Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Go West, Young Man

I'm back in San Francisco after driving across the country for the past 10 days. I didn't go overboard and make marathon 12-hour drives; instead I stopped in cities and places I wanted to see, and occasionally made brief side trips to explore a bit.
It all started when I decided to take Dr. Bachman's offer of a job in his shelter/clinic near San Francisco. The Contra Costa animal shelter has two separate clinics in it, one public and one for the shelter animals, so there's lots to do there! But everything I own was in Virginia. I decided not to move everything all at once, which would mean having to tow my car behind a moving van. Instead, having gotten quite used to living out of a suitcase for the past year, I filled my car with the basic necessities I might need for a few months and took off. I didn't even have a place in San Fran to live yet, but knew I could rent a room-- people are always renting out. I can fly back later and get the rest when I decide where to settle down.
So off I went on a bright September morning. Route 81 goes all the way to Knoxville, Tennessee, and I made the drive easily, listening in on the different local radio stations, which included everything from country music to NPR (public radio), which was broadcast in a surprising number of remote places. And that's where I soon was, in remote southern Virginia, which is a world away from the suburbs of Washington D.C. where I grew up.
It was late by the time I reached Knoxville; there was nothing I wanted to see there anyway, having visited it a while back while volunteering for a RAVS (rural area veterinary service) weekend. I found a hotel off the highway and, still bleary with road daze, found my room and collapsed. But I was excited about the days to come.
This was about as far west as I had ever driven. I've always wanted to drive across America; I've even had vivid dreams about leaving and just heading west as far as I could go. It was finally going to become reality. I must admit I was a bit concerned that it would turn out to be a huge disappointment, especially after having just returned from a round-the-world tour. But I needn't have worried.
The next day I made Nashville by noon, and found the downtown historic center, the first place I always look for, having gotten into the habit in the old cities of Europe. I had been told that there wasn't much there. It seemed like a nice enough town, and might have been interesting seeing the main street in the evening when the bars and restaurants were in full swing, but I was more interested in Memphis which was still a half-day's drive away, so after a quick drive around town I opted not to stop for lunch, but instead push on.

Along the way on a whim I got off the highway and took a parallel road just to see a bit of rural Tennessee. I stopped to check on some dogs roaming in the street, but they quickly took off. It was there I noticed a beautiful spaniel in the yard next door, whose owner I had a nice chat with after being unable to resist petting the dog.

I got to Memphis by evening, and quickly got a hotel and, knowing next to nothing about the city, asked the clerk where to go. He gave me directions and I soon found Beale Street, the neon-lit equivalent of the French Quarter of New Orleans. It was touristy, tacky, completely gaudy, and I loved it.... at least for a few hours. The tourist district is ony about 3 blocks, but there's lots crammed into that little area. There was blues music blaring from every bar, beer stands which you could walk away with a drink from, and curio shops selling everything Elvis that the most die-hard fan could hope for. Even the horse-drawn carriages had neon lights.

I never made it to Graceland, but after hearing about it later I probably should have stopped by. Well, I had to make Oklahoma City the next day, so I'll just have to go back there some day.

Next: the midwest

1 comment:

Jere said...

Hi Dave, I have enjoyed reading of your adventures. I wish you had known that my husband, Frank and I are living in Knoxville TN and would have been happy to put you up for the night. If you are ever going to be passing through again, please let me know:

Good luck in San Francisco.

An old friend (but younger than you - hehe - a little)
Jere (Bedford) Doherty