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Lake City, Florida (So Much to Say So I’ll probably call this part one)

August 31, 2001 Leave a comment

I assume there is a lake somewhere here in Lake City, but I do not know where it is. Nor do I care. I drove about 480 miles today and I am downright pooped! Who would think that sitting could cause so much stress? So here I am in Lake City, a town that exists solely because it happens to be where Interstates 10 and 75 cross. It has all the things you’d expect at an interstate crossing – gas stations, fast food, Red Lobster, Cracker Barrel, and of course motels including the Knights Inn in which I am currently located. The motels in this town are packed full tonight as tomorrow there is a Florida Gators football game about 55 miles down the road. I just found out that University of Central Florida (former home to Daunte Culpepper) also plays tomorrow, although I have no idea where that is located. I suppose I could look it up, but I am too darned lazy!

So now are you ready for a lot of reading? Because I believe I have a lot of writing to do!

We’ll start on the morning of two days ago. Checking my watch I see that is a Wednesday. I left Nashville fairly early – I think it was 8:30 AM as there were a few things I wanted to get done in Memphis. First stop was the mall. Yes, the mall. I had to return something I had bought in Louisville – I bought a PC game that was supposed to run on my computer, but it could not, so I brought it back to Babbage’s. But this was not the only purpose of this mall visit. This mall also had a Chick-Fil-A in it! So I finally got my yummy chicken sandwich, best in America, along with my waffle fries and fresh squeezed lemonade! Conveniently, this mall was near enough to Graceland where I did not need to get back on the highway. So twenty minutes later, at around one o’clock in the afternoon . . .

I went to Graceland, Graceland, Memphis Tennessee, I went to Graceland
I have a reason to believe that I will be received at Graceland . . .

The reason I think I would be received is because I paid the admission! They have a tiered admission program there. They charge $16 for just the mansion tour, then they add on $7 to see some cars, $6 to see a couple of planes and $5 to see something called “Sincerely Elvis,” an intimate look at the king and his family or some such hullabaloo. You can get the whole shebang for $25, the “platinum” package! I went for the mansion only, flashed my AAA card and got 10% off the admission price (that’s $1.60 off or $14.40 for admission for those of you who may be mathematically challenged). They said I could upgrade to platinum later if I so desired.

The ticket office and parking are across Elvis Presley Boulevard (probably not named that when he built the house and also probably a nicer and quieter street) from the actual home. You get handed a little audio tour thingamabob and get loaded into a shuttle bus which brings you across the street. When you get to the actual house (a lot smaller than I had expected – it is very much house size) you pile out of the little bus and start trying to take pictures but then they yell at you and tell you to take pictures of the front of the house at the end of the tour. OK. I’m not sure why, but OK. Of course I was snapping away with my snazzy digital camera when one of the security guards told me I couldn’t use a digital camera inside the house.

“But the signs clearly said no flashes, no video – this doesn’t do video and I can turn off the flash.”

“Well you can’t use it,” he declared, at which point another guard piped up.

“Sure he can – just no video.”

“No he can’t – no digital cameras.”

Now was this the first day for these people? Because right then and there started a big discussion amongst the security guards as to whether or not I could use my camera. What was I, the first person to bring a digital camera to Graceland? Sure seemed that way. Anyway, in the end they decided that I could have the digital camera. This seemed all for nothing when the camera ran out of battery power, but like a good prepared former Boy Scout of America, I had extra batteries with me! So I was able to get all sorts of great pictures of Graceland which may become available online soon.

So what about the house? It looks like the ultimate in tacky 70s for a person who could afford the ULTIMATE in tacky 70s. You get to see the living room, which looks like a normal living room except for the stained glass windows. And although they have said the rooms are furnished like Elvis himself had done in the 70s, the place is full of Elvis busts. Did he really decorate his home with busts of himself? If he didn’t, find me the curator of this place so I can whack him up side the head! If he did, wow. What an ego!

Next room is the dining room – again looks like a normal fancy dining room. Nothing spectacular. They then explain on the audio tour how we can’t go upstairs because that is Elvis’s private area. I think they probably don’t want anyone going upstairs because he died up there and to me that seems pretty morbid. Although I know there are some people who are into that.

We get to see the kitchen which has the latest in up to date 21st century security equipment in it – cameras on the grounds and emergency phones and fire extinguishers – I’m guessing that stuff is new or perhaps Elvis developed it himself!!! What an amazing guy!! I know a guy who had a theory that Elvis killed JFK. At one point he was going to write a book about it – I don’t know what happened to that idea. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen the guy in years either. Hmmmm . . .

We’re led downstairs to the television room. Now for the 70s this kicked ass, and you know if Elvis where still alive he’d have the most kick ass home theater system imaginable. Because for the time, he did. He had three 19 inch color TVs mounted into the wall so he could watch all three nightly newscasts at once because he once heard some famous newsperson (I think Cronkite, but I don’t recall exactly – this is what happens when I wait two days to write a journal and one of them is in New Orleans) did the same. The room is decorated in yellows, much like my living room back in the Longmeadow house. I told you that color was all the rage when the house was new!

Next is the pool room – the pool room is cool. The walls and ceiling are decorated with this really fancy fabric. It’s hard to describe without seeing it, and I guess I am being lazy because I’m just going to have to refer you to the photos when they come out. I also bought a post card of it which some lucky person may get in the mail, although I am more likely to find it in my bag in a month and wonder where the heck it came from.

At this point we go back upstairs and get to see The Jungle Room which has got to be the coolest room in the house. All the furniture is wacky carved wood stuff with fur upholstery. There is shag carpet on the floors and ceiling. There’s even an artificial waterfall on the wall! This is Hu Ke Lau decorating (obscure Longmeadow reference unless you are from there in which case this is a crystal clear analogy) at its finest! This is the room in which they recorded his penultimate album and most of his ultimate album.

After this room, we move on to museum style exhibits of stuff from the house – fur beds, outfits, gun collection, his karate gi – in a room that used to be a guest apartment. After this, we go over to his father’s office and we watch rare newsreel footage of a press conference Elvis game in that very room! We get to walk through his shooting range and look at a place where there used to be a Pink Cadillac (which he can see in the auto museum for an extra $7 – it doesn’t mention the price on the audio tour, but they wanted to I am sure) and horses. Then we get to go into the trophy room which is more exhibit space, this time of gold records and awards and army stuff and movie posters and anything else they could think of putting in there. After that, we go to the racquetball building. There is an area that used to be a lounge that houses the piano that Elvis played the morning he died, singing Unchained Melody and one other song (sorry, I had a Hand Grenade at the Tropical Isle). The racquetball court has been converted into an exhibit of post-death awards including this gigantic glass monolith RCA gave the Estate of Elvis Presley (all rights reserved) declaring him the Recording Artist of All-Time (which I guess means All-Time has ended?)

The final stop on the tour is the Meditation Garden. This actually was once set up for this purpose, but now houses the grave sites of Elvis, his parents, and his aunt. His twin brother, who died as a baby, has a stone there but is not actually buried there. The bodies had been moved from another cemetery because of security issues. There are poems on each of the tombstones, and the poems are copyright the Estate of Elvis Presley (all rights reserved). People leave all sorts of items there, from candles to sculpture to poems to flowers to giant wreaths. I did not take pictures of the graves – I thought that might be a little tacky, but many people were. Sigh. I did sing Heartbreak Hotel, although I did not have Derek, David and Nigel to harmonize with me. I sang it quietly as not to invite any odd looks, and besides, no one there was going to get the reference, trust me on this one.

After the tour, I was at the shuttle bus stop and I commented to the security guard there that I would like to take the pictures of the front of the house before I went back. She said:

“Sure, just pay that security guard a dollar.”

And I believed her! I mean, why not? But luckily she was just kidding so I snapped a couple of pictures before I got back on the bus. I went into the gift shops and refrained from buying a TCB hat or an Elvis t-shirt or snow globe or key chain or mug or cookie jar or collectible coin or . . . well you name it. I didn’t get the DVD of the Graceland tour (only available there or so they say) either, only because it was not mastered in widescreen.

Thus ends the Graceland portion of your Memphis tour. Please turn this journal over to part two . . .

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New Orleans, Louisiana (No time to talk)

August 30, 2001 Leave a comment

Just wanted to let you know I am still here . . .

Seriously though, there are a lot of bars on Bourbon Street (only three blocks from my hotel) and it’s after eight and I am only here one night and I don’t think I should spend an hour of that time writing a journal when I can be getting wasted on hurricanes and wandering up and down the street. Also, it’s Southern Decadence weekend here in New Orleans. What is that, you ask? Why it’s a large gathering of the gay community!! Either they’re following me around or I’m following them. Stay tuned for some more gay porn!

Perhaps tomorrow I will spend the time to write a long report, perhaps later tonight. Either way you will hear about Graceland, Downtown Memphis, Tunica, The Jim Henson Exhibit in Leland, rainy Mississippi highways and of course New Orleans. It should be a fascinating report.

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Nashville, TN (Not out on the town)

August 28, 2001 Leave a comment

Well it’s 10:30 and I still haven’t gone out after dinner, so I guess I probably won’t be. There was nothing in the music listings that interested me, and no one could tell me what part of town might be fun in which to hang out, so I just sat here surfing around the web looking for something to do and didn’t come up with anything that appealed to me. Sure there were bars and restaurants, but I didn’t want to drink or eat or play pool or sing karaoke. And OK, the sports page ads for “Relaxation Centers” appealed to me on a purely id level, but The Ego and SuperEgo (I have no idea which one does what, so I’m putting them together) won out that battle.

I woke up pretty early this morning at Adam’s. I wanted to get to Nashville at a fairly reasonable hour so that I could sample the nightlife (see above for how THAT worked out). The drive from Warsaw to Indianapolis sucks. I mean it really sucks. You have to go on Indiana state routes for a little while that are 55 mostly, but only two lanes and too windy to get a lot of passing done. And you have these trucks driving 35 for no apparent reason (perhaps they are counting corn stalks?) Then when you get to US 31, you go through so many traffic lights for Wal Marts and Targets and KMarts and McDonald’s that you just crawl along. An 81 mile drive that took me OVER THREE HOURS!!!!

Well I did stop for 20 minutes to eat at Steak n’ Shake. I kept seeing these things all over Indiana so I decided to try one. Basically they specialize in Steakburgers (hamburgers) and Shakes (shakes). The food is above average fast food fare at average fast food prices. But they have table and counter service as well as a drive thru, which I found odd. They also have chili over spaghetti on their menu, which the manager assured me was ripped off from Skyline Chili, a Cincinnati based eating establishment that I still haven’t tried, darn it!!!

So now of course I am checking http://www.skylinechili.com (why didn’t I think of this before?) and looking at the locations. Oh man there were four locations in Louisville and a couple in Indianapolis. Aha! There are 5 in Florida – now it is time to download them into my palm pilot so that I can visit one if I get the chance!

Now to check for Chik-Fil-As and Po Folks – ‘scuse me . . .

OK! There are TONS of Chick Fil A’s ( I had it spelled wrong) all over the place. Chicken Sandwich no pickles please, waffle fries and a big lemonade with no ice please!!! There don’t seem to be any convenient Po Folks, so their amazing swee’ tea will have to be skipped on this trip through the south. But Chick Fil A is mine! BWAAAA HA HA HA!!!!

Breakfast tomorrow morning will be at the Waffle House across the way! Yummy yummy waffles!!!

OK from Indianapolis to Louisville is all interstate. Lovely lovely interstate! I stopped in Louisville and did a little shmying. It seems to be a nice little city right on the Ohio river. I didn’t find Rick Pitino anywhere. I was going to ask him for some money, you know, one UMass alumni to another person who took a couple classes there . . .

The drive from Louisville to Nashville was pretty similar, except the speed limit goes up to 70 at the state line. i stopped in the welcome center and grabbed a bunch of pamphlets for Nashville as well as Memphis. I have all this Elvis stuff now! The cheapest motels all seemed to be off the same exit, so I used that exit. The Knights Inn was supposedly $29.99, but I couldn’t find the Knights Inn – I have no idea where they hid it, so I am using the Motel 6 at $31.99. Across the street is a place called Jack’s BBQ. I like BBQ!!! And there were two locations, one downtown and one right there across from my motel. So there I went for dinner.

I couldn’t decide between the ribs and the beef, so I had a combo. I couldn’t decide between sweet potatoes and macaroni and cheese (I was definitely getting the beans – these real BBQ joints have great beans) so I asked the gentleman slinging the beef which to get. He told me the sweet potatoes (candied yams actually) were made right there and the mac n’ cheese is brought in from elsewhere. So that decision was made for me. And I also had the sweet tea. Now they had two sauces to choose from – the original vinegar based and the “Sweet Hot” tomato based. So I took a little cup of each. The original vinegar based was good, but the sweet hot is the best barbecue sauce I’ve ever had!!! And because I get to put it on myself, I could use it in moderation. So of course I bought a jar of it. They’ll ship it by the case as well, in case you want to try it.

So after dinner, I began thinking about what to do next. But then again, I had just eaten barbecue, so maybe going out isn’t wise. But since I wasn’t in the mood to do much of anything, I decided it would be a nice night to do a little reading and writing. So I did. Tomorrow is Memphis and GRACELAND!!! I get so lonely baby, I get so lonely . . .

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Warsaw, Indiana (Children of the Corn)

August 27, 2001 Leave a comment

The drive from Chicago to Warsaw, Indiana is the kind of drive you’d expect. You tool down US 30 at about 65 miles an hour past row upon row of cornfields broken up only by the occasional Wal-Mart. OK so maybe the Wal-Mart thing takes away from the charm of the area, but when you see a Wal-Mart, you know you are approaching a town.

I had left Hinsdale at about 12:30 (I planned to leave a little late, but yeesh!) so I knew I was arriving too early to meet up with my friend Adam as he was working until about 5:30 or 6:00. But I did need to do laundry so it seemed like my timing would be perfect.

And, well . . . it was! So this looks to be a pretty boring journal again. Sometimes the nice relaxing get stuff done days make for boring material. Seems like struggles and calamities are more interesting.

So anyway, I got to the laundromat at around 3:30 and washed and dried my clothes. I passed the time by finishing up The Heckler by Ed McBain and playing pinball. The washing machines were different, but I quickly got passed the learning curve and got the clothes done.

After that I still had 45 minutes to kill before meeting Adam, so I wandered into the local bookstore and browsed their magazine rack. I thought about buying a couple of magazines, but passed on them. (Whew, what a thrilling day so far!)

Then at 6 at the appointed time and place, Adam rolled up in his week old Honda Accord and I followed him to the Boathouse (I think that was the name of it) Restaurant where we had a fine meal. He assures me this is not only the best restaurant in town (and it was very good), but the only one of its kind. Warsaw is a small town, mind you, but it seems to be growing. A few different medical companies make their homes here and there are a lot of little lakes, which makes this a summer destination for Indianites.

After dinner, we retired back to Adam’s apartment, which is very nice clean and new. And cheap, but not as cheap as Butte, Montana. And next to a movie theater! But a movie was not on the schedule as we decided to play computer sports games instead!!

So there’s my day in a nutshell. Tomorrow is more of a road day than the past few have. I’ll be trying to head out of here early and want to hit the Louisville Slugger Factory tour if I can. I’ll be staying somewhere in Kentucky or Tennessee tomorrow night, but I have no idea where! So stay tuned!

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Hinsdale, IL (Slammin’ Sammy!)

August 26, 2001 Leave a comment

Today was set aside for one major event – going to Wrigley Field for the first time to see the Cubs. Today was the last game of the year against their heated rivals, the St Louis Cardinals. Having done some research . . .

. . . oh man I just saw an ad for Lego Soccer – I totally need one of those – perhaps when I actually have a place to live I will pick up the sets. Now back to our regularly scheduled journal . . .

. . . on the price of scalped tickets, I was expecting to have to pay a minimum of about $70 to get into the game. Adding to that the anecdotal evidence of those also traveling to the game this morning via Metra (the Metropolitan Railway), I seemed to be correct. Getting to Wrigley Field on public transportation from the suburbs is a three step process. Step one, take Metra to Union Station. Step two, walk 6 blocks to the Red Line. Step 3, take the Red Line to the stadium.

Unfortunately, no one told me that I would need exact change to ride the “L.” So I had to buy a soda at the McDonald’s to get some change. It appears that sometimes they have a person in a booth with change, but not today! Not on a Sunday! I got to Wrigleyville (yes they call the neighborhood Wrigleyville) around 12:40 for the 1:20 game. There were a bunch of stores that advertised Cubs tickets with low prices. I figured it was time to do a little research.

So I walked into the first one I could get to – this one said “Cubs tickets – best prices” and I overheard him offering a ticket to someone for $30. I asked what they had for a good single seat. At the same time, the other fellow turned down this ticket, so he offered it to me . . . for $35. Duh. So I said “I was here when you offered it to him for $30, so you’ll take $30?” And of course he took it.

My seat was in the upper deck, directly behind home plate, in the second row. Fantastic view right in front of the press box. Also right next to the camera bank – I was on WGN at least two times that I know of. I waved – did you see me?? To my left were three Cardinals fans who had driven in from the Quad Cities. To my right were four Cubs fans who were knocking down a bunch of beers and giving me some traveling advice. These folks were very cool and they bought me a beer! Directly behind me were the three guys with whom I played mound ball.

Now you may not know what Mound Ball is, but it is a way to gamble on baseball with your buddies! Basically you devise a method by which to create a pool – we were working on the straight $1 per person per half inning method, but there are others (feel free to make up your own) – if the ball ends up completely on the pitcher’s mound at the end of the half inning, someone gets the pool. No leaners are acceptable!

Now today, I won two $4 pools and one other guy won 2 $16s and a $12!!! We did have some controversy – towards the end of the game, the big winner almost won a $12 pool when the ball appeared to land on the front edge of the pitcher’s mound. But because that spot is worn out, it is hard to tell for sure if it is actually completely on the mound. We needed binoculars, quick!! But there were none to be found. So the cameraman zoomed in on the ball and told us it was definitely on the dead grass and not the dirt! All right! WGN rules! So at the end of the game, the prize pool was split up between the competitors and we went on our way.

Oh wait, wasn’t there a ballgame, too? Surely there was and the Cubs won 6-1. Sammy Sosa hit two homers and got curtain calls after each one. The first because it was 50th of the year (for the fourth year in a row) and the second because he had hit two in the game. He also knocked in another run giving him 4 of the 6 RBIs on the day. But if you really wanted the sports news, you’d be watching SportsCenter on a regular basis.

After the game, I poked my head into a few of the local bars and souvenir shops, but I wasn’t in the mood to drink or (much more surprisingly) buy souvenirs. So I looked at my watch and realized I only had 50 minutes left to get to the train! So I went back to the L and waited and waited and waited, The train came late. And after two stops, the train paused between stops and started smelling like burping rubber. And it was getting a little smoky. But the train moved on, not smelling any better and not looking any less smoky. People on the train told me this was par for the course, but I still decided it was time to try walking.

Walking didn’t really work – the walk was going to take too long and I really couldn’t be sure I was heading in the right direction, so I hailed a cab. The cab ride only cost me $5.50 so I must have been fairly close by? Ok no – I was 1.3 miles away – I never would have made my train without the cab. So I took the train ride home to Hinsdale and here I am!

Tomorrow I’ll be making the brief yet thrilling ride to Warsaw, Indiana, world center of the prosthetic limb industry and visiting with my friend Adam, one of the industry’s leading engineering minds!! And another report will follow!!

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Hinsdale, IL (Dogs and chocolate do not mix)

August 25, 2001 Leave a comment

This morning I got up with destination Chicago! (OK Hinsdale, a super-uppity suburb of Chicago where my friend Dana is a resident in the hospital). So I hit the road again! Now the road itself is just not that exciting between Newport, IA and Chicago, IL. There was plentiful construction going on as well as intermittent heavy downpour, so the 5 hour drive took about 6 hours.

I arrived in Hinsdale with only a vague idea of how to get to Dana’s house. I knew I had to use Oak Street, which turned out to be flooded. I did not know how flooded so I stopped my car as some children were going to play in the flood. Meanwhile two gentlemen (parents?) saw me stopped and said into my open window:

“C’mon. Drive through there. Make our day!” I watched the children and realized it wasn’t too deep, so I drove through. Slush slush slush went my Saab through the foot deep puddles . . .

I got to Dana’s just in time for Primo’s (that’s her dog) walk. We walked around a little bit and then retired back to the apartment for some catching up. A friend and neighbor of Dana’s stopped by and we were all chatting when we noticed Primo was sniffing around my Guide Bag (purse) and eating something. What was he eating? Oh no! It was my Canadian Kit-Kat bar I had been saving for when I was really hungry. I was a little miffed, but ha ha ha, right??

Wrong. I had no idea that chocloate was poisonous to dogs, so the freaking out began. First thing we did was freak out. Then we came to our senses and Dana checked online to see if there was anything there about how bad it could be. Turns out Primo would have had to eat about 11-12 ounces of chocolate to have a serious problem. And he had eaten about half an ounce of Kit Kat bar, much of it cracker.

But still, his heart rate and breathing seemed to be sped up, and Dana decided to take action. She went to the drug store and bought some stuff that makes the dog vomit. And vomit he did – I’m telling you. The dog threw up everything for the next couple of hours, but this was the desired effect.

Next stop, Borders Books. Borders Books? Yes, well we wanted to go to the bookstore – I still want some Japanese language CDs and Dana wanted a book about dog care. Then we went to Walgreens where Dana picked up some Pedialite for the dog to restore his electrolyte balance.

So how is Primo? Primo is fine. He seems to be sleeping right now, which is good, because hyperactivity is among the symptoms of a chocolate eating dog. Oh by the way, did you know onions are poisonous to dogs, too? What can dogs eat, anyway???

Well that pretty much covers my first night in Hinsdale. I’ll be here tomorrow night, too, but not before going to the Cubs game tomorrow. I’m taking a train, a bus and a train to get there, and hopefully I will be able to score a ticket!!

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Newton, IA (Nothing happens)

August 25, 2001 Leave a comment

I wouldn’t have even written anything today if I didn’t think people expect it at this point. I woke up in North Platte, NE, got showered and dressed, and drove to Newton, IA. That’s it. I stopped for gas a couple of times and I ate some food. I bought a couple more powerball tickets. I listened to some music on CD and the radio. I heard the last out of the Cubs/Cardinals game on the radio – sounded exciting. I stopped and took a picture of a sign that says “Monument Ahead – do not park – do not slow down.” it used to say “stop” instead of “park.,” which was funnier. I washed my windows a few times – it’s amazing how many different colors and textures there are in the world of bug splatter.

Ok, that’s it. Tonight I’ll be in Chicago!

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