central time zone
We fought Appalachia all morning yesterday, stopping for the best breakfast I've ever eaten at the 79er Diner ("where the food is finer") somewhere in WV. An empty coal train rolled by as we ate, framed by the booth's window and the tiny American flag standing on the sill. Passing through Charelston, WV, I saw my first true riverboat pushing two coal barges up the Kanawha--a trickle on the map, but a tributary of the mighty Ohio and an important local waterway. Then we crossed into Kentucky, fueled at a flying J (where I posted here), and drove into Lexington. There, Segway-mounted cops were busting homeless dudes on every other corner, whisking them into cars and vans and getting them out of someone's sight. It was bizarrely intense. There was nothing to do there except buy deoderant, so we did that and left and hit Louisville.
There was a surprise. While Lexington, just over an hour away, seemed a thoroughly Southern city--in terms of its public squares, landscaping, and to a lesser degere, more contemporary architecture, Louisville looked like it belonged on the Great Lakes. Old cast iron faced warehouses, abandonded for years stood along the waterfront, and the streets were adorned with snow emergency route signs. The familiar smell of loft (rotten timber, rats, young artsy people) wafted through the streets, and I could tell the developers were just beginning to realize that they had to turn all of the old buildings into Luxury Condominiums before the waterfront could again be called a success. We stopped in Stevie Ray's, a little blues bar that was quiet at 6pm, and we each sipped a Maker's on the rocks. Then we walked down to behold the river. A beautiful, recently build public park of cascading fountains extended from the buildings to the river, and dozens of people of all ages played and swam in the fountains. Dan and I joked about the happy scene in art-historical terms, about how THE EXPRESSION OF LIGHT BEGETS AND AMPLIFIES THE DIGNITY OF THESE COMMONERS, ALLOWING THE BATHERS TO TRANSCEND THEIR ORDINARY EXISTENCES and then we walked down to the river.
Now I've read two-thirds of Huck Finn and everybody reads Uncle Tom's Cabin, but the river is something to behold, if not for its relatively brief history but for its everyday vitality and importance. We watched, amazed, as huge pushboats forced giant tows of barges up the river--16, 9, and 10 at a time. They carried grain and scrap metal and rocks and coal and blasted their horns at the parkgoers as they wound their way northward to Cincinatti and beyond. After an overpriced pizza dinner, we decided we had to walk the river ourselves, crossing the mile-long U.S. 31 bridge into Indiana ("Southern Indiana is the sunny side of Louisville").
After trying for an hour to get out of the city, we wound south on 31 to Bardstown, a tourist hole about an hour to the south of Louisville. Everything there is about bourbon history and Stephen Foster, whose home is featured on the back of all Kentucky quarters. We bounced from hotel to hotel, being told of rates too high for our liking in broken Indian-English by imported proprietors. With the help of a gas station attendant, we finally found a nice little place and settled down for an excellent night's sleep.
It's 11 a.m., and we just finished breakfast at the Stephen Foster buffet. I think we'll look at some bourbon stuff around town, then leave for the long trek to Memphis, the late-hired mecca of this trip. Graceland, the Stax museum, barbeque food, and the Mississippi beckon, and we think it's worth skipping through Nashville, this time.