Things I Learned On The Road In 2014

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2014 has been an incredibly rewarding year for me as I’ve traveled around the United States.  While conducting interviews, shooting videos and writing stories for Bill On The Road – I’ve met amazing people and enjoyed once in a lifetime experiences I’ll never forget.

I thought it would be fun to take some time and write down some of the things I’ve seen and learned while on the road in 2014.  Some of these are interesting.  Some are funny.  Though mainly this is really just a creative way for me to remember what expenses to deduct on this year’s taxes.  Enjoy!

People in Louisville don’t really care how you pronounce the name of their town.  In fact, people that live there all say it different anyway.   Also – God forbid you arrive in town when Kentucky and Louisville play a college basketball game against each other.   You’d think you were being asked to choose sides in a Civil War.

I took a ride in a Model T Ford, sat in the exact seat where Rosa Parks made history and was utterly disappointed when I finally saw the Chattanooga Choo Choo.  I touched a rhino and watched a camel eat the mirror off a bus.

Trying new foods is a big deal in my world because I’ve always been a picky eater.  I ate fried green tomatoes for the first time in Savannah and alligator tail and shrimp cocktail in Indianapolis.  I watched a lesson on how to tear apart an entire lobster in Toledo.  Of course I was eating chicken at the time – because who wants to work that hard for a meal?

Bacon In Asheville
Best bacon in the United States? No contest – The Thirsty Monk in Asheville, NC wins by a landslide.

Kansas City is fond of something called “burnt-ends” though I really didn’t understand the fascination.   The best meal of the entire year was in Madison, Wisconsin when I ordered the Brat & Pretzel Burger from the Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company.  Unbelievable!

Speaking of foods – the greatest bacon in the entire country exists in a small restaurant called Thirsty Monk.  Tucked away in a residential subdivision called Reynolds Village in Asheville, North Carolina, they serve a Pint Of Bacon in a standard bar glass.  One bite and you’ll literally convince yourself that a heart attack is totally worth eating this stuff three times a day.

I stayed overnight in a room once frequently used by music legend Louis Armstrong in a small town called Perry, Iowa.  The Field Of Dreams isn’t as big as it appears in the movie.  In Cedar Rapids,  the whole city often smells like Crunch Berries.  (The Quaker Oats plant is one of their biggest employers)

Only twice in my life have I concluded I was going to die in a storm – one of those times was traveling in Iowa.  The rain clouds were like something I’ve never seen, even having lived most of my life in the mid-west.  Speaking of death – I saw the chair where Abe Lincoln was shot, the limo where JFK was shot and I nearly killed myself flipping over an ATV in Hunstville, Tennessee. Always wear a helmet, kids.

While in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee I discovered a 13 year old girl named Willow Osborne that plays banjo. After interviewing both Willow and her Mom – I walked away with a renewed confidence that there are still lots of good people in America.  I also ate at a Cracker Barrel in town and learned it was the first day for my young 18 year old waitress.  When I asked her how her first day was going she replied “I’m not sure… you’re my first customer.”

I ran into zero famous people the entire year.  I witnessed one drug deal going down while I was doing a radio report.  I stayed in the homes of two complete strangers – both times in Georgia.  Both were awesome.

One trip I spent an an entire week with with my Dad and a group of about 10 Mommy bloggers.  On purpose.  It’s also the week I learned I suck at ping-pong.

I once threw away shoes and clothes I didn’t think I’d wear again to avoid a baggage fee on Delta Airlines.  Oh by the way, if your airline isn’t named Southwest Airlines – you probably suck.

One of the most surreal experiences I’ve had this year was sitting alone in a pew in Martin Luther King Jr.’s church and hearing a sermon played on the speakers.  Wow.

Little Rock Segway Tour
Riding around downtown Little Rock on a Segway

Having drove though over 30 cities this year – I concluded that people in my hometown of Saint Louis drive way too slow.  While you’d think I’d come close to having more accidents in cities where people drive faster – you’d be wrong.  Slow drivers are almost always the ones that cause people to crash.   The worst city for driving is hands down Atlanta, Georgia.  I’ve never seen so many idiots on the highway.   (And I used to live in California – it’s not even close.)    Michigan drivers seemed very aggressive though I managed to keep up.

In Little Rock Arkansas, I met up with a cool guy from Turkey and rode my very first Segway.   We met outside of the Clinton Presidential Library.  Speaking of which – this year I visited the Presidential libraries of Clinton, Truman, Carter and Ford.   Gerald Ford’s library is in Grand Rapids, Michigan where I learned that he may have been the last completely decent President we’ve ever had.  One of the exhibits showed a political opponent quoted as saying “this campaign will be difficult as we just can’t find one thing bad to say about the guy.”

I raced a NASCAR simulator in Charlotte, North Carolina and did my first zip line at the National Whitewater Center.  It was also the first time I used a GoPro camera.  The best GoPro footage was at the Kansas Speedway when I rode with the speedway’s President around the track at 100 miles per hour in a race car.  Despite what the GoPro packaging says – the camera will not stick on something and stay when going more than 100 miles per hour.  At 110 – the GoPro flew off the car. Amazingly, still in tact with just a scratch.

I played a sport called Pickleball with a group of complete strangers – mostly retired guys while visiting Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Farm Toy Museum
Yep. There’s actually a museum for farm toys. And it costs $5.00 to get in.

I discovered there’s a museum for everything.  Everything from farm toys to purses.  Love quilts? There’s a museum for that.   I lost count trying to remember all of the museums I’ve been to this year.  Some were really interesting, others were quite boring.  For fear of offending some of my delightful hosts – I won’t mention those.  I found it interesting that the World War One Museum is actually named the “World War Museum”.  (How could they have known another one was around the corner?)   The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is hands down the best museum in the United States.

Museums are notorious for having boring films you have to sit through when you visit.  The only one that truly moved me is oddly enough at the World of Coca-Cola where it’s possible I may have teared up a bit.  Though probably just from an onion flavored soda in the building.  Yeah, that’s it.

Oh and art museums… my God, the art museums.  Listen, I’m sure your city’s Art Museum is great.  But, truth is I am way too dumb to know or appreciate what I’m looking at.  While we stare at paintings, I’ll probably be polite and nod my head.  But, you should know I’m really not paying attention and only dreaming about what we’re having later for lunch.

I learned what a pair of shoes hanging from a telephone line means. At least I think.

Never confuse bird watching with birding.  Seriously.

Americans have a strange fascination with going into other people’s homes.  Some of the homes I went into included the John Wayne Birthplace, the Biltmore Estate and and Mark Twain’s home.   While stopping by Elvis Presley’s Graceland I met a guy who sat outside on the anniversary of his death that told me he had seen Elvis in concert almost 100 times.  That wasn’t the surprising part – the surprising part was the guy didn’t seem insane.   I was also among the first to step inside the newly refurbished home of music legend Johnny Cash.  (Don’t tell anyone but I stepped over the rope and sat on his bed.) 

Touring the Johnny Cash boyhood home in Dyess, Arkansas and inspecting Johnny’s bed.

This year I became interested in American history more than ever as I toured important places around the country.  The site of the final Lincoln/Douglas debate in Alton, Illinois or the place where Lewis & Clark began their westward expedition in Saint Charles, Missouri.  I’m looking forward to seeing where the Star Spangled Banner was written in a few weeks in Baltimore and visiting some of the historic places in Washington DC for the first time.

I learned that I really need some new styles of shirts.

How is it possible that parts of Florida are actually in the Central Time Zone?

Grand Haven Beach
In Grand Haven Beach outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan

I discovered that the Kansas City Royals organization is incredibly friendly and super  laid back. They couldn’t have been nicer during a stadium visit.  The Milwaukee Brewers were by far the worst team I’ve ever dealt with – and wouldn’t let me in their stadium for a tour (no joke) because I was from Saint Louis.   You stay classy, Brewers!

That shouldn’t be a reflection on Milwaukee however – I loved the city and lucked out during my visit as one of the first people in the country to see the first all electric motorcycle at Harley-Davidson.  I also saw Lady Gaga while in town.  (There’s a chance I may edit that part out later.)

Did I mention I stepped on board an Air Force One?  Did I mention I also crashed a simulator of the Wright Brother’s first plane while in Dayton? Did I mention that I didn’t fall in the water once during my first attempt at stand up paddleboarding?

The Smoky Mountains are quite possibly the most beautiful thing God ever created.  For a fun experiment, stop your car and offer to take photos for tourists trying to snap selfies.  Don’t worry – they won’t taser you.  They’ll actually love you for asking. Trust me – I did it like 20 times back in June.

I typically work with a city’s Convention & Visitor’s Bureau when I write about a new city.  To date, I’ve only worked with men in four cities.  Nearly every city is represented by women.  I’ve yet to meet an asshole that handles tourism for a city.

Standing on board the Air Force One used by President Kennedy through Clinton.

I slept in two bed and breakfasts. I liked the one where I didn’t have to sit around a table with strangers for breakfast better.

I kissed the bricks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and sang “My Girl” in the same Motown studio where the Temptations recorded it in the 60’s.   I also didn’t die in Detroit.

Minor league baseball games are a hoot. And cheap.

Holy crap, this country has a lot of freaking statues.

People actually look you in the eye and will talk to a total stranger in the south.  I loved that.

Constantly freaked out each time I’m offered free tickets to a zoo.  Wait, you mean people actually pay to go to your zoo?  I’m fortunate enough to live in one of three places in the US with a free world class zoo.

My first helicopter ride was in Panama City Beach, Florida  My first time dancing at a wedding was in Nashville, Tennessee and my first attack by a wild bat happened in Hannibal, Missouri.   Of the three events I mentioned – it was dancing that frightened me most.

As you can see, it’s been an incredible first year for Bill On The Road and I’ve had a blast getting to meet so many amazing people and see so many awesome things.  My sincere thanks to all of the great people I’ve become friends with and worked with during this first year.

People often ask “Where’s the best place you’ve visited?”   My answer is simple: America.

 

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Bill is a travel journalist, broadcaster and freelance writer based in Saint Louis, Missouri. Bill travels all across the country doing positive stories, highlighting people and places making America great. He's the host of the weekly Rediscover America podcast and author of the new book 100 Things To Do In America Before You Die! Bill enjoys parks, talking to strangers, eating medium-rare steaks, playing Pickleball and telling good jokes.