We were heading for the Deep South, and the only way for us to get there was by a long drive through several states. First, it was 10 hours into deep New Mexico where eventually we pulled over to sleep in the car just outside Albuquerque. There was no point us getting a motel as time was running low and we wanted to get going. Four uncomfortable hours of “sleep” at a truck stop, then we got going again.
“Welcome to Texas the Lone Star State” the sign said as once again we were staring down the barrel of another straight road with nothing to look at. We then proceeded to drive for 20 more hours … 20 hours!
We drove through Amarillo, Claude, Fort Worth and Dallas (we drove past Dealey Plaza where President Kennedy was shot), and eventually we made our way into the state of Louisiana.
After driving for a eight more hours through swamplands, bayous, and the towns of Port Allen and Baton Rouge, we finally reached our intended destination. New Orleans is the home of Cajun food, Creole people, voodoo traditions and the birthplace of jazz.
Diary entry: September 5th
"Finally we’re in New Orleans … at 3 a.m.! We drove past the Superdome where all the people had to seek refuge during Hurricane Katrina. We started driving around town looking for a motel, and there was none anywhere. Eventually we saw the London Lodge Motel. It sounded like an omen; it wasn’t!"
The less said about this motel the better. What I will say is that the cockroach that crawled up my leg when I was trying to sleep seemed to quite like it there, as well as the rest of his friends!
Once we’d laid our weary road-worn bodies down on stain-marked, wool-like linen for a few hours, it was time to go sample that Creole vibe. You can truly feel the energy of NOLA in the air; it’s almost electric. As we walked the curbs of the famous French Quarter, it seemed like we had gone back in time. The architecture is a mix of Haitian, British colonial, and French, almost like chateaus built on a budget. And if it weren’t for the modern signage and neon, we truly could have been back in the early 1800s. There’s an eeriness about the buildings. You can sense the debauchery in them and almost see the ladies of the night corsets and draped in trinkets hanging over the balcony. What’s most strange is to see water marks that have stained the buildings as a result of Hurricane Katrina. It brings you back to modern times quickly once you notice.
New Orleans was beautiful, music is everywhere. Drums thump down every street, pulsing and setting the tempo for your body. Everyone was hustling like businessmen. We educated ourselves about history and culture at the Louisiana State Museum. There was a rather poignant moment when we walked into the room of one of the exhibits, and right in front of us was an auction block. People kidnapped from their world and taken to the new to be offered as slaves to whoever bid the most money. They were paraded atop this 6-foot wooden platform then destined to a life of servitude to "masters." It's sad to think how many people stood there and had to face that kind of inhumanity.
Once again, low on time, we had to head for that lonely road again. We had a taste of Gumbo, easily one of the best meals. Darrell being the sophisticated palate of the pair agreed, too; we smiled satisfied and rolled on out of town.
Diary entry: September 7th
"We’re in Memphis! Only a 6-hour drive from NOLA, which was easy compared with the 40-hour journey from Vegas! We checked into a Super 8 motel downtown, chilled for a few hours then headed to Beale Street. It’s basically the blues capital of the world. B.B. King’s Blues Club is on the corner, down the road is Jerry Lee Lewis’ bar. Watched a blues band playing in B.B.’s after getting classic southern BBQ food. Got a phone call from Dina, who says she is in Nashville three hours away and is coming to see us! Ha! Brilliant! Three hours later she strolls in, “It’s me Dina” she says. Ha ha. Missed this one, good to see her again."
Great to have our third member back with us for adventures and laughs. Together we drove into town and got to visit Graceland; my granddad would have been proud and jealous! I was raised with Elvis ringing in the background, so it was great to see his home. The decor looked like it had been chosen by Liberace! We went on his plane “Lisa Marie”, we saw the pink Cadillac, the jumpsuits, and everything in between.
Then, I suddenly remembered that Memphis was where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. It happened at the Lorraine Motel, which wasn’t far from Beale Street. Being one of my heroes, I had to go pay homage. The whole building had been beautifully converted into the Civil Rights Museum, which traced the whole history of the struggle. The room that Dr. King was staying in, and the balcony on which he was shot, was all untouched from that very day back in April 1968. The whole museum is a great testament to all those people who fought against injustice and inequality.
We went for a quick beer afterward back on Beale Street, where an amazing blues band were playing. The guitarist saw Darrell and I, assumed we were in a band together, and asked if we wanted to play. We politely declined. Then he came down into the crowd and asked me again. How could I say "no" now after being asked a second time to jam with some genuine blues cats?! I did it, a bit rusty at first, but I got into the swing of it soon enough. It was pretty cool to be playing the blues on the same turf as greats like Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf.
Dina had to head back to Knoxville as she was using her dad’s car (she was supposed to drive it back home from Nashville when she decided to come see us), so she hit the road. We followed not long after. We were Nashville bound — home of country music.
Dina got tired of driving by the time she got to Nashville, so instead of going on to Knoxville, she waited for us! It was late, so we checked into another motel and crashed.
Dal and I had been looking forward to visiting Nashville, both being big fans of Jack White, and we wanted to make a point of visiting his famous (to those in the know) Third Man Records. A colour-schemed, record-selling, photo-boothing, vinyl pressing paradise! We only had 1 full day to see Nashville as we had planned to visit Dina’s hometown of Knoxville for a decent amount of days, so we made the most of it…
Diary entry: September 9th
"Nashville is awesome! We head down to Third Man Records, and it's perfect. Good music playing, beautiful rock 'n' roll girl behind the counter spinning the records, all colour-coded in black and yellow. Founder Jack White done well! The old “voice-o-graph” vinyl recording machine is here, too, and working! Neil Young recorded his whole album in this tiny box. I decided to go for it. I got in the booth and record one of my own songs “Even the Devil Won't Wanna Buy my Soul.” Gotta be a blues song if I’m in the South, right? We then drove to the Johnny Cash museum. Great to see all his stuff like guitars, lyrics etc., but it's hard to follow Graceland, though. We went for a few beers afterward and met an MMA cage fighter who liked our accents. Nice guy. Then, we met a guy who met Jim Morrison! He told us a couple funny stories then we headed on our way again."
There was an actual soundtrack to this town, it was sung by everyone on pretty much every night out. A traditional bluegrass song called “Rocky Top,” sung by the Osborne Brothers. It’s a Tennessee university anthem for its football team.
Effectively, this was a homecoming for us. Knoxville is Dina’s hometown. She had told us countless stories and shown us infinite videos of all her antics alongside her rather lovely friends. She had been talking about this moment since we were back in LA, so we’d been looking forward to this for weeks. We decided we were going to spend five days in Knoxville; we had a lot of people we were due to meet, so we wanted to make sure we didn’t have to rush anything. We decided to get another Airbnb apartment, and the one we got was nice. It even had a pool! The owner left us a note saying, “Welcome to our home! We’re really happy you chose our place to stay. Please help yourselves to coffee … as well as that, we’ve left you some cream cheese, some bagels, a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne, and 2 ripe tomatoes from our garden!” So strange to read that but hilarious at the same time. Lovely hosts!
So on our first day, we went to the Old City, which had an English pub — the Crown and Goose. Instead of getting a pint, we opted for some tea. How delightfully English of us. Darrell had been looking for a proper cup of tea since the first day we landed; he was so happy after that first sip. If ever there was a life content, it was in that moment written all over his face. We checked out a massive vintage shop called Nostalgia and then headed over to a record store and got a couple of 180-gram gems.
On this night we finally got to meet Dina’s friend Albert and his famous mom, Adonna. Two huge characters and lovely people who, when they came through our front door, were brandishing a bottle of vodka and a walking stick that was actually a working taser!
Over the next few days we met everyone: Kirstie, Hope, Christa, Bekah, Emily, Sarah, Joe Maples, and even Layla. We had become the talk of the town, the two London boys who had started a minor dance revolution in the clubs of Knoxville. This isn’t a lie, either. Sassyann’s, Carleo’s, Southbound. We danced them all.
We broke bread together, we drank together, we joked together and we danced together. Dina and her Knoxville friends couldn’t have been nicer. True Southern hospitality.
Diary entry: September 13th
"Dina came and picked us up and took us over to Albert and Adonna’s. They cooked us some chilli and homemade pizza bread. Good eating! Hope was there, too. Once we’d finished eating, Adonna gave Dal a manicure — no idea why. Ha ha. We all headed over to Doc’s to watch the T.U. game then went to another sports bar called Roosters. We went to Carleos and then Wagon Wheel, and we danced the night way. Two guys with long hair in skinny jeans, surrounded by guys in cowboy hats. Strange. Like everywhere else, everyone was so friendly."
On our last day in Knoxville we all met up again and went into the center of town, Market Square to be precise. There were about 10 of us, and we were all wandering through the square with a huge speaker blaring music while we all danced. It was the middle of the day. Unfortunately, a group of rollerskaters didn’t take too kindly to us, especially when we played the Darth Vader theme.
This was a rather sad day for Darrell and I. Not only was it time to say goodbye to all our new Knoxville friends, but we had to say our last goodbye to Dina. She’d been with us for large parts of the trip and, without question, was an equal part of our adventures. She is a true friend for life and one of the craziest people either of us had ever met. It was a real shame that she couldn’t come with us for the final part of the journey.
One last final drive, a gruelling 13-hour cruise through the night as we said goodbye to Tennessee and headed up to the Big Apple. Around 9 a.m., we could see the Manhattan skyline in the distance. Outlined by rays of the sun, we got our first glance of the Freedom Tower. It was set to be a pretty intense last few days.
We had checked into another Airbnb apartment, a tiny little pad in Queens. It was on the suburban side of the East River, at Ditmars Boulevard, at the end of the N-Train subway line. As exciting as it was to be in New York, it was also starting to sink in that we would be heading home in a few days and that the great road trip would be at its end. We made sure we went big for our last few days!
We walked constantly. Our days were spent walking around Manhattan, visiting the tourist spots of Times Square, Central Park, taking in exhibitions like Body Worlds, and basically absorbing the atmosphere. I’d been hoping to meet a rude New Yorker like in films, yet once again, everyone we met was so nice.
On our first day, we made sure we went to the Ground Zero Memorial. The foundations were turned into black stone fountains that descend into the ground with the names of all the victims etched into the granite. As you’re looking down into the hole, it’s strange to think what was happening in that exact spot some 88 floors up in the air. Then, you turn around and the majestic Freedom Tower greets you, looking like a humongous piece of art built in glass. Bigger and better. Intense.
We also made sure we ventured down into Little Italy. It was the “Feast of San Gennaro” when we visited and the streets were alive. Food vendors were selling hot dogs, pretzels, cigars and ice cream; the smell of the finest Italian food the East Coast has to offer was wafting through the air. We ate well and had a couple of drinks while we watched a doo-wop band. Five old men, easily into their 70s, were dressed in matching suits and singing the hits of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. A nice touch.
Diary entry: September 16th
"Dina had set us up to meet one of her best friends, a lovely girl named Danielle. She arranged to meet us in Chinatown. Bless her, coming to meet two strangers just because her friend asked her to! She took us to an awesome little speakeasy called Apotheke with exposed fixtures and dark corners. The place had some of the best cocktails I’ve ever had, topped off by music. There was an amazing brass band just jamming out with the whole crowd around them singing and dancing. We head home about 5:30 a.m. At least the subway is open 24 hours!"
Over the next couple of days we managed to tick off a few more things. We saw the Statue of Liberty, and we went to the top of the Empire State Building. We even managed to go to a New York Mets baseball game. Some friends of mine from back home had friends who got in contact with us and asked us along. Ben and Lee were two brothers who lived in Venice Beach but decided to spend a month in NYC. The match was more of a spectacle than either of us could have imagined. It was like a mix of sport and pantomime. Sing-alongs with the crowd, dance-offs, presenters on the screen doing competitions, and then cheerleaders shooting T-shirts out of high-powered air guns into the crowd! Quite an experience and a nice way to spend our last night, taking in America’s favourite pastime.
Diary entry: September 18th
"Woke up ridiculously sad because neither of us want to leave. We headed to Greenwich Village in the morning, got Dunkin’ Donuts and a coffee, and walked into Washington Square. We walked around the village a bit, and we saw the Cafe Wha, home to historic performances by the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan. We headed back to Queens to finish our packing, shower, and prepare to leave. Somehow, we’d messed up our flight bookings, so I’m on my own until the connecting flight in Philly. So I head to Newark Airport while Dal heads to LaGuardia. As I sit here writing this waiting for my flight, I’m truly gutted. We’ve had the most amazing time, met some great people, and have had some of the craziest adventures we could have hoped for. The kindness, friendliness, and positivity of the people we’ve met is inspiring. For now, this is it I guess; we’ll be coming back soon, though, I’m sure."
It’s another cold, wet and dark November night in London. Streets are lit by dim lamps hovering over corners, misguiding feet into puddles and the mist in the air dampening all the leftover enthusiasm the summertime had to offer. It all seems so long ago now, but taking the time to write down our memoirs of a moment in time has momentarily brightened up a typical winter night in England. Side by side, we took on the American road and made it, by the skin of our teeth at times. But ultimately, in a way, we both could rightly feel proud of ourselves. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.
Not a day goes by when we’re not talking about something we did or what we’re planning to do on our next adventure. Maybe it’s us just easing away the drain of being back in the daily grey, humdrum mundanity that is always so easy to get sucked into. But I’m sure we’ll both be talking about it for a long time to come. And whenever I may find myself drifting along in that social purgatory where I’m feeling starved of adventure, I’ll remember how alive I felt out on the road with my buddy. I’ll put my headphones on and listen to Bob Dylan sing those words again and let it revive me.
"Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life." Sal Paradise, "On the Road – Jack Kerouac