Road Trippn’ in the USA: Myrtle Beach, Nashville, New Orleans & Austin

Our family road trips to the south hold deep nostalgic roots.

A convoy of minivans would depart from the Hammer at 4:00 AM leaving behind cold steel city smoke stacks for sandy beaches, category 10 mullets, fuchsia speedos, tacky boogie boards and salty waves…otherwise known as Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

The drive was long — about 16 hours if Dad drove straight with a brick foot. I would pop enough Gravol to tranquilize an adult water buffalo and still feel nauseous. When my head wasn’t buried in a plastic bag, I was usually getting punched by my brothers for hogging the communal Sony Walkman.

Our 3 travelling families would communicate on the road with walkie-talkies, coordinating pee breaks, gas refills or if we’d found a static free radio station playing Bob Seger’s Night Moves. 

We’d usually stretch our legs for lunch at a rest stop somewhere in the lush green hills of West Virginia.

Like any vacation, the journey there was the best part and the trip home was lacklustre. By that point our Dodge Caravan looked like a crime scene and smelled the way I’d imagine Gary Busey’s breath smells. 

But we’d always power through, we were road dogs. 

Which is why at this time last year, I wrangled up my best girlfriends for a southern road trip to the USA. Advocates of big hair, folk music and fringed denim, we wanted to go where the accents were thicker, moonshine was stronger and our inner Dolly Parton’s could honky tonk without judgement.

So, in mid-February, 5 of the palest Canadian little biddies hit the road for an epic trip to Nashville, New Orleans and Austin.

First stop: Nashville, Tennessee.  

Ok, so we cheated and flew to Nashville…there was an Air Canada seat sale. But the new plan was to rent an SUV in Nashville, drive to New Orleans (NOLA), finish in Austin and fly back to Toronto — spending two nights in each city. Sounds ambitious, eh? Again, trained road dogs.

We were greeted at our Airbnb by two hipster sisters. Picture someone making homemade candles while listening to James Taylor and sipping herbal tea. They had that vibe.  And their house was basically the Biodome. There were live reptiles, excessive jungle plants and a collection of insects preserved in resin.

But it was located in the trendiest part of the city, East Nashville.  Before handing over the keys, they provided a detailed itinerary of must-see neighbourhood treasures. Without this, we would never have tasted Mas Tacos (convinced their freshly squeezed lime juice is made of Jesus’ tears) or visited Five Points’ eclectic shopping hub.

Our first night out at Acme involved a celeb sighting of the King’s of Leon’s drummer and his babe of a wife, I was super chill about it though (not at all).

Things started to get fuzzy when we stumbled on the motherload of all dive bars  — Santa’s Pub. A trailer converted into a karaoke time-warp.

We quickly identified the owner Santa, a jolly, beer-bellied, tobacco-yellow-bearded-fella who fed us unlimited cigarettes and whiskey. It was like Christmas morning at Sunnyvale Trailer Park…with 5 Mr. Laheys. Flashbacks of the patrons enduring our rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” is still a haunting nightmare.

We spent day 2 refuelling with coffee served in pasta bowls at Marche Artisan Foods, exploring downtown and picking up our rental Ford Explorer…girls, just imagine how many secrets are trapped in those leather seats, you know what I mean? (sorry, guys).

On our final night in Nashville, 4 biddies headed east for pub food and live music — the 5th had succumbed to her hangover and stayed back at our Airbnb with the snake.

After some fried chicken and pints, we met a band of southern gentleman at The Red Door Saloon. With messy unkept hair, plaid button downs and leather jackets, it was easy to mistaken them for hipsters — until the lead singer was quick to clarify, “we ain’t no hispters, we rednecks.”

Be still my hillbilly heart.

We chatted about their childhoods in the south and listened to their new demo until 4:00 AM…totally unfazed that we had a 6:00 AM wake-up call and 9 hour drive ahead of us…

Mardi Gras: New Orleans, Louisiana

Sadly, we had already reached the part of the trip where talking was just too much. Instead, we listened to the Serial podcast, tipped our hats to Nashville and buckled in for a long ride.

Several Gatorades and Happy Meals later, the temperature started to heat up and so did our energy. Windows down, Paul Simon was ceremoniously cued on the radio as we rolled into Graceland. We had just enough time to snap a group photo at Elivis’ gates and make it to Blues City Cafe on Baele Street for a quick rack of ribs.

IMG_4878

For the next 5 hours we made our way across Mississippi. We had watched the southern sun rise and set in that Ford Explorer, swapping driving duties and fighting over the very backseat — the coveted meditation and leg stretching room.

As we approached New Orleans something in the air changed.  Maybe it was the Louisiana Voodoo or the 10 hour drive, but the murky waters that surrounded us were conjuring up some heavy anxiety.

It became clear that we were far from home the instant we arrived. Our Airbnb was a shitshow and the host was sketch AF. Located in the Bywater, we were warned that there were dangerous pockets. Like walking on a landmine, one wrong step south could be fatal. It didn’t take too much convincing to hit the sheets and postpone exploring NOLA til the morning.

Mardi Gras was in full swing, which made brunch feel like a Tim Burton movie. We ordered scrambled eggs alongside evil jesters and colourfully beaded shape-shifters. And every part of us wanted to be them, immediately. We hit up the closest discount costume store, and left looking like a stone-cold pack of weirdos.

When we returned to the dump, we found our host guzzling our drinks and eating our food. He was prepping for the Boxed Wine Parade and we were invited. Our role was to walk beside a giant chicken float feeding spectators wine straight from the spout. I certainly had the prerequisites for this job, in fact, some might even say I’d been training my entire life.

But first, we had to haul this chicken float across the city to the parade downtown. And this chicken moved at turtle speed. Both fortunately and unfortunately we had an unlimited supply of wine at our fingertips. The unfortunate thing is that there weren’t many potties on the parade route.

There were two times I almost died in my life: one was a bad lane change on the 403, and the other was squatting behind a Mexican grocery store dumpster in downtown New Orleans while gang members watched me drop trou.

IMG_4891{Chicken Float, NOLA}

Post-parade after eating $300 worth of oysters, we settled back in at our crack house, trying to forget that a cockroach the size of Garfield was sleeping next to us.

The last leg: Austin, Texas

It rained the whole way to Austin, washing away New Orleans’ dark spell.

We were in the thick of things with Adnan in Serial, debating theories with no clear answers on who murdered Hae. It was a topic that was discussed several times throughout the trip, even in our sleep. Conveniently we finished the last episode just as we arrived in Austin.

Located on charming Sixth Street, our Airbnb was quaint and adorable. We quickly showered, unpacked, split a bottle of red and strolled down our new block. Rows of food trucks and string lights lined the streets, just how you’d imagine.

IMG_4950{Airbnb, Sixth Street, Austin}

We decided to grab some shareables and more wine at Easy Tiger. And then bar hopped in search of the best mechanical bull.  Later we found ourselves at an after-party with this wild crew from Dallas. They made us change into rainbow leggings. Things got weird.

We woke up with that Sunday bluesy feeling that you get nearing the end of a trip. And what better way to cure depression than stuffing your face with authentic guacamole at Joe’s Bakery & Mexican Restaurant?

FYI — delicious experience but be prepared to walk this meal off for years. And lesson learned, wear elastic waisted pants…I lost a good belt that day.

We sweated off the tacos while window shopping along SoCo District. It stands for South Congress, but also, it’s “So Cool.” This was confirmed when we casually walked past Johnny Knoxville, rocking his plaid shirt, tight jean floods and converse. He’s basically that Seinfeld lady who only owns one outfit.

{Famous love graffiti at Jo’s Coffee in SoCo}

After a quick nap it was time for our last supper.  Coincidently, we ended up on Rainey Street — a neighbourhood of rundown bungalows flipped into trendy cocktail lounges and restaurants.

We felt most invited by G’raj Mahal‘s large wooden back porch, infinitely filled with bright fluffy pillows and rustic decor. It even had the type of lighting that could make Steve Buscemi look like James Franco. And the food was on fire…literally.

Early the next morning we boarded the plane, marking the end of southern gypsy life. Sure, our livers were pretty beat up and we were a little softer in the middle, but we returned home with a rejuvenated mind and soul.

Like meditation, the road is a force urging you to look within. An opportunity to reflect back, observe the path ahead, while relishing in the beauty of the present. And there’s no better way to awaken the inner child than cranking Bob Seger on a sunny highway with your best friends.

Next road trip: Spain with two dudes and a convertible. Stay tuned…

IMG_0237{Mac & Finn, Legit Road Dogs}

One thought on “Road Trippn’ in the USA: Myrtle Beach, Nashville, New Orleans & Austin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s