The immediate family and I have been on vacation for about 9 days now, in the States. I had meant to try to write periodic updates on how the trip was going, but internet access has been spotty and well, I’m on vacation!
But here are some highlights and various notes, more for my benefit than your erudition perhaps:
*This year’s vacation finds us on the mainland US, as opposed to our two previous ones which were to Hawaii. We’re visiting my father who lives in Western Kentucky. We also made a drive west to Texas to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area to visit relatives, which is where I’m now at as I type this.
*Before driving out here last Thursday (9/14), we had spent our time in KY as follows:
9/8 — arrival in Nashville, 3 hour drive to father’s place in KY; luggage not on same connecting flight from Chicago, not a good way to start the trip; my father had a high school football game to cover, and his wife (my step-mother) Darlene went as well to take photos; housemate Forrest took us to Wal-mart to get some underwear and other essentials to hold us over until the luggage arrived. As we were driving back I noticed a sign which just a carriage on it, and I inquired whether there were Amish living in the area, and indeed it was confirmed there are, as well as some Mennonites.
9/9 — luggage arrived early in the morning (driver actually slept in his car somewhere so he could arrive at the house at 6 a.m. instead of 3 a.m.); was up before 6 a.m. due to jet lag; hung around the house all day; Darlene drove us around the perimeter of their farm, a 50-acre spread that used to belong to her parents; they don’t farm it, they’re part of some government program wherein the gov’t pays them some money (not a ton) to not farm, this to prevent a glut of crops on the market and also to preserve natural habitats for various birds and animals; someone plowed a track around the perimeter though and she drove us around that; we also walked on the adjacent neighbor’s farm a bit, they grow soybeans and tobacco; actually this area used to be almost exclusively tobacco, but in the last 10 years or so that crop has been slowly phased out by lots of farmers, to be replaced by soybeans; the irony of leaving a country (Japan) where soybeans play an important culinary part — but where soybean farms are rarely seen, at least by me — and arriving in another country (US) which probably associates eating soy products with hippie dippie folks out in California communes, yet — at least in Western Kentucky — seemed inundated with the crop….well, that irony was not lost on Naoko or I. Later my father drove us to Hickman, KY, on the Mississippi River, a town which apparently was used as a location for a Tommy Jones movie once, with a run-down, somewhat abandoned “downtown,” with some requisite (as I was to find out) antique shops (closed because it being a Saturday, I guess)….on the way home we stoped in Clinton, where I had found online a bookstore called Proud Mary’s, but this too was closed…across the street there was a “Republican BBQ” or somesuch rally. After dinner went over to stepmother’s brother’s place down the road for cake and ice cream, as it was someone’s birthday.
9/10 — borrowed one of my dad’s cars to take a little daytrip tour of the local-ish area, first stop was some Indian burial mounds at Wickliffe, which was mildly interesting; from there we drove a few miles over to Illinois, specifically to Cairo, IL (pronouced CAY-ro); my father had taken my brother there before and he recommended I visit. basically it’s another rundown town along the Mississippi River (this one more prominently placed than most given that it’s at the meeting of both the Miss. and the Ohio rivers. At any rate, from what I gather online, at some point the town’s black residents boycotted the completely white-owned shops, eventually driving the white owners out and leaving a downtown which is pretty close to a ghost town….there are also some old mansions that used to be owned by the well-to-do which one can tour although they were not open when we were there….From there we drove to Metropolis, IL, a town that has little to recommend it other than a Harrah’s riverboat casino and a statue of Superman, which is why we were there (to show our son Kaika)….Superman being from “Metropolis” you see, the town has cashed in on that connection as much as one could….we then drove to Paducah (KY), where I wanted to see the Quilt Museum….this was well worth the visit. While we were there, we met two old guys from Hawaii, now living on the mainland, a nice “its a small world” encounter….On the way home we stopped at the Wal-mart in Mayfield and had Subway sandwiches for dinner.
9/11 — another slow day, the weather was not so great….my father drove us to the Columbus-Belmont State Park along the Mississippi, which played a part in the Civil War….there were some swings and what-not for Kaika to play with, and a nice museum which we got into for free, dedicated to the Civil War…made me realize how little I know (or have cared to know, to be honest) about the Civil War….didn’t know for example that Kentucky was neutral when the war started….from there we drove to Paducah and ate at a chain family restaurant called Bob Evans….
9/12 — drove with my father to St. Louis, where we were going to take in a Cardinals baseball game that night….Cardinals have been my dad’s favortite team from his boyhood days when it was only their games that he could get on the radio when he was living in Iowa Park, TX; before that though we took Kaika to the St. Louis Zoo, which is reputed to be one of the better zoos in America….was surprised to find out it was free (although parking was $9)….Kaika thoroughly enjoyed that as was to be expected….We then went down to the ballpark area, found parking close to the venue ($12) and then went in search of a place to eat….got directed to TGI Fridays which was alright I suppose; after eating, Naoko, Kaika and I walked down to the Gateway Arch while my dad waited for us near the stadium….we didn’t go up the arch, just took some pictures from down below; met my father and entered the stadium, seats were first base side, but down a ways, and up high; kaika slept through the second half (the zoo really conked him out), and so he missed it when Pujols hit a bottom of the ninth, 2 outs double to win it for the Cardinals. We had talked about getting a room (or rooms) in some nearby motel so we (I) wouldn’t have to drive back being so tired and sleepy, but in the end we decided to make a go for it and eventually made it back home around 2am.
9/13 — didn’t do a whole lot, went back to the Walmart to do some shopping, also went to a couple of dollar stores; in the evening, went out with my father and Forrest to a Italian pizza place in Mayfield (Snappy Tomato, I guess a modest chain), they had a buffet but were nice enough to cook a Veggie pizza and a veggie calzone to add to the buffet…and then to top it off, told us that we could take whatever we wanted in “doggy bags” when we were ready to leave. came home, packed, and hit the sack….
9/14 — left KY at 8 in the morning to make the drive to Texas; drove on a state highway towards Memphis rather than the interstate and was surprised to find the speed limit at 70 mph….of course we passed through many towns so lots of slowing down involved, but on the whole I think it was better than a souless Interstate….saw a sign for “Alex Haley Museum” so did a 180 and went looking for it in the town of Henning Tenn, but even though it should’ve been opened according to the sign out front (it was Haley’s birth home and where we heard many stories from his grandmother that helped serve as inspiration for “Roots”), there was no one to be found….asked about in town and took some photos, then we went back to the museum, still closed so we continued on to Memphis…..went straight to Graceland upon arriving, and did the $30 tour, which gets you the mansion plus the car collection, the Lisa Marie airplane, and a couple of other things….we figured, we’ll never come back to Graceland so might as well spring for the whole package rather than just the $22 mansion tour….in retropect, we should’ve just done the $22 mansion tour, which was alright I suppose but not being a rabid fan I didn’t find it terribly interesting, and frankly I think even if I was a rabid fan I would have felt a bit let down, especially considering the $22 price tag….at any rate, did the mansion tour, the car collection tour, another tour (all tours must be conventiently exited through a gift shop), and the airplane, and then we were done….got directions to the Civil Rights Museum and went there, and this is where we really regretted all the extra time spent at Graceland for this museum was far more rewarding and frankly, far more deserving of our time than Graceland was….as it turned out, we had to rush through the last part of the museum because it closed at 5….nevertheless, the whole museum (which is built on the site of the Lorraine Motel, which is where MLK JR was assassinated) was very moving and extremely informative, detailing lots of things I either didn’t know about or had forgotten about (like the Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins)….also very well designed I thought, especially how the end of the main building leads you to the room that MLK Jr stayed in before he was shot. The second building across the street (which we unfortunately had to rush through) was the building from which James Earl Ray fired the gun, and we were able to see the bathroom he allegedly fired from, which served as an interesting counterpoint to the motel room’s we had earlier seen (this building exhibit is more or less dedicated to Ray and the investigation that led to his capture and trial)….I can imagine how both of these buildings could have been torn down in the intervening time but somehow this important museum was built in its place, and for that I felt very grateful (interestingly, outside there was a table set up with some “boycott the Civil Rights Museum” placards, not sure what the beef is but there was some tag line about not looking back on the past but rather looking forward to the future)….after this, we got back on the road and stopped outside of Little Rock, AR to look for dinner….being already 8:30 and of course in a land where seemingly no one eats after 8pm, we were left with the Cracker Barrel as one of our few options….I had actually eaten in one before, long time ago when I found myself in Buffalo with a bunch of Aerosmith fans (past career of sorts), and remembering that vegetarians (even quasi ones like myself) weren’t exactly welcome, I was dreading it (and frankly I was also dreading that “homespun country store” theme they have)….but we lucked out, because our waiter was a vegetarian (“it’s very difficult for me to eat here”), and he steered us in the right direction….and frankly, the food was the best we had had so far on the trip, and it being late the place was half empty which was also nice….after dinner, we ran over to the walmart so I could see if their DVD section was any better than the one in boony town KY but it wasn’t….got back on the road (about 10pm at this point) and drove to Texarkana and a bit beyond, at which point I could go no further….unfortunately this happened to be at New Boston, TX which seemed to have all of 3 motels, one which was full except for one “smoking” room (“but you’ll hardly notice the smell, we clean our rooms”), and the other one of which was referred to like it was the Bates Motel (“oh no, you don’t want to stay there, that place is like a million years olde”), so we were left with Best Western and spending way more than we should’ve….oh well, we crashed……
9/15 — took smaller highways again on a roundabout way to Ft. Worth which is where my aunt Peggy lives….got stopped by Highway Patrol just before Paris, TX, but I pleaded innocent and “law-abiding” (“officer, I know it’s your word against mine but I would never intentionally speed with a 3 year old in the backseat”) and he seemed somewhat amused with my International Drivers license (“you got anything in English cause I can’t read this Japanese”), and anyway he let me go without giving me a ticket….so much for that take-no-prisoners rep the Texas Highway Patrol has (i should note for the record that of the 3 speeding tickets I’ve received in my lifetime, two of them were in TX — the other in KY by the way)…..continued on this way and eventually got to Denton, which is where I went to school for 2 years (back then called North Texas State University), showed the family my old dorm building, my old apartment, and even the Jack in the Box that I worked part-time at (couldn’t believe that thing was still there)…..then it was off for the remainder of the journey to Ft. Worth suburbs and my aunt Peggy’s house…..shot the breeze for a while, then went with my uncle Merle and cousing Derek to a local high school football game, this was something I had actually researched on the internet before coming, and was lucky enough to see a local school (last year’s 5A champions Euless Trinity) play visiting Odessa Permian….those who have read the book “Friday Night Lights” or seen the movie (I’ve done the former, have yet to do the latter) will recognize Permian as the school that book/film is based on/around….at any rate, when I lived here in the early 80’s, Permian was the dominant team in the state, the most famous program probably, well before the book ever came out….since then they’ve sort of fallen on hard times and sure enough they were dominated by Trinity, and lost 40 – 10 or something like that….one interesting sidelight to the game was the fact that a sizable Tongan community has built up in these parts and there are several Tongans playing for Trinity, and a lot of loud and supportive Tongan fans in the stands….in a way, it felt like I was back watching a high school football game in Hawaii….