Coast to coast: a break into the deep south

Country Music Hall of Fame, Nashville.
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Part I: Coast to coast: the last father-son road trip

Picking up from where I left off in last week’s issue, my dad and I left Oklahoma City behind and headed deep into the south, a part of the country that I quickly realized was a bull of a different colour.

Dealey Plaza in Dallas is the site of President Kennedy’s brutal assassination. It was also where I learned that my dad had a fascination with Kennedy.

While in Dallas, we also visited the building that had once housed Lee Harvey Oswald and his rifle, which had since been turned into a museum. It was an eerie enough experience even before I looked out over the roadway and realized that two white X’s had been painted on the ground: one for each shot that hit its mark.

There were tourists walking out onto the road to get their picture taken standing over the X’s, and I watched one man raise his hands up as if he were about to be shot. I left Dallas with a sour taste in my mouth.

Houston felt like a rougher city wracked by construction and deterioration, which didn’t improve my mood much. It was also where I learned of my dad and I’s shared sensitivity to violence. I discovered this similarity after forcing him onto a shooting range, which nearly got us both killed due to our lack of experience. 

However, while Dallas and Houston left their mark, it was New Orleans that really impacted me. I’d had visions of meandering down Bourbon St. in the French Quarter. In these visions, I watched people lounge on curling balconies among the hanging vines and heard the soft sounds of jazz waft out of every café like the smell of baked bread while I reveled in the culture frozen in time by the music that had birthed it.

What I found instead was an absolute zoo filled with seedy bars, restaurants and gift shops. There were maybe a handful of cafés that had live bands, and even their sheen had long since worn off.

The devastation of Hurricane Katrina was still scorched across the city, like a scar that refused to heal, and the air seemed to hang heavy with exhaustion. I felt sad, not just for my lost image of the city, but for the residents of New Orleans, who seemed to have lost their music a long time ago.

My hopes of ending our trip on a high note were quickly dimming, and the south seemed to definitively lack its customary ‘southern hospitality’. Approaching a one night stop in Memphis, Tennessee, I was unsure of what to expect. Lucky for us, we were given a welcome that was fit for royalty.

The most touristy attraction of the trip was our stop at Elvis Presley’s home in Graceland, Memphis. As we crossed through the front gates, I felt as if I’d entered the world’s biggest time capsule. The tasseled costumes, the extravagantly decorated rec rooms, even the multiple private planes had been kept in perfect condition. It was one of those places that you just had to visit once, and it turned out to be one of the most entertaining stops on the trip.

Tennessee was where I discovered a true passion for rock and roll. From Sun Studios in Memphis, where the likes of Elvis and Johnny Cash recorded their first records, to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, the tunes just kept on rolling as we made our way through the heartland. We could practically smell the Atlantic sea breeze, but we had one last stop to make.

We were tired and sore from our long trek, but as fate would have it, a free music festival sprung up directly in front of our hotel on our last night in Nashville.

My dad and I shared beers, stories and some of the best street food I have ever tasted as we listened to the bands and the conversations of some of the finest music lovers in the country. It was a great last night to a great trip. The following day would see us making a break for the coast.

During the coast to coast trip, I learned a lot about my dad and even more about myself. Whether I wanted to admit it or not, I gained a lot more from surfing in California, skydiving in Nevada, beer tasting in Colorado, shooting handguns in Texas, listening to jazz in New Orleans, and rocking out to the classics in Tennessee, than I would have from any internship.

As I stood looking out over the ocean the next day, I thought about this and how far I’d come both physically and emotionally over the summer. What I realized more than anything was that as far as I had come I was just like anyone else. I still had a long way to go before I got where I wanted to be. Luckily for me, I’ve finally begun to realize that it’s the journey that counts, not the destination.

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