Thursday, February 5, 2009

Leaving Nashville

by Nicole

After a night in Nashville, we felt like we had a taste of what Tennessee was all about, but we still wanted more. When planning the trip, one of my "must see" destinations was Tennessee...well, a specific amusement-type attraction in Tennessee...Dollywood. Lauren and Sarah laughed at the idea, but I knew that they secretly wondered what surprises a park dedicated to Dolly Parton would hold. I was happy when they agreed to stop in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, the home of Dollywood. They both wrote off the stop as being about seeing the Smokey Mountains (Tennessee just has so many great things!) and not about Dollywood, but I believe otherwise.

We took the three and a half hour drive from Nashville to Tennessee and arrived in Pigeon Forge in the late afternoon. Rather than settling in at a hotel, we decided to explore. We made three observations about the people of Pigeon Forge within our first thirty minutes there - people in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee love Christmas, pancakes, and touristy/amusement type attractions. As we drove up and down the main road of Pigeon Forge we were pleasantly surprised to see tinsel-laden homes and signs, Christmas lights, and (our favorite) a Christmas themed hotel! Seeing as it was the middle of October, we surmised that the people of Pigeon Forge must really love Christmas and celebrate it all year round or have decided that taking putting and taking down Christmas decorations once a year is just too much trouble.

Tinsel-laden decoration:

We also noticed an overwhelming number of pancake houses. We all decided that we would have pancakes for dinner that night, seeing as it seemed like the right thing to do and having pancakes for dinner is just awesome. There were also amusement/tourist attractions EVERYWHERE. Pigeon Forge is like the love child of Disney World and a strip mall - wonderfully amusing yet slightly tacky.

Back from extinction, it's the Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride!

Doesn't this guy sort of look eerily like Jack Nicholson? Upside-down theater! After taking in the unnatural sites of Pigeon Forge, we decided to take in the natural beauty of the Smoky Mountains. It was too late to for to catch the sunrise, but we were just in time for sunset.

Lauren's beautiful photo of the Smokys:

We left the mountain and promised ourselves that we would return the following morning for sunrise. It was time to settle in for the night and, of course, the Christmas themed hotel was our first choice of lodging. Unfortunately they were booked. We decided that we would spend the following night there and that we would dream of sugarplums until then. We were also saddened to learn that pancakes in Pigeon Forge are not as special as we had imagined and were only served during the day. Another low blow, but we vowed to remedy it - we would have pancakes for breakfast the next day! We got an Arbor Day themed hotel (not really) and settled in for a short while before heading out to find Dollywood.

We followed signs up a windy, poorly lit road towards Dollywood as Lauren told us stories about mountain people. Lauren pointed out a light up high in the Smokys and said that it must be the home of a mountain person. This scared us enough (for whatever reason) to nearly turn the car around. Fortunately, we were greeted with the Dollywood sign - a welcoming beacon that kept us driving. To my disappointment and just as Lauren and Sarah's had most likely planned, Dolllywood was closed. Oh, the injustice of it all! I forced Sarah to drive into the park despite it's obvious lack of activity and we infiltrated the parking lot and front gate - video camera in hand. Lauren told me that the cameras in the park had noticed us and that they were following us, which I of course believed, and we ran away from the park Blair Witch style ("I'm so scared! I'm so scared!) When we got back to our room, we were relieved and excited about the day ahead. There was so much left to explore! (Dollywood...ahem..ahem)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

It's All Happening In Nashville

After bidding adeiu to the man in yellow tights in Metropolis, we drove east towards Nashville, Tennessee. We arrived early enough in the night to take a driving tour of the city, get a hotel, and go out on the town for a few hours before calling it a night. We decided to walk around the main area of downtown Nashville, camera in hand. We weren't sure what or who we'd encounter, but we were prepared nonetheless. We were happy to have been prepared when we came across two street performers. We asked them about their stories, their passions, and life as a street performer. They were happy to oblige and we walked away with a spontaneous and insightful interview. We were satisfied with our one interview, but the road had other plans for us. Just a few feet up the road from the two street performers we interviewed was a man named Darby, another street performer who was busy strumming away at his guitar. As we walked by, he started to tell us about his ambitions to be a street performer and his passion for music. We all exchanged glances as he spoke - what he was saying was perfect interview material. Sarah jumped at the opportunity and asked Darby's permission to film him. He agreed and what followed was a valuable addition to our collection of interviews. He told us about how he had started playing in the clubs of downtown Nashville and how we was working his way towards stardom. His drive was evident and all three of us heard his passion as he shared one of his songs with us.

Darby (on left) and his friend, also a street performer
We left Darby to his music after we finished up his interview and continued to wander around the downtown area until we found ourselves inside B.B. Kings Blues Club.

A live band played inside and, at the end of their set, the musicians came out into the audience!

Sarah getting serenaded by one of the musicians:

It never hurts to be reminded of this:
What's more Nashville/country music than Dolly Parton?!
We returned to our hotel that night (after stopping for McFlurries, of course) feeling satisfied. We had met people who were doing what they loved - playing music. Even if it wasn't paying an incredible amount, all of the street performers we interviewed had a crucial ingredient of success: hope. Maybe we aren't all doing exactly what we are passionate about as a career at the moment, but our visit to Nashville served as a reminder that remaining hopeful and working hard at whatever it is that we love can lead to the fulfillment of dreams.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Superman and Metropolis

by Lauren

As Nicole mentioned in our last blog entry, we found our way to Metropolis, Illinois - home of Superman! We didn't have any interviews there, but rather than moving on to the next town right away, we stuck around for the day to check out Metropolis. So much of the town looked like it popped right out of the 1950s and we found that everyone was amazingly nice and friendly. I guess when Superman lives in your town, you have to be good.

After doing a little sightseeing, we had some less exciting stuff to get done - laundry. We found a local laundromat and while we were there, we met Mr. and Mrs. Stouffer who, by coincidence, were originally from Rhode Island. Practically neighbors! They were really friendly and wanted to invite us over to dinner, but we had to be in Tennessee that night, so we couldn't. Here they are with their adorable dog, Pepe:

Before leaving Metropolis, we had one last thing to take care of - feeding our dumpster cats! When we got back to the place where we had been the night before, we discovered that someone else was already feeding the dumpster kitties, so we just left the bag of food we bought for whoever was already taking care of them.

While we wandered around looking for the cats, we found this cute little baby frog! Here's Sarah holding it:

And a giant bug:

We finally found our dumpster kitties too!

That concludes our time spent in Metropolis. Next stop - Smoky Mountains!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's a Metropolis???

by Nicole

After leaving behind the beauty of St. Louis, the Wanderers discussed the possibility of staying in a bed and breakfast for the night. We decided that it would probably be the most affordable to stay an hour or so outside of St. Louis so we locked in our next destination - Nashville, Tennessee - into Sarah's GPS and started to drive. Along the way Lauren got busy scanning nearby bed and breakfasts on her iPhone.

We both started calling whatever places were in the area while Sarah drove. Every single place we called was full! Lauren called one place that was a revamped one-room school house only to have the person who answered the phone say, "Our room is full". Our room. Just one! The luck on my end was not any better, so we all decided to drive a little further and stop at the next promising exit (at this point we were in Illinois...again, cut NOT Effingham... and promising exits were coming at a rate of every twenty-five to sixty miles). Sarah's trusty GPS told us that the nearest cluster of life was in a town called Metropolis. We decided to pull off when we saw the exit. Little did we know at the time that Metropolis, Illinois would be one of the most memorable stops we would make on our journey.

As we exited the highway we were pleasantly greeted by a sign with the words "GIANT SUPERMAN STATUE STRAIGHT AHEAD". It may have been late, but time could not stop us from seeing Superman.

We followed the sign and found ourselves passing what I have always pictured small town America to look like. Humble residences sat next to local shops. Shortly after arriving in town we saw a large statue. Could this be Superman?! A closer look revealed that Superman was not the only man in Metropolis to have a giant statue made in his honor. It was Big John or Big John's groceries complete with produce in hand. We drove on with high expectations for Superman's giganticness. Of COURSE he would be larger than Big John! This was his town after all. We drove on only to have the small town feel end abruptly when we came across a Harrah's Casino whose bright lights compared to Las Vegas. As quickly as small town was disturbed by Harrah's, it reemerged as we continued to follow the signs towards Superman. Then we saw it. "Is this it?!" It's size had been dwarfed by Big John, but in reference to the average statue, Superman's was pretty giant.

We left Superman and promised to return to him in the daylight to get a closer look at his pecks and overall physique. Though it was in the middle of NO WHERE, the three of us decided to venture into Harrah's hotel to take in the local scene. The parking lot was packed. Mostly with out-of-towners from Tennessee and Kentucky. Lauren surmised that this was probably the closest casino for all surrounding states. I pictured caravans of cars leaving every hour on the hour for the destination of Metropolis, Illinois - metropolis? Not so much.

Sarah and Lauren entering Harrah's:

We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the casino, but just imagine what it would be like to live inside a pinball machine and you should get a good idea of what it was like. After leaving (and spending $3.75 on watered down cranberry vodkas), we headed to the car to find a hotel to stay in. As we approached the car Sarah made the mistake of saying, "Hey! There's a cat" - a mistake that she would spend the next 24 hours regretting because Lauren and I are avid cat fans and Sarah happens to be allergic to them. Lauren and I did our best to call the cat over only to notice that another was coming out to greet us and then a third. Within minutes we were surrounded by a dozen or so dumpster cats and found ourselves wandering (it's what we do so well) near an abandoned maintenance shack.
The clan of dumpster cats:
Abandoned maintenance shack:

Lauren and I eventually heeded to Sarah's pleads to leave our new friends, but we promised to return in the morning with food for them to enjoy. More on the rest of our stay in Metropolis to come...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

St. Louis, Missouri

by Lauren

After our amazing interviews at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Missouri, the three of us headed across the state to St. Louis where we hoped to have our picture taken with the St. Louis Arch. But first, we took important Roadtrip Nation hat photos.




We drove across the state on a lot of those endless roads that Nicole talked about in her las post, and finally made it to St. Louis, Missouri to see the Arch:

We arrived in the city, found a parking spot, and started wandering (because that's what the What Now Wanderers do best). We first walked down to the Mississippi River, which I have never seen before! It was really big and very... dirty-looking. It did have a lot of cool ships on it though, including this one which looks like it came straight out of a Mark Twain novel:

Next stop was the St. Louis Arch, where we asked someone to take our picture standing under it. Apparently the idea of having the arch with us in the picture was way too confusing, so this is what we ended up with (just use your imagination and picture an arch above us):

Sarah and Nicole making their own arches:

As we wandered around the city looking for a good place to stop for dinner, we found ourselves in the middle of Rocktoberfest, which on that particular day was featuring an 80s hair band:

We head-banged a little at the concert (no really, we did) and then headed over to Jake's Steaks, an awesome restaurant in Old St. Louis:

After an enormous meal (there was enough food for at least 8 people) we piled back into the car and headed in the general direction of Tennessee.

Goodbye St. Louis!

Little did we know that we'd find ourselves that night in a town called Metropolis, Illinois - home of Superman! But that's a story for another day....

Sunday, November 2, 2008

...AND You Can Nap While You Work! (Road Trip Day 3)

by Nicole

Day 3 of our adventure marked that (very happy) departure from Motel 6 and our journey from Effingham, Illinois to Kansas City, Missouri - home of Hallmark Cards! We traveled along what seemed like endless highway before arriving to the headquarters.

Examples of endless highway:

Once we arrived, we were greeted by a young, bubbly creative recruiter named Bess. She was kind enough to give us an in-depth tour of Hallmark and to tell us about the company's mission and history. We were very impressed by everything, but I think that we have all come to the conclusion that among Hallmark's most notable aspects was it's designated "Nap Room" where employees were allowed to venture during the course of the day to recharge. We all have an affinity for napping (in college we all napped more than we did in pre-school...), so the fact that Hallmark had a room designated to the sport of napping was thrilling.

Here are some picture from our tour of Hallmark:

A space devoted to illustration inspiration for employees!

Crown lighting!

After touring the building, we were able to sit down with two writers for Hallmark, Andre and Molly. We loved hearing their stories and advice!

Andre used to be a circus clown!

Molly was a freelance writer and during our interview I learned that she wrote a book on writing greeting cards that I own! It was actually the first book I had ever gotten on the subject. Coincidence?! I think not!

We left Hallmark inspired, ready to face the rest of our trip and hungry. Bess recommended a local spot over the Kansas border called Oklahoma Joe's. Though our stomachs were growling, we all decided that before crossing the state line into Kansas we had to visit the world's largest shuttlecock first. Can you blame us?!

View from inside the shuttlecock:

We satiated our need for a world's largest thing (for the time being) and headed over the state line to Oklahoma Joe's. The restaurant resided directly next to a gas station, but it's line of customers proved that it was definitely NOT a place that Guy Fieri would classify as a dive. We struggled through the unfamiliar lingo of the menu and tried out best to order like the locals. We considered ordering in our finest Kansas City drawl, but thought it in our best interest to refrain after the Motel 6 incident.

The crowd in Oklahoma Joe's:
Kansas City (Missouri and Kansas) left us feeling very full and very creative. It opened our eyes to a type of work environment that we would all would be happy to be a part of. Andre and Molly proved to us that passionate work can also be (and often is) meaningful work. It was obvious that both them and Bess feel fulfilled by the work that they do and that they are living out the company's mission of "creating a more emotionally connected world by making a genuine difference in every life, every day". They certainly made a difference in our lives by taking the time to share their stories with us.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

by Sarah
Sorry it seems that we skipped a few days along the way. Those of you who were following our blog hopefully didn't think we were stuck in the Motel 666 all this time. We escaped/ ran out of there as quickly as possible the next day and then went on the road again.
Those who know me know that the way I tell stories is in a way that sometimes lacks chronological order. Many times I may also leave out or forget the "punch line" of the story. (I know this is enticing you to read my blog post more and more as I keep writing). Its one of my quirks aka personality flaws... So, instead of boring and confusing you with my storytelling disabilities, I'll write a series of lists that will hopefully convey the trip in a compelling way.

I feel that whenever I travel, there seem to be many common themes that are present. These themes occur while traveling abroad as well as domestically. Here are some observations and themes that I experienced along the way.

1. Irony. Any time I have traveled, irony seems to be a common theme i.e a middle of nowhere town in Illinois called Metropolis with a population about the size of my high school. Another example was talking about a international city or country like Paris, Mexico, or Italy and then seeing signs for it less than a minute later (in Middle America). In the middle of nowhere we saw signs for "New Florence," Mexico, Paris, Tuscany Condominiums, and Vienna. There were actually any points when Lauren was talking about Brent, who was in London at the time, and then we would see these "England" trucks every half-mile or so. Crazy coincidences like these happened all along the trip. I wonder what God was trying to tell us... maybe that I need to travel soon (or maybe that's just how I interpreted it). Another extremely ironic event was during our stay at The Inn at Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge, TN. Since the hotel was all Christmas themed, Lauren thought of the great idea to do secret Santa. We each drew each others names from a hat (that Nicole made during the trip). I picked Lauren, Lauren picked Nicole, and Nicole picked me. We went to a store where you could buy leather, tshirts, fudge, and bathing suits. Can you imagine a store like this that is not called Wal-Mart?! Well, we dispersed in the store and picked out quirky gifts for each other. The next morning we opened our gifts. The craziest thing happened- I had actually picked out the same gift for Lauren that she had picked for Nicole. A key chain with a pocket knife on it with the name "Bubba" etched on it. Of all the names to pick, we picked the same exact name! Alanis Morissette would have thought that was surely ironic. Another example of this was seeing a wooden bear walking down a pathway and thinking it was real. Later on that day, we did in fact see a real bear in the smoky mountains! I wouldn't be surprised if "Ironic" came on in the deep forests during our bear sighting.

2. Going full circle. Not only was our route around parts of the country routed in a way which made a circular path, but it was evident that our conversations, locations, people we met, etc. all went full circle after a certain amount of time. What I mean by this is many times a conversation we had earlier in the trip was brought up later on in the trip by a complete stranger, such as a person we interviewed. We'd be talking about our life goals, or direction in life, and then our interviews would give us just the guidance we needed. I heard common themes during the interviews over time and now that we're home, I'm starting to forget who said what, but I still remember the themes of persistence, determination, and courage coming through in the interviews. While playing "Psychic Radio" (a game Lauren introduced to us later in the trip), we found that many of our questions were answered by asking the radio a question and then strategically holding down the "seek" button for a designated number of seconds then releasing and seeing what song is playing. I don't really believe this is going to give us huge life advice, but its fun to play on a long road trip. Along the trip we saw signs for "Emma." Some middle of nowhere town. The coincidence being that we had just visited with my cousin Jean's new baby Emma in Indiana. I also saw signs for "Norwalk" (the city I just moved to in Connecticut). While in DC, we passed the Peace Corps building, the building in which I had corresponded with handfuls of people over the last and sent numerous documents as I waited in anticipation for my placement. It was interesting that the last day of our trip, we passed by this building. It was hard to see, because it was just a reminder that I wasn't there ("there" being in my placement, the Dominican Republic). It was also a reminder, and sign, to me that I still need to pursue my dreams of going into the Peace Corps and reapply next year when they may reevaluate me. To me, it was a sign and reminder that God was saying, "Don't give up. Continue to work towards this." The irony was that the Peace Corps building was actually right around the corner from the National Geographic building where we met with Chris Johns, the editor in chief of the magazine.

3. Quirks. Just as we found quirks in the strange towns we went to, we also couldn't help but notice each of our own quirks. We established my story telling tendencies to often include the phrase "OH MY GOSH" (spoken with the perfect voice inflection sounding surprised and excited). We found Nicole's quirk to be in her conversation skills. Many times, Nicole will ask questions along the lines of: If you could be any (fill in the blank), which would you be... and why!? She has a way of asking such unique questions it gets you stumped and really makes you think. Many times these questions will come out of no where (but are surely connected in Nicole's train of thought). Lauren tends to be a dream crusher and cannot suspend disbelief. This happened a couple times during the trip.

Thats all I got for now, and I should probably get ready for work. I'll write more observations as soon as I can!