Sunday, November 10, 2013

Part 11 - Kansas

[May 28th to June 2nd]

Shackled and confined to the hollow whisper of empty quietness. I’ve been off the grid so hard, I forgot to update this silly blog/novel/experimental-notes/open-conversation-about-Capitalism-manifesto/Jerry-Maguire-mission-statement-memo/rant. Internet is a difficult find for the homeless. Fact. Time to begin Bleeding Kansas crimson and blue.  
After getting pulled to safety from the mud, by a local hero, in my eyes, for the day...I entered a new state and immediately sought after the Leavenworth U.S. Penitentiary. It’s where Michael Vick somehow became a more accurate quarterback and re-polished his ability to be a leader in the NFL...while serving his time for fighting dogs...or actually, for lying about fighting dogs. Famous prisons always leave one with a greater appreciation for being free and un-incarcerated. Enjoyed the open aired grasp of Sporting Park’s pitch. The MLS home of the Sporting KC franchise in Kansas City, Kansas...not Missouri.    The nearby raceway would have pumped me up if I were more into that type of racing.
However, Kansas is famous for another sport and it’s not tornado dodging--Toto. It’s the Christian-based sport of basketball. “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” in particular. In Lawrence, I received an epic VIP treatment with the entire Kansas Jayhawk sporting facility complex. Friends from college sometimes marry into KU royalty...and I would like to overly thank my Lawrence hosts for the tremendous opportunity to nerd out inside my tragically hopeless sporting heart. I took a ceremonial knee in the endzone of University of Kansas Memorial Stadium, kissed the center court of Allen Fieldhouse, ran down Campanile hill like a champ, rubbed the Jayhawk statue with giddy fingers, circumnavigated the nicest weight room in college athletics, tasted protein bars/fish oil/vitamins, obtained a juice from Bill Self’s office (yes, I still have the 12oz plastic receptacle, six months later and counting), hung out in Charlie Wiess’ office, felt like a man in the basketball and football locker rooms (Gale Sayers retired locker made me blush), posed with the father of basketball coaching Phog Allen statue, legally received three articles of swag from the equipment room, checked in on the film rooms and meeting rooms and basically had the jolliest of time a diehard sporting fan can have in the United State of Kansas. Utter child in a candy store butterflies floating inside me is what I felt, like being stung by a beehive of my most cherished wishes. Friends in high places can be a gateway drug to high expectations though, one has been warned. The Booth Family Hall of Athletics is a must see, seeing as whenever I see a national title, I see a smile on my face in the reflection of the protective glass. Soon, this campus will feature a far more attractive draw with the unveiling of the Original 13 rules of basketball that we’re famously purchased by a Jayhawk grad, they’ll be on display for those with a basketball jones. Next stop, without the need of a segue--Memorial Park Cemetery. It is where Dr. James Naismith is buried. I can respect the good doctor, despite him being Canadian and the sad realization that Christianity was the main focus of his invention....I adore the sport of basketball. Thank you James for a wonderful pastime.  
The Watkins Community Museum pleased my historical curiosity, the John Brown State Historical site appeased my hunger for humanity (Abolish Hate America--my own AHA moment of forever respecting anyone different, except for Yankee fans), and I totally dropped the ball by not visiting the Free State Brewing Company. Mistakes are rarely avoided on this trek, the country is too packed with delicious treats. The Eldridge Hotel (built in 1855) pleased my historical lust, rebuilt after being ransacked during the sack of Lawrence. Cruised thru Olathe, without visiting a couple tempting museums because days only have a certain number of hours and establishments are only open for a certain number of them. 
The intensity of Topeka wasn’t uncovered by my visit to their acceptable zoo, the Topeka Zoological Park. Intense questioning of the human condition happened at Monroe Elementary School. This was where Oliver Brown’s child attended, Oliver was the lead father in the lawsuit that eventually became known as Brown vs. Board of Education. It continues to boggle the mind of this 30-something that this country had to meander through the weedy attempt at “separate but equal”. Comprehending the concept of segregation and Jim Crow laws takes longer, not to mention slavery and genocide. Monroe Elementary School is now a national historic site and the education it provides to the public is more comforting of a pill to swallow. America still isn’t perfect in this arena, though massive strides have been taken. Pure equality is enticing, albeit probably impossible with the overall human psyche. Small shots always help change the game, cutting the margins of our errors is not impossible. I’d apologize for the countless references to race relations, but I’m hovering around the border of Kansas/Missouri...two states that sustained a proxy war in the conflict between anti-slavery free states and pro-slavery confederates. It’s 100% impossible to ignore the subject, seeing as this Border Battle even bled into the category of sport with the Kansas Jayhawks and Missouri Tigers. True sports diehards can now roll their own eyes at the idiocy of allowing Missouri to migrate into the SEC, ruining one of the greatest backstories to a sporting rivalry this nation once offered up. Also, visited the state house because that’s how I roll thru all of our nation’s capitals. 
Back to the Big 12 Conference for a couple hours, I settled in Manhattan where my treatment was slightly less VIP than it’s in-state brethren 84 miles due east. Despite the stacked chips catty-corner to the royal purple Kansas State Wildcats, my restricted access tour happened. Unfortunately, obeying nature’s laws is a tricky motto and proposal...I was pressed to finish the campus and sporting facility double without getting soaked in rain. A constant thunderstorm raged from several miles prior to arrival, thru my bedtime and perverted dreaming stages, and passed my departure from the Walmart parking lot the next morning. The setting of Wizard of Oz is beginning to make more sense to me, and I spent a half a decade as a glorified weatherman.    
Due to my curvy routes (corn-fed tends to trumps model-thin in my eyes), I technically hit the town of Bazaar in the Flint Hills prior to Kansas State. Without a clean bill of accuracy, I located the general crash area for TWA Flight 599. In 1931, this wood-winged Fokker F-VII tri-motor airliner encountered some tough weather conditions and the wing ended up separating from the aircraft--planting it into a wheat field and killing everyone onboard. Notre Dame Fighting Irish legend Knute Rockne was onboard. Probably the only upside to this disaster: vast improvements to aircraft design and further regulations regarding safety ended up transforming the entire airline industry for the positive. Occasionally, we’re still a country that requires some babysitting...since the laurels of safety and profitability rarely follow an identical path. Not to get too political, regards to my friends that get off to the image of the elephant. I still have love for you.       
Further evidence that the weather in this region is atrocious, I noticed yet another El Dorado city while yet another thunderstorm chased after me. Captured a short video of a swift moving storm, long enough to second guess my own safety. Accidentally ended up on the Kansas Turnpike and exchanged some currency for a couple more curse words. I curse all roadways with tolls attached, nearly as often as police officers. Another salacious revelation crossed paths with my thought process. Numerous friends questioned various aspects of this trip. The main objection involved a spiting of a few states that are less popular in this country. Many of those ridiculed happen to rest in the midwest. I’ve adopted a blanket approach acceptance to this type of pessimism and ignorance. I’m attempting to fully ignore the time-tested proverb:
Q. “What’s the most fun thing to do in [insert name of ‘boring’ city/location]?” 
A. “Leave [insert name of ‘boring’ city/location]”
Obviously certain areas are more attractive, on the whole, than others. It’s also possible to have a horrible experience in the most enchanted garden and to have an incredible time in the most flaccid of dumps. I truly believe that every parcel of land is sacred and significant to someone for some reason. I’m attempting to be as optimistic as possible about each and every place I will occupy this year. I look forward to trying out the greatest possible scenario wherever I’m at...and making my current location the greatest place on Earth, for that moment in time. Those confusing glares I get when mentioning all 48 states on the docket, digs out a deepening displeasure in a person’s demeanor. I become sad for them. Far too many places have special treasures to unfold, creating pivotal memories to hold and cherish.    
Wichita State Shockers campus entered the situation next--a mascot named for the process of corn production, not the sexual position. I’d say this is one of the quintessential baseball programs...but their recent decision to fire Gene Stephenson after 36 glorious years seems ludicrous (featuring Usher). Apparently, someone believes the Shockers should have claimed more than one national title in the sport. Despite the lousy leadership at the top, a great display of statuesque art consumes the baseball diamond. Mark Lundeen can sculpt the shit out a statue. Also in Wichita: hit the sole Pizza Hut buffet of the trip (my weight is hauntingly down and this was the franchise’s birthplace), Eddy’s Toyota oil change (best service team on the circuit), Wichita Wingnuts walk-thru, Wichita Art Museum (Chihuly on full display, fell deeply for George Grosz’s The Pit), Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, picked up a titanium camping spork/knife combo, pulled out my pilot’s license at Cessna headquarters because I learned to fly in the C-172 and it will forever be my most cherished vessel of the sky, walked around Herman Hill Park (an attractive dedication to water that mimicked the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and eventually retired to city’s Walmart in the middle of a captivating sunset.    
Venturing into the depths of actually spending money, I explored Strataca (AKA Kansas Underground Salt Museum). In Hutchinson, this is one of the world’s largest deposits of rock salt and I covet the chance to penetrate the Earth to the tune of 650 feet deep. Since the environment at this depth is conducive to storage and preservation, they allow visitors to observe a handful of the numerous artifacts that are stored inside the bell of this beast, including: original camera negatives of many films including Gone with the Wind and Ben Hur, New York newspapers regarding Lincoln’s assassination, sunglasses worn by Tommy Lee in MIB, Clooney’s nipple-bedazzled Batman suit, Arnold’s hideous getup as the hideous Mister Freeze in the hideous Batman & Robin, Sacha Baron’s Perrier driving costume from Talladega Nights, Brad Pitt’s battle axe from Troy, the Dorothy II contraption from Twister, and a handful of candy bars from the new Willy Wonka (including a Scrumdiddlyumptious Bar). Shifting west, I visited one of the darker locations of the trip: the Clutter residence. This was the setting of the brutal quadruple murder in 1959 that spawned Truman Capote’s gem of a novel In Cold Blood. Unfortunately/fortunately, the “Private Property - No Trespassing” sign had been knocked to the ground...allowing me to, accidentally, trespass....allowing me to get closer for photographic and other personal reasons. At the Garden City Walmart, I watched Cloud Atlas under a cloudy sky--it’s startling how all actions have the kinetic potential to influence and impact others. Life is a gift, shared with present company and humanity in general. Be the change you wish to see in the world. 
Scratching out the western portions of Kansas, I unlocked the magic of Garden City in the morning: the free Lee Richardson Zoo (with urinating rhinos that manufactured the singing of “Down Low” by R. Kelly), the Big Pool (world’s largest swimming pool that was dug out by hand when the entire community pitched in, sadly closed for the day), and Frederick Finnup Park (chance to write and consume wonderful deliciousness). In Oakley, noticed there was a zoo for sale. Despite my life long goal of bedding Scarlett Johansson...I didn’t buy a zoo. Instead, I spent my entire day’s allowance at the plush Colonial Steak House. A buffet filled with fried chicken, ribs, fried shrimp, and pie was exactly what needed to happen in my life at that moment of the day. I’m not sure if the place was good, but it tasted amazing. I also spotted the second Buffalo Bill statue of this trip, a handsome selection of the legend gunning down a bison from horseback. It commemorated the location where the tyrant earned his nickname after killing 69 in a contest. He once killed 4,280 bison in one month. That’s not hunting, that’s genocide--it’s a miracle that this beautiful beast wasn’t eradicated sooner from the American landscape. We should be pleased with the atrocious footprint we’ve carved into the side of this sprawling wilderness. At least humans aren’t extinct, yet. Speaking of killing, I hit my first creature of the trip today. While holding steady at 72 MPH, I blazed a trail over a snake that was trying to cross the road. I clinched the steering wheel, freezing before impact and took out a frown afterwards as I peered into the rearview mirror and seeing it wrench and flip around on the hot pavement in pain. I was not pleased with destroying such a beautiful creature, but I’m content with my first accidental kill being a snake...especially given the laundry list of other wild animals I’ve encountered running amuck during my long sessions on the road. Miles later, I actually witnessed a chicken attempting to cross the road. Unfortunately, there’s no associated punchline with this story, nor any physical evidence in the form of photography...but my haunting cackle at the sight of a chicken crossing the road was priceless. Hot action on the Kansas roads all day, my senses have been ratcheted up a notch and I feel more alive than I have in decades. After driving around a certain decision for days like an amateur, I ended up making a major amendment to my overall route and eventual month. Today was the day that I decided to attend a music festival in Tennessee. Bonnaroo begins in a dozen or so days, and I will be there. It is in no way on the way, but sometimes life calls for a major sidestep. In Alton, discovered where Russell Stover was born in a sod house. It was a pretty sweet fact, since the man could bang out one hell of a candy. Respect. 
My night ended at another Walmart, this one is located in Hays. Wikipedia informed me that this town is the cultural and economic hub of Northwestern Kansas. I’m thinking their motto should be amended to: “Hays, it’s not just for horses.” Perhaps that is too corny, and they might be too classy to accept such shenanigans. 
After being pleased with my decision to include Bonnaroo, I attacked a handful of strange roadside attractions--since it is the true meaning of this trip. Cawker City has the World’s Largest Ball of Twine and Lebanon is the geographical center of the United States of America, pictures were taken at a curious pace. Reflecting on my own hectic pace, through a thunderstorm covered landscape, the land of Kansas was enjoyed. Bleeding Kansas tastes of blue. The color of warm blood before oxygen and coldness make it blush, a blue state by nature since it was the first to establish the mistake known as prohibition....Kansas bleeding blue is a concept of life, not fancy phrases. As I cross the border into Nebraska, I softly whisper down at Kimbo that we’re not in Kansas anymore. Been waiting to nail it that hard since arriving inside the borders. 

[Kansas Stats]
I spent 5 nights in the Sunflower state of Jayhawks and Wildcats: 4 in Falcor (all Walmart) and 1 in an extremely comfortable bed in Lawrence. 
Mileage: 1171
Gained: awesome UK swag (hat, shirt, shorts, energy bars, protein shakes, Bill Self’s fruit juice), highest quality titanium spork for meals, compression towel
Lost: the towel that once belonged to an Austin hotel, 
Audiobook: “Political Theory - The Classic Texts” by Joshua Kaplan...and “Jung: A Very Short Introduction” by Anthony Stevens.
Zoos: 2
Museum/Galleries: 4
National Parks: 0
Stadiums Visited: 9
Stadiums Entered: 6
College Campus Visits: 3
Highlight: KU VIP tour


Best Sunset: Wichita
City I’d live in: Wichita 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Part 10 - Iowa (with a corner sliver of Missouri)

[May 24th to May 28th]

Welcome to Iowa. The folks within Iowa have gone next level on the welcome brigade. My initial taste of the state came by way of the hill-dotted Dubuque, though I’m ashamed to admit that I missed the world’s shortest and steepest railroad called the 4th Street Elevator. The bluffs were gorgeous, while the sunset helped coax me into bed at the local Walmart...and the rain started to fall.
Since they built it, I came. The Field of Dreams Movie Site outside Dyersville is everything it should be and that includes free of charge. The “Ray loves Annie” carving by Kevin Costner is still chiseled into the bleachers and the farmhouse remains intact and iconic. My only qualm is that I arrived slightly too early in the season and the corn hadn’t reached a proper level to perfectly frame the scenery. I also happened to land inside the coldest rain I’ve yet experienced along this vacation. During the constant moisture, I slipped into Cedar Falls for the campus of the Northern Iowa Panthers. A true Panther in Panthertown, the UNI-Dome is stunning. Since 1976, Iowa’s state football championship takes place within this structure. 
Safely arriving in Cedar Rapids, I spent an amazing evening with a great collegiate colleague that I hadn’t seen in nearly a decade. Despite the time apart--we collapsed into an earth shattering experience with various sessions of bowling, a view of the minor league juggernaut Cedar Rapids Kernels home, the most evenly matched R.B.I. baseball on Nintendo contest, a Champions League final that included two German clubs, and a questionable number of drinks consumed. After being inundated with the legend of Rum Chata often, I finally tasted it. It was everything I thought it would be and more...and I now have a new favorite liquor, sorry Jameson and Disaronno. Departing with a curdling hangover, a wild assortment of food and goodies was gifted to me. Cedar Rapids is leading the unofficial contest of greatest contributor to my struggles on the road. Before leaving the city limits, I checked out the Czech Village and enjoyed myself. The Czech and Slovak Museum turned me into an American berserker of knowledge and discovery.  
Settling into Iowa City and Iowa Hawkeyes campus, I had a blast at Kinnick Stadium. Unfortunately, I was unable to gain access to Hayden Fry’s famous pink locker rooms. Psychology majors make the greatest college football coaches. I’m still amazed that more franchises haven’t taken notice of this tactic and invoked a sense of competitive warfare into their interior designs.   
Outside of Newton, I knocked out a moment of silence for Rocky Marciano...since this was where he suffered his only defeat in his entire career...when he died on the eve of his birthday in a Cessna 172 plane crash. More thunderstorms carried me into the Walmart parking lot in Altoona for bedtime. 
In the capital city of Des Moines, I marveled in one of the most attractive capital buildings while finding a bird nest. Life affirming moment on Memorial Day! Furthering the concepts of Memorial Day, I stared at a couple of bald eagles at Blank Park Zoo and took in a baseball game at Principal Park. The Iowa Cubs and Oklahoma City Redhawks squared off at high noon, and I got to sit in the bleachers, behind the classic manually operated scoreboard, allowing my inner child to beam from within. I molested a hot dog for America and located where reliever Rod Beck once lived in an RV behind the stadium near the Des Moines River. Apparently, he’d allow fans to stop by for a hot chat and cold Coors Light. Nothing says living the dream more than sipping on a werewolf killer (Silver Bullet) with a former Rolaids Relief Man near a body of water at a minor league baseball stadium. Sadly, the Cubs lost despite my rally cap efforts. This was only the second loss I’ve been present for by the home team on this trek. It’s even more depressing that both times were courtesy of the Cubs organization (see Wrigley Field experience in Part 9). I’m starting to believe that relegation is the only final solution that makes sense for this plagued franchise of miserableness. Spent a shallow moment at Wells Fargo Arena and the campus of the Drake Bulldogs (Knapp Center and Drake Stadium). Drake is home to our nation’s most important relay competition, an epic contest of skill and teamwork that I just barely missed--total bummer. Since I once lived with an English bulldog, I felt comfortable kissing the statue of the Drake mascot Spike. This act set into motion a new trend for myself and my handful of traditions now includes the kissing of statues. Along with the gathering of rocks and soil, kissing metal surfaces is just what I needed to fully be that man that no one wants anything to do with at any given moment. The life of a homeless man is interesting. 
Leaving behind Des Moines, a soft whisper of foreshadowing and spoiler alerts forewarned an unexpected introduction one month in advance. The wheels are in motion for my return to this beautiful city, and my story shall soon pivot on a tasty twist...to be continued... Could I be any more vague? Knowledge is power, and the reader isn’t supposed to be empowered yet...that’s called drama.
Moments later, I enjoyed the embrace of Ames. Jack Trice Stadium and Hilton Coliseum helped me incarcerate a feeling of inclusion on the campus of the Iowa State Cyclones. The security guard presence was as poignant as North Texas or Louisville, the holy trinity of filthy hovering over my ability to live life as a free America. Congratulations on making me feel the opposite of welcomed. Climbing into the northern portions of Iowa, the constant rain I’d been gifted quickly began turning into a daunting thunderstorm of scary proportions. Which, in a haunting way, was the ideal setting for my next destination. Maneuvering around the tiny backroads and lush cornfields, I followed my internet direction keenly to where a makeshift sign had been erected. This sign was in the simple design of an essential pair of eyeglasses to the pioneering of rock music. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, near Clear Lake, is the spot where the “Day the Music Died” happened. In 1959, a Beechcraft Bonanza came to rest in these cornfields--tragically killing everyone on board. I amazed myself in locating the monuments of memory for Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, Big Bopper, and Roger Peterson. Everyone forgets about Roger Peterson, but being the pilot is a distinction rarely celebrated when describing this disaster. This mini trip was an isolated detour into the vastness of nothingness, but essential in the sensations I’m attempting to invoke along this inner journey. Being at these types of settings is what binds me to the country we’ve become and the lifestyle we currently survive in. The woven pattern of popularity and folk lore and legend is what defines historic moments in time...and these orbs of moments manifest into a daily pattern that has now become the time of my life. My playlist reverberated with the sounds of Holly and Valens in tribute. 
In the city of Carroll in 1960, a DC-3 was forced to land during a snowstorm due to an electrical failure. That craft was carrying the entire Minneapolis Lakers team, making it the closest call for a fatal accident involving an entire American professional sports team. Since the citizens of Carroll were such sweethearts, the Lakers organization ended up building the community an outdoor basketball court in Veteran’s Park. This was a vital stop, and I slam dunked a sacrilegious rock in honor of heroism and tragedy. I’m sure someone more intelligent and/or creepier than myself has taken the necessary time to fully plot and dictate the startling statistics involved in America’s Plane Crazy Triangle of Death. In an area roughly half the size of the polygon that grazes the Bermuda region, stretching from South Dakota to Iowa to Wisconsin, an alarmingly high number of fatal plane crashes involving celebrities has occurred. Along with the two I just finished visiting, and Rocky Marciano’s site from slightly early in the week, this triangle has also claimed the lives of: Stevie Ray Vaughn, Otis Redding, Payne Stewart, and a large chunk of the Iowa State women’s cross country team. I’d attempt to label this fact eery, but being constantly pounded with inclement weather since arriving on Iowan soil...it all makes perfect sense and settles any fears of voodoo boundary spells. 
Scurrying across my final moments in Iowa, I accidentally landed in the town of Britt. I laughed out loud at the discovery of the National Hobo Museum. Since 1900, this town has helped allow the hobo spirit to soar with their annual National Hobo Convention in August. I’m overly apologetic about missing this gem of a convention, no where else would I fit in more conveniently. Numerous humans I’ve encountered along the road enjoy calling me a hobo--along with professional homeless man, gypsy, unemployed pirate, and domestic drifter--all of this has been hastily sent and gladly received as an adequate description of my current lifestyle. Leaving the state in a flurry of rain, a rustic revelation stonewashed my memory banks: I felt rain drops every day while in the state of Iowa. A portion of my route into Kansas included a sliver of Missouri. While pains of hunger struck at me while driving, I found a tempting pullout area to conduct a gentleman’s picnic lunch. Being the idiot that I am, Falcor found footing in a suspicious looking area of mud. I cursed my decision of not purchasing the Subaru Outback for this trip until a polite man with few teeth came to my rescue like a knight in shining armor...in a Toyota Tundra. He pulled me to safety and I sheepishly relinquished my man card for the day. Moral of the story: I love the Toyotas! Sorry Prius for all the moments of misery that I curse your existence. You’re not to blame. You’re just the peachy hybrid beauty of truth, my chariot of treasures, my sled of yearlong Christmas presents...in a non-denominational way.  
In Falcor I trust. 

[Iowa Stats]
I spent 4 nights in the cyclonic Hawkeye state: 3 in Falcor (all Walmart) and one in a bed. 
Mileage: 896
Swam: in constant rain. Falcor got stuck in the mud during the Missouri stint--big ups to the smiling samaritan who pulled me out. Luckily, I returned to Iowa in October to further secure my swim record.
Gained: a large collection of food and goodies from a dear friend in Cedar Rapids (earmarked as the hookup of the trip) 
Lost: ....nothing that I remember, which makes this section strangely confusing, in all truth.  
Audiobook: “The Pun Also Rises” by John Pollack and “Tree of Smoke” by Denis Johnson.
Zoos: 1
Museum/Galleries: 1
National Parks: 0
Stadiums Visited: 8
Stadiums Entered: 2
College Campus Visits: 4
Highlight: Cedar Rapids gift bag of debauchery 

City I’d live in: Des Moines

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Part 9 - Illinois (with a slight return back into Missouri for Hannibal's sake)

[May 18th to May 24th] 

Indiana...Missouri...then Illinois? That doesn’t make a lick of sense! Either does gravity, but it happens on the reg. The vast complexity involved with my scheduling and route is intricate and involves many moving parts. A strong lifelong friend with a complimentary hotel in the Chicago area has the power to shift around the entirety of how I roam this earth, that’s the truth and the lesson to be learned.  
At the St. Louis Cardinals game (along with adult hat giveaway), Qdoba handed out a complimentary coupon for their 3-cheese queso dip--getting it and consuming it was the first line of business in Illinois. Eventually, I spotted another El Dorado city. This is the 4th one, and it officially negates the onetime popular myth that El Dorado is somewhat difficult to locate.
Toasting the glimpse of Champagne, I tossed in another bet on the second leg of the Triple Crown at an OTB, further financing my inability to select the correct horse in a marque event. Fret not, my gambling action has been fully financed through the earnings of a controversial gambling victory. Rest in Peace Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. At the campus of the Illinois Fightin’ Illini, I began a new tradition of kissing the goal post when I’m able to stamper onto a venue’s endzone. Naming their two sporting venues Assembly Hall and Memorial Stadium, I applaud the University of Illinois for not using a corporate sponsor--but roll my eyes at their lack of creativity in the naming process. 
Swiftly locating a local sports bar (marking only the second beer I have purchased since departing), I entered with enough time to see my horse not win. Moving on to Evanston, I admired the beauty locked within the Northwestern Wildcats campus, a truly porous experience for the eyes. As I strolled the area, I couldn’t help but feel these surrounding neighborhoods resemble all that I’ve seen on the silver screen in every romantic comedy. In fact, after subtle research I was able to locate the McAllister residence from Home Alone. Vintage Vinyl Records made me quote High Fidelity far too much, enough to miss out on a free drinking session. Drinks were later enjoyed for zero money spent, Rob’s Charlie enjoyed.
Along with one of dearest college friends and his co-pilot, the next couple days were spent gorging myself on a ton of Chicago culture. Time was spent at: H.O.M.E. or House of Music and Entertainment in Arlington Heights (sensational nightclub that fully put me out of my element), listened to a classic rock cover band called Infinity that sounded perfect but played slightly too much Journey, two complimentary gentlemen’s breakfasts at Embassy Suites (homeless men in this sort of environment is a scary sight), Soldier Field (Da Bears), United Center (Da Bulls and Da Blackhawks), Berto Center (training facility for the Bulls), DePaul University, The Field Museum, BP Pedestrian Bridge (sensational panorama cityscape shots), Cloud Gate (or what most tourists call the Giant Bean), Giordano’s (pleasurable deep dish), Portillo’s (Chicago dogs and chocolate cake shake), CTA Lines (red, yellow, blue, green, brown--don’t know why or how I was able to bypass the purple line), wrote some bad poetry around Lincoln Park, took a nap next to Cricket Hill on Lake Michigan, awkward-waved at Navy Pier, cursed Oak Woods Cemetery because their ridiculous hours thwarted my chance at seeing where Jesse Owens is buried, University of Chicago (namesake of the forever cheap Arizona Cardinals and birthplace of forever cheap economists that have been tarnishing this country’s image in pursuit of getting wealthy--but the Fountain of Time is impressive...don’t get me started with the Manhattan Project), the spot where the Chicago Fire of 1871 started by something other than a cow (just a fancy fabricated news gag), MLS club Chicago Fire FC’s home, Potbelly sandwich, Tony’s (one of the greatest sandwich places in the history of sandwich places), and various hours spent walking the city taking in the air. I found myself in and around Ashland Avenue/46th Street a couple times. This was the former location of far too many bars during the vicious meat packing era, and I’d recently mirrored this experience with Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle on audiobook. In a roundabout way, this is how history helped name the NBA franchise that won a couple of titles in the 90s. The saddest stat was that another free two-day hotel afforded me the luxury of sleeping in the same location for the third time of the trip--but Chicago is so massive that it shouldn’t really matter in the aggregate, hopefully. Congratulations on having the highest price of gasoline experienced this year, what a tenacious ripoff. The most pleasant discovery: the leaning tower of Illinois. Consumed two baseball games while in the city. The Cubbies honored their ineptness by earning the first hometown loss I’ve witnessed while on this trip at Wrigley, credit to the struggling Mets. Took in an Italian beef and the White Sox beating the Red Sox at U.S. Cellular in the battle of the colorful stockings. I wore grey socks in celebration, though I’m pissed the stadium segregates ticket holders and one is forced to miss out on the bulk of their tradition, while the lower bowl remains half-filled. Hearing the Cubs might turn to defacing their current home of beauty that currently is without advertisements is disheartening. Every other team is the example of what unchecked whoring ends up like, and it looks disgusting. Every waking moment of our life shouldn’t be inundated with constant pleads to purchase more shit we don’t need. However, America is the capital of capitalism...let’s just blanket our every vision with an advertisement for something, anything? How else are we going to ease our globalized gut out of this quasi-permanent recession we’re enjoying? This forever phase we’re stuck in, with all of our jobs scattered overseas...fuck it, let’s just ignore that this is now economy and eventual future. We’ll survive, as long as we have a positive attitude. 
As a severe thunderstorm tossed sheets of torrential rainfall and flash bangs of lightning, my colleague and I noticed a 32-foot tree castrated. And despite my recent observations of Louisville craftspeople working the Slugger lathe and being around the creation of Falcor’s wooden backbone during production, we were unable to fashion a magical baseball bat from the trunk. I did get the opportunity to crash at a bone fide pilot crash pad near O’Hare--12 beds in a two-bedroom pleasure dome of manly bliss. Dude got a top bunk! 
Since Decatur is the Soybean Capital of the World, I’m officially permitted to reveal my new obsession with the idea of sous-vide. This art of cooking is well outside of my price range during this trip, but I still lust after the taste. Cooking inside plastic bags doesn’t sound appealing until one realizes that zero flavor is lost and the experience can be transcending--though the science must be exact or the perfection can taper off into a miserable experience since there’s only one shot at cooking it. My appetite hates my audiobook listening addiction.   
In an attempt to heal my toe, I stayed off of it and enjoyed the abnormal free wifi found throughout the city of Normal. Falcor sat in Anderson Park where a beautifully wonderful thunderstorm set the mood. Springfield was fun. Spent some time at Lake Springfield before seeing the zoo...which led to one of my top experiences of the trip. After seeing Abraham Lincoln’s tomb and the various plaques regarded as necessary for tourist consumption, at sunset I watched Daniel Day Lewis pretend to be Lincoln for three hours in Lincoln Park...with my feet propped up and hundreds of feet away from Lincoln’s dead body. A proper cemetery blockbuster viewing party for one indeed. The masterpiece statue inside Lincoln’s tomb is by Daniel Chester French. It is identical to the Lincoln Memorial, though the D.C. version was sculpted without the American flag draped over his lap because that is an illegal act for our stars and stripes. There’s something lustfully pleasant about seeing this taboo in person...in bronze actually. Springfield was also the site of my first Frank Lloyd Wright house enjoyed, the Dane-Thomas House. There was also the Old State Capitol Plaza and the Abraham Presidential Library. Finally, the National Museum of Surveying, since this was the occupation of 75% of Rushmore’s population.
Shifting my focus and slipping back into Missouri, I sampled Hannibal and everything Mark Twain. As I approached the stop, I listened to a short audiobook by Samuel on the way in, but I’m scared to admit which one because it makes me slightly embarrassed and fully ashamed. Nearby’s Quincy has the Villa Katherine: a Moorish/Islamic-style castle on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, or what the wealthy of Quincy felt Morocco looked like in 1903. In Moline, I watched some softball before taking a nap and then finding their Walmart for a more complete version of sleep. As I continue to search the Googles for various Walmarts, it’s funny that every single one is rated poorly and people can’t stop complaining about them...yet few take these opinions into effect when making their shopping choices. Everyone hates the place, but no one can stop going--it sounds like the description that many humans have with cigarettes.  the entire country has become addicted to something they hate. I haven’t purchased a single product at Walmart since 2003, so it can be done people--look inside yourself and decide to make a decision, the place will only exist if there’s a need--that’s the definition of supply and demand. Demand the change you wish to see, or quit complaining about the hellhole that is ruining America on a daily basis. 
At Rock Island, Douglas Park was once the site of the first NFL game when the Rock Island Independents faced off against the Muncie Flyers. This served as the greatest place to have an impromptu tailgating session and burritos were enjoyed like a madman. Starved Rock State Park is listed as one of America’s top 10 swimming holes...though they don’t allow swimming. This puzzling realization was supplemented by some pelicans, a fine consolation prize for losing. In Troy Grove, the Wild Bill Hickok Memorial served to represent his birthplace, though it was called Homer when he was born here. 
I located one of the strictest parking restriction in Dekalb at the Northern Illinois campus, but who wants to encounter the Huskies home anyways? That’s rhetorical, since my dedication is often described as clinical. Madonna was placed on repeat as I found the former site of the Rockford Peaches ballpark. Plans are underway to build up what used to be her playground, though what I was treated to was subpar and lackluster in the grandest sense of the word. Moving through the rest of northern Illinois, I found where John Deere, Ronald Reagan, and Ulysses S. Grant were born--three distinct places that made me smile in different forms. I’m generally not a fan of any of them, but the stops made my body grin. In Galena, I took in Ulysses S. Grant former home as my finale. Long Hollow Tower lookout helped sponsor another dramatic burrito making session. The sensationally painted sunset that traced the beauty into Iowa set the easel for far too many sunset photos. By the end of Illinois, I settled on one strong fact: I’ve eaten far too many burritos in the state of Illinois. At least the sunsets and thunderstorms helped even out the far off feeling of home I’m lusting after. 

[Illinois Stats] 
I spent 6 nights in the Land of Lincoln: 3 in Falcor (all at Walmart), 2 on a pullout couch in a comped Embassy Suites room, and one on the top bunk of a pilot’s 2-room 12-bed crash pad. 
Mileage: 1354  
Swam: Lake Michigan and Embassy Suites swimming pool.
Gained: small White Sox towel, pair of sunglasses (with a funny, but controversial side story attached),    
Lost: my ability to recall what I lost in each state. 
Audiobook: “Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels...“Love is a Mix Tape” by Rob Sheffield...“The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair.
Zoos: 1
Museum/Galleries: 2
National Parks: 0
Stadiums Visited: 12
Stadiums Entered: 3
College Campus Visits: 6
Highlight: Watching Lincoln while next to Lincoln’s tomb.  

City I’d live in: Evanston  

Friday, August 2, 2013

Part 8 - Missouri (with the first day spent mostly in Southern Illinois AKA Little Egypt)

[May 13th to May 18th]

Any normal person would land in Illinois after Indiana, I crossed the southern portion of the Land of Lincoln for a day and ventured into Missouri. This wasn’t because I’m addicting to showing people that I’m eclectic, but the explanation will fully arrive by way of Chicago in the following week.  
With this slight of hand manhandled with ease, I make things difficult in an organizational way by spending a handful of hours in Illinois to start off my Missouri experience. That is the truth. At Fort Massac, the region where Lewis and Clark recruited the majority of their men, I experienced an expedition of taste through a superb noodle dish. Though many call it simply Ramen, I’ve ventured into delicious alterations of the economic dish. Once peanut butter, coconut oil, and Sriracha are added--one can taste an inspiration that smells Thai. Broccoli, onions, mushrooms, various meats, and even cream cheese have all been added to bedazzle my taste buds. In Metropolis, I checked out the Superman Museum and the epic Superman statue before finding it difficult to locate the grave of the Birdman of Alcatraz. This is also where I discovered an entire bottle of Listerine had emptied its contents into the back of Falcor. Though the scent is mildly pleasing and I assured a cavity-free rear storage, I was sent into a tizzy. In an attempt to cheer up my insides, I bellowed out a political statement regarding the corrupt team of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld on the Facebook...why none of them have been charged with war crimes is beyond me. History is going to laugh out loud at that nugget of silliness. In Carbondale, I walked around the campus of the Southern Illinois Salukis. The Saluki is the first domesticated dog, that slender little fellow that routinely shows up in Egyptian hieroglyphs. This is because the entire Southern Illinois region is known as the Little Egypt, since their delta is as fertile as the Nile area. After getting on the football field, I kickstarted my new tradition of kissing the goal post of every field I’m able to stand upon. The entrance hall for the basketball team’s SIU Arena is wall-wooded with the original pine bleachers that were formally used in the arena that housed the Salukis from 1964 to 2010. This is one of the coolest and most beautiful forms of recycling/homage to the past that I’ve seen on this trip. 
My official entry into Missouri was through Cape Girardeau,  where I would eventually sleep my first Missouri evening away at another Walmart. Prior to slumber, I ate dinner at a crappy Chinese buffet that was too perfect. I have no idea if the food was good, but it tasted amazing. I departed with a pocket filled with almond cookies to help ease my hunger pains down the road. I also attempted to get some writing done before sleeping in Capaha Park. At sunset, a creepy man provided me with my strangest encounter with a stranger to date. I couldn’t decipher if his actions were an attempt to mug me or hit on me...neither were preferable and everything he did was unpredictable. At a certain moment, I showcased a worried feeling and I quickly excused myself to find the nearest superstore for bedtime.
Nearing the center of the state, I had plugged in Johnsons Shut-Ins State Park as one of our nation’s finest swimming-holes. The place didn’t disappoint. Not only was it rare (most state park charge tons of money), it was bare (it seemed closed), and I secured an excellent swimming session involving hours of fun. In Rolla, I found the University of Missouri-Rolla, where there’s another model of stonehenge. This one is fashioned from granite, albeit half the size of the original--but with a ton more placarded information than the Texas version. Informative as all hell. Walked by the Christ of the Highway, and I still can’t think of a more fitting Christ to happen upon--prayed for safe travels and other sporting-related wishes. Still having some trouble with my left foot and I’m now fully convinced a breakage occurred. No one seems to trust me, but it’s been too long and I’m not getting medical advice without insurance.  
Driving around Springfield, it surprises me to see the numerous nods claiming this place as the home of The Simpsons. The truth is out of the bag. Every state, not called Oregon, lost on the Simpsons town namesake sweepstakes. Just be happy that you have Abraham Lincoln’s dead body. Wait, that’s Springfield in Illinois...why am I in this city? The Springfield Art Museum was adequate, though the help was atrociously absent-minded and rude. This trip was dripped with various works that inspired, but I was somehow reminded of how much I’ve appreciated Evangeline Juliet Montgomery’s red and green circles and Giles Lyon’s Empire on the tenure of this trek. Pleasing my needs, I located a place called Rolls n’ Bowls for a couple of Banh Mi sandwiches. Banh Mi is Vietnamese for deliciousness. I consumed one of the two in the Pythian Castle’s parking lot (because it was closed), checked out a random collection of military tanks parked nearby, until finishing the second Southeast Asian sandwich in the Walmart parking lot before bedtime. Leaving Springfield in the morning, I witnessed the first pink trash bin I’ve ever spotted with my eyes in this life. While traversing the town, I further observed trash bins in the following colors: blue, red, brown, black, green, and orange. It seems that every trash day in Springfield is a trashy form of Easter, and I enjoy that fact immensely. Who needs the Simpsons anyway. 
Kansas City popped into my GPS next, where I stayed the night on a couchsurfing host’s love-seat in a sketchy part of town. Before that, I sampled another healthy helping of another city I’d visited earlier in life. Gate’s BBQ is slightly better than Arthur Bryant’s, but Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ is exquisite. As is the case with fried chicken, meat just tastes better when prepared at a gas station. It’s like strip-mall sushi in Phoenix, or tacos from a truck or cart. All of these dining scenarios should be highly questionable, but the answer is always a resounding and deafening cry, one that sounds like pure pleasure and ecstasy going on a fishing excursion together. Visiting Forest Hill cemetery, I enjoyed Satchel Paige’s grave, but could never find Buck O’Neil or the man who invented Hallmark Cards. The American Jazz Museum is not worth the free admission, but the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is a top tier deal. At Mill Creek Park, a fountain appetizer was served up--Kansas City has more fountains than any city on the planet not named Rome. Pub trivia was enjoyed at Twin City Tavern, and our 14-person team won bronze, which was slightly less than rewarding since our team was silly big. Funny side note: a girl on our team recognized me as the homeless man that sent her a couchsurfing request. We laughed about the size of the world and coincidence collateral of it all. I took in the image of Boulevard Brewing Company, now the largest American owned brewery in the state of Missouri. Seems like the true king of freedom now resides on the west side of the state, this Boulevard is for you. Feeding my sport’s addiction, I visited: Arrowhead Stadium (Chiefs tour is one of our nation’s biggest ripoffs--you get slightly less than the Cowboys tour at twice the price, total scalp job), Kauffman Stadium (forever a closet Royals fan), Sprint Center (arena being used to lure a hockey or basketball team to KC), and Municipal Auditorium (host to the most number of NCAA tournament basketball games). The Truman Sports Complex offers up a humorous dilemma in professional sporting venues. Located near nothing, parking and tailgating is a plus--while overall ambiance and visual appeal of a city landscape is removed. It’s the omnipresent debacle of give-and-take that’ll continue to shape popular opinion and allow such discussions to take place. 
Another hilarious observation from the road today. When the driver of a car rolls thru a stop sign, without fully stopping, is wildly popular throughout America. Most people engage in such shenanigans, but I’ve heard seven different people from different regions of the country try to claim that this act is unique to their home only...as if their city is the one that invented this event and as if everyone in America hadn’t been doing this since the invention of the automobile. It seems to border on a constant feeling of condescending superiority complex that is manifesting itself into the concept of being the area that invented this folly in proper driving technique. Perhaps it is just a distant desire of forever one-upmanship...but I’m finding it hilarious to learn that every place I visit has a claim in on certain things being their own and that no one else is partaking in such madness. It’s the same thing with fried chicken and waffles being served together in a meal. I’ve heard four people claim it was invented where they live, and I’ve even thrown Los Angeles into the mix as I crawl across the country. However, research is showing that the dish was likely invented sometime around the Civil War in the South, but it could have been served shortly after Thomas Jefferson imported the first waffle iron to America in the 1790s. In typical West Coast-man-style, Roscoe’s in Los Angeles is best and Hash House A Go Go is a close second.
In Columbia, I spent the day in and around the Mizzou campus--breathing in everything Missouri Tiger based. The Museum of Art and Archaeology was entered, mainly as proof that I’m not just some dumb jock...but I did end the evening at the Kentucky/Missouri college baseball game for free. A high speed police chase ensued outside the game around the middle of the 8th inning and I was even treated to the spectacular visual of uniformed police officers pursuing something on foot from my spot in Taylor Stadium. This night provided my first experience with a Walmart that doesn’t allow overnight parking, so I was forced to relocate my tiredness to neighboring Fulton.  
“Meet Me in St. Louis”. My picnic lunch at Forest Park of pure thrift included a free visit to the Saint Louis Zoo. The downside of a free zoo: the staggering number of humans tend to create their own exhibit. The upside: humans are a peculiar mammal when in mass quantities and they’re fun to observe...especially when the elephant goes to the bathroom (both #1 and #2), the chaos is compounded exponentially. At the Bellefontaine Cemetery, I located the graves of William S. Burroughs and Aldous Busch. Burroughs was funny because his grandfather invented the adding machine and has a massive grave nearby that dominates the scene. It’s an obvious warning sign to all writers: inspiring the heart with words will still never pay as much as adding to the financial-binge dedication of the capitalistic hunger. Silly country, silly world, naked thoughts are free. Busch’s grave was a miniature cathedral (with stained glass), insuring all that controlling the beer market in America will always pay. Until your children sell off the company to a foreign investor. Silly country, silly world, America is seriously fucked when it comes to owning anything. The Venice Cafe was recommended by a friend, and I understand how much I overstate words, but this is the most eclectic bar in America. Crazy tiled mosaic work all around. On the front entrance is one of the greatest quotes I’ve seen: “may the god of your choice bless you”. So tender, so sweet, so contemporary. I consumed an order of toasted raviolis at Anthonino’s on the Hill, because Mama Toscano’s was closed. Caught the sunset at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Ended the evening at the Brewers/Cardinals game, where it was adult cap giveaway night. I secured a seat in the right field bleachers, next to the grassy knoll where the ball landed when Freese helped win St. Louis another ring a couple years back. Funny add-on: sat next to three girls that I never talked to, save for one sacred moment when I attempted to guarantee two grand slams would be hit, since that’s what usually happens when I attend Brewers games. In the end, I looked like a creepy homeless man that was attending a Cardinals game by myself. I still haven’t mastered attending sporting venues alone, but I’m open to learning. 1at MLB game of the trip.
In the morning, I took in the Gateway Arch and Laclede’s Landing--mainly while driving around numerous cobblestone streets, a form of road surfacing I respect and admire. Also, I walked around the campus of Saint Louis University where the Billikens have the winningest soccer program in all of North America. Finally, I checked out the home of the Rams and Blues. Returned to the ballpark for more photographs and found the location of former Busch Stadium from 1966 to 2005. This means that I successfully located the end zone area of the Arizona Cardinals since they also used the stadium while they were in St. Louis. Strange prayers and chants were handed out as I knelt and scared off small children and other various pedestrians. It’s bordering on sadness how comfortable I have become at how creepy I often appear to the average American citizen. At least I’m having a blast wandering around this country, lusting after too many experiences and situations. Long live life. 

[Missouri Stats]
I spent 5 nights in the Show Me state: 4 in Falcor (all at Walmart) and one on a love seat. 
Mileage: 1045  
Swam: one creek, located at Johnson Shut-in State Park
Gained: St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap 
Lost: 
Audiobook: “We are the Ship” by Kadir Nelson and "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell.  
Zoos: 1
Museum/Galleries: 4
National Parks: 0
Stadiums Visited: 16
Stadiums Entered: 6
College Campus Visits: 6 
Highlight: a sensational meal of pure deliciousness consumed at Oklahoma Joes. BBQ in Kansas City is like an orgasm minus the mess. Wait, I guess that doesn’t technically make sense since there’s sauce everywhere...this is no longer considered a family blog. Earmuffs.  

City I’d live in: St. Louis 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Part 7 - Indiana

[May 7th to May 13th]

My initial Indiana morning consisted of a light retracing of Louisville. While settled on Indiana soil, I took a look at the Louisville skyline from the banks of the Ohio River at the Falls of the Ohio State Park. I had to wipe away the crust of completing the holy trilogy of binge sleeping in Walmart parking lots...New Albany and Shelbyville were added to the list. Another special treat delivered from sleeping at Walmarts on the reg is experienced when I casually stroll in to shoplift their restroom facilities. I smile wildly at being so disheveled and rustic looking, while still blending in with all of the other characters that frequent this establishment of broken dreams and shattered goals in life.
Columbus is nationally ranked at having the most diverse architecture. Built a smile that lasted until I pit-stopped at a Mexican market to purchase some tortillas. As the story goes, I gave corn tortillas another solid chance at entering my life in the form of edible food. Today marks the final time that I succumb to the weakness wrapped into the corn version, it’s going to be flour forever on. I’m done attempting to do the healthy thing and treat my body like a corn temple of responsibleness. I can’t stand corn tortillas and I now refuse to make concessions and suffer through the crumbly and dryness of an inferior product--it’s flours until the day I die. And I believe this statement has been made twice before.
Dipping my body in Anderson Falls was meant to be...cause I have a serious crush on waterfall penetration. After a relaxing swim, I nearly stepped on my first snake of the trip and saw a wildfire and sheep. A jam-packed afternoon of sorts. After staring deeply into the curvy contours of my map, I made the decision to drive hours off course to visit the tiny town of Milan. It is the real-life location of what became known as Hickory High School in the film Hoosiers. Sashaying across small roads and swerving far east of where I needed to be, my decision began to appear similar to a mistake. However, after walking into the gymnasium and seeing the 1954 Indiana High School Basketball State title in trophy-form--including the net that historic team cut down, the basketball they used to take those fundamental set-shots, and photographs of the entire championship winning roster--the entire detour proved itself vital within the grasp of its own merit and my heart felt redeemed. I dig on bad decisions masquerading as pivotal moments in destiny, they carve out a personality and experience level that preplanning cannot decipher.   
Consumed a pleasant breakfast at Southeastway Park on the outskirts of Indianapolis, watching squirrels go nuts and chase each other around. It was at this place on the globe that I realized that parks are the greatest place to construct a meal and picnic while on the road, I’m infatuated with public spaces of wilderness and leisure.
Inside the city limits of Indianapolis, a lot happened--initiated with the meeting of a kindred spirit in another positive couchsurfing experience. Indianapolis occurred and the Racing Capital of the World laid out an action packed roadway of discovery. My adventures included: complimentary cajun creole related lunch at Yat’s, phenomenal home cooked dinner of healthiness, Lewis Black live in concert, Indianapolis Speedway (a mind trip to enter since I cruised into it and drove around in Falcor without paying an entrance fee--not very American, but very incredible), Bankers/Conseco Fieldhouse (Pacers pride while riding inside a surprise playoff run), Lucas Oil Stadium (missed the Colt-sponsored tour by a day), Butler campus (including Hinkle Fieldhouse where the finale of Hoosiers involved the measuring of basketball court dimensions to de-blow the minds of the Hickory athletes), the fabulous Indianapolis Museum of Art (including an exhibit by the overly controversial and vitally important Ai Weiwei...and drawings by Karl Haendel), Crown Hill Cemetery (John Dillinger’s grave!), a tender rainstorm (dabbled in a session of puddle splashing), and a delightful parting gift nicknamed a Jimmy Johns gift card. I can’t express enough how much I was impressed with the overall feeling of downtown Indianapolis. Monument Square, with the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, is a colossal cutie of oolitic limestone and bronze--just 21 feet shorter than the Statue of Liberty, the same length as a crocodile found in the Philippines. I was also enamored by the downtown streets laid in red brick, a la their famous Speedway.
Leaving behind the comforting embrace of Indianapolis, I found a handful of delightful treasures enroute to South Bend. In Knightstown, unleashed some jumpers on the court where they filmed Hoosiers. Since the sweet moment was free, I helped support them by purchasing a Jimmy Chitwood t-shirt. Amazing enough since this exact article of clothing has been on my dream-list, and with the bump in my wardrobe’s sexiness and confidence, “I’ll make it”. Eye-witnessed an automobile driver end the life of a deer and initiate a claim with their insurance company. This marked the half dozen watermark of deer I’ve seen on this trip that are no longer with us. I cannot even begin to calculate the number of armadillos, but I was surprised to spot twice the number of the Texas total in Arkansas--it’s straight genocide on those armor shelled placental mammals. Add to that the healthy number of skunks, raccoons, opossums....and, sadly, a couple of dogs and a cat--every day I feel the effects of a tragic frown. Also in the painful category, there’s a high likelihood that one of my toes on my left foot is now broken and has been since Lexington, KY. I’m not sure how it happened and wish not to investigate the situation further at this point since I’m without health insurance...perhaps the problem will fix itself if I ignore the pain and silliness of it all. Real responsible maneuver from a homeless poet. In Muncie, a helpful security guard on patrol actually opened the door of John E. Worthen Arena at Ball State, which directly led to another court appearance. Go Cardinals! In New Castle, I found the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and I complained about the entrance fee under my breath in the parking lot. In the end, I walked around and looked at historical articles of varying basketball usage without any supervision or cost of admission. It felt like a zombie apocalypse, except with an added side dish of sports education.  
My couchsurfing host in South Bend welcomed me with a danish and cappuccino, setting the mood for stay 1 of 2 in the lovely city. There’s no proper way of describing the Notre Dame campus adequately. As of today, it is the most beautiful college campus I’ve ever physically seen, and that’s far from any sense of over-dramatization. The grotto was religiously inspiring in a non-religious way, and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart made me feel like I wasn’t in Indiana or that I wasn’t even in America. Before drooling over the sporting venues, our trio of friendship took in the 40th Annual Fischoff National Chamber Music competition. Notre Dame Stadium restricted my access, but was still a lovely experience--far too many Rudy quotes and Rudy inspired photos were taken. Statues of Knute Rockne, Dan Devine, Ara Parseghian, and Lou Holtz. Gold helmets for their consensus All-Americans, replica Heisman statues for their winners, Touchdown Jesus, First Down Moses, the Rockne Memorial Gymnasium and bust of the famous coach with the lucky bronze nose for rubbing... Entered the basketball venue Edmund P. Joyce Center, but the actual court remained behind locked doors. Tuck Langland is a local artist that helps keeps the beat with amazing sculptures. My host for the evening introduced me to her wonderful friends and we devoured a ferocious meal of goodness while discussing the true definition of friendship like benzedrine addicts and interlocking within a new ring of friends that can only be spurred along by such a discussion. Later, we took in some Three Floyds beers and scotch, all set to a live bluegrass band at Fiddler’s--it’s always a pleasure to wander the streets of a city with fellow poets and artists.  
Departing from South Bend, I messed up my route immensely and got lost on the toll roads which hurt my wallet and heart. In Valparaiso, licked the tiny campus that offered up minimal access to their sporting venues, but the Victory Bell made me grin since I love the word victory more than the average male.
Happened upon the historical location of the Battle of Tippecanoe AKA another blip on the radar of American atrocities, this time at the hand of the Shawnee. It’s now a cute place to take the fam and grab a picnic. Nobody cares about the War of 1812 anyways. This transition led me to Lafayette and West Lafayette, mainly to the campus of the Purdue Boilermakers. Encountered the 18-foot Boilermaker statue, but was unable to enter any of the stadiums. Wandered around the college town, sipping on: The Chocolate Shop, the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering (though I’m an Embry-Riddle grad, which makes us mild rivals), and the iconic Triple XXX burger. While eating my burger with peanut butter, the irony struck me--if you claim to be Indiana’s oldest drive-in but the drive-in portion has been abolished....you’re technically no longer Indiana’s oldest drive-in and advertising as such is technically a lie. Perhaps I attended on a slow day, an off day or something.
Venturing across America’s byways is where I unearthed a sense of belonging. Slowly skipping across the small roads and bypassing the interstate bullshit that litters our landscape, is what gave America the identity badge it was forged within. I’ve also found that bypassing the large impersonal freeways removes one from the small towns that end up ticketing out of state drivers to assist their revenue. This give and take makes my decision of route more complicated and contested than I first suspected. I have noticed a shift in my established habits and packing skills. I’ve reached a level of maturity that is somewhat foreign to my regular demeanor in life, but mostly acceptable in my overall attempt at existence. Reaching Terre Haute as the moon replaced the sun, I took in Larry Bird’s true college home, albeit his second college home, with the Indiana State Sycamores facilities. Everything inside me screamed how creepy and inappropriate it was hovering around a venue that was housing a high school prom at the time, but with this beard coming in: I’m gonna have to learn to where the outfit of creepiness as a second skin. 
With the morning light, I ventured towards the U.S. Penitentiary, but was promptly turned around as I neared the structure. Instead, I visited a children’s soccer field where I took a photograph of where they killed Timothy McVeigh, the heaviness of this connection shouldn’t be lost on anyone. Bloomington holds more than the University of Indiana Hoosiers, though that’s certainly where I began my tour. At the football program’s Memorial Field, I gazed into the steel lifted from the USS Indiana battleship...and at the basketball program’s Assembly Hall, I snapped a photo of me acting like I was throwing a chair, Bob Knight-style (reading his biography ushers in the honor of calling him Bob). After seeing the national titles the Hoosiers won, I sensed that I was in an area forbidden to the random traveler and noticed a rush of security brushing past the adjacent window. My departure was slightly hurried and my presence could have been described as on the cutting edge of out of bounds. Took a gander at where the Little 500 bike race is run and then manufactured a mini “Breaking Away” tour of popular filming locations. Based on the recommendation of my new poet friend from South Bend, I visited Bloomington’s Tibetan Buddhist Temple. Along with serenity, I gained a sense of totality with a section of bead work inspired by the Hopi tribe of Arizona. It was pure bred Mani Korlo time--while spinning away on the prayer wheels, good fortunes and photo opts shifted into focus. What was suppose to be one of my favorite moments on the road, turned into a disaster when I attempted to locate one of the stone swimming quarries outside of town. The constant glow of Oolitic and their legendary limestone shifted into my life again as I located the city. This was the same stone that was chiseled into the Empire State Building and Pentagon.
Continuing my fascination with everything Larry Legend leads to the obvious location of French Lick, the Cadillac small towns. With a great degree of difficult and amble amount of uncertainty, I believe I located the exact house that Larry spent his boyhood within, but I’m also quasi-nervous that I eventually photographed some random home in a small town. I did  pump John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Small Town” on repeat throughout the tenure of my stay in French Lick, and with my incredible inability to locate things with speed and precision, I enjoyed numerous rotations. 
My final day in the Hoosier state placed me in Evansville. I stayed on the campus of the University of Evansville Purple Aces in what appeared to be a fraternity dorm but was located through a female on couchsurfing. Angel Mounds State Historic Site is closed on Mondays, which is a bummer--though I probably couldn’t afford it anyway. Apparently, Americans may need to begin prepping themselves for an intake of far less of this wonderful country’s features since the sequestration took effect. With our Congress literally coming to a standstill in their overall work ethic, our entire nation is beginning to appear like a body with some of the non-vital organs starting to shut down and begin the process of death. Unfortunately, many of these organs that are being shutdown in this country are actually vital and are sometimes known as our infrastructure. It seems like all this worrying about zombies was unnecessary as our government is turning into a troubled child that will not pay attention regardless of treats set down in front of them. America had an amazing run, and we were able to have this run in one of the most visible times in history, with the internet and television and such. We should be proud of the wonderful job we attempted to accomplish and just move on--because shit is about to get real bad, real quickly. If you don’t agree, then you’re going to hate the next couple of decades in this country....sorry I ruined the ending without tossing in a spoiler alert notification. Adding insult to apocalypse, I understand why numerous citizens of the Midwest consider Indiana drivers to be the worst. I’ve been subjected to some of the strangest conditions while in Indiana, witnessed the worst traffic lights I’ve ever experienced in all my life...and bonafide highways with a 40 MPH limit? I understand why drivers of this state have given up hope and relinquished all attempts at caring about their driving here. As of today, Indiana has moved into number one position of having the worst drivers, congratulations. I’ll never fully fathom how our nation’s most premiere race (Indianapolis 500) is housed in an area of the worst drivers, one would like to imagine that some of those driving skills are transferable. Perhaps this is why more deer get clipped here, bad drivers just love hitting things. Somehow, I missed out out on seeing James Dean’s grave--an epic accident in the preplanning phase...to be continued...

[Indiana Stats]
I spent 6 nights in the Hoosier state: 3 in Falcor (all at Walmart), 1 on a couch, 1 on a double-ply air mattress, and 1 on a blank mattress. 
Mileage: 1259
Swam: in Anderson Falls,
Gained: Jimmy Chitwood #15 Hickory shirt (Hoosiers), Jimmy Johns $10 Gift Card--that’s double the pleasure and double the fun in the hilariously awkward world of Jimmy’s
Lost: IPod chord (slight misunderstanding of sorts)
Audiobook: “A History of the World in 100 Items” by Neil MacGregor. 
Zoos: 0
Museum/Galleries: 1
National Parks: 0
Stadiums Visited: 16
Stadiums Entered: 4
College Campus Visits: 8

Highlight: the statewide championship won by Milan and/or the Notre Dame campus
City I’d live in: Indianapolis 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Part 6 - Kentucky and the Greatest Two Minutes in Sports

[April 30th to May 7th]

Never pass on bluegrass. I entered Kentucky with the sole planned date in my entire date planner/schedule, watching the horsies run for the roses in Louisville on my birthday...on the first Saturday of May. 
For starters, I got deep into the Earth at another National Park: Mammoth Cave. I was misinformed that Carlsbad was the deepest and largest, apparently it is just the best cave in America. Mammoth holds all kind of world records for its immense size, and the name obviously reflects that fact. Another funny fact: ownership of a National Park Pass does not equate to free admission to Mammoth Cave National Park. The reason: they don’t charge an entrance fee, just a fee for tours. It seems like a roundabout way to roundhouse kick the gut of every hungry explorer that looks to tour this fine country--tis of thee. I paid it, but harbor a hatred for the Mammoth that extends so far that I now smile when recalling the mass extinction of the wooly breed. Mammoth is a cave of a different color when compared to Carlsbad. It isn’t about the formations and curvatures in Kentucky, just size and history. My afternoon consisted of Bowling Green. This city is where: the Corvette assembly plant builds the famed ride, the Corvette Museum explores the historical significance, Fruit of the Loom creates threads, and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers play their home games (I got to stand in the end zone of the football field). 
I contemplated sleeping in the southern sections of the state, but eventually caved in and ventured up north to Owensboro where I have family. Owensboro is where I spent the next two days--resting, cleaning Falcor, repacking Falcor, eating burgoo and sliced mutton, meeting new third cousins, and visiting with first and second cousins. It was sensational, and much needed. This marked the very first time that I broke the “sleeping in a different location” rule, but it was a mini family reunion, and that has to be kosher--even if few-none of us are Jewish.
After my breath of fresh air, I took a picture in front of the home that Johnny Depp supposedly spent his childhood in, or it was some random home in Owensboro. Pushing west towards the race, I sampled a couple of small Kentucky towns for various reasons. In Hodgenville, I admired a replica cabin that currently stands on the location where Abraham Lincoln was born. Honestly, it appears the city limits has been dominated by Lincoln’s image in a similar fashion as Australia has been with the silhouette of the kangaroo. A light touch of diversity is always nice. [claim made prior to entering Illinois] Distilleries were next, Maker’s Mark in Loretto and Heaven Hill in Bardstown. At one point, I found myself at My Old Kentucky Home park--picking flowers, rubbing rocks, drinking the local water, and attempting to gain inspiration for my upcoming derby wagering. Developed a light spell of whiplash from staring at all the unfolding beauty as I penetrated the bourbon trail with a Presidential handsomeness sidecar.  
I spent my birthday eve and birthday evening at a comped hotel in Elizabethtown (E-Town), on the outskirts of Louisville. This obviously marks the second time that I broke my coveted rule of sleeping locations, but this was for the Kentucky Derby and my birthday--a free hotel during a birthday and the most famous race on the planet make for an obvious rationalization. A college pilot friend was the reason for the lodging, and he proved to be the perfect companion for a day at the races. He and I spent an 8-hour shift in the infield (The Most Festive 26 Acres in Sports) under a constant downpour of rain, culminating in the moment of release (The Fastest 2 Minutes in Sports). It was cold, wet, and an abortion smoothie consisting of a refugee camp/Coachella/Woodstock/frat party/wealthy dinner party/horse racing...and/or the greatest sporting day of my entire life. The Kentucky Derby is everything people claim--decadent, depraved, debauchery laced collection of pristine princesses in hats and dresses...splashed with a drug-infused, alcohol-soaked, gambling-packed madhouse of adult delights. In other news: I calmly sipped my two Mint Juleps, which put me over my entire day’s allowance by $2, not counting admission or lunch. In a related story: I participated mildly in the other vices, securing some dough from a separate fund won in a celebrity death pool...RIP General Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. My birthday luck didn’t ride me like a horse, I lost every bet I placed...and I bet every race ran. Having a string of four straight second place finishes is tremendous happiness, unless the degenerate wagering is only betting to win...then it’s just embarrassing for all involved. Once again I’d like to reiterate, it was the best sporting day of my life. I’d also like to thank my brave co-patriot for braving the chaos and wetness of the day, and being the best co-pilot a man could ask for on the day his birthday coincides with the Kentucky Derby. Memories, once they are made, they define our existence and shape our essence.   
Lake Cumberland and Cumberland Falls were enjoyed next, where I treated myself to some pleasurable hikes and pranced around the waterfall. This marked the first night that I slept in Falcor in a resort parking lot, an act I had been warned not to engage in. I made it out alive and slept like a baby. Anytime private property is involved, I’m nudging the edge of the line. On my way into the city of Lexington, I drove up on a vicious car accident that had occurred minutes prior. There was a car resting upside down and lots of blood. I pulled over and approached the scene but two citizens knew far more than I would be able to lend and it seemed like I would just be getting in the way, so I walked away reluctantly. Back in Falcor, I called my parents to tell them I love them and also to discuss whatever. My susceptibility to accidents is something I try not to think about too much, but the odds are not in my favor and I totally understand that morsel of truth. Anytime an accident is seen, the obscene realization washes over me in an awesome wave and I’m far more alert than ever. I’ve noticed myself becoming far more organized and systematic since taking to the road. Every day is a customized playlist of actions to prepare myself and prep the car for the day’s adventure. My mind sideswipes the various lessons and tales of countless other adventures in novels about traveling or thriving in a lifestyle based on vagabond principles: Walden by Henry David Thoreau, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig, and anything by Edward Abbey. The creativity and complex organizational skills bounce against the pillars of survival and I’m able to talk myself though daily actions in a fashion formerly foreign to myself--as if I’m speaking a small child and that small child is my muscle-memory reflexes. I’m adapting to customs unfamiliar to my own existence and my pursuit is pathological in a simple form of the word. This means I’m learning and rediscovering myself in a way I’ve never done before--and I’ve had to learn and relearn numerous plights in my 32 years of life.
As this discoveries fry my brain, I drive into Corbin where Colonel Sanders first started getting original with his 11 herbs and spices, crafting the country’s first KFC. That night was spent in Lexington, Kentucky. I visited the Kentucky Wildcats, walked onto the football field, but just observed Rupp Arena from locked doors. At the Lexington Planet Fitness I participated in my first free pizza giveaway (first Tuesday of every month). The guilty provider was Papa John’s, an ominous tone since it began across the river in Indiana--in the vicinity of Louisville. Before hitting the big city, I enjoyed crawling across the smaller towns and smaller roads of Kentucky. The crevices are jam-packed with amazing barns and beautiful country houses--I felt stuffed between the pages of Better Homes and Gardens, the country version.   
In the morning, I arrived at the Kentucky Horse Park for what I had planned to be a brief visit. Due to the cost and the importance of horses in the greater Lexington area, I ended up springing for the deluxe visit that includes a horse ride. For 3/4 of an hour, I rode a Clydesdale/Quarter-horse mix named Dan around. Adding a new dimension of beauty and mystique to the park, all from a fresh vantage point. At one point, me left foot started hurting for no reason. Powering thru my pain, I enjoyed the various other sites. Personally met Cigar, Funny Cide, Western Dreamer, Be a Bono, and Da Hoss--a grab-bag of racing legends. Their International Horse Museum was one of the most interesting finds on the trip. Inside is the Calumet Farm trophy collection; consisting of 2 triple crowns, 8 Kentucky Derbies, 7 Preakness Stakes, 2 Belmont Stakes, 5 Horse of the Year titles. Those are just the highlights of the 524-piece collection visitors are permitted to peruse. I multiplied my distillery list by two, bringing the total to a smooth six-pack by visiting: Woodford Reserve in Versailles (most beautiful drive and property grounds of all the liquor brands I visited), Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg, and Jim Beam in Clermont. 
Arriving in Louisville for the second time, I didn’t attend a historic race, but spent time getting to know the city as a friend. Louisville Cardinals were honored first. I knew I’d eventually run into a hassling prick disguised in security garb, but I didn’t expect it would be while wearing a t-shirt of the team that I was visiting--a strong birthday gift from my Kentucky-based cousin. In my Louisville National Championship shirt, I was chased from the Cardinals former home of Freedom Hall--the place where my novel “54321” opens shop. The friendly folks at the “Freedom” Hall went the extra mile in turning what could have been a sacred pilgrimage to my writing’s genesis into an experience that reflected nothing to do with freedom. At the Cardinals new basketball home (Yum Brands Arena), I was molested by a snafu in the parking regulations, and later a security officer tailed my every move at their football facility (Papa John’s Stadium). I’d like to write more about these venues, but I’m sure someone at the Louisville campus is still following me or tapping my wire or crimping my style or killing my buzz or pissing on my parade. Thanks Louisville for being the biggest dicks in the contest.  
Settling down a touch, enjoyed my time at the Frazier History Museum (British armory on display for the first time out of the old country) and Louisville Slugger Museum (they were busy dipping the pink Mother’s Day bats for MLB). Shed some superior Tesla-style light on Thomas Edison’s onetime residence in Butchertown. In a nasty case of hindsight oversights, Edison bounced from Louisville after he was fired from his job for excessive experimenting. Lousy employers with horrid vision are as American as the baldest of eagles. Polished off Louisville like the defeated bum I am, stopping at only the second eating establishment that I’d already consumed food at prior to the start of this trip (In n’ Out in Dallas was the only other cause it’s a must and my last encounter with the fast food gem until February-ish). I peered inside myself and wallet, finding the strength from within to rationalize the purchase of a $5 Hot n’ Ready from Little Caesars. Despite the poor quality of the pie, I love this deal and cherish this pizza--even the taste. Feeling used and abused by everything Louisville represents, I wallowed in my misery in an Indiana Walmart parking lot in New Albany...rubbing my hurt foot, eating my pizza in tears, and cursing my presence on this planet. I believe a poem was penned before sleep was discovered. The scent of bluegrass is now cashed. 

[Kentucky Stats]
I spent 6 nights in the Bluegrass state: 2 in Falcor (one at Walmart and one in a resort parking lot), 2 in a bed, and 2 in a comped hotel pullout couch. 
Mileage: 848
Swam: Lake Cumberland and the Hilton swimming pool.
Gained: Louisville Cardinals basketball t-shirt, Kentucky Derby commemorative Mint Julep glass, two can koozies from the Derby, loads of Louisville Slugger swag included in the high price of admission, cooler load of food, pocketfuls of continental breakfast items from Hampton Inn, blue rain poncho, four beers, and a full bottle of Bourbon.  
Lost/Donated: Lockheed Martin travel mug and a lantern, roughly 40% of my winnings in a celebrity death poll at the Kentucky Derby.
Audiobook: “
The Voice is All” by Joyce Johnson...“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (again) by Hunter S. Thompson...“All the King’s Men” by Robert Penn Warren. 
Zoos: 0
Museum/Galleries: 4
National Parks: 1
Stadiums Visited: 8 (excluding Churchill Downs) 
Stadiums Entered: 3 (including Churchill Downs) 

College Campus Visits: 3
Highlight: The Kentucky Derby
City I’d live in: Lexington 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Part 5 - Tennessee (with a casual five-minute span that dipped in Georgia)

[April 24th to April 30th] 

With Memphis knocked out a week earlier, my attack on Western Tennessee was going to be of the abbreviated assortment. Not to sound perverted, but Tennessee is so long and I had to attack the Eastern tip quickly. Shaking off the hangover of another police encounter, I entered again through Memphis and began searching for an adequate place to sleep for my first evening. The end of the road was reached at the Brownsville Walmart and my attraction to the retail giant would soon volunteer itself far more often.
My first official Tennessee morning included a breakfast in front of Casey Jones former home in Jackson--watching busloads of the elderly file into this typical general store. After snapping a photo in front of famous train conductor’s crib and a good looking Pullman parked in the lot, I ventured down the middle of the state. My trek’s first encounter with the American beauty of the Civil War was fully reached with the Shiloh battlefield. Monuments and cannons and plaques explaining the bloodshed were glossed over until I realized these places will not be at the top of my list throughout this journey. As important this war was for our country, the fascination with it is disturbing and haunting to me--but unlike the South, I’m in it to win it. Tennessee is the Volunteer State and the University picked the Volunteers because this state’s occupants were so gleeful when it came time to volunteer for our country’s bloody wars. I’ll honor the faithful. Further east, my initial taste of the bourbon trail was in the dry county of Lynchburg--courtesy of Jack Daniels. That’s correct, Jack is distilled in a dry county. America is a hilarious country. I found myself booked on the free tour, since the tasting tour didn’t commence for a couple hours and my schedule is loaded. Ingeniously, I grabbed a 50 ml nip of Jack...to fully appreciate the filtration through sugar maple charcoal. It was a brilliant tour, and hindsight would teach me that it’s the best of the bunch (the only free one). Following my booze cruise, I relocated to the city of Manchester, to observe the area where the four-day Bonnaroo music festival takes place. In hindsight, a foreshadow could be cast past my own foresight into an eventual invite...though I was unaware of it at the time because hindsight is blind to those that represent the present. Another surprise party attended by only me was the lost hour from Manchester to Chattanooga--a depressing time zone fact that restricted my evening plans since my entire schedule is as tight as spandex. Instead of art, I gazed at a historic Choo Choo, then sampled the city’s Planet Fitness, and eventually tucked myself into the Walmart with a frown of misfortune.  
Refreshed for the new day and packed with proper understanding of the current time zone, I took a sip of their Chattanooga’s tiny Zoo at Warner Park (where the peacocks were going off their nut) before smiling widely at that same wily art museum. The Hunter Museum of American Art has a hipster-laced vending machine that sells local artist’s work for $5, the coolest and most respectable format for capitalism I’ve witnessed so far. David Maxim’s wonderful tornado art was yet another highlight to remember for the ages--and Alan White’s work is poignant. I crossed the Ruth Holmberg Glass Bridge, firing off some pictures of the cars underneath me like all the other middle schoolers playing grab ass and took a full load of panorama shots from the Walnut Street Bridge over the Chattanooga River.
Great Smokey Mountains NP was next--gorgeous, breathtaking scenery. I jumped into the river at the Sinks, a dangerous place with warnings posted everywhere. However, whenever I see another human jump into a body of water, it’s impossible for me not to follow...that’s just my chemical makeup. I enjoyed the entire day, but found the only camping options unreasonable at best. So, I spent an extra $5 ($35 total) and secured my first hotel of the trip in Cosby, TN. My blog needed the internet connection and my heart needed the television since the NFL draft and NBA playoffs were on.
I got slightly turned around and confused with directions to a friend of a friend’s house location, but this allowed me more time to traverse the rain soaked streets of Tennessee. After making fun of Gatlinburg’s touristy appearance, I entered Knoxville. The Knoxville Museum of Art and Tennessee Volunteers campus was visited with open arms. My long day of driving finished in Russellville where I was treated at the nicest home I’ve entered in my 32 years on this planet....or, the nicest house that I wasn’t charged an entrance fee for touring. Rodeo bulls meandered near where I parked, and I did not attempt to ride them--maturity is flowing like wine.
Next up was Nashville, where I was treated by a great college friend and his fiance to a night of sightseeing and casual beer drinking along Broadway and the cult classic of cuisine culture Loveless Cafe (greatest biscuits in America). Took in America’s version of the Parthenon (amazed by the oil on wood exhibit on display--Tanya Tewell’s Etruscan Echoes), Centennial Park (featuring a train for photographic faux-violence), Vanderbilt campus, Ryman Auditorium (former home of Grand Ole Opry), Bridgestone Arena (Predators), LP Field (Titans), and some delicious shots of the Cumberland River from the Shelby Street Bridge. In another 48 hours, I’d be treated to some extravagant cocktails at the ritzy Patterson House and pure comfort food at Hattie B’s Hot Chicken. Due to the architecture and institutes of higher learning, Nashville is known as the Athens of the South, a solid fact of nicknames and education. My initial evening in the area was spent in Antioch, and I got the privilege to see my old binge drinking buddy coach the Cane Ridge Ravens high school soccer program to a near-win.   
The next morning was spent completing my online traffic survival school for Arkansas. Just south is Murfreesboro where I was able to walk onto the basketball court and football field of the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. Sticking with that college essence, I helped one of my college roommates tackle a case of Keystone Light and slipped into nostalgia land again. The Stones River National Battlefield was logged as my second major Civil War function. 
Another visit with a friend found me in Franklin--where the little sweet heart fed me, got me drunk, and hooked me up with some plush Jack Daniels swag and an outfit for the upcoming Kentucky Derby. This is where I was first introduced to the concept of Rum Chata, though I never got around to trying it. Seeing the Carnton Plantation was spectacular, especially the Civil War bloodstains still painted into the wood. This was the site of the deadliest battle per time spent, suck it Gettysburg. The McGavock Confederate Cemetery was something I hadn’t seen yet, Confederate graves. I’m told this is a rare find. Before fully leaving the area, I hit up the Grand Ole Opry’s new home and took photographs for evidence. And amazingly enough, I was able to make it out of the state without getting ticketed--something I hadn’t done since Texas. 
Heavens for Betsy, Tennessee and Kentucky carried a heavy explosions of vast yellow light, fluffy flowers consuming the landscape in a gorgeous way that made me happy to be a man that can appreciate flowers while dazed on a daunting drive. 

[Tennessee Stats]
I spent 8 nights in the Volunteer state: 2 in Falcor (all Walmart), 3 beds, 2 mattresses, and 1 hotel canopy bed.  
Mileage: 1432
Swam: Little River at the Sinks in the Great Smokey Mountains, and nearly everyday in the raindrops that blanketed the state while I was present. 
Gained: superb collection of turkey wraps, hummus, two butterfly collared shirts, two pairs of pants, one amazing swag bag of Jack Daniels goodies (including a bandana already in regular rotation).   
Lost: an appreciation for America’s camping system
Audiobook: “
On the Road” (again) by Jack Kerouac
Zoos: 1
Museum/Galleries: 2
National Parks: 1
Stadiums Visited: 10
Stadiums Entered: 2
College Campus Visits: 4 
Highlight: The Great Smokey Mountains National Park
City I’d live in: Chattanooga, Nashville is a close second