Monday, March 3, 2008


Tennessee is a funny state. Its culture changes pretty quickly from end to end. Memphis belongs to Mississippi really; it’s a black, southern town with a large inner-city: the blues capitol. Nashville belongs to Kentucky culture; it’s is a hick town in the midst of prairie plains with folks wearing cowboy hats: the country music capitol. Knoxville ought to be in West Virginia. It’s a mountainous, heavily forested town with lots of wood houses at various elevations. I didn’t see anyone carrying a long rifle and wearing a coonskin cap, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if I did.

I actually passed through Knoxville itself pretty quickly because I wanted to get through the Great Smoky Mountains before dark, which turned out to be a really good idea because that road through the mountains would have been treacherous in the dark. Plus you wouldn’t be able to see anything. Anyway, right before you get up to the mountains, there’s this town called Pigeon Forge that’s like a drive through amusement park. All along the sides of the roads are all kinds of rides and attractions. It was hard to get a picture that captured the road long-ways, but here’s just one random type of thing that was off the road.

Up the road from here is Dollyworld amusement park. I had not realized before, nor ever would have guessed, that there’s a whole amusement park based off of Dolly Parton.

As you go on further up the road there’s another town, Gatlinburg, right up in the foot of the mountains. Gatlinburg’s a resort town, a lot like Aspen or Park City, with lots of people walking around who think they’re all cool just because they’re there. I stopped by the Hard Rock Café there, but nothing special.

I made it through smokies just before twilight. They weren’t very smoky that day.

Saturday, March 1, 2008


It seems like all these southern cities have a single main drag where all the action is. In Nashville, it’s Broadway. The northern end of Broadway is an entertainment district, full of bars with live country singers, shops selling cowboy hats, and the Country Music Hall of Fame. Incongruously, a rather futuristically cool AT&T tower looms along side it.

Broadway is capped on its northern end with a Hard Rock Café full of country crap, and the Titans stadium is right across the river.

Oddly, the southern half of Broadway is full of these big stone buildings. Tons of them. Here are just a few.

This castle-looking one’s a high school. I’m serious.

Then I headed down to check out Opryland. There was a big bowl game the next day in Nashville, so all the touristy places were super crowded. Blue shirts everywhere. I think the whole state of Kentucky was in Nashville that day and every single one of them was wearing their bright blue shirts.

The Opry House wouldn’t let you in the auditorium without a ticket.

More interesting was the Opryland hotel, which was bigger and fancier than anything I’ve ever seen in Las Vegas. Inside the hotel is a little jungle with a river that you can ride a boat on. On the other side of the river is a small mall with fancy little shops. The other wing of the hotel had a jungle with a waterfall.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Metropolis is a tiny little town along the southern border of Illinois, but not too small to be the home of Superman.

I ended up staying that night in the Metropolis Inn, and even the front desk is decked out with Superman swag.

The center of the little "downtown" district offered a monument to the man himself - maybe he's Santa after all.

Right by the statue is a pretty big Superman store and museum. They sold everything Superman you could think of.

And the museum had more Superman stuff than I would have ever imagined existed. This is just one aisle of the museum.

Metropolis also includes Superman's summer home - Fort Massac, which was once a major trading post back in the 1700's. I climbed up to the high tower for this shot.


Christmas in Kansas City offers a multitude of attractions, such as lights on the Plaza - mostly car lights.

Edible Christmas decorations. The children look hungry.

Alex is a nutcracker.

The Mayor's Christmas tree looks crooked.

But the tree and Union Station is nice and shapely. It is about at this point that Katie abandons the family to her own ends.

The Kansas City skyline is sponsored by Western Auto.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


The Memphis Temple is the same temple as the Baton Rouge and similarly hidden away in an obscure part of a suburban neighborhood. It almost becomes just another church building. The cool part is actually the Stake Center with the drive through services.

Beale Street
in downtown Memphis is kind of a kiddie version of Bourbon Street – both literally and figuratively; I mean, there are actually kids on Beale Street. It’s similar in that it’s a number of blocks that appear to be permanently blocked off and which are lined with neon signs advertising various nightlife. It’s only a few blocks though and while it has a few bars most of the places are restaurants or Blues clubs. You could hear them singing from outside, so I listen for a bit. It was a cold, rainy evening so there wasn’t a lot of activity.

There’s a Hard Rock Café at one end of the district. There’s also a Rock and Soul museum around the corner, but they didn’t allow photographs. Not much worth taking a picture of anyways - there wasn’t much “rock” to it. It was really just a history of soul and blues in and around Memphis up through the 70’s or so.

And then there’s Graceland. The main attraction is just the mansion, but they’ve made a whole pseudo-park out of it all. There’s more ground space dedicated to gift shops than the actual Presley estate. You pay for a ticket to get onto the shuttle that drives you across the street and up to the mansion.

It’s a fun place, with all sorts of rooms that are designed in a different style and with a different purpose. It’s pretty much all as it was back in the day, but a few of the rooms had been converted into memorabilia rooms.

A shrine to the king. He lies here with his parents and grandma.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


New Orleans is a freaky place, in pretty much every sense of the word. The town itself feels spooky with all the old French-looking buildings. But just going about the town, there are a highly disproportionate number of scary looking people. If you wondered were all the Goths and freaks go after high school, they go to New Orleans. And then you’ve got people like this on the street corner.

Bourbon street is like none other. The active part of it stretches about 10 blocks or so and appears to be permanently blocked off – at least at night. These ten blocks are filled with bars and clubs, many of which feature live bands, and each of which is advertised with neon lights. People walk up and down the street drinking, wearing beaded necklaces, acting crazy. The scene was about how I imagined Mardi Gras to be – and I was there on a Wednesday in December. I went back again on Thursday after getting back from the temple just to see if there was some special thing going on Wednesday, but it was the same. Heck of a contrast to the temple.

You can’t tell from this picture, but with the heavy fog, the city in the background had a real Gotham City look. This whole place is like a real life comic book town.

You’ve got to have a heck of street for a voodoo shop to be the most family friendly thing on the street. You’re not allowed to take pictures inside but I caught one passing by.

But there’s a pirate store too.

The back of the St. Louis Cathedral at night. Only in comic books and New Orleans.

I thought this was pretty cool, up until I actually came right up to it, I was sure it was a real life statue outside the building. It’s a painting.

Even the Hard Rock Café was kind of freaky. You’ve got stuff like this.

And in the front doorway.

I wanted to check out the neighborhoods hit hardest by the hurricanes, and they were kind of scary too, for different reasons. Some neighborhoods were nearly ghost towns. Lots of still abandoned houses.

And lots of just completely demolished lots which nothing remaining but uncut grass.

Another weird part was that, in the middle of the day, there were tons of people just sitting on their front porch. Some were talking to others, many were just sitting. It was as if they were all waiting for something.

It would appear that some people are taking the sign seriously though.

In stark contrast, I stopped by some of the old plantations on my way out.

The oak tree corridor was pretty cool. It’s hard to capture the feel of this lane on camera.

As if New Orleans actually needed anything else to make it spooky, it apparently has a history of being haunted. There are all sorts of ghost tours, vampire tours, voodoo tours and cemetery tours that you can do all night. I didn’t do any of them, but if I’m ever here again I think it’d be fun. There are also lots of swamp tours, because the city is pretty much surrounded by swamps. Next time.

Friday, December 14, 2007


Avery Island wasn’t too far south of Baton Rouge, so I headed there first. I’ve driven over 2000 miles since leaving Quantico, so it was about time I was caught by the long arm of the law – going a whopping 12 mph over the speed limit.

It was actually kind of fun. Two highway patrolmen in their mid-20’s. One of them jumped out from behind a concrete barrier with a laser pointed at me and then began talking quickly into his radio. Shortly thereafter the other was standing in the middle of the 70 mph freeway flagging me down. He had a deep southern accent and was real friendly. He got all excited when I said I was headed down to the Tabasco factory. The whole thing felt like a couple kids just playing a game. If only it were.

Down at Avery Island I took a look around the Tabasco gift shop, all sorts of foods there with Tabasco in them, if only I didn’t hate the stuff. It looked like the tours of the factory were free, but they were guided and I was the only one around and I didn’t want to do a guided tour for just me, so I got out of there.

The jungle gardens were the cool part, anyways. There were all these signs for alligators, but I didn’t see jack for no alligators. And I stood there a long time too, all quiet like. But nothing. The signs were kind of fun though.

And just in case you didn’t know.

For some reason there’s a shrine to Buddha right in the middle of the lagoon.

Whoever said that turtles are slow is full of crap. There was this turtle sticking his neck out at me, all cocky like, but as soon as I lifted my camera he darted off into the water, fast as a jack rabbit.

This has got to be the sorriest Christmas decoration I’ve ever seen. Somewhere outside of Baton Rouge is this combined Taco Bell/KFC and instead of reindeer pulling a sleigh, they’ve got tacos and chicken legs pulling a tamale.

I don’t think I’ve ever realized how mini these mini temples really are. I mean, I think this temple actually covered less ground space than the stake center right across from it.

The stars kind of aligned to do a session. There are only nine a week, but I just happened to arrive about a half hour before one of them and the only one of the day. And I guess you’re supposed to bring your own names, because I didn’t see any available, but right before going in I ran into a guy who asked me if I would do one of his because he had extra. So it all worked out.

This is the exact same statue set as Atlanta. They must be standard issue to all the temples. Too bad these guys are behind bars.