The original plan for our October road trip was to visit Nashville, Charleston, and Asheville, North Carolina, in that order. When Cheryl and I left home on Sunday morning Hurricane Matthew was churning toward Haiti, and we were not too concerned about it.
We arrived in Nashville on Sunday night just in time to become ensnared in a massive traffic jam at the football stadium, and later I learned I had another reason to be annoyed with Beyoncé. Eventually we untangled ourselves from the traffic and found our hotel, which was in the restored Union Station on Broadway St. The hotel lobby was stunning but otherwise we were not overly impressed. The best thing about it was the location, which was close to things we wanted to see.
One of those things was the Mother Church of Country Music. Some people call it the Ryman Auditorium. The tour was interesting, and as an added bonus there were roadies setting up the stage for a performance to be held later that night. The band, which I had never heard of before, was asleep in their luxury buses on the parking lot.
Of the bars on Broadway St. that feature live music all day and all night, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is probably the most famous. Musicians young and old vie for the coveted time slots, hoping against long odds it will be their ticket to fame and fortune. We only heard a couple of performers and I think I am safe in saying neither will be coming to your town any time soon, or if they do you most likely won’t know about it.
One of the more poignant things I saw in Nashville was at a gas station just up the street from the Broadway bars. I was gassing up the car on the morning we left town and I saw a disheveled young man walk out from behind the station. My first thought was that he had probably slept there. He appeared to be a homeless vagrant in every sense, except for the guitar slung over his shoulder and the fiddle case he carried in his hand. I knew at once this was a man who had come to Music City with little more than the clothes he wore to chase his dream. He had come to take his one big shot and he was all in. In Nashville there could be no other explanation. I silently wished him good luck. Too bad I’ll never know how he made out.
We left Nashville on Tuesday, destination Charleston. By then Matthew had become a Category 4 hurricane, projected to move up the Florida coast. It was not expected to bother Charleston until Saturday, if at all, so onward we went. Later that afternoon, two hours outside of Charleston, we tuned the radio to a news channel, something we almost never do, and heard the South Carolina governor say all coastal counties would be evacuated the next afternoon. We turned around at the next exit and went back to Asheville, where we had eaten lunch just a couple of hours earlier.
If you ever visit Asheville there are two things you must do. One is tour Biltmore House. The other is drive the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is over 400 miles long. We drove south from Asheville for about 40 miles. Next to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado it is some of the prettiest scenery I have ever seen.
The Biltmore Estate was the home of George Vanderbilt, youngest grandson of the Commodore, Cornelius Vanderbilt. It has 250 rooms, 43 of them bathrooms. Originally the estate comprised 146,000 acres, but financial need caused much of it to be sold off, and today it sits on a mere 8000 acres. It is the largest house ever built in America.
Though Hurricane Matthew had put the kibosh on our Charleston visit, one of us still needed a beach fix. While it wasn’t me, I will say there is something comforting about being near the ocean. I think it comes from an innate connection in all humans to the time when the first creatures crawled out of the ancient seas and evolved into – us. We had the time, a reliable car and the unused Charleston budget, so we left Asheville on Friday morning and drove southwest to the Gulf Coast, looking forward to feasting on shrimp and oysters.
This strip of Alabama-Florida coastline is known as the Redneck Riviera, and with good reason. On a football Saturday in the Fall it is not unusual to see cars and trucks on Beach Blvd. flying Alabama Crimson Tide flags, Auburn University flags, American flags and Confederate flags. There are kids riding in the back of pick-up trucks, people hawking boiled peanuts on the roadside, women wearing hounds-tooth fedoras and tattooed girls in bikinis tossing back Saturday morning drinks in red Solo cups. In the grocery check-out line I found myself behind a lady with Chinese characters tattooed on the back of her neck. I wanted to asked her if they spelled Shrimp With Lobster Sauce, but the mutton-chopped giant who accompanied her made me think better of it.
On Monday morning Hurricane Matthew was dropping torrential rains on the Carolina coast, while in Gulf Shores the day dawned cool and clear. Our October road trip had come to an end, and we packed up and headed for home. It was really the first time Cheryl and I had taken a vacation like this, and I have to say I liked it very much. I can see a lot more road trip vacations in our future.