Road Learnin’

We just finished up a pretty epic drive to Albuquerque and back for the holidays. It’s a long ways, about 1,300 miles if you take the northern route (Memphis, then the 40) and  a good bit longer if you go to Houston and the 10. We’d done it once before since we moved here, but this time we got the advantage of a super-luxe borrowed car with the following major advantages: 1. Lots of space for our dog to pace and sleep; 2. Satellite radio, allowing us to listen to Finebaum every day; 3. Heated seats, especially important since we were Driving Into The Great Storm of 2011 (which was played on television as a major blizzard but which seemed to have consisted of a dusting of snow by the time we got to the Home of the 72 Ounce Steak the next day).

We’ve posted here a few times about learning from other cities, including a recent trip to Minneapolis  – this time, a few things we learned traveling and one thing we learned from our destination city.

First, the road trip itself. We took the dog, which presents a whole set of challenges. She loves to go, but taking her means stopping more frequently, not totally blasting your music all the time and generally being more humane about the road trip experience than you might be if it were just you humans in the car. The advent of spacephones greatly helped with our dog travel experience. We used our phones to find dog parks on the way. It turns out that when you enter Oklahoma going east, the rest stop has free coffee, palatial marble restrooms and a fenced in dog park. Just across the freeway, evacuees are rewarded with the opportunity to stroll through the set of The Road and pee in a metal hole. The Internets also helped us to find hotels that would allow the dog to stay with us by laying them out on a map near our current location, even if we were in Van Buren, Arkansas.

Mapping in general is kind of awesome; having the mobile Internets allowed us to find cool place to eat so we were able to avoid chain restaurants (sure, we hit a Taco Bell one time, we’re only human, but it was in Moriarty – surely that counts a little toward our indie cred?). On the way there, we ate at the Sawmill Cafe in Arkansas – not through the Internet, just because it was the only non-chain at our stop and we were starving. Plus, we dimly remembered that we’d eaten there before and that they sold comics in their weird little gift shop (Jesus! Slightly crinkled James Patterson thrillers!). The buffet is pretty good, but also a bit overpriced – you’re lucky to get out of there for less than $30 for the two of you.

On the way back, we used mapping to find vegetarian food in Amarillo and Memphis, cities that are both nationally-known temples of animal slaughter meat culture. Our alternative to Amarillo’s 72 ounce steaks was vegetarian chili and a bagel pizza at The 806, where a display case of local art featured necklaces made of human bones ($50). It was cool to see part of Amarillo that we’d never seen before, an otherwise awful-seeming city looking like it has a scene after all. Much the way some people probably feel when they come to El Rey. It made us reflect on the way sometimes creative types end up retrenching in their own little areas of town. We are all challenged to take over our cities, not just hide out in enclaves. Truly great cities are big, sprawling canvases extending beyond a small neighborhood.

In Memphis, we ate at a vegan restaurant so good its own review is forthcoming – Imagine. It was in the Cooper-Young district of Memphis, the kind of neighborhood you drive through and know you’d love to live in. Next door at Goner Records, we bought an album by super weird Memphis music scene icon Tav Falco, then walked to get coffee at Java Cabana. It was advertised as the best coffee in Memphis. We concur, even though it’s also the only coffee we’ve ever had in Memphis.

One cool thing about Cooper-Young is that they publish a surprisingly large and well made neighborhood newspaper, the Lamplighter, every month. This is how we learned that two Memphis neighborhoods competed against each other last year in a contest to see which neighborhood could reduce their energy use the most – The Smallest User. Check out the website here, and there’s also a blog. I think this is the kind of thing that would be able to get our neighborhoods interested in a little friendly competition. Anyone game?

Our destination, Albuquerque, was warmer than usual despite the Great Storm. This allowed us ample opportunity to sample the Duke City’s ample off-leash dog parks. We know that Montgomery is going to (knock on wood) open its first of these in 2012 over at Blount, but may we humbly suggest that the Capitol of Dreams look west for some inspiration as it expands opportunities for dog recreation? Albuquerque’s approach is to use odd plots of land – the place right up against the freeway where nobody wants to live or own a business, the odd-shaped triangle behind baseball fields – and convert them into low-maintenance dog parks. Several are covered in mulch, rather than grass, so they don’t need a lot of mowing.

All in all, blogging has been light in the last piece of 2011. Look for more to come in 2012. Thanks for staying with us and thanks for reading. Happy New Year!


4 responses to “Road Learnin’

  1. And thank you for this wonderful blog! I really appreciate your efforts.

  2. I know that we keep saying that Montgomery doesn’t have a dog park, but I thought that there was one at Cooter’s Pond Park.

    Also, when we lived in Memphis, we LOVED Cooper Young.

  3. I know, but that’s in Prattville and kind of sucks. Especially in the summer.

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