Because of very restrictive Texas absentee ballot laws and the president's very insistent guidance we knew we needed to get to our hometown of Wichita Falls, TX, to vote, in person.
We left beautiful Savannah with a heavy heart, wondering if we should have extended our stay. We also left wondering if we should move there after we complete our civic duty, but then remembered our stay in July of 2009 and remembered it was just too hot and too humid.
Beer City, USA
In the last thirty years, I've probably traveled a little more than most. And in many of the U.S cities I've visited, I've been informed by at least one local that their "city is known for their great breweries" and is therefore nicknamed "Beer City". To which I've thought "what city isn't?", as, the nickname "Beer City", is used so often as to become a banality.
The Missus informed me in a no-nonsense sort of voice, that she wanted to see some Smoky Mountain vistas, flora & fauna and therefore we were heading to Gatlinburg, TN. “Ok with me” I said, as my only knowledge of the place was from the lyrics to the great Ronny Milsap song Smoky Mountain Rain, "I waved a diesel down outside a cafe, He said he was goin' as far as Gatlinburg”. Well, the Smoky Mountain National Park scenery was beautiful with idyllic streams, stunning landscapes, and verdant flora, that unfortunately led us directly to the city of Gatlinburg.
Quite simply, I have never seen so many tourists in one place at one time, in my entire life . . . and I’ve been to the Eiffel Tower! As I tried to take in downtown Gatlinburg I was just overwhelmed by it all, Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium, the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., and the Sugarland Wedding Chapel. You know a city may lack genuineness when Dunkin' Donuts is the most authentic part. Can a city consist of 100% tourists? Yes . . . it . . . can. It’s like Myrtle Beach without the beach. Does a man wake up one morning and say to his wife “I’m hankering for some Shoney’s, Davy Crockett miniature golf, and a Red Skelton tribute show, we’re going to Gatlinburg!”? Add in a distinct lack of parking and exorbitant motel prices and a man's head could explode.
We quickly decided to get a beer, some food, and move on. According to a cursory internet search (we were very hungry), the Smoky Mountain Brewery was a solid place for locals, so we stopped in for a Helles Munich Light Lager and a Mountain Light Bavarian Light Lager. It looked like a craft brewery, a loft-like space with plenty of well-joined wood, but I smelled a rat when I noticed the kettles weren’t directly off the dining room, the menu was too extensive (and too fried) and that the dress code was “Ball-cap suggested”. Though the beer was cold, we quickly drank up and left as the service was glacial (and we had illegally parked in an adjacent hotel parking lot).
Townsend is a small town about 25 miles west of Gatlinburg and bears no relation to its neighbor except for high motel prices.
We stayed over at the very motelish Townsend River Breeze Motel ($114/night + tax). In the morning before hitting the road, I needed a cup of coffee, so we stopped in at the Little River Roasting Co., only to realize upon entry that it was a roastery, not a coffery. When the owner was asked where to get an actual cup of coffee, she recommended Healthy Vibes, just down the road, and by the way "can you deliver them their weekly roasted coffee delivery"? The Missus is from the Midwest and "now a favor asked, is a promise tasked"¹, and therefore we were now duty-bound to make this delivery of Honey Washed Muir-Approved Medium (with notes of warm honey & vanilla). We immediately departed as there were thirsty coffee drinkers out there in need of slaking, but when we arrived via Apple Maps, we were met with a signless storefront and no one home. We got Healthy Vibes on the blower and just as we were informed they had changed locations, a UPS truck pulled up alongside asking us if we knew where Healthy Vibes was. It was lookin' "like we got us a convoy", so we told Mr. UPS to follow us, and then "put the hammer down".
When we entered the newly relocated Healthy Vibes, we were greeted with an overwhelmed manager who cursorily accepted our delivery, guided us to a table overlooking the Little River, and served me a tepid cup of Washed Muir-Approved Medium (with notes of warm honey & vanilla). As loyal subscribers will know from earlier rantings, the only thing I require from a cup of coffee is that it be hot. I asked our server to slip it in the microwave, which she apparently did for only 10 seconds as now it was hottish, which I quickly drank before it could return to tepidness.
The best part of the whole experience could have been the attentive busboy, who kept our water glasses continuously filled, until I realized he had a teardrop tattoo under his eye. Check please!! Unfortunately, the first check we received was one the manager gave us to deliver to Little River Roasting Co. in payment for the beans we had just delivered!
For the lack of sign directing customers to a new location, to the incorrect address in Apple Maps, to the lukewarm coffee, to the work release busboy (can't he use concealer?), I left wondering how this place, now immortalized as "Hidden Vibes", could stay in business.
The Walnut Bridge was built in 1890, to connect North and South Chattanooga. It was quite contentious at the time as North Asheville was mostly black and South Asheville was mostly white. Now it is a pedestrian-only truss bridge that offers solid views of Chattanooga and the Tennessee River. Park at the base of the bridge on Walnut Street (for free) and then walk north over the river to the gathering of geniuses.
Inbound, without realizing it we wound up listening to a Christian financial call-in radio show, but then changed stations, which then enabled us to barrel into Music City to the strains of Charlie Daniel's Orange Blossom Special. After a not so refreshing night's stay at the Comfort Inn & Suites Nashville Franklin Cool Springs (it's next door to a Harley-Davidson dealership), we were off to downtown Nashville.
We parked across the street from the headquarters of the Barbershop Harmony Society (a disturbingly large building) and in lieu of research, my wife asked the doorman at the adjacent apartment building what we should do. He looked at my wife and said "If I were you, I'd go to Losers"(sometimes this blog can write itself). He then added that maybe Dierks Bentley's rooftop bar was in order. Well, instead we went to the Mellow Mushroom rooftop bar, I didn't have a pizza, as it is against the law for native New Yorkers to eat Mellow Mushroom pizza. Instead, I drank a Bud Light and enjoyed views of Broadway. Broadway is Nashville's main nightlife drag and it reminded me of a gentrified Bourbon Street filled with a smattering of cowboy hats and cowgirl boots. Unlike Bourbon Street, it is not closed to pedestrians, which therefore allows for an endless succession of pedal pubs, tractor pubs, school bus pubs, hot tub pubs, and fire engine pubs.
We then walked over to the Ryman Auditorium, the home to the original Grand Ole Opry to inspect the statue of Little Jimmy Dickens and then proceeded down to the Cumberland River. While walking, we noticed The George Jones rooftop bar had great views of the river but was seemingly empty. I mentioned to my wife that, maybe young people say "who the hell is George Jones? Let's go to Dierks Bentley's", my wife disagreed saying "I like George Jones", to which I replied "Exactly" (we were subsequently informed that The George Jones restaurant is permanently closed).
We walked the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge which offered stunning views of the Nashville skyline and free parking at its northern terminus (non-Titan game days). Next, we stopped in at The Valentine to get some live music, and Adam James Carson did a fine job with some original tunes and a solid cover of Simple Man. When we left, the street was swollen with nightlife, and as it was getting late (4:30 pm), we realized it was time to head back to the barn.
• The Home of the Blues is home to the final resting place of one of the 20th century's greatest entertainers . . . Danny Thomas! Never heard of him? Well, he was a nightclub comedian, starred in the eponymous sitcom, and was arguably the (very) Catholic Jerry Seinfeld of his day. He also founded the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, which provides free pediatric care to those in need. You would think all this would be an enviable legacy, but not for Mr. Thomas. He also has been interred in a mausoleum (with adjoining statue & museum, displaying his three Emmys) on the grounds of St. Jude's that would make the Queen of England envious. Unfortunately, it was closed due to Covid and I could only glimpse it from behind an imposing fence some 100 m away, where from the outside it reminded me of the Dome of the Rock (after all he was Lebanese-American). I must admit, I do find it cynically ironic, that even with his CV and equally impressive edifice, Danny Thomas is just like almost all of humanity, with the memory of his life quickly fading. Honestly, I was quite disappointed in not getting into the grounds to see it. Mrs. AAR, tried to work her magic to gain entry, but, no joy. I was thankful, but a short walk away, there was an equally imposing edifice . . .
• The Memphis Pyramid was originally built in 1991 as a 20,000 seat basketball arena and event space, that is now . . . a Bass Pro Shop (which worked out well as I was in the market for a Shimano Metanium MGL Fishing Reel). The floor has been turned into a pond, well stocked with numerous and large fish (and alligators), with impressively large and authentic-looking cypress trees festooned with Spanish moss. All of it is filled with various cabins and lodges that are in turn filled with more shotguns, stuffed deer & bears, survival gear, and Carhart shirts than you could shake a fishin' pole at. It all has a Disney feel to it (Swampland?²). BTW: I didn't feel like shelling out $419, but maybe next time.
Little Rock, AR
Old bridges crossing rivers being turned into pedestrian-only bridges is trending. I've walked on them in Louisville, Nashville, Chattanooga, and now two in Little Rock.
• The Junction Bridge was built as a railroad lift span bridge in 1885 and converted into a pedestrian-only bridge in 2008. The lift span is locked in place some 38 feet above the Arkansas River, allowing river traffic to pass under and allowing me a nice view of the Little Rock skyline.
• The Rock Island Bridge was built as a railroad lift span bridge in 1899 by the Choctaw and Memphis RR and converted into a pedestrian-only bridge in 2011 and then subsequently renamed the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge. The lift span is locked in place allowing river traffic to pass underneath and allowing me a good view of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library. I'm not a fan of presidential libraries, as asking private contributors to fund, in this case, a $165 million dollar library, is unseemly (not to mention a $10 million "contribution" from Saudi Arabia). As is asking people to contribute to a monument to themselves. What I wrote previously about DC Memorials, holds true for presidential libraries, each one tries to outdo the last, and trust me they will not become more modest. In the past libraries were built to a certain code: columns, domes, marble, Latin inscriptions, basically saying "knowledge is to be found in this building". I realize that library architecture must evolve, but does that require a building to look like a big alien space ship?
Texarkana, AR, TX
A one-horse town in two states with two things to do:
• Interested in a Tuesday night $18.95 Prime Rib special, an appetizer of calf fries, and the ability to smoke while eating them both? Then git yourself to the Cattleman's Steak House. It's a place that only 53 years of history could create, as if it was built from scratch today all of the character would have been resected: A very nondescript outside with an eye-catching neon "Cattlemans" sign, a dark brown tiled sterile foyer which reminded me of a Chinese restaurant (I kept looking for a Buddha and the mini bamboo plant), raised paneled walls throughout and booths with four leather upholstered chairs on casters (genius!). The place appears to be run by a crew of very professional but very courteous old ladies. We asked that our entree be split and when it arrived my cut was the less fatty one. My wife lamented on how our woman server gave her the inferior cut. All I could say was "I'm a Man, baby!!"
Note: Don't know what calf fries are? Trust me, you don't want to know.
• The Texarkana Post Office & Courthouse: It's a fine-looking post office & courthouse with the Texas/Arkansas state line runnin' right down the middle.
A one-horse town with one thing to see:
• As soon as I checked into what must be the finest Motel-6 in existence (the facility that is, the less we say about the clientele the better) it dawned on me that there must be a reproduction of the Eiffel Tower in this burg. And there was! Though I must admit that I was a little underwhelmed by this 1/10 scale version, it seemed a little unTexaslike to me (though there was a 10/1 reproduction of a Resistol hanging on top of it). As if to make up for this rather modest facsimile, there is a rather large adjoining memorial park. It has very large stone markers, both upright and prone, mounted around a 40-foot royal blue circle with a white star in the middle. It was as if Stonehenge was centered around Captain America's shield. Now, when it comes down to it, I'm down with the Cap'n³ (what American isn't?), but I'm not sure his shield should be in the middle of a memorial park for Red River Valley veterans.
Wichita Falls, TX
Home sweet, home (see FAQ #8)
Endnotes: I wanted to provide some very specific details which while vaguely interesting did not contribute to the overall narrative. Perhaps just wait until the end to read.
² Swampland would be the correct name, as opposed to Marshland, as a swamp is a wetland dominated by trees and other woody plants, while a marsh is a type of wetland dominated by herbaceous plants. An herbaceous plant is a plant that does not have much wood with stems that are green and soft.
³ Though the Cap'n represents the best that America has to offer: integrity, hard work, and fair play, if you must know, my favorite superhero is Daredevil, after all, he is the "Man Without Fear".