The sun rose behind me on the first day as I drove west with Maggie, my 24-year-old daughter, snoozing in the back seat.
The sun rose ahead of me on the penultimate day of our trip as we drove east again, out of Memphis.
Then on the last day, heading north from our overnight stop in Virginia, I drove first shift as the sun slanted in through the opposite side of the car and fell upon Maggie’s head as she slept the sleep of the innocent and the young.
Those are the sunrises I can measure our trip by. There are other benchmarks. Museums. BBQ joints. Friends. Local music. Local coffee. Local beer.
Not my first road trip (by a long shot) nor the first I’ve written about in this blog, the recent mother-daughter journey to the heart of Tennessee was one of my most adventurous. Mostly because of the number of miles traversed—2,418, from one Friday to Saturday of the following week.
Road trips need no reason. They need no justification or excuse. They are, a priori, of value.
But why Tennessee?
- Never been
- It’s drivable
- Music and food mecca
- Two dear friends have, independently of one another, moved there over the last two years making it OBVIOUS that the universe required us to visit
100% worth it.
- The usual road trip with Maggie perks. Epic rounds of “naughty Madlibs” that would no doubt horrify most people but that have us crying gallons of laughter tears. Fabulously twisted 20 questions games. Listening to the same CDs over and over because she is obsessed (currently with The National)– oh wait, that’s not a perk, but I’m willing to put up with it most of the time.
- We read a whole book as we drove. Or rather, I read. When I drove, she slept. When she drove, I read.
- Stopover in Cincinnati to see my sister and her family.
That visit included long card games, great cooking, a mani-pedi, a fantastic contemporary art center with some great current exhibits around gender, feminism, and race in America etc.
- An afternoon at the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville, KY. Neither of us is a fan of the racing industry for a variety of reasons mostly to do with the horses. But we are both horse lovers and the museum was all about the ponies.
- Wandering around Nashville with friend Betty. This involved non-stop talk-as-we-walked.
- The Johnny Cash Museum. Seriously excellent museum with interactive musical exhibits, lots of info on the soulful, challenging, often uplifting life and times of the Man in Black.
- Sitting in a famous Nashville bar (Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge) in the afternoon listening to live music and drinking local beer.
- The exact replica of the Parthenon that exists in Nashville (who knew?) with a wonderful American art exhibit and a seriously huge replica of the Athena statue too. Very fun stop-off on what became a torrentially rainy day. We left there and ran barefoot back to our car, headed to dry off and have dinner in the Gulch section of Nashville where we listened to more music, of course.
- Memphis! It is a seriously cool city. First night there our awesome friend Charles introduced us to one of the best BBQ places I’ve ever experienced. The Bar-B-Q Shop on Madison Ave was everything it should be, including the ice-cold beer. Their “dry BBQ”—basically with a dry rub to die for—was flawless.
- Graceland—Elvis portrayed through the lens of worshipful love. The home is not huge, but it is flamboyant in its way, with a surprisingly modest kitchen! I was lucky enough to see him perform shortly before his death. I was 17, a senior in high school, and despite not being a particular fan, grabbed the chance because somehow I knew this iconic man was not long for the world. It was an amazing experience and I’ve had a soft spot for Elvis ever since. I’m glad I got to pay homage at the museum of Elvis-homage.
- The Civil Rights Museum. Probably the high point of the entire trip. It is at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was murdered and is worth going to Memphis for—the BBQ and music are nice bonuses. I wish every high school student in the country could experience this museum. We were cramming too much into one day and did not have a chance to see it all, so I will be going back. Someday. Warning: you will feel lots of things, and you will, in the end, cry.
- Four Way Soul Food Restaurant. Soul food, the real deal, straight to the face (and waistline).
- Vince Johnson and the Plantation Allstars playing on Beale Street on a Wednesday night—at Rum Boogie Café (hint: it’s not a café). Some seriously hot and dirty blues.
- Taking home a cooler full of BBQ from another Memphis standard: Central BBQ, right behind the Civil Rights Museum. Their dry BBQ gave Bar-B-Q Shop a run for its money but I could never choose. Not in a million.
We drove back in two days that should have dragged but flew by, thanks to our tried-and-true road trip protocol. Re-entry was a little tough as it had been a long time since I’d been that footloose and it felt really good.
Maggie and I would both recommend a trip to TN. There’s much more to it than we managed to see in what amounted to 5 days actually in that state, but we were there long enough to realize there’s plenty of soul, beauty, flavor, history, and music.