The sad truth about the drive between New Haven and Tennessee is that it’s a boring one: seven states and 1242.65 miles. Knowing that your final destination is Tennessee makes it easier to suck up the endless interstate, though. It’s really all about the mentality: embrace the waffle house. Become involved with the National Park. Adore the “unincorporated village” (whatever that means). Make love to the southern accent. Whatever you do to pass the time, the destination is worth the trip.
“Tennessee has southern hospitality and a southern feel without having the antagonism of the deep South,” Elizabeth Dohrmann ’06 of Nashville said. “Everything is so alive and the culture is still intact, but it’s probably one of the easiest places to visit in the South.”
Memphis, here you come. You and your friends, that is. And a beat-up car. And $25 and your dad’s “for emergencies” credit card.
And your strange friend with the genius IQ who smokes a lot of marijuana.
But if what you want to do is emulate bad yet terribly appealing movies and get to the country’s home of blues, start by making your way from New Haven to the I-95 S towards New York City. You then have to merge onto the I-287 W towards White Plains. From White Plains, merge onto I-287 W toward Albany. Comment on the fact that you’ve never reflected upon the greatness of your own country. Play the “Almost Famous” soundtrack. Then merge onto I-80 W and keep driving until you hit Warren, Pa.
Warren, Pa. is the unsung hero of the Pennsylvania cities (tell yourself this as you stop). It’s the entrance to the Allegheny National Forest — if the hours of reflection you did while driving there have made you realize that you want to reject the industrialized world and go back to nature to write about ant migration patterns, you’ve come to the right place. You can camp at Allegheny National Forest, as well as climb, boat, and fish (the license is $35). Kinzua Beach, 11 miles from downtown Warren, is a good place to stretch your legs and park your car, if you plan to sleep in it for the night.
Whether you stop at Warren or not (and you should; a good soundtrack for feeling the vibe is anything Sigur Ros), you must merge onto I-76 and from there onto I-70 W towards Cincinnati to continue your journey. You can choose to stop at Cincinnati, where (if you’re visiting in early March) the International Wine Tasting Festival will be going on, and (if you’re visiting later in March) the second largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the country will be in full swing. If you stay on I-71 you’ll eventually hit Louisville, Ky. — home to the Kentucky Derby Museum and the Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby actually happens. If you think you can stand the shame, you might want to purchase the “Seabiscuit” soundtrack for this portion of your trip. Louisville is also home to the Louisville Slugger Baseball Museum and the Water Tower, historic landmark and art gallery.
You are now on the last leg of driving to Memphis, Elvis, and his 16-foot couch. Take I-65 S towards Nashville, merge onto I-40 towards Memphis, take I-55 N towards St. Louis, take I-240 S, then merge onto I-55 S towards Jackson, and take the exit for Elvis Presley Boulevard. The drive is simpler than it sounds, and as you stand there, listening to that Nike-commercial Elvis remix and beholding the glory that is Graceland, it’s okay to shed a few tears.
Jennifer Rost ’06 said the best thing about her current home state is its people.
“The people are just really friendly and open, and they take the time to get to know you or simply to say hi in passing,” Rost said.
Memphis has lots of good people. If you stop and ask for directions, the natives will share with you ways to get to the many attractions in and around Memphis. Graceland, Mecca to Elvis fans, is the most notable — it houses many “themed” rooms with outrageously gaudy decor, a “trophy room” with all of Elvis’s platinum and gold albums, many a furry couch and bed (one of the beds is somewhat like the rich man’s beanbag: fuzzy, white, and with a stereo embedded into the headboard). Watch for Elvis’s pajamas and — much more important — for the ugliest white ceramic monkey in the world, at home on one of the King’s coffee tables. Check out the Heartbreak Hotel and the Chapel in the Woods; cross the street to Elvis’s Plane Museum and board his two planes.
You can’t leave Memphis without visiting Beale Street, home to clubs, diners, blues and jazz clubs, and more Elvis impersonators than you could shake a stick at. The Walk of Fame is worth a look, as is the Gibson Guitar Plant; you might want to check out Tater Red’s Lucky Mojos and Voodoo, which promises to take care of “all your voodoo and mojo needs.” If you’re a blues fan, definitely visit BB King’s Blues Club. All of Beale Street has been somewhat Disneyfied for the “benefit” of the tourists, so don’t expect to commune with authentic Memphis culture while there, but its many authentic attractions are most definitely worth putting up with the overabundance of lights advertising burger joints.
A few miles away from downtown Memphis is the Chucalissa Archaeological Site and Museum, a reconstructed 15th-century Native American village where you can take a tour, visit a museum, and buy crafts. The National Civil Rights Museum is a few blocks south of Beale Street at the Lorraine Motel (where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated). The Sun Studio, legendary recording space where BB King, Johnny Cash, Elvis and Roy Orbison all laid down tracks, is not far from downtown. It’s in a bit of a dodgy area, though, so you might want to leave your car behind and take a bus or cab.
Finally, several miles southwest of downtown is the Full Gospel Tabernacle, where the absolutely legendary and undeniably cool — if a bit off-his-trolley — Al Green preaches and sings every Sunday. Though it’s an amazing service to witness, the Tabernacle is obviously a place of worship, so dress appropriately, bring money for the collection, and be ready for a two-hour sermon.
Memphis is loud, gaudy, bright and somewhat crazy. It’s full of strange attractions and often stranger people — Church of Elvis, anyone? — but the tale of a road trip there is the sort of story you’ll tell your grandchildren. Ultimately, though now dressed up and trimmed for tourism, Memphis retains most of its old Southern charm and shares with its tourists some of the best things in life: pride, glory, love and rock ‘n’ roll.
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