Dallas – It’s Where They Shoot Presidents.

I really did like Dallas.
Everything in my history, everything in my DNA told me I would not. could not, should not like Dallas. But I did.
When I said the above to a friend, expressing that I wasn’t sure where my preconceived notions came from, he said “It’s because they shoot presidents in Dallas.”
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When I first arrived in Dallas I stayed with a friend I met online 5 or 6 years ago while playing poker. He lives in a fabulous apartment in downtown Dallas with a balcony to dream about and spectacular views of some of Dallas’ most iconic buildings. He had to go to work for a few hours and I had no clue what I wanted to see or do in Dallas. Since it wasn’t too far from his apartment, or his office, he suggested the Sixth Floor Museum.

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He told me what it was. But I still wasn’t prepared.
The Sixth Floor Museum is located in the Texas Book Depository, from where it is said Oswald shot Kennedy. From the sixth floor, (obviously.)
Props to the curators. The museum is tasteful, or at least as much as such a commemorative museum can be.

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We explore just a bit of Kennedy’s life and not only what brought him to politics, but what he brought to the political scene. We consider some of the decisions he made that didn’t please every American. We’re told enough about the local political scene in Dallas to understand some of the prevailing tensions of the moment. We see interviews with local police and with Secret Service as they express their concerns about this visit. Not enough concerns to curtail his Texas five city tour but enough to have been mentioned.
The hopefulness of the country and of the young presidential couple is viscerally implanted in museum goers. At least it was well implanted in me. So even though I know how this story ends, I still held my breath as I journeyed the hallway with minute by minute pictures of the crawl of the motorcade down Houston street, turning onto Elm.
And then, here we are. At the corner window on the 6th floor. Looking at onto the street from the same vantage point Oswald supposedly had when he supposedly shot the 35th President of the United States of America.
I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach.
As I write this I, once again, immerse myself in the realities of what went on in Dealey Plaza. And it feels kind of ickky.
I say ‘supposedly’ above, because, like much of America, I’m not sure I can buy into the idea that the shots came from that 6th floor window. Standing there. Intuitively. It makes more sense. It FEELS more like the shots came from the grassy knoll. But what do I know? I wasn’t even born yet. So lets just keep my intuitions out of this missive. It does none of us any good at all for me to have an opinion on this matter.
Jackie’s actions and her poise intrigue me.
It’s no secret that the woman had class. And style. But it seems she also had a good solid grip on reality and the brutality and messiness that life contains.
Jackie wore a now infamous pink wool suit that day. It got spattered with blood and brains, yet she refused to change her clothes.
At the hospital she was urged to wash her face, her hands, her legs, and change her clothes.
No.
“Let them see what they have done.”
She also refused to leave JFK’s body. The only time she left his side was for a brief moment on Air Force One to stand beside LBJ, in her gory pink suit, as he was sworn in as President.
Only once she was back at the White House, only after she’d given instruction for his memorial (to be done much like Lincoln’s was done nearly a century earlier), did she finally leave his side and go change her clothes.
The suit is locked away in the National Archives in Maryland and won’t be available for public viewing until 2103.

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To be cliche about it all, there’s something that’s hard to look away from. Its like a train wreck. Craning one’s neck to see ever more twisted bodies.

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I went back a few days later. Not to the Book Depository, but to Dealey Plaza itself. I walked around, took pictures, read all the plaques, and contemplated the need of us all to see those Xs painted onto the middle of the street, representing the deadly shots.

Fucking Harsh America. Fucking Harsh.

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(As my poker-playing lawyer friend said, this happening forever hovers in the psyche of Dallas. But still, I didn’t hate the place.)

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Shoutout To TripAdvisor

Seriously, I just want to give a huge shoutout to TripAdvisor.

I’ve been using their app to find places to eat or visit.

Now on the eating front… I love that they rank places. ALL the places in a city. So you can look at them in order #1 through #2784. Or you can look at the ones near you. And even when you look at it that way it tells you what rank they are.

Yesterday in Dallas, as per recommendations from TripAdvisor, my friend Aryn (who just happens to be in town headed north while I’m in town headed south) and I ate at the following places:

The Velvet Taco – #18 of 2,962 – The place was AMAZING! Order at the counter, long communal tables, your name will be called. The menu was short and sweet and the girl at the counter asked “Have you been here before?” Then gave us a menu and circled all the best sellers. The menu is also on the wall and features a WTF special – that’s the weekly taco feature. I had the Rotisserie Chicken taco, and Ahi Poke Taco (which is raw tuna in lettuce) and the Rotisserie Corn – which was a delicious little cup of shaved Mexican corn on the cob goodness. If you are ever in Dallas – eat here!

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Cedar’s Mediterranean Mezza & Grill – #77 of 2,962 – Yay! It’s a salad bar. Sorta half Latin, half Greek, half oh I don’t even know but wow. Turkish salad, hummus (in three flavors), eggplant (five different ways), stuffed grape leaves, citrus potato salad, mint cabbage salad, roasted potatoes, Babaganoush, Tabouleh, pita pizzas, couscous salad with almonds, three different bean dishes, and more. The added bonus to our visit is that there was a large party in the main room that was fun to watch. It was a beautiful princess celebrating her Sweet 16. (Is it normal that she was dressed exactly like her cake topped figurine? Do they sell the dresses, hair pieces and figurines together?) It was joyous to watch her. No sarcasm at all here – the food was phenomenal and the party was sweet.

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Today we ate at:

Ellen’s Southern Kitchen – #157 of 2,962 – We went here for Brunch because it looked good and not expensive. “Breakfast served AL day because Grits RULE!”I had the Big Ol Country Breakfast – which was Biscuits and Gravy, scrambled eggs, bacon and hash browns. Aryn had poached eggs with garlic and spinach on grits. She said the grits were great. Lots of alternative looking folk working here and dining here (along with sweet little old grandmas and such…) Definitely worthy.

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Asian Mint – #45 of 2,962 – We were both wiped out from a day of (free) museum walking (The Dallas Museum of Art is quite good.) and a visit to Dealey Plaza to honor America’s past and ponder brutality, reality and life in America. So we decided to just grab some food to take back to the hotel. Orange Chicken, Summer Rolls, and Coconut Soup. The place was packed as we waited for our take-out and we were delighted at how good it was. (I didn’t get any photos here.)

So yeah, Thanks TripAdvisor

I fell in love with Memphis

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I’ve been wanting to write about Memphis ever since I left, ever since I was there.

I was completely taken with the place.

The night before I’d been in Nashville. I expected to find some heart and soul there in Nashville but… I felt nothing. I know there was stuff to do. I found the cool part of town (or so I was told) – Five Points, and wandered around there, had a nice lunch at Marché Artisan Foods and wandered through some great little small business shops. But I was unimpressed. Inspiration level – flatline.

So I hit the road headed west. To Memphis. After spending the whole day in Nashville I arrived in Memphis in the dark. I grabbed a room online from a rest area because it looked pretty central to Museums and other things that looked interesting at first glance. When I arrived I asked if there was a room with a view and they hooked me up with a room that overlooked the trolley lines and Court Square. Court Square was decorated with a blue light fountain in the middle, and surrounding residential balconies dripped with colored lights. I was immediately charmed.

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Now it was time for food and so I took a walk out onto the trolley line. The place was deserted and looked enchanting all decorated with Christmas lights twirling up the street lamps and trolley stations adorned with glowing snowflakes. I wandered alone down the street. I felt completely safe and son found a restaurant that I’ll swear for months is my favorite place to eat in the entire US. It was called Flight and its entire concept was brilliant. Not only were the wines served in flights, but so were the apps, the salads, the soups, the entrees, the desserts and the after dinner cordials, and bourbons and gins and so on and so forth. Everything. And not only was the idea over the top, so was the food.

IMG_3654I strolled back to my hotel happy as a fried chicken on a waffle, smothered in mushroom maple sauce. I could love a place like this…

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It is believed that the Mississippian Culture tribes (Tribes known mostly for the Earth Mounds they built.) and later the Chickasaw tribes occupied the area for well over 10,000 years. The land Where Memphis sits is one of four natural bluffs that overlook the Mississippi River, making it ideal for settlement. The Spanish bought the land from the Chickasaw in 1795 in order to build a fort. When Spain agreed the leave the area, this bluff was decided to be the westernmost point of the newly admitted state of Tennessee.

Memphis wasn’t official founded until nearly 20 years later. It was named after the Ancient Egyptian city probably due to some similarity to its position on a major river. And later, this spiritual connection would lead a visionary builder to erect a huge pyramid right there in downtown Memphis, TN. (But that’s a whole ‘nother story.)

The history of Memphis fascinated me. In 1878 a yellow fever epidemic destroyed the city. So many people died or fled that the city’s population was reduced by 75%. Property tax revenues dried up and city infrastructures crumbled.

The march of history astounds me. Determined never to suffer such a disease induced population decrease, Memphis rebuilt with state of the art sanitation methods. And oddly enough, a few decades later, it was a Sanitation Worker’s Strike that put the spotlight on Memphis as a hotbed of Civil Rights issues.

And sadly, it was in Memphis that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4th, 1968.

I awoke the next morning knowing I was not ready to leave Memphis.

I spent the next three days exploring and I did not even come close to seeing one quarter of all the things I wanted to do while here.

I almost forgot that I had an old friend who used to write for my magazine a decade ago, that lived in Memphis. We’d sort of lost touch because she doesn’t use social media. But I was able to find her working two blocks from my hotel. After work we jumped in her car and toured the city. I love seeing a place with a local!

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From Sun Studios to The Cotton Museum, from Otherlands, one of the coolest coffeehouses I’ve see since Klekolo, to The National Civil Rights Museum, from Trolleys that travel in loops past the pyramid and the South Main Art District to Beale Street, from The Arcade restaurant (where Elvis hung out as a teen) to myriad city parks, from visual beauty to music history, Memphis captured my heart.

I can’t wait to come back!

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Fun Fact – Memphis is thought to be the city with the most mentions in all recorded music and the Memphis Rock N Soul Museum keeps a running list of songs on their website.

 

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Tennessee (Jed?)

 

 

 

 

(The title of this post is just a nod to a song I love. Sadly, I don’t know anyone named Jed in Tennessee…)

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December 14th.

I left Atlanta early and headed for McMinnville, TN. I wrote this while waiting for the concert to start:

No cell service here underground. Nor should there be.
A short walk deep into a mountainside leads to the cavern in which I now sit. They’ve turned it into a great little concert venue.
I’m here for the Pirate’s Christmas Bluegrass show. Signs around the place here tell us that by entering the area we are agreeing to be filmed for publication or play on the internet or on tv.
There’s hipsters and older folk and women in fancy dresses and heels. There’s families and big beards and a long hair or two. I have even seen a dancing bear tie dye in the crowd. The place holds 500 people I’m told.

This concert cavern started life as a saltpeter mine for the Confederates during the Civil War. Saltpeter was then shipped to Nashville where it was essential in making gunpowder. I enjoy knowing the history of a place.

(Now back to the present.)

It all sounded awesome. It did, right? But it turned out to be a little too cutesy and just average musicians with a gimmick. Not to say it was bad. It wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t totally spectacular. And did I mention all the cute cute children joining the band on stage? Oh and Santa. He was there too. I’m glad I went. The venue was very very cool. But I wish I could have seen an amazing band/musician there rather than a cheesy Pirate show.

On the plus side I was given a little cache of loot as a prize for being the one in attendance who came from farthest away…

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When I left McMinnville I *thought* I was heading back south – either to Hixson (just outside Chattanooga), or maybe Summetown where a good friend lives. But somehow, some way, my car headed north and next thing ya know, I was in Nashville.

Props to the bartender who told me where, in Nashville, to go – ie – East Nashville.

Dec 15th –

I spent the day wandering the Five Points area of East Nashville. Cute little independent stores, a great brunch place with organic and local food, and it’s fun to travel places while they’re all decorated up for Xmas.

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I fell in complete love with this Xmas tree made by a local Nashville artist. If I was rich, this baby would have been mine!

 

 

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Sorta steampunkish, sorta natural, all the way cool!

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After all this, I’d had my fill of Nashville. It just wasn’t calling to me. No matter what people say, I didn’t feel much heart or soul here – at least not for me.

So I left and headed for Memphis…

Atlanta Whirlwind

I had these images of having plenty of time to write interesting, informative and pleasing blog posts about the things I’m doing.
Instead I find myself running ragged ever since I left CT – with no end in sight.
Yesterday in Atlanta I visited The Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum and Library, the historic home that Margaret Mitchell lived in while she wrote the majority of Gone With the Wind, and I ended the day visiting The High Museum of Art ( It was half price on Thursday nights!)
I really enjoyed The Carter Center. As a child my first awareness of politics was Watergate. (Wait. What? What’s a President? We have a President? And he lied?) So by the time Carter was being elected I totally wanted him to win. I had a teacher at the time who made us engage with the political process by choosing sides and visiting the local Party offices and volunteering.
I was so displeased by what I’d seen since becoming aware of politics that of course I chose to campaign for Carter.
Since leaving the Presidency the man has done many commendable things in this world and I enjoyed immersing myself in the facts of it all.
Plus it was kind of awesome to stare upon an actual Nobel Peace Prize.
A helpful museum guide named Tony broke the rules and took some pictures of me. He also gave me the Jeopardy-worthy little bit of trivia: There are only two cities in the world which house two Nobel Peace Prizes. One is Atlanta (I went and saw King’s today!) and the other is Soweto, where medals for Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela reside.
Somehow I enjoyed that tenuous connection, what with the week’s news being filled with the goings on at the memorial ceremony to honor Mandela’s passing.

(More text below photos.)

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Here in Atlanta I’m staying with a nice older gentleman named Al. It’s a booking I made via Airbnb – a service born of the sharing economy whereby you rent out extra bedrooms in your house, or pay a cheap price to stay in someone else’s extra room. I’ve been renting out my extra room that way for a few years but this trip is my first chance to really utilize it for myself. (If you don’t know Airbnb yet, do check it out.)

Anyway, Al lives just on the outskirts of Little 5 Points. I spent a good amount of time here in the 80s when Vette (my lifelong best friend) lived here.
Today I started the day with a short walk to Little 5. Truly worthy coffeehouses and a collection of stores I wish I had access to on a daily basis. I spent a few hours wandering and browsing. Enjoyable day.

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A Facebook post, saying where I was, got me a message from a friend saying she had people not too far from here and that I should visit and deliver a hug and greeting.
So I did.
That introduced me to the Lake Claire Land Trust.
What a fantastic place! With land bought from Marta, they have created a meandering little city oasis with playgrounds, sweat lodges, a small amphitheater, performance spaces, and I met an emu named Lou!
That was a great detour and addition to my day!

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Then I jetted off to The King Center to pay my respects and learn a thing or two. The complex is rambling and covers many blocks. I got to see Atlanta’s second (or was it the first?) Nobel Peace Prize.
I was somehow humbled to stand near his tomb. The gravity of it all. A friendly pool cleaner named Lawrence took my photos for me.
I really like meeting real people to chat with.

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I was going to go back to the Lake Claire Land Trust tonight for a Friday night friendly jam but that’s not gonna happen.
I walked a couple blocks from Al’s for dinner at a place called Babette’s and, at 9pm, have landed next door at JavaVino – a coffeehouse wine bar combo and I’m downing more wine than would allow me to be comfortable driving back to the Land Trust.
Here I sit writing this bit on my iPhone in hopes that when I get back to the house I’ll upload some photos and make this a real blog post.

My original plan for this trip was to cruise along the northern reaches of these southern states as I head west but a Facebook post last week from a friend might be sending me north from here to Tennessee – to McMinnville – where there is a concert tomorrow known as Bluegrass Underground. Once a month they have concerts that (I think) are filmed for PBS and December’s is tomorrow and billed as “A Pirate’s Christmas.” So yeah. I think I’m changing my plans and going north tomorrow.

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I Visited The Georgia Guidestones Today

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I drove through some gorgeous back highways of South Carolina and Georgia to reach Elberton, GA.

I pulled in and there was a stylish woman there with a camera and a tripod.

I walked over and said Hello.

She said “Hi, I’ve been waiting for you.”

Or waiting for someone… lol

Meredith is a University of Georgia student working on her senior thesis. She’s into exploring Georgia’s oddities. She’d been there an hour and I was the first person to appear.

I’m not going to say much about the Georgia Guidestones except that some people refer to them as America’s Stonehenge, and there’s a bit of controversy about it all. If you are intrigued – google it. There is much of interest to read and consider.

I enjoyed it very much. There’s something special and awesome about the place. I stayed for a few hours hanging out with Meredith, being interviewed, modeling, suggesting shots, watching her interview the few other folks who came by, and helping with her voiceover thoughts and clips.

Perhaps later I’ll have a link to the interview she did with me.

For now – here’s some photos from the day.

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Edit 12-30-2013

I got this link from Meredith and thought I’d share it here –

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3nw6_a8ndk

Adventures in Messy Driving

I didn’t pack until pretty much the last minute. Which meant I was up late the night before I was to leave. Really late. Like 4:30AM.
So when I woke Sunday morning at 10 to the idea that it was going to snow all day along the eastern seaboard and by 5 pm it would be freezing solid in Baltimore, I questioned the idea of actually leaving.
Baltimore was my first planned stop.
I could wait a day and be a little more organized in my packing, but that would set me back a whole day and while I haven’t planned much of this journey more than a loose outline, I had planned the first three days.
I hemmed and hawed for a good hour before I finally started throwing everything in the car.
It was really hard to leave my cat.
Maybe it was just really hard to leave.
Does it make sense that it’s really hard to actually do what one really wants to do?
To which my best friend Vette replied, “If following your dreams were easy, everyone would be doing it”

The weather was fine and the weather was fine and the weather was fine all the way through NY and over the GWB. Then it started to snow.
I figured I’d go as far as I could, then stop and get a room. I didn’t expect I’d make it to Baltimore, and I was okay with that.
It got messy fast.

I thought about stopping when a truck almost ran me into a jersey barrier, but I soldiered on. How far will I push this?
Traffic stopped. I looked at the map.
Hmm.
I’d gotten an invite from Kari who lives in Newark Delaware. Maybe I could make it that far. I called her. No answer. Then I popped on to Facebook and shot her a message.
I kept going. The roads were definitely bad. but I’ve driven in worse, and I’ve got a Forester.

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I had no idea what I was going to do, or where I was going to stop, or where I would sleep.
I began to remember what life on the road is really like.
Then Kari called.
She’d had to go to a funeral in Wilkes-Barre and she was driving home in this mess. When I told her where I was, she determined we’d get to her house about the same time. There’s a rest area just before her exit. We’d meet there.
We arrived at the rest area within about 5 minutes of each other.
And here’s the fun part.
See Kari and I had never actually met in person before. About 15 years ago we joined the same online book group. We always said we’d meet for real. I suspect neither of us imagined that first meeting would take place on the side of the highway in 10 inches of snow.
I followed to her house. Parked my car and we went out for dinner and drinks.

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How perfect it all was! It couldn’t have been more so.
One would think.
Back at her house talking, late, and I’m planning my morning departure and she says “Oh and I’m Toastmaster at a meeting tomorrow at noon.”
What?!?!?
We’d never discussed Toastmasters. I’m a dedicated Toastmaster and I’ve planned to attend as many meetings as I can along my journey.
So yeah. It got even more perfect.
Kari kept talking about the serendipity of it all. I only smiled and didn’t tell her that I did a speech abut serendipity just a couple weeks ago.
That was a perfect start to my journey. Thanks Kari! Great meeting you!

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And here’s me tonight – in a hotel, trying to get a handle on managing my digital life from the road…

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