I didn’t go on a vacation–or take any “vacation-like” time off–for the past two years. I was fired shortly after my last vacation (a “Mancation” road trip with my son to Louisville), and this week marked my first opportunity to ditch town since then.
I took my family on a road trip to Nashville, a city I’d always wanted to visit. If you’re not interested in scrolling through the pictures below, I’ll summarize by saying I loved Nashville. It’s a very livable, fun and professional city.
It also seems like it’s undergoing an incredible amount of development. I saw construction happening all around town, especially so in the downtown area.
To summarize in images:
Heading out, we passed through Indianapolis right around lunchtime. Rather than play our odds on roadside fast food further down I-65, a quick Googling led us to Punch Burger, not far from Meridian Circle in downtown Indy. It’s kind of a cross between Meatheads and Epic Burger.
Before heading back to I-65, I needed coffee. After making a quick stop at the Starbucks on Meridian Circle, I snapped a pic of Emmis world headquarters. I hadn’t been there since 2011-ish, when I visited on behalf of Emmis Interactive. I have nice memories of hanging with the staffs of WIBC, HANK-FM, B105.7 and The Fan.
Four hours after leaving Indianapolis, we arrived in Nashville. After getting settled in the hotel room, we were famished to the point of abject hangriness. The solution? BBQ. I have kind of a thing for it. We tried a place called Martin’s, which came highly recommended. It was solid, but my meal there was easily the least impressive one I had while in Nashville.
Our first (and only) full day in town was a flurry of activity, starting with breakfast at Biscuit Love in the Gulch area.
I had the “Southern Benny”: a biscuit, shaved country ham, two fried eggs and sausage gravy, along with some “bonuts” on the side (fried biscuit dough, lemon mascarpone and blueberry compote). The bill added up fast for the four of us; but … so, so good.
From breakfast, we headed to the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum. Here’s what the sky and landscape looked like when we emerged from the parking garage:
The roots of American music are on display–and fascinating to see. The visit was unfortunately-timed to coincide with the Kenny Rogers exhibit, not the Johnny Cash & Bob Dylan exhibit starting later in the week. Here’s some Kenny Rogers apparel and a couple of Grammys:
Moving along in the museum, I was delighted to see Elvis’s gold-plated piano. Excess? What excess?
Here’s Elvis’s Caddy, with a TV mounted in the back:
I get it: country music sells.
The Hall of Fame rotunda has a mausoleum-like seriousness to it.
But it was cool to see all the inductees in plaque form:
The famous Hatch Show Print letterpress shop is part of the HOF complex. I saw this on display there and promptly bought a print for my house:
After the HOF, we walked over to the John Siegenthaler pedestrian bridge. By that point (10:30 a.m.-ish), the temperature had climbed from 60 to 70 degrees, and the weather was approaching perfect. The bridge goes over the Cumberland River, offering a nice burst of exercise. The views also happen to be fabulous. Did I mention there’s a ton of construction happening in Nashville?
After a round trip on the bridge, it was off to the Johnny Cash Museum. The walk-through was decidedly shorter than the HOF visit, but in many ways more rewarding. Johnny Cash, future farmer:
And Christ, how about these cups given to Cash by the Folsom prison warden? Or the explainer, written by Cash?
Or Cash’s personal Bible?
There was a “Legends of Sun Records” exhibit in the back room. My jaw dropped at the sight of this acetate version of Elvis’s “That’s All Right.”
We left downtown for a bit to visit Nashville’s recreation of the Parthenon:
And from there, we went to a restaurant called the Pharmacy, which has an awesome outdoor dining area. Even more awesome: they make sodas and syrups from scratch. My son made the best choice; he went with “The Creamsicle”:
After lunch, we went to the Nashville Zoo. Like the rest of Nashville, a lot of it was under serious amounts of construction. While the rest of the world was learning how to use the Meerkat app, I saw actual meerkats:
My favorite attraction at the Nashville Zoo is the kangaroo habitat, where there’s no boundary between roos and humans. The simple rule is humans must stay on the path, but kangaroos can go anywhere they damn well please. We hit the zoo as the afternoon heat was at its peak; the kangaroos were exhausted.
The creepiest thing I saw at the zoo? Roaches. The picture’s blurry, but those “Christmas light”-shaped things you see with black on them are all really big roaches. Sweet dreams.
The best meal of the trip was courtesy of Hattie B’s. Their “hot chicken” was also the best fried chicken I ever had. When we got there, the line was modest. By the time we left it was 20-30 deep.
Before hitting the road this morning, we had one more restaurant to scratch off the list: Pancake Pantry, near the Vanderbilt campus. There are zero frills to be had at this old-school pancake house. To make sure I didn’t end the vacation with a healthy meal, I went with the “Sugar and Spice” Pancakes. In the restaurant’s words, “Five light and tender pancakes made from a special cinnamon and spice batter. Sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon. Served with applesauce, butter, and hot maple or cinnamon cream syrup.” All yes, no nope.
I just got back from a quick 48-hour road trip to Louisville, KY, a big city I’ve never been to that also happens to be drivable from Chicago (“drivable” being somewhat questionable, in that I had to cruise through the deadly-dull, flat state of Indiana to get there).
This trip was predetermined to be a MANCATION; that is to say, a boys-only vacation for me and my son.
About 15 minutes before we hit the Indiana border on Friday (traveling via 294, to avoid city rush hour traffic), we stopped at the South Holland Tollway Oasis to gas the car up, grab some Sbarro, and make a quick potty break.
Ducking into the back stall of the (fairly gross) rest room, I realized that I had just missed a phone call. Rather than wait the; oh, I don’t know, two minutes until I left the bathroom to see who called, I grabbed for my iPhone in the stall.
My grip on the phone wasn’t as strong as it should have been, because just as soon I lifted it up, it dropped dead center into the toilet (it was an uno, not a deuce, so there’s that). As the phone went “plop!” so did my heart. I yelled “NOOOOO!” and without hesitation, reached in to save my phone (imagine how heroic my reflexes might be in an actual emergency, like a burning building or something).
With my shorts barely pulled up around me, I kicked the stall door open and ran the dripping phone to the sink, likely confusing or scaring the other nature’s-call-answerers in the room.
I took the phone from its case, and discarded the tainted case in the trash. Knowing I was probably making a huge mistake, I rinsed my phone under warm water and then washed it with hand soap. I then rinsed it again for good measure. Once I got back to my car, I took out a package of Target face wipes and applied hand sanitizer to the phone to finish the scrubdown.
Thinking that the end result of all this would be a trip to the Louisville AT&T store, I powered the phone down, and then back up. Everything worked. The touch screen was intact. The iPhone survived a golden shower and a soapy bath. Armed with that information, who can honestly say that Steve Jobs wasn’t a GENIUS?
Confidence bolstered, I steered us back on to the highway. Shortly after we passed the Star Plaza Theatre in Merillville, a religious billboard on the other side of the road cautioned, “HELL IS REAL.” And then came four hours of driving through Indiana.
We rolled in to Louisville at 1 a.m. ET (I hate time zone changes), and quickly called it a night.
Our Saturday started early, at 7 a.m. When I do quick city incursions, I plan in advance what I need to see and do when I get to town. I tend to keep my days pretty packed–what’s the point in down time if the visit is going to be short?
I took my son to an obvious tourist destination: The Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum. We didn’t have a hard time finding the building:
We both found the tour and facility charming, well-run, and worth visiting. I even met Ken Griffey, Jr.’s replicant!
Items in the souvenir shop seemed reasonably priced, and that extended to personalized bats. Here’s mine:
(There’s a certain irony to owning my own branded bat–I couldn’t hit a baseball if my comic book collection depended on it.)
In my quick exploration of Louisville, I came to the conclusion that there’s a lot to love about the city, particularly when it comes to restaurants. We visited a few distinctly different neighborhoods, and had great food in each. My son’s mind was blown by the bison burger at Bluegrass, and I happened to have a damn good Angus burger there, too.
This morning found us in the NuLu area for breakfast at Toast on Market. I devoured “The King”: French toast filled with peanut butter, bananas, and mascarpone. I gained five pounds at breakfast, but I did so with no regrets:
Speaking of food, we spent yesterday afternoon at the Kentucky State Fair. The line was too long for me to try an especially decadent food item that’s been on my “have a heart attack before I’m 50” radar for quite some time:
That’s a Sloppy Joe. In between two Krispy Kremes. Hell yes, America!
We didn’t stay too long at the Fair–even though I was tempted to stick around to see Chevelle play at 8. It got really hot by 4 p.m., and the air was still and scented with fried food, livestock, and B.O. There were also too many Duck Dynasty t-shirts bouncing up and down the carnival fairway for my liking.
Chevelle wasn’t the only artist playing that night–in fact, I do believe this man was quite the draw:
Toby Keith’s truck was parked behind the pavilion he was set to headline. I saw lots of fans lurking around the truck, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that artists don’t ride in those trucks.
We saw this guy at the State Fair, too. I have no doubt that he is a sentient being sent here from another planet to capture data on we earthlings, to further his overlords’ plans of planetary conquest:
To wrap up the evening, we drove 30 minutes outside of town to visit …
THE MOST HAUNTED PLACE ON EARTH
Waverly Hills Sanatorium is an abandoned tuberculosis hospital where hundreds died from TB many years ago. Waverly is said to be riddled with off-the-charts paranormal activity, something that I enjoy in books and movies, but don’t take seriously in real life. The owners of the building offer weekend tours of the decrepit and “haunted” facility, which come complete with unnerving history factoids and tales of “real” ghost sightings.
I got us booked for the 10 p.m.-midnight tour, which was the only timeslot available (reservations fill up super-fast).
The scariest and creepiest part of the tour happened before the tour even started. Waverly Hills is accessible only by an unmarked road that rolls past a golf course. It’s near-impossible to find (it took me several tries, and I was grateful for leaving early), and feels like a pathway into Hell (HELL IS REAL, after all). Trees swallow the road from the sides and above, which made it feel as though we were driving into a tunnel. I flicked on my high beams, because there was no visibility on the road, nor was there a hint that we were even headed in the right direction.
Suddenly, the road dumped right into the building. It’s a massive and imposing construct, as seen here in this picture from the Waverly Hills website:
Make no mistake, this is a creepy building, especially at night, and especially with its history.
This is one of the first things I saw when I got out of my car:
Our tour group started by walking “the body chute,” the 500-foot ramp that was once used to discreetly dispose of the dead, so as not to alarm other residents. It was the most dramatic part of the tour, and the most exhausting. After walking down the ramp, we all had to walk back up. My calves were on fire from climbing the awkwardly-spaced cement steps, and I was so parched that I would have kissed a ghost for a bottle of water.
The tour is conducted in darkness (‘natch). Flashlight use is kept to a minimum, almost exclusively on the stairwells. Apparently ghosts are scared of their own shadows, and flashlights spook them. This proves a theory of mine that when we die, we all come back as my dog.
The building has been ransacked by squatters and vandals, and graffiti covers the remaining walls. Some remnants of the old hospital are still in view, however. I can’t say I didn’t get a chill seeing the electro-shock room’s control panel:
Or this light from the operating room:
Our guide told us stories of recent ghostly encounters, none of which took place during tours like the one we were on. These hauntings all happened during Waverly’s “Full Night” paranormal investigation packages (available for $100 per person). Apparently the Waverly ghosts are just like me–they do much better in small gatherings than at large parties.
The big show stopper came towards the end of our tour, when we were taken to the pitch-black fourth floor … where “the Shadow People” live. To explain Shadow People, our guide encouraged a volunteer to walk down the fourth floor hallway and stand in front of a doorway that was faintly lit from outside. She asked that we focus on the volunteer through the darkness. Soon, she insisted, we should see shapes and energy floating around the person–Shadow People. I couldn’t see two feet in front of me in the darkness, let alone shadowy wraiths fifty feet down the hall. Some people did claim to see the figures, however. If you want to believe in something bad enough, I suppose you can find a way to make it real.
One of the last areas we walked through was the cafeteria. Our guide told us that it’s not unusual to get a strong smell of baking bread, or other food being prepared, while walking past. Once, she said, the smell of ghostly peanuts coming from the cafeteria was so strong that a tour-goer with peanut allergies broke out in hives. Hope she had a ghost epi-pen at the ready.
While I don’t buy any of the Waverly stories, it was a fascinating tour to go on. It was like a 3D ghost story that I got to share with a dozen of strangers. And I couldn’t help buying a coffee mug and a postcard from the gift shop. When in Rome … or the sanatorium…
Before leaving town this morning, there was one final stop I wanted to make. We paid our respects to the man who ushered poultry into a state of fast food dominance: Colonel Sanders.
Rest in peace, Colonel, and thanks for Original Recipe.
Louisville was surprisingly fabulous, and I didn’t even go do any Derby-related exploration. Next time …