DAY 3: Nashville (6/29/09)
Woke up & the BW room still smelled toe-ish. Anyway, we do try to get some exercise when on vacation. Took a run from the BW all the way downtown and over the Shelby Street Bridge. Gotta say that the vacation runs are usually darn rewarding just to see things in a different perspective. Ernest Tubb Record Shop, Hatch Show Print and all Lower Broadway, lots to see when huffing it on foot. With a few miles under the belt and the night before hopefully all sweated out, we hit Nashville. First stop was a little country cookin', meat & three style which is a staple in these parts. Arnold's was the joint located on 8th Ave S. Cafeteria style and legendary for their meat & three. (Meat & 3 = a meat item with three sides.) We got their early, but the crowd was steady. I opted for the roast beef with mac & cheese, pintos, and collards while the other half went for the tilapia with rice, collards, and mac & cheese. All just what the doctor ordered for Northeasterners hankering for Southern style. Next stop was Krogers to get some canned goods to get us free admission to the Frist Art Museum located downtown. Hit a vintage store and grabbed a few items, not to mention running into our house concert pal Justin Townes Earle. One of those R.I. one degree of separation moments. From the vintage store, we hit Grimey's Records which while smaller, is right up there with Waterloo in Austin on the list of good ones, make that great ones. Got some stuff - Detroit Cobras, Black Lips, and the R. Crumb blues card series which is back in print! From there, it was off to the Frist where the main exhibit was works from Chuck Close. Very cool and an incredible job they did turning this former Nashville post office into an art gallery. The other exhibit was on various museums, some finished and some not, all over the world. Real interesting. Next stop was the Nashville Public Library for a printmaking exhibit that was n the verge of opening. What was hung was cool and all from Middle Tennessee State students. I did the Rad font now. Made a quick stop at Hatch Show Print before taking a ride over to East Nashville. Nashville pals tell me it's the South Austin equivalent. Looking at the old cool houses and neat shops and joints, I'd tend to agree. We did a few pints at the Three Crow Bar at Five Points. Excellent tap selection. Departed about 6 and went in search of food. Being a Monday, the options in Nashville are not as many. Add to that the fact that we hadn't done our homework and it all adds up to the low point moment of the trip. Jackson's was the place and the food was mediocre, the server emotionless, and one big mistake. Oh yeah, we got a ticket for illegally parking, unbeknownst to us when we were doing it. What if we don't pay it? Anyway, that disappointment gave way to glee within an hour, that being hitting the Station Inn for the 2nd night in a row to catch Monday night institution The Time Jumpers. An all-star band that includes Ranger Doug, Joe Spivey, Paul Franklin, Aubrey Haynie, Dawn Sears, Kenny Sears and more amongst its 11 members (on this night), Western swing and C&W was the order and this band did it to perfection. Most highly recommended to anyone coming to Music City. It was the perfect end to a real good day. Room still smells like toes.
DAY 4: Leaving Nashville for Oxford, Mississippi (6/30/09)
Sad to leave Nashville (another day would have been just right), but we got rooms booked, etc. Made the 199 mile drives to Memphis and then headed SSE to Oxford, MS, our next stop. On the way the plan was to hit Phillips Grocery in Holly Springs for what multiple people told me is the ultimate cheeseburger. Not the easiest place to find, but we did. A relic of a building right next to another relic, the old Holly Springs rail station, Phillips was absolutely no frills. Sweety got a straight cheeseburger and I opted, as usual, for the larger item, a deluxe cheeseburger. Really good, but I'd rank it behind the burgers at Rotiers in Nashville. Holly Springs is also home to Graceland Two run by an Elvis fanatic, obviously. We found the place pretty easily, knocked on the door, but no one ever answered. While I wish we could've gotten the tour, there was a definite twist to the place. Maybe next time. With temps creeping to near 100, we made the trek to Oxford and checked in at the Downtown Oxford Inn for the night. The home of the University of Mississippi, Oxford has a beautiful town square with shops and buildings on all side. We walked the square and ended up at the bar at City Grocery for a Reb Ale. Cool upstairs bar overlooking the square with folk art of musicians painted on the walls. While there, read an article about a newish joint offering happy hour oysters & drinks called The Snackbar. Located just outside of town, we made tracks. 18 Louisiana oysters, two beers and a couple of Mint Juleps later, we left very happy. (Should mentioned the bartender and shucker, both recently graduated from Ole Miss, who definitely made the visit real good.) Back to our room for some R&R&swim for a few hours before heading in search of dinner. The beauty of the Downtown Oxford Inn is it's walking distance to the square. We set out for the Ajax Dinner, a very cool restaurant that reminded us of the Salvation some. Lamar Sorrento paintings graced the walls, among other cool folk art. Food was excellent with Sweety opting for chicken dumplings and myself the hot tamale pie. The end to another swell day.
DAY 5: Oxford to Clarksdale, Mississippi (7/1/09)
Began the day with a morning run in the heat to the Ole Miss campus. Beautifully manicured and just a sultry, summer vibe lacing the place. Checked out of the Downtown Oxford Inn in search of some breakfast with the place next to The Snack Bar where we had oysters the previous evening the destination. Called Big Bad Breakfast, it was arguably the best breakfast I've ever had. Eggs, biscuits, in-house made sausage, homemade jams, and to-die-for grits like we've never had before was the meal. Geez, I'm getting hot for it just sitting here writing about it. An absolute must-visit for any and all heading to Oxford.
In no hurry to leave this town, we headed over to the campus and the Southern Studies Center to see a photo exhibit and get some info on the blues archives housed at Ole Miss. Turns out they have been moved to the library. Walked to the historic Lyrical House and then the library for a mini view of blues archives. Turns out you need to make advance arrangements to view materials in the archives. From there, we headed to Rowan Oak, home of the late and legendary author William Faulkner. Now maintained by the university, the grounds are beautiful and the home itself rather low key and plain, but fascinating nonetheless.
After Rowan Oak, it was back to town square for one more look-see that included Square Books' discount location (where in addition to books, they also have music) and what with it being after one, one more stop at the Ajax Diner for a cold beer before making tracks for our next destination, Clarksdale.
Decided to take a roundabout way to Clarksdale by heading Southerly to Water Valley, MS, home of Fat Possum Records, with hopes of visiting. It's located in a very nondescript, cinder block building across from the police station. Knocked at the door and a woman inside sort of peaked out asking what I wanted. Not sensing much of a Welcome to Fat Possum attitude, I kept it brief ("fan of the label, etc.") and that was it. From Water Valley, it was backroads to Clarksdale - MS 49 through Charleston, Webb, Tutwiler and finally Clarksdale. The view from the car was many pockets of poverty and in just about each small town, the original downtown buildings mostly empty with most business moved to the outskirts dominated by chains. Sad.
Arrived at what was to be our home for the next two nights, The Shack-Up Inn on the old Hopson Plantation on MS 49 on the outskirts of Clarksdale. Old sharecropper shacks retooled with a few modern conveniences, though no Taj Mahal by any means. We had The Cadillac Shack and it was love at first sight. Ramshackle from the outside, but cozy as heck on the inside with an incredibly comfortable bed, kitchen, bathroom and shower. Great porch, so we cracked the beers, put on one of the Oxford American Southern music samplers we had, and kicked back for a few hours. A slice of Mississippi heaven! Headed to town (a.k.a. Clarksdale) around sunset to the only action in town on a Wednesday night, Ground Zero Blues Club. Co-owned by Morgan Freeman and decked out in juke joint style, on stage was Wild Man Bill Perry. Decent blues music though when he launched into the "Mustang Sally" cover we felt like tourists. the food was nothing special and actually, pretty bad. We ordered BLTs and fried green tomatoes and each highly forgettable. Lazy Magnolia beer available, so that was a plus. We hung until the end of the 2nd set and headed back to the shack. Thoughts of sitting on the porch were quickly put to rest when mosquitos literally engulfed us upon getting out of the car at the shack.
DAY 6: Clarksdale, Mississippi (7/2/09)
This day was dedicated to touring around Clarksdale. The Shack-Up dude recommended Delta Amusements, a bar downtown Clarksdale right across from Ground Zero, for breakfast. We decided to check it out. The owner was a gruff dude, but funny in all his gruffness. One look at the menu and we knew it was a mistake. Biscuits, eggs, "hockey puck" sausage, it was all real mediocre (and that's putting it nicely). After, it was a short walk over to the Delta Blues Museum. It's a small, but very informative and recommended museum about all things blues in Mississippi (right down to a replica of the shack Muddy Waters grew up in) with loads of memorabilia and artifacts. From there it was a walk around downtown taking in Clarksdale in all its deserted, rundown, ramshackleness. It's actually pretty sad. We headed over to one of the great folk art emporiums, Cathead, located on Yazoo Street. Folk art, blues books and music, etc., it's difficult not to drop some cash in this place. A T-Model Ford painting caught our eyes, but we thought it best to sleep on it. Across the street form Cathead is the WROX museum. WROX was the station for blues and all things local for many years until sold off. The museum is the original location of the station. The evening before I had called Bubba O'Keefe, owner of the building and force behind the museum, abut arranging a tour. While hesitant at first to let us tour the building, when I told him of the WRIU connection and interest in radio, his tune changed and he was fine with meeting us and giving us a tour. What we thought would be all of 15 minutes turned into more on the order of 90 minutes. While musty as heck and clearly still a work in progress, the "museum" runs the gamut from the history of legendary WROX DJ Early Wright to Clarksdale history from cotton farming to Tennessee Williams to Ike Turner (both born there). Bubba's passion for Clarksdale and preserving its history was undeniable, but he sure has a ways to go. We visited the upstairs of the building where all the studios and offices were located and all still in tact. Heck, Elvis visited on two occasions according to Bubba. While all in rough shape, it was a memorable visit. We thanked Bubba and wished him luck. He will need it to accomplish all the plans he has for improving downtown. He also gave us some dinner tips.
Sufficiently worn out, we headed back to the Shack-Up, but decided on a detour to Hick's for some Mississippi Delta tamales. For the uninformed, tamales and the Delta are fairly common place. Check out the Southern Foodways Alliance for the lowdown on it all, as well as a map of where to get them. These tamales were greasy as heck, but awfully tasty. Decided on a quick side trip past the Shack-Up back down MS 49 to Tutwiler to view some Sonny Boy Williamson murals in the thoroughly dilapidated downtown. The murals are interesting, but worn and fading away. Finally, it was back to the Shack-Up for some R&R, (i.e., a beer on the porch). Also located on the grounds of the Shack-Up is the Hopson Commissary which is basically a bar. We walked over, headed in and grabbed a few cold beers and struck up a conversation with one of the regulars who provided us with the complete skinny on the place. He encouraged us to check out the entirety of the building which is a sprawling, barn-like structure filled with antiques and memorabilia collected by the owner, James. The upstairs featured a lookout tower offering an incredible view of the grounds. Chatted with James for awhile and like Bubba, he's got a lot of visions for his place. With stomachs beginning to growl, we headed back into Clarksdale for dinner at the local joint recommended by Bubba, a place called Ramon's. Nothing special looking form the outside, it was mobbed inside. We were able to get a table by ourselves out front and ordered the specialty, fried shrimp with spaghetti. The shrimp was good and plentiful, but the spaghetti pretty so-so, as was the iceberg lettuce salad. On the way out we got to talking to one of the owners who sure didn't paint a pretty picture of life in Clarksdale. While its history is undeniable (and its chief lure for blues fans), one drive through this town and you quickly realize that there is not a lot of hope for this place.
One more stop for the day and that was the Po' Monkey Lounge located deep in the Delta wilds of Merigold, MS about 30 minutes south of Clarksdale down Highway 61. Run by Willie Seaberry, it is located down a long dirt road off 61. We arrive and it's all of a shack on stilts with a hand painted sign promoting DJ Tissue on Thursday nights. We get out of the car and the mosquitos are all over us. A walk inside is a step into another world. When we get there, other than one other person, we are the only caucasians in the juke. The music by DJ Tissue is a deafening brand of contemporary R&B, none of it familiar to these ears, with Tissue interspersing commentary throughout. Xmas lights adorn the cramped inside with seating a mix of chairs and old van seats. We feel welcomed as soon as we pay the $5 cover and enter. Po' Monkey himself (a.k.a. Willie Seaberry) gives us his business card and takes us into his dressing room to show us his new T-shirts. We pass on them, grab a few beers, sit back and just take it all in. People continue to arrive, not to mention a few more white folk like ourselves. There's some dirty dancing going on and all in all a pretty friendly crowd. We hang for about two hours, but frankly speaking, the music isn't doing anything for us and we get a little bored. The 30 miles back to Clarksdale are uneventful, but we're ready to hit the sack in what is an incredibly comfortable bed in our Cadillac Shack.
DAY 7: Clarksdale, MS to Memphis via Helena, Ark (7/3/09)
Reading of the blues history of Helena, Ark, home of the King Biscuit Flower Time Radio Hour, we decide to take a detour to that town on our way to Memphis for the weekend. Before, we head into Clarksdale and grab the T-Model Ford painting we had eyeballed the day before. What with the guy playing a show for us this summer, we felt we had to have it. A lengthy post office stop and we are on Highway 61 heading North to Memphis. We take Highway 49 over the Mississippi River into historic downtown Helena. Like many towns down here, it is mostly deserted with parts looking like a bomb hit it. Our plan is to check out historic Cherry Street. Running along the levee, it is very quiet. We visit the Delta Cultural Center where each day at 12:15 they broadcast the King Biscuit Time radio program on KFFA with long-time host Sonny Payne. We arrive at noon only to find out with this day being the 4th of July holiday for many, Mr. Payne is taking the day off. Nonetheless, we check out the various exhibits which show Arkansas to be every bit the equal of Mississippi for blues music history and Helena rivaling Clarksdale and even Memphis in some respects. An extra added bonus is a special exhibit from Indiana University of movie posters from black films. All in all, a small diamond of a museum. Like so much of what we have encountered on this trip, Helena was also an area where race relations were not the best (in Helena, Cherry Street was for white folks while the parallel running Walnut Street was where the blacks had there fun. These days, Walnut Street is nothing but boarded up buildings) while Cherry still has some commerce. We depart Helena for Memphis on a route that takes us West on Highway 49 and then North on Highway 1 to I-40E. We hit the Bluff City in an hour extremely hungry and thinking BBQ. A place called A&R is all the talk in our road food book, so we head to Elvis Presley Blvd to find it. On our way, we are reacquainted with the shabbiness and dirtiness of Memphis. Less than a mile from A&R, I spot Ellen's Soul Food. On our first trip to Memphis several years ago, we had heard nothing but glowing reviews of this place, however, it had closed not long before we were there. Now opened in a new location, I figure we gotta do it. We get inside and already feel uneasiness. Sure I can understand poor service, but in the case of the young girl handling our order manners were nowhere to be found. Anyway, we still had hope for the food. Things start off badly when we are informed they had no ice tea. In the South, that is akin to not having water. We order the specialty, fried chicken, with a side of fried green tomatoes. What comes out ranks with one of the worst we've had, rubbery tomatoes with a coating more like a fritter, fried bones laden with coating and devoid of any chicken meat. In other words, just awful and a pretty disappointing way to begin our visit to Memphis. From there we head to Goner Records in the Cooper-Young area, one of my favorite record stores for Memphis music and then some. Pick up some 45s and an LP, not to mention a Memphis Flyer to get smart on what's going on around town. From there it is over to our hotel, The Gen-X. Wasn't sure what to expect, but it turned out to be pretty nice. It is situated in Mid-Town (one of very few places to stay in the area) and only a mile from downtown Memphis. Brightly painted, it's a real find if you ask me and reasonably priced for its locale. We settle in for a bit and then venture back over to the Cooper Young area for a few beers at Young Avenue Deli which has a real good draft beer selection. From there it's over to The Hi-Tone which is Memphis's premier club for live music. On this evening, the main event is a short film by a local filmmaker about a guy infatuated by women's breasts. Before the film, we order a pizza which while on the tasteless side (need to work on the crust!), is just what the doctor ordered considering all the south we've been eating. As for the film, it is called Brumski's by Chris Walker and is pretty hilarious. The band that follows is pretty forgettable, so much so that we decide to call it a night and head back to the room to begin watching a DVD purchased in Oxford about the late Mississippi writer Larry Brown. The long, full day results in us only making it about 2/3 of the way through and a full day in Memphis beckons tomorrow.
DAY 8: Memphis (7/4/09)
4th of July in Memphis. Can't remember the last time we spent one in R.I. what with the last 4 years in Austin and the one before that in Bozeman, MT. Why start now. Being a holiday, we quickly surmise that even though it is a Saturday, not a lot of places are open. We hit Otherlands, a funky coffee joint, for a quick bite to eat. Our game plan today is to visit the National Civil Rights Museum located at the site of the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated. The place was very crowded with a number of large parties visiting as part of family reunions. To say the place is powerful is putting it lightly. Whereas much to read and view, having grown up in the Northeast and insulated form much of the racial incidents of the South, it is an eye-opener as to all that went on in the South. This museum should be required for all Americans! We ended up spending almost 4 hours and were thoroughly spent at conclusion.
After, we strolled the South Main Street area which in bits & pieces is improving and has some nifty shops and restaurants. Unfortunately, on this day much was closed. We ventured over to the Southern Folklore Center which is similar to Cathead in what it stocks. Getting hungry and with a hankering for either catfish or BBQ, we go in search of food. Soul Fish, where we were hoping to eat, is closed. We end up at one of the few non-chain places open, Central BBQ located on Central. I opt for the pulled pork sandwich and Sweety goes for the ribs. It's all pretty good. We also decide to extend our stay in Memphis another day until Monday.
With bellies full, it's back to finish up the Larry Brown doc and rest up for what will likely be a late night of music. The destination for the evening is The Hi-Tone for a special 4th of July show with The City Champs who are in the style of Booker T & the MGs and headlining band John Paul Keith & the 145s who I first saw at SXSW and whose new album on Big Legal Mess I was playing quite a bit on the radio program. Speaking of Big Legal Mess, owner Bruce Watson was in attendance and we got to say hello. In typical Memphis fashion, music did not get going until shortly before 11. The City Champs impress with their soulful instrumentals in about a 45 minute or so set. JPK & the 145s hit the stage about 11:45 and proceed to tear it up. Evidently, the performance is being recorded for a live recording. In all, a good evening of Memphis music.
DAY 9: Memphis (7/5/09)
The day begins with a run along Madison where our hotel isolated. Being a Sunday morning, the streets are mostly deserted. Our game plan for the day is museums, however, the hitch is that most don't open until 12 or 1 and close by 5. Not a lot of time to do sufficient viewing, but we'll see how it goes. We decide on breakfast at a home cooking joint we liked on our last visit, The Cupboard. Another disastrous meal as it takes close to 45 minutes to get our meals and they screw up the order.
The first gray day on our trip, we head to Stop #1 which is the Rock & Soul Museum located just off Beale Street. Organized by the Smithsonian, it is a great, compact view of the music history of Memphis and thereabouts. It takes a few hours.
After, we had hopes of heading to the legendary Gus's Fried Chicken, but it is too mobbed to take out. From there it is over to the Memphis Brooks Museum for an exhibit of paintings by Jacob Lawrence. A beautiful museum, we are very glad for the opportunity to see his work. We had to Goner Records for more browsing and then to dinner at Soul Fish, which on this day, is open! The meal is exceptional - wonderfully tasty strips of fried catfish, these incredible white beans, cole slaw, and pups. The only downside is not much for a beer selection. Sufficiently full, we head to Overton Park & the Levitt Shell for some live music, that being Valerie June from the recent Memphis-based MTV series $5 Cover. We catch the end of her set and then it's back in the car to check out some neighborhoods. Frankly speaking, while Memphis has some real shithole parts of town, it also has some incredibly wealthy parts filled with incredible houses. Quite the contrast. We also do a drive-by of the boyhood home of Big Star's Alex Chilton. From there, it's back to the room to get ready for tomorrow's trip to St. Louis.
DAY 10: Memphis to St. Louis, MO (7/6/09) (~280 miles)
Relatively speaking, we got an early start. All interstate all the way to St. Louis, but in honor of favorite band The Bottle Rockets, we do a drive through of the home of the band, Festus, MO. A quaint downtown area and we get a shot of a music store where I gotta believe the band frequented for equipment, etc.
Back on the road to STL and being our first visit there, we decided to splurge and made a reservation on the journey there at a newly opened "boutique" hotel called The Moonrise Hotel located in the University Loop area of St. Louis which is supposedly a pretty hip spot. We went through this "Explore St. Louis" hotline and and got what was a pretty good deal ($124 for the night).
As I always like to do in order to get the live music and cultural pulse when first hitting a town, our first stop was Euclid Records located in the Webster Groves section of STL. Not having been to the city before, we weren't sure what to expect, especially considering the horror stories about crime and all I've heard. Such was not even close to the case in the Euclid area and I have to say that as far as record stores go, it is right up there with Grimey's in Nashville and Waterloo in Austin. Great used vinyl area. Never saw so many steel guitar releases (many of which I already have). The store even has its own 45 RPM series with a big emphasis on cover art. Also, they are very into poster art and have some great prints for sale.
It was a relatively short ride to the Moonrise and what at first sight seemed like a very cool area. Located on Delmar Blvd, this section of town was voted one of the Top 10 avenues of America by USA Today. Lots of shops, restaurants, bars, etc. Arrived at the Moonrise to valet service (which I wanted no part of and people wanting to carry our bags to the elevator and then into our room (which I also wanted no part of). The place has only been open since May and it is sparkling. Too hifalutin' for us, but WTF. Took a walk though The Loop and it's definitely a place where you can drop some cash. Another great used vinyl store located there called Vintage Vinyl. Anyway, did the cursory look-see and it was back to the Moonrise for a few cold ones at the rooftop bar. It was a gorgeous day in STL and the view of the downtown with a bright blue sky at 5 PM was spectacular. A few ice cold pints of local indie Schlafly Beer was the perfect elixir to enjoy the rooftop location. Being in a beer mood, what better next stop than Schlafly Bottleworks for dinner. Located in the Maplewood section Southwest of downtown, the meal - meatloaf and salmon - was great. Beer great, too. In typical R.I. one-degree-of-separation style, our server had just returned from a few weeks in the Ocean State where she was based for some sailing trips. We compared notes. What with having failed to make it to a movie on time in Memphis, we were pretty hellbent on making good in this town. The fact a theatre (The Tivoli) was located spitting distance from our hotel made it all the more easier. Not much of a selection, so we opted for "Away We Go." I'll call it fair, at best. Back to the Moonrise at conclusion.
DAY 11: St. Louis to West Lafayette, IN (7/7/09) (285 miles)
Another gorgeous days and began it with a run throughout University Loop. Got our act together and checked out. For whatever reason, they only charged us $99 for the room we thought was $124. I love when that happens! Such a deal!
Hit a gallery just down the road at the COCA Center. Artwork by Kit Keith who lived in STL in her early years, but now resides in Brooklyn. Pretty cool stuff including some work down on old bed mattresses.
Based on a very positive review in the Riverfront Times (STL equivalent to our Phoenix), we ate lunch at a new BBQ joint called Smokin' Joe's. The brisket was what was recommended and it was what we had. It was pretty tasty. Oh yeah, the reason for the STL touchdown was that my folks were married there back in 1941 (both now deceased). We made a quick stop for some pix of the church, Christ Church Cathedral, located right downtown. A pretty spectacular, and old church. We saluted it and thanked the heavens for our good fortune.
One more stop in STL and that was the Gateway Arch. Parked almost literally in the Mississippi River and walked over to the Arch. It is pretty cool. Not being one for heights (nor wanting to wait on line), we did not take the elevator or whatever it is up to the top of the thing. It was impressive enough to these eyes from down below.
With plans to be in Indiana at our daughter's place by 7 PM EST, we departed STL at around 1:30 CST. We quickly entered Illinois and took I-75 across it. Pretty boring. Entered Indiana at Terra Haute and stayed on 75 until it intersected with Indiana 231 which we took North straight to Lafayette. Took a detour at Crawfordsville to find this neon joint (Magic Light Neon Sign Company). We finally find one in what I think was the correct location, but it wasn't called Magic Light and it wasn't open.
Onward to West Lafayette, home to Purdue University and our oldest. Not liking to show up empty-handed and always loving the great beer selection in Indiana, hit a local packy for sixes of Shiner Bock (Texas) and Upland Brewery Dragon Fly IPA (Bloomington, IN). Arrived at our destination, Sgt. Preston's, for the next few days more than ready for a few cold ones. Imbibed and headed to downtown Lafayette for the proverbial breaded tenderloin sandwich, an Indiana staple, and a few more Upland IPAs which they had on tap. Excellent beer, but so-so sandwich.
DAY 12: West Lafayette, IN (7/8/09)
There's not a whole lot to do in West Lafayette, so the plan after a shitload of galavanting across the South & Midwest was for this to the little-to-nothing day (a.k.a. rest). It was the 1st day we woke up and it wasn't already in the 80s. The 60s was more like it which made it a pretty chilly run, relatively speaking, when I hit the road mid-morning. Craving normal, non-Southern food, we opted for bagels for lunch and then hit another terrific record store, Von's located in downtown West Lafayette. It's not big, but they are hip to music and I've always found it to be a great store to discover stuff. Decent prices & they also have great book and comic book sections in the store. Picked up a new CD (Sonic Youth which at $9.99, I couldn't pass up) and a few used ones (early SCOTS). Cruised around the Purdue campus (just beautiful!) and area, grabbed some groceries, and also stocked up on some Shiner Bock to bring back to R.I. to make me feel like a Texan at home. Our last stop cruising around was the Lafayette Brewing Company located downtown. It's a terrific brewpub and their beers are very good. Cheap, too, at $2.50 a pint in the afternoon. It was the first day of a brand new menu and it all sounded pretty good, but we had just bought $50 of groceries to make dinner. Damn!
Left LBC after a couple of beers each and back for the low key evening. Very needed.
DAY 13: West Lafayette, IN to Rochester, NY (via Niagara Falls) (7/9/09)
Today began our trek back to R.I. On my last Indiana-to-RI trip, I tried a different route heading towards Cleveland and then I-90 through Northwest PA and New York State. While a bit more miles and tolls than the godawful I-80 across PA route, it offers more scenery and moves a lot better. Plus, there's two great road food stops in Buffalo (Schwabl's) and Liverpool (Heid's). More on those places later.
The target destination for the day's drive was the ~475 miles to the Buffalo area and in particular, Niagara Falls. Hit the road at 8 AM on what was a gloomy, rainy morning. An uneventful drive with pretty uneventful radio to boot, we hit Cleveland at about 3 and two hours later were in West Seneca, NY and our dinner destination, Schwabl's. First heard of this place long ago on a Food Channel program focusing on road food. It's an old school with the specialty being roast beef on a Kimmelback bread. You walk into the place and are immediately transported back in time. Waitresses in white uniforms with white waitress shoes/sneakers, a guy making sloe gin fizzes and Tom Collins' behind the bar, and just next to the bar the star attraction, a fellow in white coat slicing slice after slice of roast beef to be sent back to the kitchen for placement in various meals. We hit off with the waitress right away when she noticed my Deke Dickerson & the Ecco-Fonics T-shirt and said she loved the band seeing them every time they place the local Buffalo music joint, the Mohawk Place. Beer of choice was the long-running upstate N.Y. staple, Genesee. Been awhile since I had a cold Genny and this one, as did the 2nd one, made up for lost time. Our roast beef sandwiches arrived and unfortunately because a brand new hunk of meat, the carver had yet to reach the rare part. Nonetheless, this thing was packed to the gills with beef and a sight to behold. It lived up to the bill as did the whole dining experience.
With a the night a perfect summer evening and it only 6:15, we made the B-line to Niagara Falls. The falls were in prime form, a spectacle that any and all should see, and the evening weather spectacular. This is truly an international tourist as foreign tourists outnumbered American tourists by about 4 to 1. While I wouldn't give you two bits for the surrounding area (casinos, cheap souvenirs, wax museums), it is worth the trip.
Still being relatively early, we decided to make more headway on our journey and hopped back on I-90 in search of a stopping point for the night. Made it as far as Rochester and called it quits.
DAY 14: Rochester, NY to Peace Dale, RI (7/10/09)
What's the Bobby Bare hit song? "500 Miles From Home"? We were about 400, but you get the idea. Today's game plan was R.I. or bust, but no big hurry being in easy striking distance. I mentioned Heid's of Liverpool yesterday as a food destination. It's located not far off the N.Y. Thruway in the town of Liverpool, NY. It's an old fashioned hot dog-burger-ice cream joint and judging by the line out the door as we were leaving the place after finishing lunch, it's a hot spot. As for lunch, the specialty here is wieners, German's and Coney's. Oh yeah, no Coke! Pepsi only as we found out via the grouchy drink guy. We each went for a German and Coney with kraut & mustard. Thumbs up across the board form the fries to the pickles to the dogs, though, next time I'll opt for two white Coney's. From Heid's it was a leisurely ride back. We vied off the thruway at Utica and hooked up with Route 20 to take through the backcountry to Albany where we hooked back up to I-90 all the way to Springfield, MA where we took I-91 down to Hartford, Route 2 from Hartford to Norwich, I-395 to Route 165 and then 138 and into Rhode Island and home in the driveway 6 PM.
SUMMARY: 3650 miles and 16 states and back to Ordinaryville.