One year ago: Knoxville, Tennessee

April 26, 2010

Original post: On top of Old Smoky

A year ago today I was in Knoxville and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, visiting with family and friends. Sadly, I did not get to visit Dollywood, but we did see a statue of Dolly Parton in the town. I went hiking in the Smokies with my friend Keilan. You can check the post above for more on that.

Here are a few more photos from Tennessee that I need to make public. There’s the Pigeon Forge Welcome Center.

A view of a main street of Pigeon Forge. It’s strip mall heaven, with the mountains just beyond.

A fantastic deal on boots… why did I pass this up?

The hike in the Smokies took us across a stream, where I crossed on a fallen tree.

Keilan took me to a small town called Morristown. The downtown is weird because it has these outdoor elevated sidewalks. It’s like an outdoor mall, basically, with businesses and customers walking on both floors. Except that the town is sort of abandoned these days, like most downtown areas.

In Morristown was one of my favorite storefronts in the entire trip, and I’ve been saving it til now. Two P’s in a Pod!

Knoxville was a good time. Stay tuned for more “One year ago” retrospective posts throughout the summer!

Another look: Memphis, Tennessee

November 5, 2009


Original posts:
Day 22: Two Elvises and a King
Day 21: Whole lotta shakin goin on

I was in Memphis for a weekend and spent most of that at the Beale Street Music Festival. The photo above shows Elvis Costello coming out to play a song with Los Lobos. Here are a few more pics I didn’t run the first time around.

The entire weekend was a downpour. The festival grounds were a muddy mess.


The music was good for the most part. I got close to the stage to see hard rock act Rise Against.


Memphis soul act The Bar-Kays were a pleasant surprise.


Memphis has a statue of Jefferson Davis, the evil president of the Confederate states.


A look at some of the memorabilia for sale at the gift shop of Sun Studios, the birthplace of rock n roll.


Me outside Sun.


Among the many artifacts on display at Sun Studios was a platinum record of Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” from the 1950s.


The iconic photo of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash. It’s on the wall inside Sun Studios, in the same room where the photo was originally taken.


I was just looking through my Graceland pictures, and I have a lot of great pics from there that I haven’t yet published. So many that I’m going to save them for an upcoming post. Stay tuned!

Day 22: Two Elvises and a King

May 5, 2009


DAY 22: Memphis, Tennessee
Miles traveled: 3,620
States visited: 12
Weather: 75, overcast

Yesterday I blogged about the Beale Street Music Festival. The rest of my Memphis weekend was a good time. My volleyball friend Tasha was in town, staying with her friend Deena, so we all got together on Sunday at a diner-ish place called the Cupboard for a real Memphis meal, with catfish, mac & cheese, black eyed peas, fried green tomatoes, cornbread, and sweet tea.

Then it was off to Sun Studio, birthplace of rock n roll, where Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis all got their start.


I took the studio tour and got to pose with a microphone that Elvis used in the 1950s.


During the tour who showed up but Elvis Costello. He was there to answer questions for a documentary on blues guitarist Hubert Sumlin.


At the festival we tried in vain to stay dry.


I wasn’t going to pay $36 to see Graceland, but thanks to Deena’s local insider knowledge of the city, I found out that on Monday morning between 7:30 and 8:30, they open the gates to the Graceland mansion and let visitors walk up to Elvis’ gravesite for free. I jumped at this opportunity.

I took a lot of photos for some (German?) tourists, then got a shot of myself in front of the mansion. And it didn’t cost a dime – how cool is that?


From there it was on to another great destination. I’d been disappointed that I missed the civil rights landmarks in the deep south, but when I remembered that Martin Luther King was killed in Memphis, I thought maybe I could find the hotel where he last stayed, if it was still standing. It’s not only still standing, it’s been turned into the National Civil Rights Museum, and again thanks to Deena I was able to get a tour of the place.

This was one of the best museums I’ve ever visited. They have all sorts of displays covering the timeline from slavery to the present day, going through the slave revolts, court battles, bus boycotts, and Washington protests.

The tour takes you inside the hotel, right next to room 306 where Martin Luther King stayed, where you can look out onto the balcony where he was killed.


The tour also goes into another building across the street. The bathroom where the shot was fired has been preserved. It’s kind of eerie that you can go in there and look out the window where the shot came from – the top right window that is obscured by the tree.


The volume of artifacts on display is unbelievable – they have the gun used in the crime, and even the bullet that was removed from King’s body. I’m not often awestruck, but this was pretty overwhelming. I highly recommend a visit to this museum.


Day 21: Whole lotta shakin goin on

May 4, 2009


DAY 21: Memphis, Tennessee
Miles traveled: 3,412
States visited: 12
Weather: 72, rain all day

I’m writing from a supermarket parking lot in Memphis. I just got a new phone with modem capabilities, which means that I can connect the phone to my laptop and get online anywhere in the country that Verizon has a wireless signal. No more driving around aimlessly to find wifi! This is a breakthrough moment, please celebrate with me.

I feel like I’ve been a broken record so far when talking about the cities I’ve visited and how beautiful they are. Not so, Memphis. Memphis is one butt-ugly city. Every neighborhood looks like the ghetto. There are more abandoned strip malls and boarded-up storefronts than you can imagine.

Memphis has a lot of bosomy bridges.


Despite its lack of beauty, Memphis has been one of my favorite cities to visit. There’s so much to do here. Tomorrow I’ll write about the other stuff I’ve seen, but today I should focus on what brought me here – the Beale Street Music Festival at Tom Lee Park.


It rained all day Saturday and Sunday, so the park became a disgusting mud pit. My favorite shoes were ruined. Does anyone have an extra pair of white Chuck Taylors in size 12?


I saw about a dozen bands over 3 days. Many didn’t live up to my expectations (hello, Steve Miller Band), but I got to see some legendary acts. In fact, I saw live performances of what I think are 4 of the top 100 songs ever recorded: Let’s Stay Together (Al Green), We Want the Funk (George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic), Great Balls of Fire (Jerry Lee Lewis), and Nuthin But a G Thang (Snoop Dogg).

I was most amazed with Jerry Lee Lewis. I’d heard that in past years he sometimes cussed out his band and cut short his set after only a few songs. But he was in great spirits despite the weather, cracked jokes, and played 12 songs total. His voice was stronger than I expected and while his fingers seemed to move slow you wouldn’t have known it by listening to the music.

My favorite act of the weekend was Elvis Costello, followed by Snoop Dogg, Jerry Lee, and John Lee Hooker Jr. Fall Out Boy and James Taylor weren’t bad either. See my music blog for a more full review.


I didn’t want to pay $10 to park in downtown Memphis each night, so I drove around until I happened upon a solitary parking space without a meter. That became my parking space for all 3 days. I love it when I beat the system!


From there it was a 20-minute walk to the festival site. That part of downtown was abandoned at night, so every night I had to walk back there with my eyes open for any potential muggers. The same was true of my last night in New Orleans when I strolled home at 2 am. This means I’ve spent the past 4 nights wandering the streets alone after midnight in sketchy neighborhoods of the two most statistically dangerous cities in America. I’m invincible now – just wait til I get to Compton!

One more morning in Memphis and then it’s off to Arkansas. See ya’ll there!

Day 19: I am solely responsible for the spread of swine flu

May 2, 2009


DAY 19: Coldwater, Mississippi
Miles traveled: 3,176
States visited: 12
Weather: 80, sunny

I have a bad cold that started with a sore throat in Knoxville and grew stronger as I passed through Nashville, Alabama, Florida, and New Orleans. Now it’s like a full blown case of swine flu. Possibly mixed with bird flu. And ricketts. I’ve spread my germs to six states so far. They should have me quarantined. Hopefully I survive to make it through the weekend.

Yesterday I drove through Mississippi on my way to Memphis. I purchased tickets for the Beale Street Music Festival weeks ago, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. It was cheap, and it gave me something to look forward to. But so far it’s been nothing but a hassle.

I had to leave New Orleans earlier than I wanted to make it here. I had wanted to spend some time in the deep south, but I ended up having to drive straight through Alabama and Mississippi on the parkway without stopping. So I have nothing to say about Mississippi except there was a lot of armadillo roadkill on the roads, just like in all the southern states. I didn’t even bother to take any pictures of Mississippi, so you’re stuck with the photo of me driving.

After driving all day to make it here, I was too tired to see all the bands last night, so day 1 of the fest was a bust. I was really looking forward to the Steve Miller band since I’ve never seen them before, but in the first 70 minutes of his set he played exactly 1 of his hit songs – Abracadabra. WTF? I was bored and so tired so I left to get some sleep. He probably played all the hits in the last 20 minutes. But who does that? When you have as many hits as he does, you have to spread them out better than that!

Since I left early I missed the All-American Rejects. Again, it was disappointing, but getting an extra hour of sleep to be ready for today’s festivities was more important. I checked the forecast for Saturday and it’s going to rain all day. I’ve never not enjoyed myself at a music festival; hopefully, this will not be the first time.

On a brighter note, I’m staying at a kick-ass hostel with free wifi. I was only going to stay one night, but decided a second night was in my budget after some recent donations (thanks!) There are 5 other people staying in my room but I was so dead I didn’t hear any of them come in last night.

No blog tomorrow (nobody reads on Sundays.) I’ll have a full report on the festival on Monday!

Day 15: Just the good old boys, never meanin’ no harm

April 28, 2009


DAY 15: Alabaster, Alabama
Miles traveled: 2,390
States visited: 9 (just added: Alabama)
Weather: 85, sunny

I found the most awesome museum in the world. Yesterday while looking for the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, I discovered something much more exciting – Cooter’s Dukes of Hazzard Museum. Admission was free! This place has several rooms of Dukes of Hazzard memorabilia, toys, autographed merchandise, Roscoe’s actual uniform from the show, and all sorts of similar stuff. I felt the Uncle Jesse section was lacking, though. He was the true star of the show if you ask me.

They had some of the vehicles from the show – you could get your picture taken inside the General Lee for $10.


Yesterday was the driving-est day I’ve had yet. I drove 3 hours to Nashville, then 6 hours south into Alabama. I only had a couple hours to spend in Nashville. I just happened to find a perfect parking spot that was near both Vanderbilt University and Music Row, the neighborhood where a lot of country music stuff exists. I saw the home of Curb Records, GAC (the country music version of MTV), and lots of recording studios.


I drove over to the Country Music Hall of Fame and considered going in, but I cha-cha’d to find out the price and it was $28. That’s twice as much as the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame! No, thank you.

I’m not a huge country fan but I was disappointed to miss out on seeing the Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Loretta Lynn exhibits. Keilan told me that he once played a guitar that had been owned by Johnny Cash. I don’t think I’ll ever get over my envy about that.

I usually like to drive through small towns, but I had 400 miles to cover in Alabama yesterday, so I had to I-65 it. I was amused that one of their rest stops has a “Beautification Award” that they apparently presented to themselves.


I never imagined that my first traffic jam of the trip would occur in Birmingham, Alabama, but indeed it did. Montgomery and Birmingham have very attractive skylines. There’s a ton of civil rights history in Alabama, and I feel guilty that I didn’t think to seek out any of those sites until I was already driving through the area. If I’d had two days in Alabama instead of one, I would have tried to find some of those for sure.


I’m headed to Pensacola for a beach visit, and then it’s over to New Orleans for a couple nights. This will be my second couchsurfing experience of the trip. I’m looking forward to it!

Here’s the projected path of the second leg of my trip, from Nashville to Austin.


Day 14: On top of Old Smoky

April 27, 2009


DAY 14: Knoxville, Tennessee
Miles traveled: 1,825
States visited: 8
Weather: 85, sunny

As I mentioned yesterday, this weekend I went hiking in the Smoky Mountains with my friend Keilan. We decided to hike the Two Chimneys Trail, which leads to one of the highest points in the park. The hike was only 2 miles long but it was pretty much straight up – the elevation rose 1,750 feet in those two miles.

The hike was arduous and tiring – and then we got to the summit. The final 100 feet or so normally involve winding up a narrow trail, but the trail was closed for “maintenance,” meaning that the only way to complete the journey was to climb up some treacherous rocks. This was like a climbing wall but without a harness, with a misstep leading to serious injury or dismemberment or worse. Fortunately Camp Kon-O-Kwee prepared me well for this sort of thing.



I like rock climbing so I was fine most of the way, except for one small section that was pretty scary because there was no obvious foothold. Too far to turn back and determined to complete the climb, I went for it and was able to scramble up the rocks to the top, where the view was spectacular. The pictures don’t do it justice. (As always, you can click on the pictures to see larger-size versions.)


I didn’t get to fully enjoy my time at the top, because all I kept thinking was, How in the world are we going to get back down? There were some other folks up there as well, and they decided that the best strategy was to take the trail that was closed for renovation, rather than trying to shimmy down the steep rocks we had just climbed up. So I followed them down the trail, which was much easier to navigate than the rocks.


Reaching the top was a rewarding triumph. Afterwards we played in the rapids and jumped around on some of the rocks.



I was glad to have Keilan show me some of the local sights in eastern Tennessee. Today I’m checking out Nashville briefly, then heading south towards Pensacola, where I hope to get in some beach time tomorrow morning before moving on to New Orleans.

Day 13: Worship the Dolly!

April 26, 2009


DAY 13:  Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Miles traveled: 1,785
States visited: 8 (just added: Tennessee)
Weather: 89, steamy

This weekend I’m hanging out in Knoxville with some close family who are visiting the area, and their dog Izzy, the cutest dog ever. It’s nice to get a taste of home while I’m traveling.


Friday night we wound up in McKay’s Used Books, CDs, and more. They had some ridiculously low prices – I bought two books for 87 cents total. We also went downtown to Market Square, which is similar to Pittsburgh’s Market Square.

Yesterday I went off to visit my volleyball pal Keilan, who is back in Tennessee for the weekend where he grew up. We went hiking in the Smoky Mountains. I’ll write more about that and post some great pics tomorrow.

We drove through the town of Pigeon Forge, which is quite interesting. It’s the home of Dollywood, so that and its proximity to the Smokies mean that it is loaded with tourists and tourist-y stores.


Driving down the main highway you see all these crazy shops and amusements, like the Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride, Black Bear Jamboree, Hillbilly Golf, an Elvis Museum, Christmas stores that are open year-round, lots of go-kart racing, and even a helicopter sightseeing company. The nearby town of Sevierville boasts a lifesize statue of Dolly Parton, which I thought looked more like Loretta Lynn, at least until you get up close.


Keilan’s family also provided some home-cooked meals and some Wii entertainment. His 3-year-old niece whipped us all at Wii bowling, posting a score of 169. This girl had literally just peed her pants two hours earlier at the mall. I swear I’m not making that up. Then she comes home and schools us all.

I’ll be in the area for another day. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s report on our treacherous and harrowing climb to the top of the Smokies.