opryland, I stopped at Cooter's Place, coincidentally across from my hotel. Cooter's is one of the museum/shops owned by the actor Ben Jones who played Cooter Davenport on The Dukes of Hazzard. Dukes is a halcyon part of growing up for me. My dad would make the best popcorn ever, with all the ritual that went into making it, and pour a couple of Cokes, then we would watch them Dukes together in the basement with the fire blazing hot. The museum has an outstanding collection of memorabilia. Outstanding. Everything from Bo Duke Underoos (hmmm, innocent yet not) to Daisy Duke's Jeep. I was disappointed the General Lee was not in residence for my visit, for I very much would have liked my photo with 01, even for $9.99. I will probably go back tomorrow for a souvenir.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Day Three: 'Bama, y'all!

I lost my niece's dog for a while this morning. I know almost nothing about dogs, and everyone who knows me knows I detest them, but the least I can do when staying at my sister's house is feed Bosco and open the slider door for him. He is the only dog I will tolerate because his family loves him so much, and I love them. After letting him out this morning, he never came back. I left the door open thinking he would pad back inside when he was finished, but when I emerged from my ablutions, I could not find that big dog. I went out to the back yard and called him. Nothing. Went out to the front yard. Nothing. Like I said, I know nothing about dogs, so I started having terrible thoughts of Bosco wandering out to the highway and the situation ending with his demise and with my niece resenting me until I die for letting her dog out to play Frogger. I kept getting ready for my road trip and going outside to call for him (me, whistling for a dog, imagine that), and half an hour later I saw his shadow on the patio. That dog was back. He smelled like he had killed something out by the creek river near my sister's house. I checked him to see if he had rolled around in Florida gator poop or something, but he didn't have any strange substances on him. We'll see how stinky he is when I get back. I will just die if I have to give Bosco a bath. I am not a dog person. One of Becky's friends is coming to feed and play with Bosco while I am on my trip.

I continued my morning by driving to Monroeville, Ala., to visit the town that, in part, inspired Harper Lee to write To Kill a Mockingbird, the official "Best Novel of the Century." I passed through some seriously Southern teensy towns on the way. Every porch, every one of them, had a stiff-back chair on it, just sittin' there waiting for hot weather to return. I saw a lot of Waffle Houses. Do not think I am ending this vacation without some Waffle House down my gullet.

In M'ville, I walked all around the Old Courthouse Museum, and it was neat to go upstairs in the courtroom and look down onto the court just like Scout did in the book and Lee did in real life as she watched her father. The courtroom is not the one in the film, but the set was created to look almost exactly like the real courtroom, and you wouldn't even know the difference.

Nobody was in the museum but me, and when I returned to the main floor to look for a postcard and a magnet, I heard some men's voices coming from another part of the building. I went to find them and declare myself present, and the way they greeted me was lovely. It was two real old guys and the museum attendant, and their short conversation with me was all one long, lazy syllable. I could have talked with them all day. One of the men actually tipped his hat at me.

A few minutes later in the gift shop, I overheard them talking about Nelle this and Nelle that. Nelle is Harper Lee's first name, and I just know they were talking about her. I eavesdropped, feigning interest in the Mockingbird T-shirts next to where they were standing. How could I not listen in to gossip about one of the most reclusive authors in America? Out of respect to her, I will keep their conversation to myself. Then, upon taking my leave, I made an arse of myself by telling the museum guy that I am an English teacher and I just LOVE Mockingbird and it's so wonderful. Like every other woman traipsing through there isn't an English teacher. They even sell lesson plans in the gift shop. The man graciously listened to me and wished me a safe trip "north" to Nashville.

Because the courthouse was only open in the early part of the day this Christmas week, I was done in Monroeville at 11 or so and headed to Montgomery, where I had not planned on spending the better part of the day.

Correct punctuation pleases me.
To be honest, I did not expect this in Alabama.
I am humbled.

Unprepared, I went first to the Montgomery visitor center, and that started a day of learning about a place where I thought I was just going to spend the night. The woman at the visitor center told me to hop on the 40-minute trolley tour ($1, the driver's waitin' for ya, go get on it there) to get a feel for Montgomery and where I might like to go that day.

The pipe bomb exploded right behind that pole that shows the house number.
The steps up to the house slant down on the right where they were rebuilt as a result of the bomb.
The people in the photo are looking down at the bomb hole that's still on the porch.

The driver toodled us around town and gave us the story of about a dozen different places that we could return to later to explore in more depth. I saw a home (above) that Martin Luther King Jr. lived in that was pipe-bombed. I saw slaves' quarters in the old town. I saw the bus stop where Rosa Parks boarded the day she refused to give up her seat. I consider myself to have a decent knowledge of the civil rights movement, but today was experiential learning all the way.

I returned after the trolley ride to the Civil Rights Memorial Center and heard stories about people I had never heard of who suffered this difficult time in history.

I stuck my hand in the water flowing over the memorial.

I signed my name on the Wall of Tolerance, which means I am officially committed to working for human rights in my daily life. I have come a long way in my racial identity and overcoming my ignorance, and today was a nice pause to think about where I am now and how far I still need to go to evolve my thinking. I was heartened to see that the center was not solely focused on African American civil rights, although it understandably could have been, but also touched on the rights of gays and other oppressed peoples. I am grateful I arrived early enough to experience this place.

Dinner, on the other hand, I chose to tolerate. This pint bowl of tom yum cost $7.70 and was absolutely the worst Thai anything I have ever eaten. Not terrible enough to toss, though, heh. I am cheap. I think the soup's shrimp was thrown in in from one of those frozen round trays you can get at the grocery store. I also stopped at a Wal-Mart, an honest-to-gawd Alabama Wal-Mart, to pick up some blog-writing wine and a corkscrew. Nothing out of the ordinary happened there, other than the cashier apologized three times that she had to card me. I didn't know whether to be understanding or to make a self-deprecating joke about my age, so I opted for the former. Clearly, I look 23.

The desk attendant at my motel is named Albert, and I just cannot get enough of the Alabama accent on these people. I know that makes me sound ignorant, that thing I was saying earlier that I need to work on. I keep calling him at the front desk for information (wireless password, where's the drug store, where's the ice machine) just to hear him talk. He keeps calling me Miss Amy. How about that?

Tomorrow is Atlanta, but I'm not feeling it. I'm not in the mood for a big city at all, so I might veer west a day early. That's what you can do on a no-agenda road trip. By the way, having a navigation system is fantastic. I took not one wrong turn today.

P.S. Of course, Me and Marley is on HBO right now. I cannot even get away from dogs on my vacation.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Christmas Vacation 2010: Day 1

Oh, my gosh. I had day. My airport shuttle arrived at my house at 4:55 a.m. this morning, although I had been awake since 2:45 worried that I wouldn't hear either of the two loud alarms I set. I was swept into the security lines and headed to Denver to catch a flight to Houston to catch a flight to Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Beats me why I thought this itinerary looked like the right plan for me a month ago. My sister lives in FWB, and I was headed there to stay at her house for a few days while they are away for Christmas week. I'm going on a road trip after the few days (thus the revival of this blog), then we all meet back in FWB for New Year's Eve weekend.

Here's the weird thing that happened: I had a four-hour layover in Houston, so I walked through the terminals looking for just the right place to eat dinner and kill some time catching up on Entertainment Weekly and InTouch magazines. I had a painful headache caused by no coffee (so I wouldn't have to use an airplane lavatory, gross me out) and no Tylenol, so I went into one of those magazine/candy/everything stores to get what would probably be a $9 pack of six pills. A woman was standing in front of the medicine display, so I waited patiently for a moment, looking at her cute boy standing with her. Dang, I thought, that kid sure looks like my nephew. And dang, that woman sure looks like my sister. They turned around, I grinned, and there I was standing in an airport in Texas in front of my sister and nephew. It was really strange. Becky was confused and thought that I had planned the whole thing and that it was a funny airport surprise to run into me in the everything store. I had no idea they were flying through Houston, and what in the world were the chances that I was in the same place as them at that moment? Once I convinced her that I wasn't playing a funny surprise, we laughed and hugged and said, "Weird. Weird, right?" and my nephew accepted that his aunt was indeed the lady kissing his cheeks. We had a nice catch-up for an hour until they had to board their plane and I had to head to my two-hour dinner with the People magazine Becky passed off to me. Gawd, I love a magazine. I can't wait to see Becky and Co. back at their house.

All I want is a bath these days. The house I live in doesn't have a tub upstairs in my "suite," and all I want is a simple, restorative bath. I finally got to Becky's house and dug up some salt and bubbles and a goodly splash of wine. It was a fine bath, and I am now ready to try and meet my sleeping goal of 12 hours.

I have been waiting for this bath and this sleep for a month. I am a new teacher and tired into the middle of my bones.

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