Georgia (and eight other states) on my Mind: a Road Trip Preview

Brent was the soft-voiced, square-jawed, and dangerously charming boy I met at community college. He had virulent black hair, an irrevocable love for words, and the envious ability to write. For Brent, writing was as involuntary, as instinctive, as it was for me to laugh at his jokes. Back then, we emailed poems and Teddy Roosevelt anecdotes to each other, using song lyrics as our subject lines. Once, I received an email with the subject line, "Still in peaceful dreams I see the road leads back to you." 

"I've much to do, Dawn," Brent had started his email. "Alack, I cannot focus. I can't think, Dawn. I've got Georgia on my mind."

Now, seven years after Brent sent that particular message, I, too, have Georgia on my mind.

There are the cobbled streets of Savannah's River Walk, which is aflutter with tourists, locals, and the bubbling of fountains. There is the Spanish moss that hangs from the trees like lace, swaying in the breeze, this way and that, giving breath to the oaks it decorates. And there's Bonaventure Cemetery, as curious and sinister as a Flannery O'Connor story.

But it isn't just Georgia that's on my mind.

After an eleven-day road trip that took Ty and Zoe and I through nine states and two time zones, I'm thinking of New Orleans and Memphis and Charleston, too. And I'm thinking of our quick jaunt through Asheville, where we missed our opportunity to stay at a place called The Mountaineer Inn, whose neon cowboy sign made Ty sigh regrettably, "Dude. Duuuuuuuuude."

Asheville was windy that night, and drizzly. We had spent the last seven hours navigating the moody Smoky Mountains, but were not dressed for the weather. And so we changed in the car, changed into jeans and flannel while hipsters with dalmatians strolled past us.

And New Orleans? A friend of Ty's had told us that New Orleans would smell of booze and piss, but that he wouldn't have it any other way.

"I'd still live there in a heartbeat," he'd said.

For the sake of our senses, though, we didn't encounter any atrocious odors. However, we'd been advised by a man we'd met in Mississippi to be careful.

"If yeh thin' someone is uh man, yeh prob'ly wrong," he had told us. "Yeh may thin' someone is uh woman, but they ain't uh woman! An' vice versuh!"

He'd told us that we'd see everything and everyone. And, sure, we did run into our fair share of characters in the French Quarter, but what I remember most are the street musicians, and the architecture, and the balconies, and the used bookstores where Ty and I stole kisses among stacks of books that smelled as if Kennedy were still in office.

I remember, too, the waves crashing arhythmically upon the South Carolina shore, bringing with them the scent of seaweed, salt, and dead crabs. And I remember laughing and gripping both Ty and Zoe's hands at the drag show in Savannah, yelling over the bass of an Arctic Monkeys song, "I can't be the only one who's slightly turned on by this, right?" And I remember, also, our nights in the hotels rooms, where we nursed beers and played drunken Chutes and Ladders. We made our own version of Apples to Apples, too, and stayed up, watching John Oliver and talking about feelings. And it's those late hours, when laughter brought us to tears and hyperventilation, that I never want to forget.

Pocketing Chicago

I'm trying to fit together vignettes of our latest trip to Le Windy City, trying to jam together pieces of contrasting colors before I even have the border connected. Then again, Chicago isn't about borders. It's not about looking at the box and determining where, exactly, a portrait of a moment belongs. No, Chicago is the whole mess of pieces, dumped out and mixed together, some upside-down and some right-side up. It's not meant to make sense. If you were to finish the puzzle, you'd only be able to run your hands over the glossy surface. You'd see the picture, but you wouldn't be able to dig your hands into the pieces, into the dust, and stir and mix and turn over and get hung up on corners and oddly-shaped nooks. That's what Chicago isthe hidden gems, the cafes just around the corner. I mean, sure, it's about Buckingham Fountain and the John Hancock and walks on Michigan Avenue and deep-dish pizza. Chicago is all of those things, too. But it's also about feet hitting the streets at various rhythms, pulsing toward their own errands, their own destinations. It's about the language and color and culture of three million people all trying to find their place in this double-sided puzzle. It's about adventure. It's about anonymity. It's about the clatter of the 'L' above Damen Street, and the platform, and the gritty steps that smooth the soles of my shoes like sandpaper. It's about riding the Brown Line to Wiener Circle, where I had my first Chicago-style hot dog, with onions and pickles and mustard that Ty wiped from the corner of my mouth with his thumb. I fed a pigeon a fry, let the breeze take my hair, and wanted, desperately, to tuck the city into my pocket, bury it beneath my Ventra card.


The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

Ty and Zoë I were at the Indiana State Museum touring an exhibition called American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. After receiving a guided tour, we choose to stroll through the exhibition at our own pace, immersing ourselves in video, information, and artifacts. In a room made to resemble a small, country church, we encountered two individuals donning period costumes.

A man, dressed as a preacher and acting the part, took his place behind the pulpit. He set down his dog-eared Bible and singled out Ty.

"You, sir! Have you ever been to a saloon?" 

Ty, who had been examining a collection of Anti-Saloon League propaganda, nodded. "Yes. I have." 

The man brought his fist down upon the pulpit. "And why, sir, why would you go to such a hellish establishment? What do you find there?"

"Fellowship," Ty offered. 

"Fellowship?!" The man boomed, slapping the pulpit and eyeing Ty. “Fellowship? No; no, you do not find fellowship in those establishments. You know where they lead you? To Satan’s lair!” He continued to rant about the dangers of alcohol, white-knuckling the pulpit as he delivered his temperance speech. After he finished, he called for a shout of praise.

“Can I get a ‘Hallelujah?’”

A woman costumed in her Sunday finest, and who sat in one of the exhibition’s mock pews, responded. “Hallelujah!”

“Can I get an ‘Amen?’”

“Amen!” She yelled, raising her right hand to the sky.

The man slid his Bible off the pulpit. “Folks, I hope you enjoy the exhibition and I hope you enjoy the rest of the museum as well. Have a good day.” And with that, he and the woman were gone—gone to “preach” to other visitors. 

Our interaction with them, however, contributed to an enjoyable visit. Unlike Zoë, I had been to the Indiana State Museum only twice before—once for an after-hours Instameet and, later, for a gallery celebrating the art movement in Indianapolis in the 1980s. Though Ty had never seen the floors dedicated to natural history and Hoosier culture, we spent most of our time on the third floor, wandering the Prohibition exhibition.

The exhibition was one of the most interactive exhibits I had ever wandered through. For example, I delivered my own temperance speech—à la Billy Sunday—after a prompt fed me both operative words and suggested actions (point to the crowd, place your left hand over your heart). There were suffragist sashes to try on and rum runners to catch. (The latter was constructed as an arcade-style game, complete with steering wheels for two players. Ty and I played for longer than what might be deemed acceptable for individuals in their mid-20s.) We took mug shots with Al Capone and Lucky Luciano and even admired Carrie Nation’s hatchet.  

“Wait,” Ty said, pointing to a glass case that housed a Thompson M1921. “This is a reproduction of a Tommy Gun. I’m sort of confused. They couldn’t secure an original Tommy Gun, but they do have an ax actually used by Carrie Nation?” He smirked. “I wonder how they swung that one.”

Zoë rolled her eyes. “Oh. My. God,” she said. “You really couldn’t keep away from that pun, could you?”

Ty, clearly pleased with himself, chuckled.

The three of us took collective pleasure in certain artifacts, however, including a bar of dehydrated grapes. We had learned from our tour guide that the instructions on the bar were quite explicit: “Do not add sugar to grapes and set in a dark corner and let ferment for at least two weeks because then you will have wine and wine is illegal.”

Another one of our favorite pieces was a red, white, and blue bandana that encouraged “more beer, less taxes.” We each took a photo of it, and we each took turns pointing out various artifacts to each other. Among us were fellow patrons of the museum, including several families. Both children and adults wandered the exhibition, pausing to admire the flapper dresses—sparkling, glittering—and exploring the replicated speak-easy.  

The three of us spent most of our time in the speak-easy, actually. I spent an absurd amount of time on the dance floor, teaching myself the Charleston. I never perfected the steps, though; my legs were as graceful as those of an erratic grasshopper. The tables in the speak-easy featured lingo from the times, and the bar, at which several stools were placed, broke down the ingredients in several cocktails.

I stepped closer and began reading about “The Cowboy,” which included two parts whiskey and one part cream. “This sounds disgusting,” I said, sticking my tongue out.

Ty laughed and nodded toward the plaque nearest him. “It says that, after Prohibition, ‘drinkers tired of the sweet, creamy concoctions of the previous decade.”

“You don’t say?” I said, pointing to the “The Alexander.” “This one was gin, cream, and chocolate-flavored liqueur.”

Ty’s shudder rivaled those of Sideshow Bob. “I have to admit,” he said, “that this exhibit has made me thirsty. How ‘bout a nice beer?” 

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