“No hope for the human race.” – Scrawled on a baby changing station inside a mens room in Madison, Florida. At this point I was still three hours from my destination, and had been on the road that day for seven hours.
Traveling is one of the few things in life for me that counteracts that statement. As a pessimist and someone who often feels beaten down, traveling gives me a wonderful peace. This trip would take us 5,164 miles in 10 days in a rented Chevrolet Malibu, whose biggest problem was that it was not the Ford Focus I coveted. The goal of the trip was for my wife and I to spend time with three of our favorite things, the open road, the beach, and friends who are more like family. The fact that the trip was going through some of the American south, and into new and unexplored places, was a bonus.
Austin is one of my favorite new cities to explore, and the Whip-In is one of my absolute favorite bars. Delicious Indian food combined with a fantastic beer and wine selection and a partial grocery store. Sipping some Lone Star on the outdoor patio on a sunny day, after 15 hours in the car, what more could I ask for? Visiting with the Absolute Tyrant, Rob Osborne, and his family was just the capper the day needed. Chatting with Rob over a drink at his kitchen table is something that can save me thousands in therapy.
Austin to New Orleans included a stop for breakfast in Smithville, TX, former record holder of the world’s largest gingerbread man and current home of the world’s cutest store-cat. New Orleans is a place I’ve now spent a total of 20 hours in and it still has not convinced me it’s worth a third chance. I have no interest in Bourbon Street, whose only redeeming quality is the lack of an open container law. Maybe if I went and had a local to show me around it’d be different. I want to experience what the locals enjoy, and the French Quarter on a Saturday night was not it.
The spark of this vacation was the chance for us to spend time with two of my oldest friends & their families in a nice condo on Daytona Beach. Three days with them rejuvenated my soul and really makes me appreciate the people I have in my life. I’m not religious by any stretch, but I do believe in the healing power of love and laughter, and spending time with people I care about is my form of worship, and our 8th floor beach-facing condo was my church. One of the highlights was a trip to Disney Springs and a dinner at Morimoto Asia. A flagship restaurant from Iron Chef Morimoto, and home to one of the best meals I have ever had in my life. From the fresh sushi to the delicious sake & gin mule drink & sake sangria, it started out strong only to wrap up with the best ramen I have ever had in my life. Duck ramen broth that could make anything taste like heaven.
On our way to Savannah we stopped for the afternoon in St. Augustine, FL. Another city I think I could enjoy more with a local to show us around. Typical tourist spots do nothing for me. Savannah, on the other hand, is a place I think I could live very easily and very happily. The entire city has a vibrant and relaxed feel to it, with a mix of the old south and young energy, partly due to the amount of art students attending SCAD I would assume. Abe’s bar on Lincoln was recommended to me, and is exactly my type of place. Cold beer, history and no pretension. If it wasn’t for the the mosquitoes it would have been perfect. I also had delicious chicken fingers at Spanky’s, apparently where such an item as the chicken finger was invented. I don’t know how true all that is, but it was damn tasty at the end of the day with a local IPA. Savannah is a place I feel like I could go spend a month writing the great American novel, and I’d feel like a local within hours. Charming and with perfect weather. Historic and walkable, and a place you can get a remarkable, locally made, sausage on a bed of pulled pork at 1AM. I can see myself spending many more vacation days in Savannah.
The drive home was long and tiring, but it was something we knew we had to do in order to enjoy the first 90% of our trip. We enjoyed a sunset on the Gulf of Mexico and another one east of El Paso, with a couple stops in between. I love driving across this country, and I’ve come to love the south again, which as someone who comes from families with deep southern roots, I had forgotten. I spent many days and weeks across much of Georgia as a child and it never instilled in me a desire to ever go back. The people are kind, and thoughtful and polite, not something I always come across on a daily basis. Its history is violent and harsh, and still unrelentingly unfair, something perfectly encapsulated when we walked by Paula Deen’s restaurant and inside was a black youth choir singing to the patrons who were all old, white and charmed. Paula Deen trying to prove she’s not a raging racist encompasses much of the feeling of the modern south.