And Suddenly We’re Back

RoadTrip 2014 just flew by! Bittersweet as usual.

Fourth of July in St. Louis

Fourth of July in St. Louis

We left out on the Fourth of July and headed to St. Louis, Missouri. From there to the Field Museum in Chicago, to the Eternal Flame Falls, the Great Lakes, and on up to Maine and the easternmost point in the United States.

On the loop back, there were museums, dinosaur tracks, New York City, and Washington D.C.

What I Did Last Summer Part 2: Alabama

Alabama Museum of Natural History

The basilosaurus is the state fossil of Alabama.

On day two of our trip, we woke up in Tupelo, Mississippi, hit the road for Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and did our first museum of the trip, the Alabama Museum of Natural History on the University of Alabama campus.

Old Alabama Geological Survey wagon and equipment

Old Alabama Geological Survey wagon and equipment, some of which belonged to Eugene Smith, the guy for which the museum building, Smith Hall, is named.

It’s a really nice museum, and we liked it even better than some of the bigger ones. It’s not a big, flashy one, but it’s classy and has lots of interesting things. It’s a beautiful building, too, Smith Hall, named for Dr. Eugene Allen Smith, an Alabama geologist who also taught at the University. I loved that they had a bunch of his old stuff, personal items and an old Geological Survey wagon and equipment like he used. He dug up a lot of the things at the museum. It was cool to find out about the guy who found the stuff.

Benjamin and Terry at the Museum

Benjamin and Terry at the Alabama Museum of Natural History

After the museum, we headed northeast about three hours to Scottsboro, Alabama to the Unclaimed Baggage Center where lost luggage from all over is collected into a store.

The Unclaimed Baggage Center

Benjamin and Terry head for the Unclaimed Baggage Center.

We found our first geocache of the trip here. I’ll give you a hint. It’s behind that sign out front. Benjamin loved this place. It was one of his favorite places that we went on this trip (along with the Lego Store and the T-Rex Cafe). It’s not just a store; it’s a tourist attraction. We didn’t find a lot, but Benjamin went nuts over their selection of DS games. It was interesting to see what all people had lost, kind of sad. I hoped none of the stuff had sentimental value for anyone, their great-grandmother gave them that purse on her deathbed kind of thing. Benjamin found an unknown object in the toy section for a dollar. We Googled the one word printed on it and found out that it was a small, working replica of a robotic arm, probably a model that a sales rep lost. So, you really can find just about anything there at any given time.

That night we drove to Georgia. We got lost. There was drama. We arrived late at Terry’s brother’s house, prepared to sleep late the next morning…

What I Did Last Summer Part 1: The Crossroads

Four months after our summer road trip, I think I have recovered enough to write about it. Oh, it wasn’t bad, no trauma or catastrophes. The flat tire discovered the next morning at a motel was probably the worst thing to happen. No animals escaped from any zoos.

The Crossroads

Where the devil tuned Robert Johnson's guitar

We set out July 12, 2013 at 8:00 am from Greenland, Arkansas.

I had been wanting to drive through Clarksdale, Mississippi for some years. Ever since I had heard about Robert Johnson and his late night trip down to the crossroads where he met up with the devil who tuned his guitar so he could become the best blues player ever. Or something like that. I read all up on it, found out it was the crossroads of Highways 61 and 49, and they met up in Clarksdale, Mississippi. I read how Robert Johnson took his guitar down there and saw the hell hounds snarling and rolling around in the ditch before the devil showed up. And how anyone could do it, go down to the crossroads and have the devil make you prosperous. I thought about taking a pencil down there for the devil to sharpen, to help my writing. But I figured I would always have to write with that same pencil for it to work. I thought about pianists dragging their pianos down to the crossroads on flatbed trailers and wondered how long it took the devil to tune a piano. I read that the usual story was a little off, that you don’t go down there at midnight, but around three or four in the morning, and the guy who shows up isn’t the devil, and he won’t take your soul. He’s just a helpful sort.

I like to see places like this. I know there’s not much there to actually see or take pictures of, but I just like to be there, to have been there, to know what it’s like to stand there and think about what may or may not have happened on that spot.

So, it turns out enough people were intrigued by the story of Robert Johnson that they built a memorial there at those crossroads, a big sign reading “The Crossroads” with crossed guitars and 61 and 49 highway signs.

A group of people showed up while we were there taking pictures. They were really friendly and had musical instruments. They asked where we were from, and I wound up telling them we were there to see the devil. They told me that they had run him off. Then they proceeded to go into the little grassy area in the crossroads under the sign with the trees and began to play gospel music. We figured it was time to go try try the local barbecue.

Abe’s BBQ is about a block up the street from the Crossroads. It was OK. We got out of there for about $35. I found the BBQ sauce too sweet, tasted like it had lime in it.

Benjamin at the Crossroads

Benjamin waiting on the devil...

After the Crossroads, we headed on down the road to Tupelo, Mississippi to a motel and some Pizza Hut delivery.

Next… Alabama!

Why I Like Motel 6

We driven around most of the United States almost every summer for the last 20 years. We’ve stayed in all kinds of motels and hotels. There was the antique hotel in Cripple Creek. There was the bedbuggy motel in Houston; we didn’t stay there. We got our money back on that one as soon as we pulled back the sheets. The manager actually tried to just move us to another room. Like there wouldn’t be bedbugs there. That was a bad planning experience. I didn’t think about how all of Galveston might be booked up on a Saturday night. The worst room we stayed in was in Tucumcari, New Mexico. There was grass growing up through the carpet between the beds and in a corner of the bathroom. A hole the size of a softball was rusted out of the middle of the shower tub. This was a really cheap motel though, about $12 or $15. And this was at least a decade ago. Motel rooms have skyrocketed in price in the last 20 years, more than gasoline, I think. You can’t find a $15 room anymore.

So, after staying at many different motels and hotels and motel chains all across the United States, I’ve found the most reliable in cleanliness, wifi, and a decent room with the lowest prices and sometimes a pool is Motel 6. I suppose some people consider the room a big part of the trip. They want something glamorous with newer bathroom fixtures and better little soaps and shampoos, room service, fancy curtains, better artwork on the walls. If you’re a budget road tripper, you have a choice, nice hotel rooms or driving farther, going to more places, getting more from the gift shops. I always go for the adventure over the room. Anyway, nice hotels are not a part of Extreme Road Tripping. The room is a place to shower, log in on the laptop, copy over the latest photos, watch a little TV, and sleep. So, that just requires a bathroom, wifi, a television, and a bed. You do have to pay a couple of dollars for the wifi at Motel 6.

I also like a microwave and fridge, and most Motel 6 rooms have these. I can never finish my dinner so I always have a doggy bag, and I always like a second dinner in the motel room. So much better than room service. If you really need some food brought to you, order a pizza delivery.

The Motel 6 web site has a Trip Planner that will show you motels all along your route. They also finally have an iPhone app. I complained all last trip about their lack of one. I plan to try it out this summer.

The only times we don’t stay at Motel 6 are when they’re all full or if there’s just none around or when we’re in Las Vegas. In Vegas, you stay at the casino. If you have kids, stay at Circus Circus. You can get the nicest, most beautiful rooms at Vegas casinos for really cheap, and the locations are great, right on the strip.

A Word About Fudge

Fudge does not melt. Do not be taken in by those places advertising fudge that won’t melt. They’ve added some kind of corn syrup or something like that to it. It won’t ever melt. Four thousand years from now, it will look the same. It becomes a whole other food. It’s not even really fudge anymore. Some sort of crispy, crunchy, Tootsie Roll mash. The texture is wrong. The taste is wrong. And fudge doesn’t melt anyway! I’ve left it out in the car for hours when it was over 100 degrees outside. It was still in the same shape as when I left it. It’s not like a Hershey bar or something. It’s fudge. It has its own ways. Respect the fudge. Also, the way you can tell if you are buying the best fudge from a candy store is if they give you a fudge knife. I have also gotten fudge spoons and other plastic fudge implements. If they do not give you a fudge implement, beware. It’s probably not the best.