The Road Ahead

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The Road Ahead

It's been a few weeks since last we met. I've been spending some time with friends and family both at home in Washington D.C. and on the road with my dad in West Virginia and my brother and his kids in New Hampshire. It was nice to be with my people for a while and to take a break from the challenges of being on the road. I needed a little time to think and reflect and not have to worry about where I'm going to sleep tonight. It's been eight months since this project began, and it needed a little reflection and redirection. I have now entered Ohio, my fifth state, which when I leave will mark 10% of the journey complete. While I had hoped to spend a month in each state and be further along than I am, the whole point of the trip is not to be rushed and to see what I want to see. Before I move forward, I thought I would share some thoughts with you on the journey so far, and where I see this going in the months and years to come…

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Letterpress Printing in the Digital Age

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Letterpress Printing in the Digital Age

If you've been following my travels, you know how much respect I have for traditional arts and crafts. In an era of mass-produced crafts imported from China and sold at every Pier One and Crate & Barrel, I consider myself very fortunate to stumble across someone using traditional methods to produce hand-crafted items. When I was introduced to Sarah Brown this past weekend as someone doing traditional letterpress printing, I knew I had to find out more. Sarah and I sat down to discuss her craft and some of the projects she's been working on. The more I learned, the more fascinated I became with the process and the more respect I had for the patience required to create these products. 

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This Week Off The Road - June 22nd-28th

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This Week Off The Road - June 22nd-28th

Hello everyone! It's been another quiet week at home here in Washington D.C., trying to get caught up on my work and spending time with my friends and family. The cicadas are out here and the lightning bugs are in full force giving our backyard its own summer sound and light show. Despite being in the city, we have a wonderful array of birds, rabbits, squirrels and other wonderful critters running around the backyard. The weather has been significantly cooler than it was down south, and overall it has been very good to be home. 

Last Thursday I got together with a lot of my old friends from around town and around the country over at my friend James' house. It was wonderful to catch up with so many good people in one place at one time, but was a little overwhelming after being basically by myself for much of the last 6 months. It was definitely a good evening though…

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Tennessee Music

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Tennessee Music

Tennessee is one of the country's most visited states for music lovers, and for good reason. From the Birthplace of Country Music in Bristol to the one-time home of W.C. Handy in Memphis, Tennessee's musical tradition dates back to the very beginnings of recorded music and beyond. Cities like Memphis and Nashville have multiple options for great live music seven nights a week, and incredible museums like the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Memphis Rock and Soul Museum provide plenty of information when you finally wake up. Tennessee is a great destination for any fan of American roots music, and will no doubt leave you tapping your feet and humming along. I'm going to break this post into East, Central and West Tennessee for easy reference. Also, be sure you check out my Spotify playlists for Tennessee…

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Tennessee Trails and Byways - An Amazing Tourism Project

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Tennessee Trails and Byways - An Amazing Tourism Project

The Discover Tennessee Trails and Byways project is one of the most comprehensive and far reaching statewide tourism initiatives I've ever encountered, and one of the best. The time and energy that must have been put into this project is staggering, but so are the results. Essentially, Tennessee has done all your off-the-beaten-path research for you, and all you have to do is follow the signs to your next adventure. The Trails and Byways program features 16 trails covering 5,225 miles of road and all 95 counties in the state. There are printed brochures for each trail and online resources as well. During my 5+ weeks in Tennessee, I found myself on several of these trails and found them to be a really great resource. It was an enormous undertaking by the state Department of Tourism, but I think other states could follow their lead in an effort to bring tourism dollars to smaller communities and lesser known areas of your state. 

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Tennessee Rib Trail

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Tennessee Rib Trail

If you are a fan of pork ribs like I am a fan of pork ribs, then Tennessee is one of the places you really have to go. Good Tennessee ribs get a dry rub of spices and are then slow smoked over a wood fire. Back in the 1950s in Memphis, Charlie Vergos combined his father's Greek spices with some New Orleans style cajun seasoning and turned scrap-meat into something altogether magical. Charlie Vergo's Rendezvous still sets the standard for ribs in Tennessee and is definitely one of my favorites. In my travels around Tennessee, I stopped into a few different rib-joint though and found some great spots around the state. While Rendezvous ribs still tops my list, some of these places gave them a run for their money… 

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This Week OFF the Road - June 15th-21st

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This Week OFF the Road - June 15th-21st

Hello everyone! It's been a restful week at home in Washington D.C. I've been trying to catch up with friends and family and catch up on sleep. I'm doing pretty good on both fronts. I've been working hard on my next podcast which should be out by the weekend. I spent most of the end of last week at home in the cool, cool air-conditioning finishing up the research and starting to write my second Tennessee podcast. I took lots of naps. I also got to catch up with some of my old pals around town and see what everyone's been up to since I've been gone these last six months. Everyone seems to be doing well which is great to see… 

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Best Dive Bars of Tennessee

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Best Dive Bars of Tennessee

If I'm going out to have a drink and I'm not going to see live music, I try and seek out the best dive bars wherever I am. I have a nose for them and usually know a good one when I see it. I've been asked a few times what makes a good dive bar, and the truth is that the answer to that question would be different for everyone. For me, a dive bar is in no way synonymous with a dump. There are some really bad, unfriendly, filthy bars in this world - those I classify as "dumps". A dive bar to me is a friendly neighborhood bar, full of locals, where drinks are cheap and conversation flows. If these places are on Yelp or TripAdvisor at all, they probably don't have over 3.5 stars because they aren't what many people are looking for. They aren't fancy and most don't have expensive or expansive beer lists. The usual wine selection is "red or white?". There are probably neon signs on the walls, and oftentimes, for reasons I can't explain, Christmas lights. Somewhere on the wall is a photo of someone nobody remembers, but they were important enough to the patrons at some point in the past to put their photo up. The bartenders are generally friendly…

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Bonnaroo and a Lifetime of First Times

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Bonnaroo and a Lifetime of First Times

Last week I went to my first Bonnaroo, a fact I repeated probably close to a hundred times over the course of the week I was there. It was, in fact, my first full weekend, camped out music festival period. I've been to Jazz Fest in New Orleans and the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale and plenty of smaller music festivals around the country, but they were all day-trips. This was different. I'll admit I was a little nervous about it as I knew I would be twice as old as most of the people in attendance, but I wasn't going to let that stop me. Better late than never, right? And actually it's those nerves that made it that much more exciting to be there. It turned out to be a really amazing experience and I'm really glad I went. As the weekend wore on though, the question changed from how many times I'd been to Bonnaroo to if I'm coming back next year. When my answer was "probably not", I got a lot of hurt and quizzical looks. Hadn't I had fun? I really did, I answered, but there are so many other things to do and places to explore. This may very well not be my last Bonnaroo. I'd love to go back to The Farm and do it again, but only if it fits into my schedule. You see, while Bonnaroo was a great experience, I've had lots of comparable experiences in my life and through them all, going back again was probably never as good as the first time. While I understand that for a lot of people it's hard to put yourself out there in front of a new bus over and over again, I'm here to argue that it's worth it. Even if you get run over now and again, it'll still be worth it You can only ever do anything for the first time once, and I plan to live out as many firsts as this world allows. 

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This Week on the Road - June 6th-15th

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This Week on the Road - June 6th-15th

It was certainly an interesting week out at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. Since I was there all week, I don't have much else to write about today. It was both wonderful and strange to park my van for a week and just leave it there, but it didn't move an inch from when I arrived last Tuesday until I left "The Farm" the following Monday. When I did leave, it was hot and I was pretty tired and had already seen what I had come to see in Tennessee, so I pretty much made a beeline towards home. And that is where I am writing this from today - home sweet home, Washington D.C. Two things happened out in the world while I was tucked away in Manchester though, both of which brought out some pretty strong emotions. First, my Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup for the first time, which was long overdue and very well deserved, so congratulations to them. Sadly that same night we lost one of our own as Anthony Bourdain took his own life in France. I had met Tony once, and he seemed to be the same in person as he was on TV. His books and his shows had a deep impact, not just on me but on many. He changed the whole travel show genre by focusing on real people and real places - places I've been and places I'd like to go. Before Tony travel shows all seemed to be about 5 star resorts and palm trees and umbrella drinks - places I couldn't afford and didn't really want to go anyway. His shows were raw and gritty and real and game changing. They showed the world as it really is: challenging, sometimes ugly but full of good people, delicious and always beautiful. Thank you Tony for all your inspiration through the years, and I hope you're resting easy somewhere tonight. Those being said, this is how I spent this week on (or more accurately off) the road…

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This Week on the Road - May 31st-June 5th

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This Week on the Road - May 31st-June 5th

I'm going to write this a little early this week as I am headed down to Bonnaroo in the morning. I'll be there for almost the whole week, so I thought I would write this and then put away my computer and go enjoy the festival. I've spent this past week heading up the west side of Tennessee, through a lot of cute small towns and state parks, and finally making my way across the north and into Clarksville. It's been a pretty quiet week, but a good one for sure. It's really starting to heat up down here and while I am really looking forward to Bonnaroo, I'll be making a beeline north when it's over. While it hasn't been the most exciting week I've had, I've still been enjoying myself. Here are some of the things I got into this week on the road.

I left Bartlett when I finished writing last week and headed back north to Mason. I wanted to visit the original Gus's Fried Chicken there…

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Inside My World (or at least my van)

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Inside My World (or at least my van)

This is Shadow Catcher. It is my home, my vehicle, my constant companion. No, it's not a snappy name, but it's a good one. As someone who drove dozens of different vans over my career as a small-group tour guide, I gave up on naming them long ago. I wasn't in them long enough to form a bond with them, and most of them were leased anyway. We never developed a relationship and they were headed back to the dealership before their quirks became apparent. When I bought the van for this journey though, I knew we would be together for a while, day and night through winter and summer and good times and bad. It would need a name, but not any old name. A lot of people name their vehicle like it's a cow or a dog. I needed something deeper and meaningful to me. I chose the name in tribute to a few different people who inspired this trip and continue to inspire me. In Travels With Charley, John Steinbeck named his vehicle…

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