It’s hard to believe that a whole month has passed since I set out on a trip across the American south. I visited 11 states and traveled over 2,500 miles by land in just over a week. I realized that traveling in the United States is much more expensive than in Eastern Europe – but relatively expensive diner lunches and gas prices aside, the trip was spectacular.
It was necessary to take a few days in Birmingham to get ready for the trip; we popped into thrift stores and went hiking around a nature center in the city. Rebecca, her brother, and her dad explained to me all that I needed to know about the city from the car as we drove around to various spots in Birmingham – I’ve added a few books to my “To Read List” about the Civil Rights Movement
Tampa was HOT; we drank beer, watched silly TV shows, made burgers on a tiny grill, stayed up late talking about the weirdness of time passing. Rebecca and I left Tampa as the sun rose at 6.30am; we had to linger outside a fast-food restaurant until it opened at 8. Chicken and hashbrowns sustained us, along with David Sedaris’s short stories and listening to songs with the windows rolled all the way down (the burst of air kept Rebecca awake).
The views in Florida’s pan handle were fairly monotonous; we were excited to jump through Pensacola and Mobile in a fairly short period of time. Driving across a giant bridge into New Orleans, we screeched with excitement – the homes were gorgeous and unlike anything I’d seen before in person. We ate begneits and drank famous coffee at Café du Monde, looked out at the mouth of the Mississippi River, and watched in awe at crowds of people with face tattoos, guzzling Hurricanes, and dancing provocatively in store doorways.
We drove through Mississippi to reach Memphis, which reminded me a lot of St. Paul (if St. Paul had barbeque). We walked through Rhodes College’s campus, hung off the Geodesic Dome (which is really a sphere) there, ate barbeque and gumbo cheese fries (barbeque and gumbo on separate days, though), drank cocktails at a Package Store, drove across the bridge to visit Arkansas, and visited Graceland. Graceland was a moment of culture shock for me – I’d never seen a monument to one person like that in the United States before, and while I learned a lot about Elvis that I anticipate I never would have discovered on my own, it was still a little bizarre to walk through his house and look at all of his clothes and records.
After another night in Memphis, we drove back to Birmingham, and it was time for me to fly back to Minnesota. I really enjoyed the trip through the South and the conversations with friends (new and old) each night. I learned a lot about this region of my country, realized how much I like barbeque, developed a taste for Elvis songs, and got to spend more time with two of my dearest friends.
It is strange to travel this way, a way I’ve become accustomed to elsewhere in the world, in the U.S. I would not even blink an eye at having to wait for 8 hours for a connecting bus in a foreign city; and yet, while waiting in Atlanta, I was told to just hole up and wait it out, to be extra careful, to stay safe. I’m also continually trying to understand my wanderlust and understand why I don’t feel that driving sense of exploration to discover American cities. A mixed group of Americans and Russians were sitting around a table waiting for dinner to come when this topic came up – the Americans were stunned at one Russian counselor’s travel itinerary for the U.S. and couldn’t understand why some cities and states made the list at all. The Russian couldn’t understand the Americans’ obsession with random cities in his country. Where’s the drive to see my own country, why am I so ready to travel in a foreign place?