Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Red Headed Slut

Day 6:

We wake up by lake Dardanelle - or Lady Lake Gaga as Jess seems to think it is called (Jess does not seem to be following the Geography of our trip well. Nor does Flo who we find out thought Grand Canyon was actually a giant waterfall.

Despite being totally abandoned it is absolutely immaculate and new. The general consensus is that we have stumbled into some mildly horrific Jurassic Park scenario. For no apparent reason we feel so uplifted that we decide to have a group jog around the park. Having absolutely no sensible footwear - and somehow managing to lose 1 show in Memphis - Flo has to do this in ballet shoes. As I lead the group 'jungle running' through woodland it becomes clear that it would be sensible to stop and go for a swim instead.

Off to Tulsa we head. Somehow we have it in our head that this town is going to provide us with some kind of wild night out. We know it sounds familiar and realise it is just because Chandler from 'Friends' is relocated there. And hates it. Oh. 

We pull in just before sunset and walk to a diner on Route 66. I line my stomach with a chocolate milkshake and the local speciality - Chicken Fried Steak - which, by the way, is not actually chicken. It is in fact a deep fried hamburger. With white gravy.

We walk on, getting tooted by all the locals. Jess merrily waves back as we skip our way on to the Eleventh Street Pub. (We find out later that Route 66 is famed for prostitutes - current going rate $20 by the way- which is why we were ceremoniously welcomed by the local passing drivers)

What happens next is really quite hard to describe. In a matter of minutes we go from a quiet beer, to the most potent vodka-tonic in existent, to the house special shots 'Red Headed Slut'. The barlady told us she had invented the shot - Flo not knowing its name, asked if it was named after her. The answer was "yes".

The following few hours are a blur of everyone on tables dancing to the bar song "I Want It All - Queen". And then watching the red headed slut herself perform with unbridled passion (think climbing on pool table and then throwing herself onto her knees on the floor) to AC/DC. We then had a brawl break out in the corner because Paula's (wearing a BITCH cap - which apparently stands for Beautiful Intelligent Talented Charming and Happy) husband arrived while she was snogging some other man on the bar. And lets not even begin thinking of the local 40 something year old prostitute who arrived to do business in pink wal mart shorts and crop top. 

Or Connie from the local liquor store who - after warning Ashley to maybe calm down a little - I found him singing Shania Twain with at the top of his lungs while dancing on the pool table for the rest of the night.  

Sunday, 3 May 2009


Walking in Memphis

Day 5: 

We're off to Graceland, Memphis. The home of Elvis/Rock n Roll/Country Music/Fried Peanut Butter Sandwiches etc.

We decide, in honour to the King himself we should don some suitable outfits- including a head-to-toe tie-dye look for myself and a glitzy sequined Chanel number for Ashley. Having dodged the 10 dollar Graceland car park for the free gift shop car park instead we excitedly canter over to the gates of the house itself. 

Er.....28 dollars to get in? Each? But we don't even want the tour we just want to get up close and personal to the front door. Obviously West Memphis isn't so susceptible to our charms as we fail to blag our way in. 

So what do we do instead? Buy some postcards of course. And a present for my mum (I'm not saying what as I think she is probably the only person who will actually read this). And lets not forget a LOT of pictures of ourselves jumping around by the sign. It is strange how after a few snaps I think we had all convinced ourselves that we really had 'done' Graceland.

We leave fully satisfied.

Back on the road we cross into Arkansas and hit rain for the first time. We grumpily turn the RV heating on and drag out one waterproof to share between us when necessary. 

Morale is running low just as I hear.


Everyone is on their feet overcome with enthusiasm as we see our first actual WalMart. We screech into the car park as we leap out to see if its true that we can actually buy ourselves a gun there.

Who were we kidding? We emerge about 2 and a half hours later laden with about 20m of netting, 5m of fringing, needles, thread and some miniature bells. 

Oh, and a water pistol. 

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Swine Flu

Day 4:

Up at 8am. And on an 8 mile bike ride by 9.30am. The London lie-ins seem far away indeed. On our wildlife excursion we spy Eagles, North America's largest species of woodpecker and I find myself within 2m of a family of bears. But all the locals seem much more excited when we tell them we spotted 4 wild turkeys.

We get off the campsite late so head on to Jackson (via about 3 minutes in Nashville) to stay at the Whispering Pines. This is no ordinary RV Park. Nope. It comes with a 100 site trailer park next door and a laundry straight out of the most terrifying mid-west horror movie known to man. When we thought things could get no eerier, our camp host swings by to ask us about our journey.

"Where all you guys off to?"


"Aren't you all scared to go out there right now"


"What with that swine flu? 180 done died in Mexico and there's a bunch of cases in Los Angeles. That was yesterday. I don't even know what happened today......But don't get spooked"

"It looks like we are definitely going the wrong way"

Oh dear.

At night...

'Whispering Pines' at Dusk - Jackson

Cades Cove (Food Lion)

Approaching the Smokeys

Friday, 1 May 2009

Dollywood etc

Day 3 PM:

Now I doubt that any of you have ever turned off The Interstate 81 to visit Pigeon Forge before. It really is the most peculiar place - a mini Vegas if you will - filled with novelty restaurants that made to look like upside down houses and shops shaped like giant records. And most excitingly for me personally - about 17 mini adventure golf courses including a 54 hole one constructed over an entirely fake farm. 3 acres of joy.

Unfortunatley the afternoon was getting ona and we had somewhere important to be - DOLLYWOOD. Having negotiated our RV into the carpark we hopped aboard the Dolly tram driven by two kind gentlemen in lime green uniforms. Everyone else is (also clad head to toe in various citrus colours and) headed in the opposite direction. Have we missed it? We board the now empty tram.

"Welcome to Dollywood. Please take note of your stop. This is Stop 'C'. That is 'C' for Cotton Candy, Cookies, Coke or Charlie - whatever gets you going"

Obviously mid-America is more liberal than we thought.

We arrive at the entrance to be told (by Dolly's fifth cousin once removed) that it is 50 dollars each to enter. Hmmm what? That's more than Alton Towers. Somehow our sad country-music loving faces convince the ticket man to let us in the gates for 60 minutes for free. Yee-ha.

Having exited (weighed down by mugs, postcards, keyrings, national pride etc) we head to Cades Cove in the Great Smokey Mountains upon a friends recommendation. Sun sets just as we embark on the long and winding road up to the campsite. Although in theory this sounds romantic, driving an RV in semi-visibility up a road that looks like it is designed for a vehicle no wider than a motorbike - with a gorge on one side - is not for the faint hearted. 

Cades Cove is without doubt the most pcituresque place we have stayed so far. We all agree this is perhaps the USA experience we were longing for. No electricity. No phone reception. No Wi-Fi. Just a big fire and some home made burgers. Oh and a lot of wild bears, snakes and rodents according to the "Warning' sign at the entrance. 

At midnight, we go for a walk - clutching our torches and vodka tonics to find a patch to lie down and look at all the stars - total silence - apart from the crickets in the trees and the sound of Ashley in 6 inch stilettos scampering along the path.

Pigeon Forge

West Virginia

Day 3 AM:

Before we go back on the road. Ashley and I go to say farewell to Connie. She appears at the door asking more about our trip. Fascinated that we are crossing from one side of the coast to the other.

"Are you kids off to the Grand Canyon?"

Ashley and Tom "Oh yes - definitely

"Well be careful, I don't know if its just cause I'm from the mountains but I was walking round looking for it - with my eyes keep a lookin' up in the air and you know what? The Canyon is actually down - in the ground. When I realised, I felt like such a jackass. Such a Jackass."

And on that note we quickly left Virginia.

Dixie Caverns - Salem

Sightseeing in DC

Good Morning Baltimore

Day 2:

After a swift breakfast on the boiling Baltimore tarmac we jump back into Betty and head on our way to Washington, DC. They say 'this land is built for RV's' and it appears a truer word has never been spoken as we negotiate our vehicle to within 500m of The White House itself without even a glance from pedestrians. It soon turns out this is because everyone in these parts is too busy trying to figure out how to steer their way around the streets on those 2 wheeled vertical bicycles of the future (the name of which currently escapes me but can be seen in my pictures) to pay much attention to anything else.

Sweat dripping down my denim shirt (bought just a moment before at the Baltimore truck stop) we trot giddily towards Barrack Obama's home. Curiously it feels rather small and very much like we are in Universal Studios. I half expect a fake earthquake/flood/electricity storm to kick in or life size shark from Jaws to be wheeled past us at any minute.

Alas not, so we head round the corner to realise we have actually been photographing it from entirely the wrong side.

Several hours later we arrive at Salem, west Virginia to pull into the Dixie Caverns Campground. At first it appears abandoned, but we find our 'Camp Host' Connie (resplendent in a blouse printed with the number plates from all the 52 American States) eager to welcome us.

'So What do you boys do'

Tom - "Well, I'm a photographer"

Ashley - "And I'm a fashion designer"

"I might have known. You remind me of those guys off the television"

Ashley [quick as a flash] - "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy"

"No dear. That's not very nice. I meant Project Runway"

I swiftly pushed Ashley out the door reminding him gently that in this part of the world gay men still get stoned to death while being dragged tied by the genitals to tractor tires. We have all seen Brokeback Mountain after all.

The rest of the group settle down to cards and vodka for the night. 

I eagerly listen out at all times for Connie's husband in case he comes investigating with a shotgun...