Waking up early in the morning and setting off, with the company of a few questions: where will you sleep? Where will you eat? When will you stop next? The adrenaline levels rise as you climb into the car: the roads yet undiscovered, the wonders waiting behind the next turn, that wow you time and time again. A successful road trip will be in your heart forever! And what better destination for an adventurous road trip than the wide, wide USA? 10 days, 6 states, 2 friends, and a long way to go. Let’s go!
After 11 long hours in the air, we finally land in Atlanta, Georgia, which welcomes us with its suffocating heat and impressive humidity. Welcome to the deep south! After recovering with a nice night of sleep and a waffle – the first of many – we spend the first morning in the States exploring the city and visiting the World of Coca Cola, where the super secret recipe for the popular soda has been hiding for the past 125 years.
As we get familiar with this new world, we are also ready to our adventure to begin. First stop: Alabama. Equipped with swimsuits and sundresses, we head towards the coast and the white beaches of Mobile. But our dreams of achieving the perfect tan do not survive the weather forecast: the endless blue skies are soon replaced by dark clouds and tornadoes. Within a few minutes, we’re in the middle of a monsoon, and think we will soon join Dorothy in OZ.
Just the time to greet the ocean, and we’re back on the road. Four hours to go to the French culture of New Orleans, where we’ll spend two amazing days enjoying good music and good food. The first morning, feeling daring (or too confident, especially considering the heat), we decide to follow Keith, a retired lawyer, for a biking tour around the creole neighbourhood of the city, its oldest and most charming part. As we go, our new friend helps us discover the history and architecture of New Orleans, and we get to fully immerse in its authentic, quiet atmosphere. We admire the wrought iron balconies, the brightly colored houses, the patio – gardens, the liberty buildings, and the bazaars de luxe. And as everybody knows, New Orleans is one of the beating hearts of the world of music: New Orleans means jazz, because it is here, in the heart of Louisiana, that this genre, still very much alive, was born and developped, and it still resounds in its streets and bars.
The next stop takes us to Texas, the state by the Gulf of Mexico. Six hours through greenery, and we arrive in Houston – yes, like “Houston, we have a problem”, the message sent out by the Apollo 13 mission on 13 April 1970. The mission had departed from Cape Canaveral. The message was addressed to the Mission Control Center of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, the most famous in the world. Everything here makes you think of that fateful episode, of Lovell, Swigert and Haise, and of the landing on the Moon.
Not even 24 hours later we are on the famous Route 61 along the Great River, destination: Clarksdale, home to blues music and and land of white cotton fields. At sundown, we arrive at Hopson Plantation, our accommodation for the night. Everything here seems to have stopped at the time when the plantation was still active – the rooms are in the old wood and tin seed houses, and the old machinery are left to collect rust in the yard. We barely have time to settle before we’re off again, headed towards the town in the Mississippi delta, which will turn out to be a ghost town. In the narrow, dark alleys, the notes of a sad blues melody can be heard.
After a night spent with a cold beer, sitting on rocking chairs and looking up at the stars, we are ready to leave again. On the road again, this time towards Tennessee! Our first stop in this leg of the trip is Memphis. We have very little time so we choose to dedicate it to the kind of rock and roll, Elvis Presley, on the 40th anniversary of his death. At no 3734 of the boulevard that took his name, behind the famous fence, lies the eccentric Graceland, the mansion where the King lived until his death at the age of 42. This is a real paradise for kitsch junkies like myself: furry carpets, questionable color combinations, wallpaper featuring poodles, and upholstery on the ceiling: if you’re also on my same team, you can’t miss it!
We spend the last two days of our trip in colorful Nashville, aka the Music City, where everybody – from locals to tourists, to country music aficionados and aspiring songwriters – lives and breathes this form of art day in and day out. Music really is the blood flowing in the veins of the city: take for instance the legendary Country Music Hall of Fame, the Grand Ole Opry House or the unmissable “blues bars” on Broadway. But Nashville is so much more than that: a lively city with welcoming people, rich in culture and historical buildings (and, well, ok, a real life replica of the Parthenon). You can’t miss the street art that truly represent this beautiful city that never sleeps: from the Draper James stripes to the famous “I Believe in Nashville”.
With 1800 miles behind us, tired but happy, we head back towards Atlanta international airport. Time to return home! We don’t speak, we’re melancholic. We both know this is not a goodbye, but rather a see you soon, or as they say in the Deep South: See Y’all soon!
Text and pics by Chiara Scalabrini