It's good to be on the trail from where my ...

Trip Start Jun 29, 1999
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Trip End Dec 04, 1999


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Flag of Canada  , Ontario,
Friday, December 10, 1999

"It's good to be on the trail
From where my set sail
Putting anchor down for friends and good beer"
- Cornershop

Whew! I've finally made it home. While in New Orleans I decided to start making my run home. Usually once I make this decision on one of my long treks I put my nose to the asphalt and burn home only stopping for gas and sugar. I tried to take it easy and smell some roses along the way and for the most part I was successful but it was the most stressful part of the trip trying to counter my natural instincts.

After my last travelogue update I headed back out to Bourbon Street for one last night of revelry. I knew that the big Bayou Classic Football game between traditional college rivals Grambling and Southern was a big deal but I didn't realize what a large event it was. Bourbon Street was wall-to-wall people and the cops had not only shut down the streets in the Quarter but a large chunk of Canal street was altered to accommodate the inevitable "homies cruising for the ladies" traffic jam. For example, it usually only cost me $4.50 to cab back to the hostel from Bourbon Street but on this night it was over $10. It was a fine party though and it was helped along by the fact I found a place that sells those giant daiquiris for only $7. The key is to cross the "lavender line" (which is St.Anne Street) into the gay bar area of the Quarter. What made this evening really unusual, for me that is, was the fact that the crowd was about 90% African American. Even though I've lived in the world's most multi-ethnic city, Canada is still a whitebread country. It's the first time I've ever felt like a minority and I had the chance to enter into the mind of somebody who faces this everyday. I think I was having too good a time to let it affect me adversely though. What really made me laugh however was the fact that on the night the party crowd was overwhelmingly black, the karaoke bar was closed. I guess this crowd isn't down with singing their favourite A-ha! songs for their friends.

Saturday, November 27th
This was the first day of great weather while I was in New Orleans. Unfortunately it was also the day I was going to leave. I decided to take another short walk through the Garden District and into Lafayette Cemetery #1. This graveyard was far more organized than the one I toured the day before so it wasn't as charming but still retained that eerie New Orleans feeling. Since I could get called at any time to be a Jeopardy contestant I figured I could take advantage of a huge hole in my American history knowledge while in this area. I know very little about the US Civil War so the Confederate Museum was something I had to see before leaving Louisiana. This museum is just okay. It's geared toward those who know a lot more about the Civil War than I. There is a good exhibit on Winnie Davis, The Daughter of the Confederacy, and the tortured life she led. After grabbing some lunch I took off along I-10 towards Baton Rouge where I followed Highway 61 northward into the state of Mississippi.

I had visited New Orleans in the summer of 1996 and although I had a fun time there I left the city with the impression that it was a dirty, crime-ridden town typical of what a Canadian supposes most major American cities to be. I think impression was formed by the fact that I stayed at a hotel right in the Quarter where I awoke and fell asleep with the stench of the puke and piss of Bourbon Street. Staying in the beautiful Garden District this time and being able to take in a full appreciation of the history of the city and the people I really fell in love with New Orleans on this visit.

Mississippi also left its mark on me back in the summer of 1996. It's incredible to think that this state which is probably the poorest in the country and has the most stratified race relations in the history of America (for example the state didn't ratify the Emancipation Proclamation until just a few years ago) but it's also home to a rich cultural heritage. The state is home to such writers as William Faulkner, Richard Wright, Tennessee Williams and Eudora Welty as well as the birthplace of blues music. It's a fascinating place.

I followed Highway 61 along the Mississippi to the town of Natchez where I found a state park where camping was cheap ($7).

Sunday, November 28th
A famous philosopher once asked, "What's so civil about war anyway?"
I don't know, Axl, I don't know. First thing in the morning I headed up to Vicksburg, which was the site of a 47-day siege by Union forces under the command of Ulysses Grant during the Civil War. The whole battleground is now a national park as well as a national military cemetery. The drive around the park is very interesting and the small museum for the SS Cairo, an armored river gunboat that was salvaged over 100 years after its sinking, is very good. The town itself still holds a bitter resentment towards the North. Since the town was surrendered on July 4th Vicksburg did not celebrate American Independence Day for almost 80 years and one reunion of Confederate and Union soldiers in the early 1900s almost erupted into another full-scale battle except with walking sticks and canes instead of muskets. Even today July 4th celebrations are somewhat muted compared with the typical festivities you might find in other towns. Some of these feelings come to the forefront at Vicksburg's Old Courthouse Museum downtown. It is a wonderful little museum but the most interesting aspect of it is its unrepentant attitude toward what the south was fighting for. The Ku Klux Klan of the 1800s is almost celebrated and more attention is spent to the hypocrisies of the north as opposed to the inequalities of the southern states. Still one point that is brought up and is technically valid is the fact that the Confederate States had every right to separate themselves from the Union and for that reason Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy, was never tried for treason. After this somewhat one-sided look at the Civil War I moved on to Jackson where I toured the museum housed in the Old Capitol building. The museum here is dedicated to the history of the state of Mississippi and it is far more critical of the way African Americans were treated in its history. Seeing both museums on the same day was very interesting because both sides really have valid points. Ultimately if you find yourself condemning the Confederates even though they had a legal right, as their intentions were terrible. I looked around for a place to spend the night in Jackson and I found a place that I had to stay at no matter what the cost... The Stonewall Jackson Motor Lodge. Thankfully it was cheap.

Monday, November 29th
I decided to head up to Tupelo in the north-eastern corner of the state, less because of what was there than to be able to drive along the scenic Natchez Trace. It was a wonderful drive through a forest rich with autumn colours. This two-lane highway is closed to commercial traffic so you didn't have to worry about getting stuck behind a big truck either. Once in Tupelo I immediately headed to the little cottage of Elvis Presley's childhood. It only costs a buck to tour this very small two-room house. You can see his very humble beginnings and it helps you realize Elvis's mindset once he achieved all his fame and fortune. During lunch I debated whether to continue into Alabama and across into North Carolina to visit Asheville, the hometown of Thomas Wolfe and the Vanderbilt mansion, or return westward toward Memphis. I chose to follow the trail of the King. I stopped briefly in Oxford to see the beautiful old part of town near Ole Miss university. It's an idyllic little town and the campus is fantastic. It's hard to believe that this quiet setting was the site of riots and the need of the National Guard to enable James Meredith to become the first black man to enroll here. I also stopped by Rowan Oak, which is the name of the old house where William Faulkner lived but it is closed on Mondays. I pressed westward again, on to Clarksdale. Now back in the Mississippi river delta I had to check out the Delta Blues Museum. The museum has just moved to new digs in the old railway stop near downtown. The permanent exhibit isn't as big as I would have liked but the stunning photos in the temporary exhibit space were amazing. It was free admission as well so how can I complain? Clarksdale is also the hometown of Ike Turner. Now I know Ike had a bad afro and he beat up Tina but because of this his place in music history has been maligned. In 1951, Ike wrote "Rocket 88" the very first rock 'n' roll song recorded. I drove through the countryside past the old plantations trying to imagine people like Muddy Waters or Howlin' Wolf out there picking cotton. As much as you might want to denigrate America, it is amazing that these dirt-poor men could lift themselves out of this situation with just a harmonica and a guitar.

Tuesday, November 30th
I had spent the night at the Lady Luck Casino, which is located right on the riverside near Helena, Arkansas. It was comfortable and it was relatively cheap. I crossed over into Arkansas for the sole purpose of heading through the town called Hughes. The population of Hughes is 1810 people. It was the most depressing town I visited on my trip. The first home you pass into Hughes is a giant plantation mansion. That's where the fun ends. Most of the "business district" has been boarded up and the buildings seem a small windstorm away from caving in. I then headed through the poor part of town and it was disturbing to see what people were living in. This vision of poverty hit me like a fist.

I continued on to Memphis. The downtown core of Memphis is on a definite comeback after a couple of decades of decay. It was good to see, as this is a city I really liked on my way through here in 1996. I knew that Graceland isn't open on Tuesdays during the winter so I headed over to the Civil Rights Museum, which is also closed on Tuesdays. When the biggest tourist competition in town is closed you'd think you'd want to be open. So I spent most of the day walking around downtown and made it up to visit the old Sun Studios where people like Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Howlin' Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, BB King, and Ike Turner first made their mark. The tour of the studio is a little pricey but worth it just to be able to stand next to Elvis's microphone and on the exact spot where he stood to record his first songs. In the evening I headed to the lobby of the gorgeous Peabody Hotel on Union Street. Everyday at 11am and 5pm the marching of the ducks occurs. The hotel has 4 ducks that live up in the penthouse and at 11am they are escorted down to the fountain in the lobby where they cavort until 5pm when they return upstairs. What makes this worth the trouble is being able to eyeball the opulence of the Peabody's lobby which was all done up with Xmas decorations. I then headed over to Beale Street for some dinner. I stopped at Elvis Presley's Memphis restaurant for some fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Mmmm mmm good. What surprised me was that this Elvis restaurant had Garden burgers. There is something just not right about that.

For those of you heading down to Memphis I'm going to tell you right now to avoid staying at the hostel at all costs. Apparently the women's dorms are nice but the men's dorms had no heat, no doors, cockroaches, and hammock-like mattresses that would not allow you to sleep on your stomach as you might seriously injure your back. It really sucks.

Wednesday, December 1st
As soon as I could check out of the hostel I did and headed over to Graceland. I purchased the platinum tour where for $19.50 you can do the full audio tour of the mansion, a tour of the Lisa Marie (Elvis's customized plane), the car museum, and a small museum of some of Elvis's personal affects. The mansion is the only "must-see" for the casual Elvis fan. The great part was that they have all the Xmas decorations up. Christmas in the Jungle Room is a sight to behold. My favourite room has to be the TV room downstairs with its yellow and navy paint job and the three TV football set-up. This room kind of completed a circle for me as I got to see a replica of Lyndon Johnson's 3 TV set-up who was the originator of this style so he could follow news coverage of the Vietnam War. Elvis turned this idea into the ultimate football-watching venue, and then Greg Thomas in Dallas allowed us to use the most of today's technology with stereo sound and satellite reception so I could personally enjoy this great feat of mankind. I could ramble on about Graceland and the subtleties of the 3 TV setup for a long time but I'll cut it short to keep this travelogue moving. I headed back to the Civil Rights Museum. The museum is housed inside the old Lorraine Motel just south of downtown. It is the motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated. While the museum tells a compelling story of the rights movement from the 1700s onward there are very few actual artifacts. Perhaps the information here could be better presented as a book for you spend almost your whole time reading the information on the walls. There are a couple of good films especially the footage from the riots in Montgomery but the only thing to really "see" here is the walkway where MLK was shot. It's this piece of hallowed ground that brings people to the museum so I guess if people can learn while they are here it makes up for the fact that this place is basically a tourist trap. I left Memphis by following Highway 51 northward up into Kentucky where I found a cheap motel in Paducah.

Thursday, December 2nd
This was to be my designated big driving day. I did manage to clock over 850 kilometres on this day following Route 60 along the Ohio River and then over into Lexington, up through Cincinnati, and into Columbus. I did make a small side-trip to the town of Loretto, Kentucky for a tour of the Maker's Mark Distillery. This is the only distillery on the register of historic places in the United States. It is also home to the oldest standing liquor store in the US where farmers would arrive with their own jugs and get the bourbon straight from the barrels. Maker's Mark is considered a gourmet sipping bourbon because it substitutes wheat for rye and it is bottled by taste and not age. While this area of the country is definitely the land of Bourbon - Jim Beam is nearby and Jack Daniels is just a few hours south in Tennessee - but I just found out that Canadian Rye (Canadian Club, Crown Royal, etc) is the biggest selling style of whiskey in the States. This is one more thing for Canadians to be patriotic about.

I must add that although I never stopped in Cincinnati I have now driven through it twice and both times I remarked on what a scenic area it is in. I swear that someday I just might stop there.

Friday, December 3rd
On my last day in the United States I made sure to indulge myself in three guilty pleasures... One: I had a McBiscuit for breakfast. Two: I listened to a lot of classic rock radio (two Judas Priest songs in one day!). Three: I got to see the shiny outfit Ma$e wore during his "Feels So Good" video while at the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame. I always have mixed feelings about the RnRHOF. From the time it was built it never had enough space and what space there is, is wasted. Still, there are some great things here like the tributes to rock 'n' rolls forerunners like Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, or Bessie Smith. My favourite artifact is the fuselage of the plane Otis Redding died in. The brand new exhibit this year is the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the first rap recordings. It was a very well presented exhibit but then I realized what it was really trying to achieve. The HOF can induct artists 25 years after their first recording. This exhibit will serve as an informal poll of the visitors as to whether they will accept rap and hiphop artists into the HOF starting 5 years from now. It should be interesting as this place has obviously geared itself towards white, Middle American, baby-boomers (i.e. people not very hip to the rap scene). I was never very comfortable with a Hall of Fame to begin with, as you must juggle artistry and commercialism. For example, KISS wasn't a very good band but they are tremendously popular. It's easier to run a sport Hall Of Fame because the numbers are all you really need to judge someone on. Now the RnR HOF has to start defining where rap artists stand. If they leave them out it will seem like racism and if they include them they risk alienating their main customer base. Personally, I have to vote for rap inclusion as you really can't ignore the one major cultural shift of the late 20th century and as we see the melding of rock and rap in such bands as Korn it appears as if hiphop will become a major influence in the rock genre. That, and my belief that everyone should at some point have to bow down to Afrika Bambataa and the Soul Sonic Force.

I then cruised along the southern shore of Lake Erie into Michigan and under the Detroit River into Windsor. Finally, the Brad is back in Canada! The stop at the border was surprisingly easy with no hassles. I dropped by Paul Maricic's place where I made the mistake of mixing Dristan with beer and I had a wonderful, long snooze on his couch until the next morning.

Saturday, December 4th
Seeing Paul and then friends John and Shari the next morning felt really good. These were the first familiar faces I had seen since Las Vegas 7 weeks ago. It felt good to be so close to home and unfortunately my trip had to end with what most people in the area would consider to be the most boring drive of all-time: Highway 401 Windsor to Kitchener. I got home just in time for a big turkey dinner and surprised my Mom as well. It just felt so good.

It was 39,041 kilometres in 159 days. That means I averaged 245.54 kilometres every day of my trip. I really don't think it has sunk in yet. I still feel as if this is just some rest time before starting out again. Of course my financial situations means that won't be happening and I will settle down but I just don't know where yet.

I do have a plan however and it seems viable. I'm going to take it easy until after the Xmas silly season and then just into the new year Jeopardy will call and I'll go down there, win some cash, become a 5 time champ, and win a new car. Then when the shows are on TV Alanis Morrisette will see me and become enamored with my charm and trivia abilities (or is that trivial abilities?) and we'll fall in love.

Just in case that doesn't work I do have a Plan B. I have noticed that some people wear bracelets with WWJD engraved on them. When these people encounter some indecision in their life they look at their wrist where the letters stand for "What Would Jesus Do?" and they try and use that guidance to solve their problems. I have another answer for those of you who may not be so religious. These bracelets have HWBMM on them. When someone, say young Timmy Doran, has a problem they would look at their wrist and they would be reminded of the question "How Would Brad Mock Me?" in order to solve their dilemma. I also have another bracelet that has WTMAGJSE for "Would This Make A Good Jerry Springer Episode?"

I'm full of million dollar ideas.

I guess I'll end by thanking everyone who helped me out by giving me a place to stay and buying me a meal while on this adventure. Thanks to everyone for your encouragement as well.

"Finally I'd like to thank you, the reader. 'What's that?' you say. Me thanking you? Ah yes, for I've enjoyed writing this as much as you've enjoyed reading it."
- C. Montgomery Burns
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