Monthly Archives: May 2013

Elvis, B-B-Q, and B.B. King

John Lennon said, “Before Elvis there was nothing.” We rolled into Memphis on Elvis Presley Boulevard, took a right on Lonely Street, and parked the bus behind the Heartbreak Hotel at the Graceland RV Park and Campground. Seriously, all true. You can’t come to Memphis, birthplace of rock n roll and the blues, without visiting the place Elvis called home. Well, I guess you could but why would you? Although it is often referred to as his “mansion,” it’s actually quite modest by today’s standards. Yes, he had room for horses and built a racquetball court out back, but it really felt like a warm, inviting home. On the tour, we were struck by how much Elvis loved his friends and family, and how much they all loved him in return. Bridger said, “Elvis just seems like he would have been fun to hang out with.”

We asked the park manager for a barbecue joint recommendation; he told us, “There’s a layer of smoke over Memphis this weekend from the International Barbecue Contest being held down by the Mississippi River, but you can’t go wrong anywhere in the city!” At the fest, which was unfortunately geared more toward the contest than to hungry tourists, we had delicious ribs and pulled pork sandwiches from Central BBQ. The next day, we made a trek out to the edge of the city for A&R BBQ, which was well worth the drive. We’ve decided BBQ is the American food, and we love it.

In New Orleans, Bridger pointed out that we had not been to a zoo yet on our trip. A quick Google search for “best zoos in the US” turned up the Memphis Zoo on almost every top ten list, so we put it on the list. Good call! The Egyptian motif throughout the zoo seemed odd until we remembered that Memphis was named for the ancient Egyptian capital city on the Nile River. We saw feeding time for polar bears, grizzly bears, and gorillas. Memphis is also one of only four locations in America to have giant panda bears! The sea lion show was also remarkably well done – funny, informative, and clever. We know that in many ways the Stuttgart zoo has spoiled us, but this one was excellent.

Ayrril and I took advantage of our evenings, heading down to Beale Street just a few blocks off of the Mississippi. It was a lot like Bourbon Street in New Orleans or Duval Street in Key West (i.e. packed with people, a lot of them tourists) but seemed to have a lot more locals and a lot more music. We looked into a few places, had a drink at one or two, but ultimately just enjoyed spending time in B.B. King’s Blues Club. The house band, The B.B. King All-Stars, played a soul and funk mix that was so fun we came back the next night. Music is clearly such a part of Beale Street, there was a live band behind almost every door.  It’s easy to see how the soul of Memphis music was such a tremendous influence on Elvis and everyone who came after him!

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New Orleans

New Or-leans. New Orlins. N’Awlins. No matter how you pronounce it, this is one cool city. Tennessee Williams famously said, “America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everything else is Cleveland.” We loved the Big Apple, we haven’t been to San Francisco (yet!), but we did love New Orleans! Street performers, Cajun food, the French Quarter, and the riverfront all combined for a great time in the Big Easy.

Our first night in the French Quarter we saw a popular street band with the very Southern name “Yes Ma’am” totally owning the crowd on Royal Street, a dramatically view-changing one block off of Bourbon Street. Bridger said, “There’s so much music here, it feels like my life has a soundtrack!” Indeed. Besides the various street performers, we visited the House of Blues, heard endless songs streaming from open doors and windows, and saw a wedding party parade led by a small brass band dancing down the middle of Bourbon Street.

Oddly enough, jazz band parades are also the local funeral tradition. The recently departed are escorted in festive fashion to the mausoleum-style cemeteries that dot the city. Since the water table is so high (and the city is largely below sea level), the traditional “six feet under” doesn’t work well, especially during heavy rains and flooding. What that means for tourists and residents alike is a great variety of beautiful, historic mazes of brick and cement resting places that tell their own tale of the life of this city. We explored the Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District and found burial dates as early as the 1700s!

Did we mention food? Mark Twain said, “New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin,” and we put that theory to the test. We ate delicious powdered sugar covered beignets at The Beignet Cafe, fried crawfish tails with seafood gumbo and jambalaya at the French Market, and ended our trip with even better beignets at Cafe du Monde on Jackson Square. Surprisingly enough, some of the best Cajun food we had was in Baton Rouge. We stopped there for a wonderful visit with my cousin Marianne and her family and took the opportunity to head to Parrain’s one night down by LSU. Excellent! I could go on but that would just be mean.

I will add that early on in the trip John Cauffman sent me a couple of invaluable “Best of…” lists that we’ve used all across the country to find outstanding local places for food and drinks. Thanks, John! We still have all of the Rockies and the West Coast to go before we finally get back to Oregon – we welcome suggestions anyone else might have for us!

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USS Drum

From Florida we drove to Mobile, Alabama to visit the Battleship Memorial Park. This was a stop we had been planning from the start of our trip and I was pretty excited to get there. The park houses the battleship USS Alabama as well as the USS Drum, a World War II submarine. My maternal grandfather, Calvin Ruebush, served on the Drum from 1942-1945. He was a torpedoman on 8 war patrols in the Pacific theater. There’s a display on the Drum that includes many of his personal effects. He died when I was Bridger’s age so my boys only know him through stories and pictures. It was pretty cool to be able to show them the personal items on board the Drum that belonged to their great grandfather and show them their connection to history through his service. I loved my Poppy very much and of course I have always known about his time on the Drum. It was really great to actually be there, with the knowledge I have now of the military, and especially of men in the military. I could actually imagine him and 70 other young men in that small submarine, making their patrols, looking for trouble — young men at war. It gave me a whole new perspective.

It’s exciting when history and family history come together!    -Ayrril

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While Brian was “working” in the Northwest the boys and I spent the month here in Northwest Florida.

We took advantage of being parked and spent a lot of time on school. Carson worked especially hard. He took 4 mid-term exams when we arrived and was ready for finals in those same classes just 4 weeks later. Most days we did school in the morning with the goal of having time to play later in the day. Afternoons might find us in the hammocks with a book or at the marina with a paddle. We had some rainy days too – perfect for playing Xbox in the bus or watching movies. We’re loving the new Sherlock!

Our campground here is beautiful – filled with tall pines and live oaks and magnolias. We’re right on the shore of Santa Rosa Sound, within walking distance of the marina. There’s a nature trail along the sound that’s perfect for walking Sam or for running. We’ve seen snakes and turtles and toads and tree frogs. Lately the fireflies are out (we even had one in the bus!) and even though I know all about bioluminescence (thank you Museum of Natural History!) somehow they still seem kind of magical. For the last two weeks the honeysuckle and the magnolias have been in bloom and our nature trail smells amazing!

We only had one campground misadventure while Brian was gone. Carson stepped out to fill Sam’s water bowl at the spigot next to the bus. As he turned the handle the whole top of the water spigot came off the pipe and launched into the air. He yelled for help and I ran outside and saw a geyser of water, higher than our bus, just next to our electrical box. Carson and I managed to wrestle the cap back onto the pipe against pretty incredible water pressure. We were completely soaked! He held it in place and I called the campground office to ask for help. A few minutes later a fire engine pulled up in front of the bus. I’m thinking “Why would they send a fire engine?” but then… firemen! It was a Magic Mike moment and I can’t believe I didn’t get pictures! The very professional firemen called a utilities crew and they were finally able to get the water shut off and get the pipe repaired. It was a very exciting Sunday morning!

Due to parts delays it took all month for the Jeep to be fixed. We had a rental in the meantime but we really missed our Jeep. It’s finished now and good as new. Just in time too! Brian’s back and we’ll be headed for Mobile and then New Orleans. On the road again!

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So periodically on this trip we’ve parked the bus while I flew out to the west coast to work for a while. Sitting at intersections with a cardboard sign that says, “Need money for gas – anything helps!” sounds easy but it would take way too long to collect enough change to fill the bus tank. The work has actually been interesting, engaging, and rewarding but that’s a story for another day. In the spirit of our Great American Road Trip, I’ve also attempted to use what little free time I have here to explore new restaurants, new venues, and new horizons. After all, the northwest is going to be our home starting this fall so I figured I should check it out.

During a long weekend break from work, I drove up to Seattle to see a couple of my favorite comedians near the University of Washington. Doug Benson hosts a weekly podcast called Doug Loves Movies (and also happens to be a very funny comedian); Graham Elwood hosts the weekly Comedy Film Nerds podcast (and has toured with the USO – three times to Iraq and three times to Afghanistan!). They were both hilarious and totally cool after the show. When Graham found out I was a vet, he gave me a free copy of his album Palm Strike Dance Party and even autographed it right there.

I didn’t have much time to get outside, although I tried to exercise every day. I did get a chance for some hiking on the Oregon coast, though, taking a few hours to hike up Tillamook Head near Seaside. A large tree had fallen across the trail and I counted the rings where trail maintenance had cut through the trunk. It was massive! I circled back around and climbed up on top of the tremendous trunk. It was really incredible to look out on the Pacific Ocean while standing on a tree that was alive when Lewis and Clark explored the area over 200 years ago. I topped out on Clark’s Mountain after climbing 1025 feet from the trailhead, then headed back down thru the pines and ferns.

A few days later, I had a free afternoon and decided to hike Saddle Mountain, an area that Lewis and Clark referred to as rugged and uneven (although they spelled it “ruged and uneavin”). They were right! I climbed 1614 feet from the trailhead to the summit, which I had all to myself with spectacular views west to the Pacific Ocean and north to the Columbia River. A freak spring snowstorm blew in for about 15 minutes while I ate M&Ms under some sheltering pines on a nearby sliver of cliff. When the sun came back out, I headed back down through grassy meadows that reminded me of the long beautiful descent our family made from the north face of the Eiger in Switzerland a few years ago. True, the Saddle Mountain summit is only at 3283 feet, but it was very cool being there after having run at sea level on the Seaside beach the day before.

On my last night in Oregon, I walked the few blocks to the beach and watched the sun sink into the ocean as waves crashed on the sandy shore. It was beautiful, of course. I think we’re going to like this place.

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