The Final Stretch East
We made it! We completed the drive across the U.S. — from west to east! We had a few bumps along the way, but we are both alive and mostly unscathed.
In the final stretch we sped through five states in about eight days. I wouldn’t recommend doing it this fast, if you have a choice, but we had a deadline — a booked flight. Below are the highlights, which can be roughly grouped into three themes: food, museums, and sea. That’s a pretty good trio, if you ask me.
I feel the best adjectives to describe southern food would be: unusual, (often) unhealthy, and (mostly) tasty. Using roadfood.com, we found many authentic places serving local cuisine, and so we ended up eating corn bread, fried chicken, oysters, clam chowder, shrimp tacos and blackened fish. (Big thanks to Susan for the website suggestion!) We also experienced sides so sweet that really they should be dessert. ‘Pineapple and cheese’, anyone?
In Montgomery we had a great Mexican place within walking distance of our hotel. We shared a great quesadilla, whilst watching the Alabama vs. Clemson college football game, which was showing on TVs dotted all around the restaurant. Even the server was watching whenever he had a chance. Next time I’m in Alabama, I’ll have to go see a game.
Some southern food was unexpectedly nostalgic for me. We had fried chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy at an Alabama restaurant that reminded me of how KFC tasted in the 90s. Little Maria loved KFC. The corn bread in Louisiana reminded me of when I first tried corn bread at Swarthmore in 2005. Someone had to explain to me what it is — bread made from cornmeal.
We did manage to do some things aside from driving and eating. We visited several museums. Having been to New Orleans before, I was most interested in doing something outside of the French Quarter. The art museum (the NOMA) was a pleasant surprise, with a cool exhibit by Lina Iris Viktor. Her pieces are beautiful.
If you ever have the chance, I urge you to visit an art museum with someone who knows about art history. Your eyes will be opened to aspects of art you had not considered before. In New Orleans, my friend Susan was with me. She’s currently working on her art history PhD. I followed her around the museum and gained an increased respect for modern art. In short, I learned that historical context is key. It might look like random pieces of wood, but the meaning can be much deeper.
Next to the NOMA is a free sculpture garden that is well worth a visit. It featured many beautiful pieces, but please also enjoy the creepy pile of monkey and human limbs. It’s quite fascinating, when you think about how someone decided to make this…
Maybe we lost our lucky charm when we left Susan in New Orleans, to continue east by ourselves. In Mississippi a piece of metal on the highway flew up and hit Jack on the eye (i.e. his fog light), and so Jack had to retire at the regional airport in Mobile, Alabama. We were secretly hoping we would get an exciting car replacement — a convertible! Or a truck! In the end we got… drumroll… the exact same car. It’s just blue instead of black. And so, we continued east in Jack II, aka Blue Jack.
In Montgomery, Alabama, it turned out our museum of choice was closed on Tuesdays and we were of course there on a Tuesday. The museum at the National Archives, located across the street from the capitol building, was more than adequate as a second choice. It was also free. We learned about Alabama history, the Civil War, and civil rights in Alabama. Considering that slavery ended in 1865, it’s sobering to learn that the first black students at the University of Alabama weren’t admitted until 1963. By 1973, black students still only made up 5% of the student population.
In Savannah, Georgia, we went to a very different type of museum — all about prohibition. Andrejs had seen a documentary about the topic before, so he was a little less impressed, but I learned many new things about the effects of the ban on alcohol in the U.S., which lasted for 13 years, from 1920 to 1933. The KKK grew rapidly in the 1920s as a result of prohibition, with up to 5 million members focussed on hatred of all non-whites and non-Americans — including foreign German brewers who sold beer. US income tax was introduced because prohibition meant no more liquor taxes. And Walgreens grew rapidly in the prohibition era, hugely due to sales of ‘medicinal whiskey.’
Savannah also marked the literal completion of our coast-to-coast drive, as we reached the Atlantic Ocean. We enjoyed a nice walk on the beach and chased some seagulls. As we drove south to Florida, we stayed along the coast, choosing a hotel with a view of the beach in Daytona Beach. It felt like an off-season beach resort and it was on the chilly side outside, but the view of crashing waves was nice.
Our path through Florida also happened to cross with one of my high school friends, Erin, who happened to be visiting family in Orlando. We had dinner together — the first time we met in 10 years!
We planned about 40 days for our coast-to-coast drive, with a lot of detours. Still, some states felt rushed and we could easily have spent more time in most of them. I discovered many more states that I’d like to return to than states that I would not. For me our travels have emphasised that the U.S. is big, diverse, and has a lot to offer — to eat, to see, and to do.
Lastly, for my Russian readers:
Для моих русских читателей:
Во Флориде у нас не было много времени, потому что 12-го января нам надо было лететь в Пуэрто-Рико. Но у Андрея есть одноклассница, которая живёт в Форт Лодердейл во Флориде. Перед полётом мы навестили её. Мы поехали в японский ресторан. Мы должны ехать туда опять, потому что там можно есть суши бесконечно за 20 долларов, но в этот раз у нас был только час. К сожалению, когда Андрей с Настей говорят по-русски, я не очень хорошо понимаю, потому что они слишком быстро говорят. После обеда мы поехали в аэропорт, чтобы путешествовать дальше.