THE ROAD IS LIFE
The Road Trip as a Microcosm of a Good Life
“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.”
Columbia: The Road is Life
The black bourbon mixed perfectly with the salted caramel sauce that was in my adult milkshake. I was with my cousin Ivy, and her boyfriend J.B., at Kaminsky’s, a stylish “grown-up dessert and cocktail lounge in the middle of downtown Columbia, just a few blocks away from the campus of the University of South Carolina.
“This is great,” I confessed before passing around the drink to let them have a taste. J.B. agreed, but Ivy was turned off by the bitterness of the bourbon. The lounge, stylish as it was, had a lot going on in terms of its decoration, music, and the outfits of the people inside. It’s usual hipster vibe was now mixed with the Christmas season and the release of Star Wars, creating an atmosphere as mixed as a milkshake.
It was a few months ago when the idea for this road trip was born. Ivy had been doing a physical therapy internship at the Army base in Columbia, and since my wife and I would be spending our holidays with her and J.B. in San Diego anyways, she suggested that we fly to South Carolina instead, to help drive her car back and to get a road trip out of it.
I had just booked our flights to San Diego, but it was just earlier that day, so I was able to call Alaska Airlines and reroute our flights, no problem. I’m not one to turn down a road trip.
“The road is life,” said Jack Kerouac, once, and all of Tumblr and Instagram clicked the little heart icon in response. But really, he was on to something. Some road trips become the perfect microcosm for a life well lived. Don’t get me wrong, they’re terrible for the human body… restricting blood flow in your legs and not allowing you to properly use the calories from standard road trip junk food. But they’re perfect for the human soul, nourishing it with adventures, good food, playlists, the friends you meet along the way, and the bonds formed by those who travel.
There was a day just before the road trip began that I had to spend on my own. J.B. had to work on his computer from our Airbnb all day and Ivy had her last day of internship. Deanna hadn’t yet joined us because of her work schedule, and she would fly in to Atlanta the next day.
That left me on my own, so I headed towards Asheville.
For starters, if I didn’t go to North Carolina, that would leave it as a state I hadn’t yet visited, surrounded by ones I had visited. I’m getting pretty close to having seen all fifty states, so I knew I had to get up there.
Also, I’d heard nothing but terrific things about Asheville, a small, artsy, forward-thinking city in the middle of a typecasted Southern red-state. Plus, it was perched up by the Pisgah National Forest. With it being a two hour drive from Columbia, I decided to try and split my day fifty-fifty, half of it in Downtown Asheville, and the other half trying to find a highly recommended waterfall in the Pisgah Forest.
My time in town was sweet. I found an independent bookseller, a sweet general store and outdoor supplier, an awesome Latin-inspired coffee shop that offered cashew juice, and plenty of venues to walk around and explore. After sufficient time in the city, I decided it was then time to try and track down a certain waterfall.
Unfortunately, Google Maps let me down. It tried to direct me to the waterfall through somebody’s private property that was gated off and immensely foggy. In the south, driving through private property is never a good idea. I quickly rerouted and made it to the waterfall. By then, though, it was already late and I was losing sunlight. The hike to the waterfall was said to be 1.5 miles away, so I figured I had a chance if I sprinted.
I crossed a river (thus proving that Sorel waterproof boots are the best!) and began running. It was rainy that day, so I got mud everywhere, but I was chasing the remaining daylight. My success was limited, however, as I had to settle for seeing the base of the waterfalls, before doing another trail run to get out of the eerily empty and darkening forest.
I got to whet my palate for adventure, but I left Asheville that day knowing that I’d need to come back for the hikes and stuff. And that I’d need to bring Deanna at some point. She’d love it there.
Atlanta: Good Food
Food is an adventure in and of itself, and I discovered that as our road trip continued. Our next day, we paid a visit to Atlanta, blasting Ludacris and Outkast for most of the way there.
When we arrived, I was surprised with how much I loved it there for our short time, and this was where we had some of our best meals of the tour.
The Ponce City Market is quickly becoming a fantastic foodie hub in the center of the city, and even though most of its food was very highly priced, we quickly developed a system for dividing our meals to get the most bang for our buck.
I enjoyed a couple of pieces of fried chicken, because no trip through the south would be complete without indulging in fried chicken.
El Super Pan was a restaurant in the market that specialized in Latin inspired sandwiches and their pork belly bun was incredible.
We also got to taste a really great burger at H&F Burgers, which hit me like a really, really well-done In & Out cheeseburger, but I mean that in a good way. It tasted like a deluxe double double.
It was over dinner and during the course of these amazing meals that we were joined by my friend (and wedding videographer) Lei, who we got to catch up with as he transferred over the remaining video files from our wedding onto my hard drive.
I did expect some good food out of Atlanta, though, since it is the home of my favorite TV chef, Alton Brown. I’ll confess to having kept a lookout for Alton while in town, just in case. It turns out I was fairly reasonable for doing so. The day after we ate at Ponce City Market, he posted a photo to Instagram from that very spot, recommending pretty much what we just ate.
That was the same evening Deanna flew in to join us for the rest of the trip. The next morning we caught breakfast with her cousins, Colin and Judy, and that led to the best grits I’ve ever had (smoked gouda!) and the best beignets I’ve had outside of New Orleans, easily.
If food can be an adventure, so can music, and the playlist I made for the road trip was one of the most random, eclectic, but enjoyable mixes I’ve ever assembled, consisting of Christmas favorites for the season (Sufjan Stevens, Johnnyswim) some current earworms from the radio (Macklemore, Missy Elliot), old regional faves to fit the Southern spirit (Johnny Cash, Ray Charles), more contemporary southerners (Justin Townes Earl, Chris Stapleton), old indie faves (Noah and the Whale, The Lone Bellow), old school loves (Tamia, Usher), 80s (Joy Division, Tears for Fears), good music from this year I previously overlooked (Grimes, BØRNS) and stuff that we just liked (Amy Winehouse, Shad). Like I said, quite the mix.
This music followed us all the way into, music city– Nashville, Tennessee. That was my favorite day of the trip. We started in Atlanta, and NEEDTOBREATE ushered us into Chattanooga, where we tailed a pickup truck of hunters hugging around a deer they had just killed. We followed them for an hour, before we parked to hike a waterfall.
We listened to Dolly Parton a few miles outside Dollywood and found ourselves at a whiskey distillery an hour from Nashville. We took ourselves a tour and walked out with a handle of George A. Dickel.
Finally we made it to Nashville, Dawes playing on the radio. We ate at the necessary Pinewood Social, and caught a glimpse into Nissan Stadium, just to check in on Marcus Mariota and make sure he appreciates his new digs.
An hour later we met with my old friend Brett and his girlfriend at Parnassus books. He’d moved to Nashville a year ago. Parnassus itself was a must-see, an independent bookstore owned by one of my favorite authors, Ann Patchett.
I learned so much about the Nashville scene that day. And about the whiskey distilling process. And almost all the lyrics to Downtown. Dope!
Plano: Meeting Friends
After seeing Lei, then Colin and Judy, and then Brett and his girlfriend in a 24 hour period of time, it occurred to me that one of my favorite things about these sorts of journeys are the people and friends we meet with along the way. That’s the thought that initially got me thinking of road trips as a lovely little microcosm for the sort of life I wanted to live.
We weren’t done yet, either. In Texas, we had to see our friends Holly and Derek, who had moved there about a year and a half before. We hadn’t really seen the two of them since, but we missed them quite a bit.
We started that day in Memphis, then drove through Little Rock, where I got to introduce Deanna, Ivy, and JB to one of my favorite spots from my previous visit- The Green Corner Store. Because that day was spent in Texas, much of it was dedicated to the physical task of driving, which isn’t exactly my favorite part of road tripping. But it did end in a rewarding way, barbecue.
Derek and Holly recommended a fantastic BBQ joint, which I’m sure I would have had much more pleasant memories of if Deanna and I weren’t both feeling a little road sick by the time we arrived. It was still yummy enough that I could appreciate the smoked ribs.
One of the best parts of life is seeing who you meet and connect with along the way. I’m glad that this is accurately reflected in the art of the road trip.
We also spent that night at the most wonderful Airbnb in Midland, Texas. If only it wasn’t in Midland… I would love to go back. The master bed that Deanna and I got to enjoy was massive- a true California king that we could roll around on forever, and at its foot were two recliners and a big screen larger than our apartment.
San Diego: The Bonds You Make
Our long journey ended in Southern California. If it didn’t feel long before, it did after having to drive through West Texas for hours, but, you know, we made it eventually.
Ironically, San Diego had the absolute worst weather of all the places we visited on our trip. Columbia probably had the best, where I could walk outside in a t-shirt to 70º sunlight, but San Diego was rainy and miserable. (Although, I probably shouldn’t describe that as the worst weather, given how much California needs some rain.) That was pretty nasty to drive through, though, once the fog reduced visibility by a ton
We arrived at home, where my mom had prepared pieces of garlic chicken and rice porridge soup. No better way to end a long trip.
And I suppose it goes without saying that one of the best parts of a road trip, and about life, are the bonds you form with the people who ride alongside you for most of the way there. We got to enjoy plenty of great conversations about dreams, about places we’ve gone, about where we’ve lived, about our parents and childhoods, and about marriage. And just in case it wasn’t enough of a metaphor, two days after our trip had ended, J.B. proposed to Ivy, thus making the four of us even more of a family.