Welcome to week 6 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 34 - Sunday 15th October - Thomasville to Hartselle
As a small reminder, Ralf and I left you last week celebrating our anniversary together in a hot-tub in Thomasville with some rather excellent beer. Today, however, was not a day for relaxing. Today was a day for one thing and one thing only – driving.
First on our list was a place we had hunted for far and wide. We had done Danville (twice), we had just been to Thomasville, and Ralf was getting increasingly jealous. This is why we decided to make the long and arduous pilgrimage to the one, the only – Ralph, Alabama!
Here are some fun facts about Ralph, Alabama for you:
Legal status: Unincorporated community
Population: 1,926 (honestly, no idea where they were all hiding)
Probably named after: the first postman's son, Ralph
Only notable resident: Larry Gene Bell, murderer and serial killer.
What a place.
Luckily, we weren't expecting much and we were not disappointed. We did, however, find the post office and a sign, and a closed shop. Look at Ralf's happy face!
Today was also the day we had planned to catch up with the other members of our band, ERNST (check us out if you haven't yet, we are great). Long-time readers will know that one of our daily challenges is the hunt for reliable wifi, and our safe haven is always Starbucks: keeping us caffeinated and connected.
We made it into the city of Tuscaloosa, a small university city, and managed to do the impossible: find the one Starbucks in the entire world which didn't have wifi (and where all the students seemed to be dressed in pyjamas). Luckily, we are in America, so a Starbucks is constitutionally guaranteed to be no further than 5 miles from you. We were in luck with our second Starbucks and sat down with strong wifi and strong coffee for a chat with the band.
On we drove, and I was once again woken up from a half slumber by a shriek from Ralf. According to his calculations, it would be a mere 30 minute detour to take us to another branch of Buc-ees! We hadn't seen one in weeks and I was starting to get brisket sandwich withdrawal, so after a little deliberation, we changed course straight for Buc-ees.
I bought a sticker.
Our resting place for the night was in the small town of Hartselle, Alabama. We found an excellent value AirBnB there and our good luck streak with accommodation continued. Sharon and Alice were wonderful hosts, regaling us with tales from the police force, feeding us our first MoonPie (a southern classic, an incredibly sweet mix of biscuit, marshmallow and chocolate) and also our first home-grown muscadines.
We hit the hay early that night, dreaming of what we knew would come the next day - the bright lights of Nashville, once again.
Day 35 - Monday 16th October - Hartselle to Nashville
As another short reminder, we left Nashville the first time on 22nd September after I fought off 20 other customers in the brutal "Hertz Hunger Games" to get our hire car. Now it was time to return and enjoy another couple of nights before flying on to Dallas.
It was clear we were returning to our spiritual home when we saw more billboards ahead for yet another Buc-ees. We had been eyeing the breakfast burritos for a while but never quite made it in time. Not today! We sprinted to the counter and grabbed all the breakfast burritos we could before they were replaced by the lunch menu. Life goal complete!
When we reached Nashville, we were tempted to head straight to downtown and continue where we left off 4 weeks ago, but the ever-increasing amount of flies buzzing around us was a sure sign that laundry day was nigh. Luckily we found a laundromat with a bar next door.
We had just ordered our beers when a very special person walked through the door. Somebody who can do the splits on demand. Somebody who can dislocate her jaw on demand. Somebody we met all those weeks ago in Cincinnati, who was partially responsible for the worst hangover of my trip (so far) and who promised to join us in Nashville to experience her first time on Broadway. This, ladies and gentleman, was the return of Nicole!
First order of business was visiting a bar recommended by Thomas (of Thomasville fame): Hi-Fi Clydes. It was a cool place, off the beaten track and it was happy hour.
I bought a sticker.
One regret I had from my first trip to Nashville was not trying the world famous Hattie B's hot chicken. Ralf doesn't eat chicken and I didn't fancy the 1 hour queue by myself. Luckily this time round, I had a willing chicken accomplice in Nicole. We endured the queue and my word it was worth it. It really was the best chicken I have ever had in my life.
The rest of the night unfolded how you would expect: going from honky tonk to honky tonk, and enjoying the excellent music (I heard a lot of Fleetwood Mac which made me very happy). Highlights included: Nicole doing the splits at the end of a guitar solo to raucous cheers from the crowd; and meeting a man with possibly the best t-shirt ever.
To start a tab in America, and particularly when you are untrustworthy Europeans, you often have to leave your credit card behind the bar. When you are particularly drunk, that is exactly where your card stays, even when you're long gone. As we were stumbling along Broadway, I remembered I left my card in the last honky tonk we were in and ran back. This turned out to be an unusual stroke of luck.
On my way back, I was waiting patiently at a crossing when a very drunk man stumbled into the road, clearly giving no fucks about any potential deadly traffic. This was Chris. His good friend held him back after I shouted to watch out. This was Brandon. Evidently happy that we had just saved his life, Chris wanted to thank me in the only way he knew how: drinks. I got chatting to Brandon and it turned out that the 2 of them were in town for a USA football ("soccer") match with Ghana at the brand new Nashville stadium. They were impressed that I was an AFC Bournemouth fan as we had just signed the captain of the USA national team.
Brandon then told me that they had a spare ticket for the game tomorrow and asked if I would like to join. They are part of the supporters club and I could also join them for the tailgate and march to the stadium. I have been promised many things by drunk people, but this was up there with the best. I got Brandon's email address and we promised to communicate the next day to set it up.
In all honesty, I did not have high hopes that this would actually happen ...
Day 36 - Tuesday 17th October - Nashville
I awoke feeling bleary-eyed but basically ok. Nothing a good coffee wouldn't sort out. I checked my emails to ensure that last night hadn't been a strange dream. And lo-and-behold: Brandon had already emailed me confirming the plan and asking what time I would be free to meet up!
I had a little time to kill before meeting Chris and Brandon so we decided to visit the state capitol and take a free tour. If you're ever in Nashville, which you should be, I recommend visiting. The building is beautiful and it was particularly cool to see the house of representatives. They didn't have stickers though.
Nicole kindly dropped me off to meet Chris and Brandon at Kid Rock's honky tonk, and I was greeted with warm embraces and a beer. I was pretty sure Chris had no memory of who I was, but luckily Brandon did. I was excited to experience my first tailgate, and we jumped in an Uber to head to the stadium car-park.
American tailgates are quite something. For those of you who don't know what they are, it is basically a bunch of people cooking on the back of their pick-up trucks and drinking. It is a lot of fun, and everyone was very generous with their food and booze. Before long, we began the "march" to the stadium so I had some time to learn the chants. Luckily, they are identical to English ones, just a little worse. My personal favourite: "When the Yanks go marching in".
The stadium itself is brand new and only for football, which is not very common in America. It was excellent, and we enjoyed a few craft beers and a slice of pizza before heading to our section, which was amongst the supporters club and standing only (something English stadiums could learn from). We were right behind the goal the USA were attacking and, within the blink of an eye, they were winning 4-0.
The second half was much worse and we decided to leave a little early to beat the traffic and to head back to Broadway to celebrate the victory.
Day 37 - Wednesday 18th October - Nashville to Fort Worth
Today we had one job and one job only - make our flight to Dallas, ideally with all of our luggage. After yet another night of honky-tonkying, this was not guaranteed.
By some miracle, everything went extremely smoothly. I was nervous about my guitar getting on the plane, but the people of Nashville are clearly used to guitars travelling through and I was able to take it with me all the way to the plane before "gate checking" it.
By coincidence, my neighbour on the flight was Chloe who was working at the festival we were headed to, so we promised to say hello the next day.
Once we arrived in Dallas, I was prepared for another car battle. I had heard horror stories, and once we arrived in the car rental hall, my worst fears were confirmed. All the rental car companies had lines that looked like at least 2 hours. I told Ralf to settle in, and maybe download a film or two whilst I went looking for our rental company and get in line.
I followed the signs for Fox rentals and passed many miserable people along the way. I turned a corner and, to my absolute astonishment, I saw Fox with only one person in the queue. I appreciate that this is not necessarily a good sign for a company but I did not care one bit.
My rental process was extremely smooth and I was presented with a huge, brand new Hyundai Santa Fe. Well done Fox!
Our car was so big that Ralf and I made one of our famous spontaneous decision. We were headed to Gordy's Highway 30 Texas music festival the next day and our original plan was to get a tent and sleeping bags from Walmart to camp for 4 nights. But now our car seemed like a drivable motel. If we put the back seats all the way down, could we sleep in it?
The answer was: maybe! This was enough for us to head to Walmart and get a cheap foam mattress topper, 2 pillows, 2 sleeping bags and lots of water. We were ready for the festival!
We stayed in La Quinta Fort Worth, which was another day in our streak of excellent accommodation, and I slept gratefully in a real bed for the last time this week.
Day 38 - Day 41 - Thursday 19th October - Sunday 22nd October
So, after nearly 40 days of writing this blog, I imagine you are sick and tired of me and my "sense of humour". And so, for your reading and viewing pleasure, I am happily handing over the writing reins to Ralf for this section of the blog this week. I apologize in advance. This, ladies and gentlemen, is:
Ralf's Festival Review
Now: "Gordy's HWY 30" – I'm sure these three words conjure up the same images in your head as they did in mine, when I first heard them. None whatsoever.
Look, I ain't gonna lie to you: This might just be the worst name ever given to a music festival. It is actually kinda surprising I even found it when googling "Country Music Festival Texas" a couple months ago. But somehow ... here we are. Let's just hope the event does more than live up to its name.
We had high hopes though! And those were mostly based on the location of the festival: The Texas Motor Speedway – a NASCAR track! You know: That's that weird little brother of Formula 1 where they drive shitty looking cars, with the goal to wreck them in the first round. I think. I did not actually look up the rules of these races.
So naturally it was full of excitement that we turned onto the campsite right in front of the speedway on Thursday morning. And I don't know if you've ever been to a music festival, but in Europe, these things are huge! An endless sea of tents with 17 year olds chugging beers through beer bongs at 8:30 AM. Or as I like to call it: Civilization.
Here in Texas it was more like 15 pickup trucks scattered around a small field. The guys owning the trucks looked pretty grim too but that first impression luckily turned out to be very wrong! Not even 20 minutes after parking and sitting down in our camping chairs, the first one of them came over to say hi and we quickly found ourselves surrounded by new friends who would stick with us for the remainder of the weekend.
They all seemed to have one thing in common. They were in the army. Dan and I on the other hand have never even held a hand gun. But that didn't seem to matter much. They were all real friendly, offered us cold beer from their coolers and before you know it, we progressed to hard liquor. I will not bore you with the details of that night – mostly because I don't remember.
Back to the boys though: They turned out to fit right into this festival! As it quickly turned out when first heading to the stage, the organizer Gordy is a veteran too. At some point he even went out of his way to let people know:
We have people taking bullets and some of you here are pushing and fighting, while enjoying the freedom to listen to music. I call bullshit.
People here actually seem to believe the world will end tomorrow if the US does not have troops on the ground somewhere half way around the world. Or at the very least Americans won't be able to sleep in peace or listen to music. Given all that, it is not too surprising that the army is actually a sponsor of the festival and some soldiers are being sworn in on stage (I guess).
But I guess that brings us to the big p-word. Politics.
Now y'all know Dan and me. We are as big city liberal scum as can be. And at this festival we were thrown deep into conservative small town America.
Just to give you an idea of the many things we learned. There is a meme going around the conservative sphere called "Let's go Brandon". We had it all explained to us by one of the campsite guys who was wearing that very thing on his hat.
A couple of years ago there was a NASCAR race somewhere and the crowd started shouting "Fuck Joe Biden". However, a reporter told the audience what they were actually saying was "Let's go Brandon", the name of the guy who won the race that day. This became a HUGE thing ostensively revealing the fake, left-leaning media of this country. After learning about it, we saw this thing on t-shirts and caps all over the place. On the final day, the crowd was even shouting it at the festival.
As you can maybe imagine, we also had our fair share of interesting conversations regarding migration, the border, the confederate flag and the civil war. But that would really be beyond the scope of this ... what did Dan call it again? Festival review?
Shit ... Was I supposed to tell you guys something about the music? It was pretty alright actually.
Thanks for reading y'all.
Let's go Brandon!