Day 6, Day of the Donuts

Today was the day of the Donut.  We began the morning by walking 1.2 miles to Voodoo Donuts in downtown Austin.  This is the same Voodoo that we went to in Portland several years ago. They were one of the first donut places to put lots of cereal, bacon, etc on their donuts.  Today I got the Old Dirty Bastard; a donut topped with frosting, Oreo chunks, and a peanut butter drizzle. Yum!

Rob had the brilliant idea to see if there was a walking tour app.  Sure enough, he found one, so we set out on our own. We chose one with 12 buildings in the area between where we were and the State Capitol building.  We learned about some of the historic buildings, mostly from the late 1800s. While we were near the capitol we decided to stop in to check it out. As we crossed through the grounds we stopped to watch some grackles preening and showing off under some trees.  The grackle is a small, black bird that does a funny little dance and makes noises like an old fashioned shutter camera.

Inside the capitol building, we were surprised by the number of other tourists.  When we visited the Iowa state capitol last summer, we were just about the only tourists there.  Maybe because they were not in session and Texas seems to be currently in session. Strangely, there were also a good number of people walking around inside the capitol wearing white lab coats.  Lobbyists? Testifying before a committee? Lab field trip? Who knows.

After the app enabled walking tour (which we accidentally forgot to go to the last 2 stops) we started our scooter adventure.  Austin loves its scooter share programs. There are 4 different companies that offer electric scooters scattered around the city.  Tons of residents use them to get around, and it’s no wonder they are popular, with the atrocious traffic that Austin deals with. All morning we had seen scooter riders whizzing confidently down the sidewalks and bike lanes of downtown Austin.  Earlier, we had installed the apps for a couple different companies, so when we were ready, we unlocked (via the app) 2 scooters from a company called Lime. The first unlock comes with some instructions on how to operate the scooter. You have to push off 3 times with your foot, then push the throttle down with your right thumb.  There is a hand brake on the left handlebar just like on a bike. And away you go! Presumably. Rob seemed to get the hang of it faster than I did. I was pretty wobbly at first and kept putting my foot down. We found as we rode that it was better to ride in a bike lane if there was one – the road has fewer bumps (seems in sidewalks) and fewer pedestrians to avoid.  The throttle was really sensitive, so it felt a bit like you were lurching forward quite a bit. Rob says (he was behind me) that it didn’t look like I was lurching, so that’s good. We rode south for 1.9 miles (thanks to a handy app that tracks the ride) for a total of 27 minutes. I noted that I generally rode about 8 mph on the sidewalk and made it up to about 12 mph when in a nice, smooth bike lane.  I was pretty scared for about half of the ride, then started to settle into it more. My muscles were all kind of tight, and my thumb on the throttle started to get tired, but in the end it was fun. We stopped about 2 blocks shy of our destination because the sidewalk got narrower and there were road construction signs sitting on part of the sidewalk so we had to dodge them. When you finish, you just open the app, click “lock scooter” and take a picture of the location so the next person can find it.  And just leave it there (well, move it off the sidewalk to a nice place that isn’t in anyone’s way). Voila! I hope more cities adopt these scooter share programs. I would certainly use them again.

Our destination on the scooters was Gourdough Big. Fat. Donuts.  These donuts are even more insane than Voodoo. I ordered the Fat Elvis: giant donut covered with peanut butter frosting, grilled caramelized banana chunks, and 2 slices of bacon.  I couldn’t even eat it all. But it sure was good!

After all that donut, I wanted to walk off some calories.  We headed over to South Congress Street. It looked like an area of small, local shops.  Sure enough, there were lots lined up all along Congress as we headed north toward our hotel.  We did a bit of shopping: I picked up a super cute picture of a robot contemplating the stars by a local artist and Rob found a t-shirt with various tv robots on it.  Not all the stores sold robot things, we just happened to be in the robot mood today, I guess.

When we arrived back at our hotel, we dropped off our goodies, rested our feet for a little bit, and then set out once again.  This time we walked west along the river. There’s a nice walk/bike park following along the river that we took. We spotted turtles sunning themselves in the late afternoon sunshine.  After a while, we crossed the river on a pedestrian bridge and followed the river back along the other side. All in all, my Fitbit says that we walked 8.72 miles today. That’s 19,126 steps.  Whoa! My hips and feet are feeling it.

Upon arrival back at the hotel, I was in the mood for a refreshing drink so we sat outside by the river at the hotel bar and had drinks and pretzel bite appetizers.  We felt so grown up sitting in the bar having drinks. The weather made it to the upper 70s today and very sunny.

Day 5, On to Austin

Our day began, once again, with donuts.  Today we stopped at one of Texas’ many old, local donut shops.  It was Palace Donuts in Van, TX. The little shop was super retro, a little dingey, but the donuts were great.  And at great prices. Rob’s glazed donuts were only 60 cents and my perfectly sized, absolutely delicious, apple fritter was $1.00.  It looked and sounded like a Vietnamese family that owned and operated the donut shop. It struck me as fulfilling the quintessential American Dream.  Coming to America and opening a donut shop.

As we drive through the countryside, we are constantly admiring the wildflowers in the ditches and fields we pass.  They are mostly blue, orange, and purple. We have also been admiring the trees in all their spring green splendor. The trees at home hadn’t yet sprouted their leaves, but we’ve reached an area where they are all pretty much green.  It reminds me of the “spring green” marker I had in my Crayola marker set as a kid. Another field dweller that we have noticed is a lot more donkeys than one might expect. It seems about 30% of the fields we pass have one donkey in them.  Who uses donkeys these days? Well, thank you to Google, we now know donkeys are often used in fields to help protect cattle (and sheep, although we haven’t seen any sheep) from predators like coyotes, foxes, and similar. I figured it wasn’t for riding or for hauling.  

Our first charging stop for today was in a small city called Corsicana.  As we pulled up to the chargers we were totally surprised to see another Russell Stover factory and store just down the road.  Of course, we had to stop and get another photo and some more chocolate. While charging, we wandered over to the Home Depot, where we found that they sell tornado shelters that you can bolt down to your concrete slab (patio or what have you).  The one I took the photo in is supposed to hold 8 people. I guess, in a pinch.

While in Corsicana, we planned to stop at Petroleum Park.  As we were driving down a small side road in town, Tessie suddenly popped up a warning that the tire pressure was extremely low and we needed to pull over as soon as it was safe to do so.  We stopped right away and could hear the tire hissing out its air as soon as we got out of the car. What a pain! She’s too heavy to use a normal jack and spare tire, so whenever she gets a flat, she has to be towed via flatbed to a tire service center.  We started by calling Tesla Roadside Assistance. They suggested that we have an authorized tow company come out from Dallas with a loaner tire. They would then take our tire to the Dallas Tesla service center (with us following on the loaner, I think) and then we would have to wait hours or a day for the service center to figure out if they could fix our tire or needed a new one.  At which point we would need to give the loaner tire back to the authorized towing company. Now, Corsicana is about an hours drive south of Dallas (so in the wrong direction for where we needed to go today). This didn’t sound like an awesome option to me. I figured if the Tesla guys were just going to fix the existing tire, than tire guys here in Corsicana should also be able to fix it.  Ironically, we were stuck in an area with about 4 tire places within a 6 block radius. But, by now, our tire had completely deflated, so we would need to be towed to one of them. We called Texas Tires and they said they could try to fix it, or a replacement could be ordered and arrive tomorrow around 10:00 am. They gave us the number of a tow truck company that they knew had a flatbed. We called him.  Initially, he said it would take half an hour because he was at the scene of an accident on the nearby interstate. But then he called back a minute later and said his boss had let him go and he could come tow us. When he asked what kind of car we had, he had never heard of Teslas. Not exactly instilling confidence in us that this would go smoothly. It was a bit of a challenge getting her on the flatbed, since she’s so low, especially with one tire completely flat. Thankfully, the tire guys were able to fix the flat and put our tire back on.  We didn’t need to alter our plans and stay the night in Corsicana. Phew!

With Tessie back in commission, we stopped for lunch at Collin St Bakery.  We had charged at one yesterday, and I’d gotten a really tasty BLT sandwich on croissant.  I had another today for lunch, after which we finally made it to Petroleum Park. It was much smaller than I was expecting.  Just about the size of 2 house lots. It commemorates the site of the first oil well west of the Mississippi River.  They were drilling for a water well for the town and found oil instead. There were a couple other oil related pieces of machinery in the park.  We spent all of 5 minutes there. If only we hadn’t decided to stop there, we wouldn’t have been on the street that punctured our tire.  Ah, well. It worked out fine in the end. We arrived this evening in Austin right around dinner time. We have a nice room overlooking the river.

Day 4, Azaleas

After an unpleasant night spent in a hotel room next to the party room (laughter and shouting until after mid-night) we woke early (to the annoying alarm of one of the neighbor’s phone alarms going off for several minutes at 5:45). We set out from our hotel in Little Rock with low expectations for the day. Our original plan was to spend 2 days in Little Rock, but since we didn’t find much to do yesterday, we decided to get a head start on our 9 hour drive to Austin, TX. We would drive about half-way today. We had absolutely nothing planned other than to drive to a little town called, Van, TX and then stay in another hotel for one night.

At a lunch stop at an old DQ where both the staff and the building were definitely showing their ages, we discovered the Tyler Azalea and Spring Flower Trail was taking place this weekend in the town of Tyler, TX. Tyler was just 15 minutes from our charging stop for the day, so we decided to check it out. The weather is still cool and the breeze even colder – we didn’t really pack for this weather. But the sun was out and we thought the flowers would be nice. Sure enough, this town really prides itself on its azaleas. They were in full bloom and so gorgeous! Mine never look quite as good as what we saw today. We only walked an 8 x 2 block area. The full trail is 8 miles long. The neighborhood we walked had many historic homes, from the early 1930s, and some of the roads were made of brick instead of paved. It looked like there was also a home tour going on where you could go inside some of the homes. We saw one home with a table out front and people approaching with yellow brochures and then going inside. This same house also had 2 girls standing outside dressed in antebellum costumes, complete with lace parasol. There were a couple other homes that had groups of girls in similar dress standing or lounging outside, but none of the others had tables to check tickets or people going inside. Since the homes in the neighborhood were from the 1930s I don’t quite get why the girls were dressed in antebellum style. So, it was a bit confusing. At any rate, we didn’t have tickets and the hours for the tours were almost over, so we contented ourselves with viewing the gardens, which was free.

Day 3, Arkansas

Our destination for today was Little Rock, AR.  We started off at the River Market. Rob thought it was going to have some cute little shops, in addition to the one shop he found called Shop the Rock that was to have local goods and brochures.  Well, Shop the Rock did have some local goods, and a handful of brochures, but it was only about as big as a good-sized walk-in closet. Full of hot sauce and honey, for the most part, neither of which I was interested in.  The rest of the shops were all food stalls. It was only 10:00am and we were still full from our donuts/fritter. So that was a bit disappointing.

The weather was cold with a chill to the wind and threatening rain.  Otherwise we might have walked a bit along the river downtown. There was a sculpture park that looked a little bit interesting.  But the weather kept us from enjoying such a walk. Instead, we headed to the State Capitol. We had such a nice time last summer at the Iowa State Capitol, so I wanted to see others on this trip.  When we got there, we couldn’t figure out where to park. The place was deserted, but all the parking spots were reserved. There were no signs saying anyone could park in them on weekends, only the reserved signs.  So, out of an abundance of caution (and because we didn’t see any welcoming open doors or the right place to enter) we parked illegally just long enough to stand on the steps out front and take a selfie.

Feeling rather disappointed with Little Rock – we hadn’t found anything else that looked interesting to do here – we headed for the supercharger.  After charging up, we drove to Boston’s Pizza for some lunch. It was pretty standard Boston’s fare, but hit the spot, nonetheless.

From here, we headed to our hotel for the night.  As we exited the freeway, we saw, parked in a parking lot, an Emergency Donut Vehicle.  It’s an old ambulance converted into a donut truck from Hurt’s Donuts. We stopped at Hurt’s twice while in Des Moines last summer and really liked their donuts.  We didn’t realize there would be one here, too. Actually, the Hurt’s location is downtown, not out here on the outskirts, so no donuts for us this afternoon. But, back to the vehicle.  It was painted to look like a chocolate frosted donut and had cute little phrases painted on all the little doors, like Emergency Jelly Pump, Vanillacillin, Long John Storage, Sprinkle Storage Bin, Maple Bacon Defibrillator, Icing Bandages.  I think finding this truck was the highlight of our day!

Now, it’s 1:00 and we’re already settled into our hotel room for the day.  It’s gray and dreary outside and the temp is dropping fast. We’ll likely take a break this afternoon and just relax from our travels.

Day 2, Western Tennessee

Sprinkles were coming down as we set out this morning.  Our first stop was a combination charging stop and touristy stop.  Jackson, TN was home to Casey Jones, made famous for dying while working on a train.  Conveniently, there is a Tesla Supercharger in the parking lot of the Casey Jones Museum and General Store.  We weren’t interested in the museum (all about train stuff and Casey Jones), but we did spend a little time in the general store while the car charged.  It had a cool, old-fashioned feel, with items imported from other old ice cream parlors and stores. The entry had an old set of mail boxes. The ice cream parlor section had a fancy stained glass lamp with a different ice cream parlor name on it.  And there was a really ornate soda fountain behind the counter from the 1890s. I got a picture of that, it was so cool. The shop/ice cream parlor/restaurant was much smaller than we were anticipating, so we finished checking it out long before Tessie was charged enough to hit the road.  We ended up wandering around outside for a bit. We almost got popped on by a bird in a tree as we walked. It was like he wanted to get our attention so that we’d stop and listen to his song. We listened for probably a full minute. We don’t know what kind of bird he was, but his song was so beautiful and varied.  The different sounds that came out of one bird had us enthralled (for at least a minute, anyway).

Once Tessie had enough charge, we headed further into Jackson, TN to check out Rusty’s TV and Movie Car Museum.  Our route took us through a rough part of town, with plenty of run down apartment buildings, a couple that even had all their windows boarded up. It’s run by a guy who collected about 20 cars (either original or re-creations) of cars from tv shows and movies.  Rob’s favorite was the original Batmobile from the Michael Keaton Batman movies. I think my favorite was the Delorean from Back to the Future. Or maybe the actual car driving by Paul Walker in Fast & the Furious. It wasn’t a big museum, so we didn’t spend much time there.

As this trip approached, I have been watching lots of flooding coverage on the Weather Channel.  Most of their coverage has been in Nebraska, but they often mentioned how the rivers, specifically the Mississippi further down river was also flooding, so I asked Rob to find us a way to visit the Mississippi as we cross, not just cross on some giant Interstate bridge that we wouldn’t be able to see anything from.  So, he planned out a route through rural TN to the river, north of Memphis. Well, we got to within about 5 miles from the river when we hit a “road closed” barrier and figured we’d better turn around (even though the SUV in front of us just drove around the barrier). We tried another route to get close to the river.  It took us down a secluded country road, and past lots of somewhat scary signs that we were entered a state penitentiary. The map clearly showed that we weren’t really entering, just driving by, so we kept going. It was probably minimum security. It looked like they had inmates work the fields around the prison and had buildings labeled for training, so we weren’t too scared of being accosted by an escapee murder.  But isn’t there a Johnny Cash song about Fulton Prison? Fulton was the name of the “town” we were headed toward. Well, when we reached Fulton, it was really just a collection of about 5 houses and the ubiquitous Baptist church. And the road just ended. We drove to the barrier, which also had a Stop sign, somewhat weirdly, since after the barrier, the road had disintegrated and was covered in trees. We parked and walked along a small path through the woods toward the river.  It was only about 20-30 feet. That’s where we discovered that the road used to continue right up to the river. We walked nearly to the edge of the old, weathered pavement. You could still see some of the yellow line painted in the middle. The river had recently eroded quite a bit more of the end away, so we didn’t want to get too close, in case the ground underneath us, which we couldn’t see, had eroded away, too. We had 2 theories: the first was that there used to be a bridge across the Mississippi River here.  This theory seemed less likely since there didn’t seem to be a cleared space on the other side for the other end of the bridge. Our second theory was that there used to be at least one more house closer to the river and that frequent flooding from the river had washed it and the end of the road away. Further investigation done this evening in the hotel supports the second theory. We also found that just a week ago a good portion of what we drove today was actually underwater. We were a week late to see what I’d been hoping to see.  But it was still fun to discover the road to nowhere.

A side note, the route to Fulton passed through the hamlet of Fort Pillow.  I thought it was an interesting name and looked it up: turns out the most controversial battle of the Civil War was fought here.  In it, the Confederate soldiers massacred the surrendering Union soldiers, who were former slaves fighting for the Union. There was some dispute whether the Union soldiers had actually surrendered.  But, either way, many men lost their lives in horrific ways, not just by being shot, but through more tortuous methods, as well. The Confederate General in charge was named Nathan Bedford Forrest. Tonight we are staying not far away in Forrest City, AR.  Seems by the unusual spelling, that the city might be named for the General, but that’s just a guess.

Along the way from our river excursion to charge in Memphis, we passed an industrial area, home to factories for Unilever, and Charms (makers of Tootsie Rolls).  We had to pull over and take a picture of Rob with a Tootsie Roll semi truck in the background. Too cute.

As we drove through rural TN today, I picked up on what seems to be a TN tradition.  Flowers (I think most were fake) adorning mailboxes. I’m not talking flowers planted around the base of the mailbox.  I’m talking colorful flowers in full bloom (or fake) arranged around the back of the box itself. I think it might be an Easter thing, as a celebration of Easter to come. I got a good shot of the best example we saw.  Most were simpler arrangements than this one.

The most excitement we had all day happened as we drove along the Interstate in Memphis.  Rob was just about to merge left when a steel pallet thing (about 3ft by 3ft) flew off the top of a truck hauling a roll-off dumpster with no cover on it.  Rob tried to slow fast enough to avoid it, but it nailed us right in the front end.  It’s probably a really good thing that it didn’t hit much higher, or it probably would have smashed into our windshield. As it is, there a good dent and a long scratch across the front of poor Tessie. Since were were merging onto one interstate from another as the incident happened, there wasn’t any place to pull over right away.  The car seemed to drive just fine and gave us no indicator lights that anything was amiss, so we kept going. We quickly passed the truck, since it still had other debris bouncing around in the top that looked like it, too, could bounce out and onto the road at any bump in the road. As we passed, I looked up at the driver and he very clearly gave me a shrug, like “oh, whoops.”  And just kept driving. What?!?!?

Day 1, Tennessee

We begin our deep South road trip on March 28, the day after my birthday. It is a Thursday. We started out bright and early in the morning, at 7:15 AM. First stop: Biltmore Village McDonald’s for Rob‘s favorite, cinnamelts.  Much to Rob’s great sadness the cinnamelts have been struck from the menu of all McDonald’s nationwide. In despair we set out once again to find rob some breakfast, this time at Dunkin’ Donuts.

After breakfast of donuts, we really hit the road, heading west on I-40.  Our first point of interest along the way was to check out the site of the rockslide on the interstate that happened about five weeks ago. We heard they would still be working on it. It turns out they are. There were 5 guys rappelling from the rock face working on something. Not sure what. But it was a big section of rock and probably was a very nasty slide when it happened.

As we continued driving west through the mountains of Tennessee and on into the flatter sections, we enjoyed seeing an abundance of purple redbud trees and dogwoods in bloom along the route. Our first supercharge stop was at a strip mall just west of Knoxville. The parking lot was filled with dogwoods in full bloom. We decided it was the prettiest parking lot we have ever seen.  Further along we started to notice little green leaves on some of the trees along the way. It’s feeling very springy!

Our first stop of note was the Russel Stover factory store.  We wandered through the grass from the parking lot, along the side of the factory, to get a picture of me underneath the large name painted on the building, then hiked back, dodging random holes in the grassy ground, to buy some discounted chocolate.  We bought a lot!

From here, we set off on back roads, avoiding the Interstate.  This allowed us to get a better feel for central Tennessee. It is a rural landscape, full of grazing cattle and rolling hills.  You can generally see quite a ways back from the road, there don’t seem to be many trees. We noticed the prevailing house/land type for those who are well to do is a house set far back from the road, often about 100 feet or so.  At the road is a fence, often with fancy stone around the entrance. Many have an electronic gate. Then the massive front yard/field sends the eye soaring way to the back where the house stands in solitary glory with maybe a single tree or two nearby.  Often the house is massive, made of brick or bright white, so as to stand out from the green landscape all around. I tried to get a shot of one for an example, but it was tricky to do while driving at highway speeds. Of course, these are just the wealthier folks.  We drove past plenty of small, more modest houses, as well as plenty more mobile homes throughout the countryside. Even when we entered the bigger town of Franklin, this house/land layout continued. The houses in town were closer to the road, and closer to each other, but still often set back much farther than we are used to and still with some interesting entrance at the road with a long driveway.  

Most of the towns we drove through were the sneeze-and-you-miss-it kind.  We also noticed a larger than usual percentage of houses with metal roofs.  Many in red, green, or blue. I like a metal roof. I enjoy the pop of color and I think it has a neat look.  It was cool to see so many gathered throughout rural TN. One thing that I missed (because I was digging around in the snack bag in the back seat) was an Amish man driving his horse and buggy.  Rob called it out, and I turned back just in time to barely glimpse him. I stayed on Amish alert for the next 40 minutes or so, but there were no more sightings.

We stopped in a cute little town called Bell Buckle.  It’s really just one little street with a post office and railroad tracks on one side and a collection of about 7-10 shops on the other side.  The shops varied from antiques, to cafes, to gift shops. I bought a green silicone spatula in the first shop we stopped in and a bracelet made from pieces of old china cut up and mounted on silver backings in the second shop.  We arrived at the ice cream parlor advertising homemade fried apple or peach pies too late in the day to get a fried pie. Grandma makes them fresh everyday and you have to get there early to get one (it was about 3:00 in the afternoon when we wandered in).

Our next stop was the aforementioned Franklin.  It’s a much bigger town with a proper square in the middle of Main Street with a roundabout around it and 4 Civil War cannons in the middle.  It was nearly 5:00 when we rolled into town. I figured most of the shops would close at 5:00 so we didn’t try to do any shopping. There were plenty of shops to choose from, all very cute.  Some were local boutiques or gift shops, there were also some chain stores like Anthropologie and Chico’s. Plenty of restaurants and bars were also interspersed. I saw a restaurant listed on Tessie’s map called the Frothy Monkey.  I liked the sound of that. The website said it served Southern Comfort food in a hip space. True statement. It was an old, brick house just a block off of Main Street. I tried to order one of their drink non-alcoholic drink specials, but they were out of it.  I did get a grilled cheese sandwich with avocado, cheddar, mozzarella, fried egg, and basil mayo. It came with tortilla chips and the freshest, yummiest salsa I’ve had in a long time. The sandwich was also really tasty. Definitely comfort food! Rob tried to order the pretzel, but they were out (story of the day, I guess) so he settled on a side of bacon.  Turns out is was pretty amazing bacon, from a place in Kentucky. We might have to order some online when we get back home. Our tables were reclaimed wood, the decor was very shabby, with exposed brick and old-fashioned wooden chairs. The lighting was fairly industrial. I thoroughly enjoyed our dinner there.

After dinner we continued on to Dickson, TN, about halfway across the state.  Here we were treated to a really nice sunset with lovely pink hues as we drove in to town.  We’re staying the night in a Best Western. Tomorrow we hit the road again.

Upcoming Trip: Southeast Road Trip

Later this month, Rob and I will set out to explore America’s Southeast. We’ll head across Tennessee, down through Texas, pick up my parents in Donna, TX, and then head back east along the coast through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

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Onion field in south Texas