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Dan and Ralf's American Adventure – Week 2

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

Welcome to week 2 of our 8-week trip through America, starting in Atlanta and ending in Dallas in November. I want to write this weekly blog to keep people up to date on what we've been up to and share some thoughts and reflections on America. Happy reading y'all!


 

Day 8 - Tuesday 19th September - Leesburg to Opelika


As you may remember, week 1 ended with us buying a bottle of whiskey from the local liquor store. So you can imagine how week 2 began. We woke in Leesburg, Alabama feeling a little groggy and knowing we had a long day ahead of us. Bleary-eyed, we jumped in our Chevrolet (now affectionately named "Mathias") and made our way to our first stop of the day – Gadsden, Alabama.


Ralf insisted on visiting this little town to record a podcast episode about lynchings. I went for a coffee instead. Gadsden is actually quite a nice town with an old-fashioned main street, and they play music from speakers on the street to keep people...happy? I met some locals in the cafe, including the doctor and the judge. There can't be too much happening in this town if they both have nothing to do on a Tuesday morning. Ralf and I re-convened an hour or so later to experience an American classic – Waffle House. Not great coffee and not great food, but somehow a great experience nonetheless.


Highly caffeinated thanks to the unlimited refills, we made the way to stop no. 2 of the day – Alabama's state capital Montgomery. This is where MLK was a preacher and the bus protests began, inspired by Rosa Parks. I did not think we would see and learn so much about the civil rights movement on this trip but I must say it has been eye-opening.


Our first port of call was a museum we had been excited about for days – the Hank Williams museum. He is widely considered to be one of the greats of country music and this little museum was full of his stuff, including the actual car he died in at the age of 29 in 1953 (he died of heart failure as he was sleeping on the back seat).


I bought a sticker.


After hearing the same songs on repeat for an hour, we jumped in the car and did a whistle-stop tour of the main sights – the church that MLK preached in, the state capitol and the first White House of the Confederacy (which is mind-bogglingly still subsidised by Alabama tax payers to the tune of $100,000 a year!).


All this driving around was making me hungry so we decided to try a Montgomery classic – Chris' Hot Dogs, est. 1917. Apparently these are so popular that past customers include 4 presidents, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams and MLK. They were pretty good hot dogs.



Back in the car for one last time – to the totally random town of Opelika, simply because it was half way between Montgomery and Atlanta and had a cheap AirBnB. Not much to say about Opelika other than it has a few breweries and a railroad running through it. But it has one VERY big selling point – it is next to another branch of our new favourite place in the world – Buc-ees! (see week 1). I am now convinced all roads lead to Buc-ees. Ralf bought a hoodie.


I bought a sticker.


Little did we know that the next day would be the strangest of our trip so far ...

 

Day 9 - Wednesday 20th September - Atlanta to Nashville


After 9 days on the road, we were starting to run out of clothes. Underwear had already been turned inside-out once, so we were reaching critical mass. That made our first stop of the day the laundromat in Atlanta, where I threw Ralf and a steaming pile of clothes out before dropping the rental car back and returning to the surprisingly modern laundromat (including free wifi!).




With our clothes washed and slightly less steaming, we waited 30 mins for the local bus that would take us into town and a coffee place near the bus station. We hung there for a while until the local brewery opened at 15:00, because there was no way we were doing this bus ride sober. The brewery was nice with a friendly bar-tender who casually mentioned that Milwaukee is: "A good place for beer".


So naturally we pulled out our map and decided, semi-drunk, that Milwaukee had to be added to our itinerary. No 2 ways about it.


To be clear, this is a detour of 1,134 miles (or 1,825 km). Oh well.


Excited by our latest ridiculous decision, we made our way to the Greyhound bus station full of giddy anticipation. I insisted on buying a sandwich "just in case" and future Dan would be very grateful of this decision, despite it being possibly the worst sandwich I have ever had. Despite being vacuum sealed, it managed to be soggy. We'll ask no questions.


We had heard strange tales of the Greyhound bus, but nothing could have prepared us for what was to come. The Great Greyhound Odyssey was about to begin.


Everything started well. The bus left basically on time at 17:05 from Atlanta. Sure, we were sat next to the toilet and the door would not close, but we could survive that for 4 hours or so, right? Ralf got out the whiskey bottle and we settled in for a nice relaxing drive.


And then came Atlanta traffic in rush hour. Nothing moved for what felt like an eternity. People started to grumble. People also started to make friends. These new friendships quickly turned very weird.


2 women started talking to a man across the aisle. The man claimed to be some kind of tattoo artist. 10 minutes later, he was sat next to one of the women with a portable tattoo pen in his hand and started TATTOOING HER NECK. IN THE BUS.


Yeah, that's him shirtless working in the dark on her tattoo on the bus. The second woman seemed to be impressed by his work, so she demanded her own tattoo. He was clearly in the mood to get back the money he paid for his bus fare, so he agreed. Quite an entrepreneur – he put the "bus" in "business"! (sorry)


Our first (and only) planned stop between Atlanta and Nashville was Chattanooga (which we visited in week 1). However, just outside Chattanooga, disaster struck. A crash closed the entire interstate and, once again, we were stuck in a massive traffic jam. This one would take 2 hours. Thank god for that soggy sandwich. When we finally got moving again, the bus simply ignored Chattanooga and drove onwards towards Nashville. I really hope nobody needed to get off there.


We managed a short stop at a service station along the way, with just enough time to order a stressful McDonalds. Back on the road again, we thought nothing could stop us. Then, with no warning or communication, the bus randomly pulled over onto the hard shoulder of the interstate highway in the middle of nowhere. Trucks and cars were flying past us. Had the bus driver left? Given up? There was talk of a mutiny, with one gentleman boldly declaring that he could drive the bus.


After 10 minutes, the bus driver shouted (there was no public address system) that he had just been on the phone because of "navigational problems". This confused us, as there is literally only 1 road he could have taken (we are on a goddamn highway!). He requested that someone use google maps to let him know when we were 10 minutes out of Nashville. The passengers were now basically in charge of the bus.


Finally, after about 8.5 hours in the bus, we pulled into Nashville a solid 4 hours after we were meant to. Our transatlantic flight took about the same time. We ordered our Uber (a huge pick-up truck) and went straight to our accommodation to meet Olli, an ex-flatmate of Ralf's, who had come down from Cincinnati to join us for a fun time in Nashville. Luckily he had a few beers in the fridge for us to numb the trauma, and I fell gratefully into my bed, unsure if the last 9 hours had been a fever dream.


 

Day 10 - Thursday 21 September - Nashville


I awoke in Nashville excited to finally experience music city. We were staying in what is normally some kind of university dormitory and decided to stroll through the grounds of Vanderbilt University. This led us towards a large park with the world's only life-size replica of the Parthenon from Greece. Apparently Nashville's nickname is "the Athens of the South" due to its focus on higher education, so that's why they did that. However, they'll have to share that claim with quite some other cities. Just put in "Athens" in Google Maps and see for yourself.


Next stop was Carter Vintage Guitars, a world famous guitar shop with lots of very expensive guitars. Olli was swept up by our enthusiasm and took a few pictures of our happy faces. We also managed to play one of our country bangers on 2 guitars with a combined value of about $25,000. Look at our happy faces.


I bought a sticker.



All that smiling got us hungry, so we grabbed an outstanding pulled pork sandwich from the Peg Leg Porker. I bought a sticker.


We found ourselves near the famous street art "wings" of Nashville and I decided to take the most "influencer-like" photo I possibly could. I think it turned out pretty well.


Now we were ready for the big time. The famous honky-tonks of downtown Nashville. Whenever something is so hyped, I am always sceptical and ready for an over-crowded, expensive and generally unpleasant experience. Luckily, this time it really did live up to the hype.


We had an amazing time in the various honky tonks, including Legends Corner, Robert's Western World and Whiskey Row. Yes, it was expensive. Yes, sometimes it was crowded. And yes, it was amazing. The bands were all excellent in their own way, and we stayed for hours having the best time. We went home with our hearts and wallets considerably lighter. Look at our happy faces.



 

Day 11 - Friday 22nd September - Nashville to Scottsville, Kentucky


Tired and a little hungover, we only had one thing to do today – get our next hire car. Simple, right? Not in America.


I showed up at the branch of Hertz a few hours before our scheduled reservation time, hoping to get our car a little earlier. I was greeted by the friendly but clearly stressed manager of the branch, and our conversation went a little like this:


"Hi, I have a reservation for 13:30 – I know I am a little early, is there any chance our car is already ready?"


"We have no cars right now"


"Ok – but you will do, right?"


"Probably, come back at 13:30".


A little nervous, I walked 20 minutes to the nearest cafe to wait the few hours until 13:30. I trudged back to the office at the appointed time for round 2:


"Hi – me again. How's our car looking?"


"We have no cars right now"


"Ok – but you will do, right?"


"Well – it depends if people bring their cars back – you never know!"


"So there is a risk that I might not get a car at all?"


"Oh yeah, totally. Come back around 3"


So back down the strip mall I went, stopping to get a drink at Burger King. Time for round 3:


"Any news? Any cars? Anything?"


"We have no cars right now"


"Are there any cars coming in?"


"Probably"


I decided to wait it out this time. The branch was closing at 17:00, and there was no way I was leaving without a vehicle, even if it was a box truck. Over the course of the next 2 hours, at least 10 people came in with reservations and were told the same thing. I started feeling sorry for the poor manager, it clearly wasn't his fault that the booking system is so bad. Apparently he had 40 reservations for 8 cars. Not sure why, but that particular Friday was a nightmare for car rentals. All cars at all providers were taken, including at the airport. I started making contingency plans and thinking about which honky tonk to visit that evening.


And then – lo-and-behold! A car! A real-life rental car! I jumped in celebration, warmly embraced the returning driver and was told the car was all mine after it was cleaned. I picked up Ralf from the cafe he had been holed up in over the last 6 hours and we headed into our next state – Kentucky!

 

Day 12 - Saturday 23 September - Scottsville to Barea


We awoke surprisingly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after our first night in a motel. Maybe that was because we each had our own queen-sized beds for the first time. We grabbed a quick breakfast from the local diner and decided to check out the local Amish supermarket. Kentucky has an Amish population of around 8,000 and we were curious to drive through the beautiful country lanes and see who we encountered along the way.


It wasn't long before we were driving behind a horse and carriage, and we were struck by how friendly everybody was. Without exception, we were greeted warmly by road users and pedestrians alike, and before long, we were warmly waving back. The supermarket was busy and full of the smell of delicious baked goods, something the Amish are famous for. We grabbed a delicious rhubarb fruit pie, and a sticker.



We continued down gorgeous country roads towards the first town on our UK tour – Glasgow. Yes, you read that right. Kentucky is full of places named after British towns or counties. Glasgow is a quaint town with an accent to rival that of the original Glasgow. There was a small market in the main square and we helped ourselves to a coffee before travelling onwards to the next place on our UK tour.


Somerset was our next destination, named after the English county next to where I grew up. There was some kind of car event that day, so the whole town centre was shut off. We walked around the cars a little bit, but neither of us really care about that stuff. That led us to an early beer in a great little brewery on the main square, and I took great pleasure in informing the waitress that I was from the county next to the original Somerset. She had no idea what I was on about.


I got a sticker.


The waitress also worked in a local restaurant that she recommended, so we made our way there for burgers. They were some of the best burgers we have ever had. They also had a shuffleboard table that we could use for free, so we thought we'd give it a try. It is a very simple game where you slide pucks down a table covered in some kind of sawdust. You can see how Ralf did under intense pressure in this video:


He has now been recruited to the Kentucky State Shuffleboard Team.


Our final stop of the day was Berea, the "arts and crafts capital of America". Ralf and I are super into arts and crafts, so we couldn't miss this one! Our motel was a little weirder than the last one but was still good enough for us, and had separate beds once again – pure luxury.


A quick google of "what to do in Berea on Saturday night" led me to discover a free music night held in a local car park. Yes, you read that right. A further google showed me that this car park was a 5 minute walk (!) from our motel. We could scarcely believe that we could walk anywhere in America. Ralf decided to go for a quick run and I went ahead to the music car park.


What can I say – the music was outstanding. It was a 3-piece band with a bassist, guitarist (and singer) and mandolin player. They played classic country tunes and a bit of bluegrass, with some Hendrix thrown in for good measure. Ralf joined from his run looking a little pale after having been "chased by dogs for 3 miles". We enjoyed some of the small town tales told by the band, including that the bassist was the sound engineer of the venue where the lead singer had his first concert at 20, and the mandolin player used to play regularly with Johnny Cash (!). Just a reminder – we were watching them for free in a car park. Inspired, we sat outside our motel in the evening and played a few tunes to the sounds of cars driving by. What a day.



 

Day 13 - Sunday 24 September - Berea to Lexington


We managed to oversleep, which ruined our plan to go for a run, so instead we decided to take a hike up the local mountain to the Indian fort. No bears or rattlesnakes again, unfortunately, but we did encounter that rare breed of American hiker who takes his remote controlled pickup truck up the mountain with him.





Refreshed after the gorgeous views, we took the short trip to – you guessed it – BUC-EES! The last one for a while unfortunately, and far busier than the other ones we visited. But with one huge advantage – we met Buc-ee! The Buc-ee! We assumed he was the CEO and had a short discussion about opening a Buc-eees in Vienna. We will keep you posted on that one.


I bought a sticker.


Re-fuelled, we made our way through the beautiful backroads of Kentucky to what was bound to be a highlight of the week, if not the whole trip. Before too long, we reached the one the only, DANVILLE, Kentucky. That's right. A whole town named after me. You can imagine my delight.


Turns out, Danville is very cool (obviously). It has a historical centre with old wooden houses in Constitution Square, so-called because the first constitution of Kentucky was signed here. Who would have thought? It was also the first capital of Kentucky. Not bad. But wait! It gets better. The local school is named BATE MIDDLE SCHOOL. What are the chances that Danville would contain a school named after our country band?! (For those of you who haven't made it to our instagram page yet, check it out @brothers_bait).


Here are some pictures of me in Danville.



I needed to calm down after all the excitement of Danville. Next stop was Lexington, our final resting place (of the day). I had never really heard of the city before, but it has the same population as Cincinnati, which surprised us both. Fortunately, it also has a distillery district. We assumed this would be a few streets with a couple of distilleries, but it turned out to be a whole area with a bunch of distilleries and breweries, all next to each other and housed in an industrial complex. We enjoyed a couple of beers and a slice of Goodfellas pizza. We rode our luck and managed to avoid the rattlesnakes for the second time today.


Our day ended, as it so often does, in our AirBnB. This one was particularly ... unique. A nice room and a friendly owner, who seemed to be quite into his watches (see picture of digital watch microscope) and Faerie law, as his place had a sign designating it as "accorded neutral territory", meaning that Ralf and I could unfortunately not get up to our usual shenanigans. Goddam Faerie law.



And with that, our second week was up. Up next week – Cincinnati, Chicago and Milwaukee. What could go wrong?


Until next week, have a good one y'all!

 





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