October Road Trip

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.

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Union Station. Now a hotel in Nashville, TN.

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.

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The Ryman Auditorium

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.

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A hopeful performs for the afternoon crowd at Tootsie’s in Nashville..

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.

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Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop. Broadway St. Nashville, TN.

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.

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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.

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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.

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The view from the veranda of Biltmore House.

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.

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The beach at Gulf Shores, AL.

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.

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Sunrise on the beach.

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.

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Mesilla, New Mexico

Mesilla is the historic section of Las Cruces, New Mexico. The centerpiece is the Basilica of San Albino. As old churches go it’s not particularly impressive, but judging by the number of people taking pictures it must have something going for it. Today was the second time I have tried and failed to get inside.

imageIn the early days of my interest in photography I tried to keep cars out of my pictures because I thought I could not create “art” if there was a Toyota parked front and center in the middle of it. But over time I realized that, first of all, I was not creating art, and second, when I looked at old pictures with cars in them it was the cars, more often than not, that were the most interesting thing in the picture. So from now on the cars will stay. I just hope that I live long enough that when I look back at these pictures the cars actually look old. All of these photos were shot with an iPhone camera.

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During the Civil War, Mesilla was a pro-Confederate community which served for a while as the capital of the Confederate Arizona Territory.

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Billy the Kid was tried and convicted of murder in this building that is now a gift shop. He was sentenced to hang, but before that could happen he escaped from his jail cell, killing two deputies in the process. Later on he was either killed by Pat Garrett or he died an old man in Texas, whichever version of his demise you are prone to believe.image

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Mesilla today is a nice mix of art galleries, restaurants and gift shops.

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As I was getting in my car to leave I heard a very old man talking about what a wonderful place Mesilla is, and how it was better than Yuma and so much better than Santa Fe, because you can’t relax in Santa Fe. I’ve never been to Yuma so I’ll take his word on that, but I don’t remember Santa Fe being overly stressful, although I guess if I was almost a hundred years old I might have a different perspective.

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Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Sioux Falls is one of those towns you rarely hear about, but when you have a chance to spend a few days exploring it, you come to realize it is (cliche alert) an undiscovered jewel. It’s a friendly town in general but the residents seem like a hardy sort who wouldn’t put up with a lot of nonsense. It must be a Midwestern thing. The older neighborhoods are still livable and well kept, with cropped lawns, elaborate flower beds and restored homes being common. It’s one of the rare places that when I’m driving around I think, “Yeah, I could live here.”

Of course, you can’t go to Sioux Falls without seeing the namesake falls, so here they are.

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The falls on the Big Sioux River.

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Contemplation

I've never been a fan of Canadian Geese. they rank just slightly above pigeons in my opinion. But sometimes they will pose for a decent picture.

I’ve never been a fan of Canadian Geese. They rank just just above pigeons in my opinion. But sometimes they will pose for a decent picture.

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Downtown.

The most prominent feature of Sioux Falls has to be the cathedral on the hill. You can see it from a long way in almost any direction.

St. Joseph's Cathedral. Built in 1916.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Built in 1916.

IMG_3907Houses on Cathedral Hill.

homesThere are some beautiful restored homes on Cathedral Hill but there are also some pretty sketchy characters walking around. I didn’t notice any graffiti, so maybe the taggers and the preservationists have some kind of understanding.

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Northern Colorado

The best thing about Loveland, Colorado is that it’s in northern Colorado, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. The worst thing about Loveland is that it’s in northern Colorado, on the edge of the High Plains, which is also home to large numbers of cattle feed lots, so that in the morning especially, you are likely to be knocked to your knees by the stench in the air. Otherwise Loveland is a clean and prosperous little town with a lot to offer, and if I had to live there, I think I could do it quite easily.

streetDowntown Loveland.

lake statueLike a lot of towns in this part of the country Loveland has a large number of public statues. I don’t know why this is. Here are some of them.

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millAn old mill or something with a Colorado touch. If you are wondering there are no pot shops in Loveland yet. I checked.

IMG_3756Artwork on the side of a Loveland building.

stanley3The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. Supposedly the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining. Redrum.

mountains closeThe view from just below the Stanley Hotel.

estes park-640The same view from higher up on the Stanley grounds taken around 1992 when I visited the area with my much younger family.

mountains4-AMountains and clouds.

mountain7Mountains and homes in Estes Park.

riverThe Pouder River canyon west of Ft. Collins is quite scenic and worth the drive if you have the time. My oldest daughter and I took a float trip on this river on our vacation in the 1990’s. It was a good day.

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Lubbock, Texas

Lubbock, Texas is built on the Llano Estacado, an escarpment, or mesa, that is slightly larger than the state of Indiana. The landscape, described in song by James McMurtry as being “flatter than a table top”, was once covered by prairie grasses as far as the eye could see in every direction. Those who saw it and left a written record said the absence of landmarks was strangely disorienting. Most of them compared it to being at sea. Two centuries ago the only inhabitants on the land were buffalo and the Comanche Indians, who took it away from the Apaches, thus achieving the distinction of being the baddest of the bad-ass American Indians. Today most of the land that does not rest underneath towns and cities is parceled up in sections for agriculture.

Storm clouds on the far horizon west of Lubbock.

Storm clouds on the far horizon west of Lubbock.

Lubbock does not seem to have a wealth of history, but this could be because it has only been incorporated since 1909, and also because a monster tornado hit downtown in 1970, destroying many businesses, and presumably, the older buildings that housed them. As far as I have been able to learn nothing exciting ever happened in Lubbock, in a Western historical context anyway. There were no legendary gunfights. The cattle drives went far to the east.  It was never a haven for outlaws. It was never attacked by Indians or a foreign army. No barons or titans of industry ever called it home. There was never a land rush or a gold rush.
This is the tallest building to ever sustain a direct hit from an F5 tornado.

This is the tallest building to ever sustain a direct hit from an F5 tornado.

In fact, one of the nice things about Lubbock today is that nobody seems to be in any kind of a rush at all. It’s a slow and easy place, prosperous and friendly. It’s a place that bleeds red and black for Texas Tech University. It’s blinding sunshine and unceasing wind.  It’s a place where the horizon is black with storm clouds one minute, and the next minute it’s not. It’s a place where women you have never met before will call you sweetheart.

Buddy Holly Statue Lubbock

At the Buddy Holly Memorial

Something special that Lubbock did have once was a fellow named Charles Hardin Holley. The world knew him as Buddy, and he is without equal as Lubbock’s most famous citizen. In the Depot District there is a Buddy Holly Memorial and a Wall of Fame honoring him and other famous West Texans, most of them musicians. I was only five years old when The Music died, and I have no memory of him other than what I’ve seen in old film clips. I always wondered if he would have achieved the same immortality had he never boarded that plane in 1959. His music seems a bit one-dimensional to me, but then again, what do I know. His influence on people who would follow him, including Bob Dylan and the Beatles, was, by their own testimony, enormous.

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City of Lubbock Cemetery

Holly is buried in the city cemetery with other family members. His headstone bears the actual spelling of his family name.

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On Wednesday I took a drive to Levelland. I don’t know if the town was the inspiration for the McMurtry song of the same name, but the lyrics fit well all the same. There truly is nothing but level land, far as you can point your hand.

The courthouse square at the appropriately named Levelland, Texas, 25 miles west of Lubbock.

The courthouse square at the appropriately named Levelland, Texas, 25 miles west of Lubbock.

Not ones to let all that wind go to waste, Lubbock is at the forefront of wind power research and usage. It is also home to the American Wind Power Center and Museum.
Wind HDR2 Lubbock has an abundance of pick-up trucks with cowboys behind their steering wheels; some of them real, and some of them pretending. The other night at Texas Roadhouse a man sat down at the bar next to me wearing a white Stetson and a plaid shirt with pearl-snaps and for a split second I could have sworn it was George Strait.

In 1980, Lubbock native Mac Davis wrote a song that contained the lyrics, “Happiness is Lubbock, Texas in the rearview mirror.” People who didn’t listen to the whole song assumed it was being critical of Lubbock, and it caused a bit of a dust-up. Eventually everybody came around and the city honored Mr. Davis with a place on the Wall of Fame, and also with a street bearing his name.

I was neither happy nor sad when I left Lubbock early on Friday morning. It was just time for me to go. Besides, there are no rearview mirrors on Southwest jets anyway.

 

 

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Birmingham, Alabama

All of the photos I took on my recent trip to Birmingham were taken with an iPhone, most using the free Pro HDR app. It’s a good tool for taking pictures in low light.

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Like a lot of  cities, downtown Birmingham seems to be going through a slow renaissance. There is still some blight, but there is also new residential construction and several vintage buildings are being rehabilitated.

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From the bridge over the railroad yard.

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City Federal has been converted to condominiums.

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The 16th St. Baptist Church was the site of one of the most despicable acts of domestic terrorism in American history. Four members of the Ku Klux Klan set off a bomb on a Sunday morning in January, 1963, killing four young girls. Bombings were so common in those days the city was derisively known as “Bombingham.”

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Walkway under the train tracks.

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A clock on a bank.

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A fountain at another bank.  Downtown Birmingham has a lot of banks, and hospitals.

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An Art Deco door on the vacant Liberty National Life building on 20th St. Very Atlas Shrugged.

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Birmingham has a history of being a steel manufacturing center, and this statue of Vulcan has something to do with that history, but I’m not sure what because I didn’t think it was worth paying $6 to find out, and plus I was short on time.

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Marco Island, Florida

The best part of Florida that I have seen personally starts at the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico and goes inland for no more than a half-mile. Call it the Gold Coast or whatever you like, it is the only thing that makes visiting Florida worthwhile. The rest the state features terrain so flat that Illinois farm country looks hilly by comparison. The undeveloped wild is primarily pine trees growing out of hard-packed soil or a low, scrubby brush that burns with amazing frequency. Despite nine feet of annual rainfall, the Florida boondocks seem to be on fire all the time. My other impressions of the state are, in no particular order: it’s a land of hairstyles that went out of fashion in the nineties, it has bugs the size of small birds and some of the most idiotic politicians anywhere. It is also home to the largest number of people, per capita, who should have their drivers licenses immediately revoked. I wouldn’t give you two cents for any of it, except for a spot in the aforementioned and highly coveted half-mile strip. In other words, to be near the ocean is the only reason a sane person would go to Florida. And that is the reason Cheryl and I went there last week.

Cheryl at sunset on Marco Island.

Cheryl at sunset on Marco Island.

One of the perks of having a traveling job is getting reward points from airlines, hotels and so forth. All totaled, our share of the cost for airfare, rental car and five nights at the Marriott Resort on Marco Island was $17. Now that’s my kind of vacation. Still, we somehow managed to spend $1554.37. (Yes, I am one of those people who keeps track of such things.) Apparently those $12 drinks from the tiki bar add up in a hurry.

the view from the ninth floor balcony.

The view from the ninth floor balcony on an overcast morning.

Bordered by Collier Blvd. on the east and the blue-green Gulf of Mexico on the west, the Marriott is a well run, semi-luxurious hotel and resort complex. The grounds have a tropical theme (surprise) and they are immaculate, tended by a small army of gardeners who keep the lawns and plants and flowers manicured to standards surpassed only by Disney World.

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Florida sunshine.

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What are you looking at, bird?

Walking seems to be the predominant leisure activity on Marco Island. Beach walkers can be seen day and night, strolling just out of reach of the tepid surf that laps at the shoreline. The side-walkers stroll up and down Collier Blvd., presumably because they don’t like the idea of sand in their shoes.

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No idea why I included this one. For some reason I just liked it.

On Marco Island it is relatively easy to distinguish the full-time residents from the tourists. The locals are generally older, past retirement age, and they have sagging breasts, enlarged bellies and leathery skin the color of a tarnished penny. I’m speaking of the men here as well as the women. The only real difference between the two is the wiry gray hairs that sprout from the backs and shoulders of the gentlemen. Some of these people are so tanned it makes me question the conventional wisdom that too much sun is bad for us, because these dark brown white folks seemed to be getting on rather nicely.

A sea shell hunters paradise.

Marco Island is a sea shell hunters paradise.

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The view from my beach lounger

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Sundown on the island.

Cheryl has this notion in her head that we should retire and spend two or three months of every winter on Marco Island. Personally I like the idea, but here’s the thing. There are a lot of wealthy people on the island, and that translates into expensive real estate and rents. Cheryl has always been the dreamer in our relationship, so I am left to take the role of the realist. This has made me unpopular on many occasions. What it means in this case is that Cheryl sees us in a high-rise condominium overlooking the wide panorama of the Gulf of Mexico, whereas I see us in a trailer park in Punta Gorda overlooking the koi pond. If you think for one minute I’m going to do that, I invite you to  return to paragraph one.

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