Monday, September 2, 2013

The Accidental Tourist

I know this title is the name of a movie.  I don't know what the movie is about.  I just thought of the title when I went on my little roadtrip to the "Mid-South" and on to the "Heartland."   

Which reminds me... I find it interesting how regions get named.  Do a Google search on "Mid-South" and it is specifically referring to Memphis, Tennessee.  Really?  Doesn't "Mid-South" sound like it should encompass a much larger geographic region than just a city?  And is it really "mid"?  Tennessee appears to be the "upper" south. Unless we are talking an east-west orientation, in which case it seems to be more so the "western" south. But "Mid-South"?  Then there is the "Heartland."  It seems Oklahoma, in general, and Oklahoma City, specifically, have appropriately earned this nickname from the series of tragedies the Sooner State has endured. The residents have banded together to help their neighbors out in extraordinary ways in the last 20 years. But, growing up, I thought I was from the "heartland." I mean, Peoria has a TV station with the call letters WHOI, which stands for "We're the Heart Of Illinois."  Sometime in middle school I recall noticing that Illinois is somewhat in the "heart" region of the United States. So my 10-year-old conclusion was that Peoria must be the SUPER Heart of the United States if we were the Heart of Illinois and Illinois was the heart of the U.S.  Not only that, but the church I grew up in advertised as "The Church with a Heart in the Heart of the City."  Maybe God was trying to tell me I should be a cardiologist. Welp, missed my calling on that one. 

Back to being an accidental tourist. My purpose for the roadtrip was to visit my cousin, Olivia, in Memphis on the way to spend a few days with my best friend from Colorado, Julie, who moved to OKC by way of Nashville back in 2009. I had a short time with both of them and was just hoping for some good quality time with them (which is my love language, in case you wanted to know).  We absolutely had that, as well as some unexpected tourist experiences as well, hence the title, accidental tourist... 

On the 7 hour drive to Memphis, the perfect pitstop turned out to be St. Louis.  I decided to pull over and check out the Arch before filling up with gas and food. 

Growing up, my first time to the Gateway To the West was with my mom and my Grandma "B". Grandma LOVED to shop (a trait that I clearly did not inherit) so she planned a shopping trip every year for my mom, Aunt Sarah and Olivia and myself. The first few were to St. Lou where we stayed and shopped at Union Station...a good choice as my mom is not a particularly confident urban driver (the running joke is that she doesn't drive out of her zip code) and limiting city driving was essential to survival.  Although, we did make an excursion to go up the Arch, which I loved!  In fact, the only things I loved about those shopping trips had nothing to do with shopping... like watching the people make fudge at The Fudgery or reading Little House on the Prairie outside the Units store as mom tried on every possible combination of leggings, tunics and waistbands.  Thank you, 1987, for that amazing fashion trend.  And I did get quite good at playing the games in Brookstone. 

We also went down to the Lou for the Missouri Valley Conference Basketball Tournament.  This was when dad was a Bradley Superfan. I loved those weekends of non-stop basketball.  Mom would have rather been shopping. But again, we made it up the Arch.  

So these were the memories that came flooding back as I stopped to snap this pic of the arch a few weeks ago. 

Next stop was Memphis.  I had never been!  Liv managed to plan a weekend that I called "All Memphis Has to Offer in 36 Hours."  

We hit the ground running with dinner at Central BBQ.  Apparently it is a Memphis staple and I could see why. This ended up being the first of what became an impromptu BBQ tour as well. I love me some pulled pork. Moe's Original has set the bar high but I'm happy to compare. Central got the job done. 

Throughout the summer there are free concerts at the Levitt Shell (right by the zoo).  Since I missed my favorite summertime activity in Vail, free Tuesday night concerts, I was happy to attend. And... there was supposedly a surprise special guest. When we arrived it was packed.  Apparently the secret wasn't so secret as Norah Jones showed up for a few songs. Great vibe on a summer night in Memphis. 

Saturday morning we had a leisurely breakfast at Liv's cute little home, then ventured to the Farmer's Market... another of my favorite things.  We experienced some great people watching and an amazing blueberry scone. 

Olivia's boyfriend, Brian, joined us for the rest of the day's tourist attractions starting with The Rock and Soul Museum.  Loved it. Take-away: amazing to see how white and black culture melded in this city through music and the people who brought it there from the share-cropping fields. 

Feeling inspired, we headed to Beale Street. My only knowledge of Beale comes from Marc Cohn's song "Walking in Memphis", which I may have been singing under my breathe during much of my visit.

We grabbed a bite at Silky O'Sullivans ... chosen for the live Blues that was being played, and maybe because of the "Irish Diving Goats."  Don't worry animal lovers, no goats jumped off the platform. Also had pulled pork there...really not worthy of the world class BBQ tour I was on.

We then took in a little bit of Memphis history by perusing A. Schwab Dry Goods Store. It was basically a more gimmicky version of a Cracker Barrel store (if you can imagine that), but fun nonetheless. 

As we were leaving downtown, we made a stop by the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. It is now the Civil Rights Museum.  This place is quite a reminder of how the course of history can be impacted so powerfully by one person.  Let's keep the dream alive! 

Next stop: The Peabody Hotel.  We saw The Ducks, people.  What a random tradition that started back in the 1920's...and has generated LOTS of revenue I'm sure, especially from people staking out a seat in the lobby bar, waiting for the duck parade at 5pm. Ducks were fun, but loved the conversation with Liv and Brian, as Brian (a Nashville native) explained to me why some southerners dress their little boys in seersucker onesies with embroidered chests all while sporting a bowl cut that left me, the non-native, guessing if the cute little toddler was really a boy or a girl. Apparently, it's an expression of love.  Still working through that one. 

By this point we were a little touristed out, so Liv and I headed for home with a detour of frozen yogurt for dinner from Yolo.  Then we joined her roommate in watching "42."  I tend to see about 4 movies a year... Glad this one made the cut. 

And my tour of Memphis ended by going to church with Liv and Brian on Sunday morning. Liv has been attending Fellowship Memphis for awhile and I can see why. They say that Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week in our country. I'm happy to say that Fellowship is doing their part to change that. The service started with a Hispanic worship leader playing gospel music, backed up by 3 amazing African-American women. Then the lead pastor, Bryan Loritts, also African-American, brought an awesome message on Habakuk 2, in regards to the church's 10 year anniversary and talking about where they've been and where they are going. He tag-teamed it with the teaching pastor, who was white. The fellowship, worship and the word were all awesome. 

I hopped into my car for my next 7 hour trek to Oklahoma City feeling challenged, loved and full of life. 

And then I experienced I-40 through Arkansas.  

I have never before had such prolonged road rage. As part of my therapy for the PTSD that was caused from this stretch of highway, I've decided it best to not rehash all the bad thoughts I was having towards humanity.  So I'll just advise you to avoid I-40 from Memphis to Little Rock, at all costs. 

I was needing a pitstop... food, gas and a mental distraction. I "Yelped" for food in Little Rock and guess what I found? Award winning BBQ from Whole Hog Cafe. Yes, please!  

And then I thought about the only "attraction" I know of in Little Rock: Little Rock Central High School, where 9 African American students integrated the high school in 1957 with the protection of the National Guard under the orders of President Eisenhower. (Remember, I'm a history teacher). Google Maps told me I was 10 minutes away.  When will I ever be back in Little Rock? I decided to "seize the carp."

When I pulled up to the school, which is a behemoth, I was surprised that there was a National Park building across the street to commemorate the site.  As I walked up to the school, I was surprised to see students coming in and out...on a Sunday. Turns out students were registering for classes. I was able to sneak in and take a glance down the hall. It seemed as though cool things were happening there. I then went back for a quick tour of the museum/welcome center. The journey those brave 9 students endured was quite amazing... and this was just a tiny slice of the experience of many throughout the Civil Rights Movement. When I look back at how far our nation has come in 60 years, it brings me hope that humanity can learn to judge people "not by the color of their skin but the content of their character."  And yet, we have a long ways to go...

Back on the road to Oklahoma. I knew Oklahoma was the home to many Native American tribes as it was the end of the Trail of Tears, but I was struck by just how many tribes were displaced as I drove on I-40. Every 10 miles or so I was reminded that I was leaving one tribal territory and entering another. And I was reminded of another disgraceful note in our nation's history book. We absolutely have much to be proud of as a country but the treatment of Native Americans is not one of them. Ugh. 

So I rolled into OKC and was greeted by 3 sweet faces on the front porch waiting for me. It was so good to see sweet Jasmine, who immediately gifted me with one of her home grown sweet banana peppers, Rye, who was proud to introduce me to Bob the Turtle and then discovered how much fun it was to torture me with his I let out an uncontrollable squeal each time the frog left his tiny grip, and Jules, whose hug reminded me of how deep our friendship was during the time we shared in Vail.  And I loved being able to pick up where we left off, as I'm not the best at keeping in touch with long distance friends. Once the kids were tucked in, we caught up til 2 am and were reminded that two little munchkins would be awake in a very short 5 hours. We decided we could leave a little to talk about over the next few days. 

On Monday morning I had my first observation of home schooling. Julie has found an awesome, but intense, online charter school curriculum. Rye, who is 6, is supposed to go through 30 hours a week of school. After observing Jules and Rye for 30 minutes, it was clear to me that I would never have the patience to home school my kids. A roomful of 30 high school seniors... no problem! My hat's off to Jules and many other parents out there who have made the choice to be fully responsible for their child's education. 

Although I know I will never be as laid back of a parent as Jules is, I hope to attempt to have at least a fraction of the fun she manages to have with her children. Laughter, joy and memorable experiences are never in shortage at the Haller household, and it really is a beautiful thing. I would be lying though if I didn't have to pick up my jaw at the number of kids coming in and out of her house. One evening, while catching up with Rick, no fewer than 8 kids came in and out of the house, helping themselves to drinks from the kitchen, toys and games of tag. And then one father came in, with a flashlight (it was nearing 9pm) looking for his two kids. I looked at Rick wide-eyed. He said "this is nothing."  Of course, knowing Jules' penchant for fun, it does not surprise me that her house would be the neighborhood hangout. I'm still in awe. 

Jules and I were able to escape for the evening. (Thanks, Rick!) My only tourist request was to go to the Oklahoma City National Memorial, the site of the OKC bombing in 1995. We were able to get the last few tickets in to the museum that evening and then toured the memorial. Again, I was reminded of a dark day in or nation's history, when I would have been in the 8th grade. But the theme was clear: the people of Oklahoma know how to comfort one another in their darkest hour, a theme that was unfortunately replayed this spring with one of the most powerful tornadoes in our nation's history striking just 2 miles from Julie's house.

We finished off the evening with dinner in Bricktown, a great revitalization of downtown OKC. 

Tuesday we spent nearly the entire day at the Oklahoma City Science Museum. It was awesome!  Basically, any lesson you could imagine in science was turned into some sort of hands on learning.  Not sure who was more intrigued, me or Rye. 

And my visit to OKC ended with dinner out on Lake Hefner at the Hefner Grill. If you drove there blindfolded, you would have thought you were on Lake Michigan or something. It was delightful! 

After a sweet time in prayer, which has become a tradition of sorts when Jules and I meet, I was headed back to the Heart of Illinois. Ten hours on the road left me much time to contemplate the many blessings in my life: loving family, sweet friendships, the ability to live independently and have the means to travel, the gift of learning from history, the blessing of Christian fellowship no matter where you are, mixed CD's and my brothers iPod, Starbucks and the feeling of approaching the Illinois river with the Peoria skyline in view (it really is quite impressive for a Midwestern town). 

And so, a trip that I'd hope would just be a good time of reconnecting with friends and family turned out to be so much more. Who knew Memohis, Little Rock and Oklahoma City had so much to offer?  

What's the favorite thing about your city?  Maybe next time I'm passing through I'll try to be a not-so-accidental tourist. 

1 comment:

  1. Fabulous travel journaling! Super photos. I can't wait to read more! THANK YOU.