It all started with an invitation. My wife’s cousin was having a graduation from high school party and they live in Mississippi. My wife turned to me and said “oh well, wish they lived closer. Would be nice to go”.
My reply: “Then let’s go!”
As it turned out there was no way we were making the party. Our work schedules simply would not allow it. But the seed was planted and we were both already excited about traveling to Mississippi. Then I had the idea of traveling to other states and visiting some landmarks along the way. I also figured we would come back home a different way so we could see even more.
While I was planning the trip and putting it all together, one day my wife said that Louisiana is very close to Mississippi, and that wouldn’t it be nice if we took Jocelyn with us to go visit her family. Jocelyn is our neighbor. But she is so much more than that. In fact she’s family. My girls love her and there is something about her personality that fits like a glove. I don’t say this about many people especially those who aren’t blood related, but I love her. We ALL love her! So the idea of her coming along on our road trip only made it sound that much more fun. My wife and I were delighted to hear that she was looking forward to some vacation time from her job, and my kids jumped up and down when they heard Jocelyn was coming with us!
The trip was planned and the hotels were booked. We would rent a van to take us on a 3,000 mile road trip across the country. Our trip would start down the East Coast, and hug Florida on our way to Mississippi. Coming home we would visit Jocelyn’s family in New Orleans then come up through Tennessee, Kentucky, and into West Virginia. We would spend one night with my wife’s family in South Carolina, 2 nights with her family in Mississippi, then a hotel in Tennessee and Kentucky.
Driving down to South Carolina was a lot of fun. And of course we stopped along the way to get our pictures taken at all the state signs, only we didn’t realize you could do that at a visitor center until we ended up in Georgia. But we arrived at Heather’s aunt’s house at around 11:30pm, and she thankfully had pizza waiting for us! She was a awesome host and everybody slept well that night. In the morning we had a big breakfast and a short visit. We will definitely be coming back to visit and staying for a few days.
In the early afternoon we made our way to Atlanta. We drove past the Olympic Village and I got a really cool picture of the Olympic torch. Georgia is famous for its peaches so I had to get some! As we drove on the interstate we saw a sign that said Peachtree City Exit. It was 10 miles out of our way but what better place to get a Georgia Peach? I managed to find some and couldn’t wait to have a taste. Disappointment. This was the same darn Peach I would find at my local grocery store. Then it dawned on me that the peaches are grown here but shipped up to me. This was my duh moment! I also lost my GPS signal so we got alittle lost. We drove through an old ghost town that looked like it hadn’t been touched since the early 50s. It was pretty creepy to say the least.
We managed to find our way and we were back on the interstate heading towards Mississippi. As we crossed into Alabama I saw the most incredible sunset of my life! If I didn’t get to see anything else the entire trip but only saw this sunset, then this made it all worthwhile! It just got done raining so the clouds were rolling through and the mist was coming up off the top of the trees as we drove over the bridge. It was a very spiritual moment and a reminder of God’s beauty.
We arrived into Mississippi around 10pm and as we drove down my wife’s cousin’s street, all I could hear was the loud crickets and frogs echoing all around me. As we unpacked to go inside, my wife’s family had a Taco dinner waiting for us, and my 14 year daughter Elizabeth couldn’t get enough. Tacos is her favorite! We all stayed up pretty late drinking and talking, and having a few laughes. They also have 3 Boxer Dogs that we became friends with. In fact, the one dog and my 7 year old Gianna were inseparable!
The next day we woke up earlier and followed their car to a beach in Florida. But first we stopped so we could see The Gulf Of Mexico. It was another incredible sight. So beautiful! Then in about 2 hours we were sitting on a beach in Florida. Beautiful white sand and water so clear and warm, it felt like bath water! If there is such a thing as heaven on earth then this was it. And the kids along with Jocelyn we’re having a blast! None of us wanted to leave but a big storm was rolling in forcing us off the beach. I’m not a beach person. I hate the beach! But this was different. Everything here was much cleaner then the beaches I was use to in New Jersey, and much less populated. This beach I could live at!
That night was another night filled with good laughes and good food. I’m not a seafood person but my wife and kid’s are. My wife’s cousin picked up some shrimp and crawfish and they all really enjoyed it. The next morning they took us to a Waffle House. I never been to a Waffle House before but I’m hooked now! Such a shame we don’t have these up north in Pennsylvania. After breakfast we said our goodbyes and promised to visit again soon. I’m looking forward to it! As we drove over to Louisiana, Elizabeth started freaking out in the back seat screaming that she had a spider crawling on her. We pulled over and couldn’t find it. This is the absolute worst feeling in the world to any arachnophobic. I started unpacked the van. No way was I driving with that thing crawling around! Just as I pulled out the last suitcase I saw it crawling up the side. I jumped 10 ft in the air which had everyone laughing hysterically! Heather crushed it with her shoe and people could not stop laughing at me. Even I was laughing at me!
As we drove into Louisiana and crossed into New Orleans, the devastation of Katrina smacked me in the face. It looked like something out of a Zombie Apocalypse movie. They talk about rebuilding and yes that’s true, but there are still several areas that are completely devastated, and you don’t really appreciate the gravity of the situation until you see it. Empty buildings that are completely destroyed for miles. Houses that are boarded up. Trees without branches, just sticks sticking up out of the ground acres wide. It’s as if a nuclear bomb went off.
We passed the stadium and drove into the historic section known as The French Quarter. We parked next to The French Market. With my guitar in tow we walked to Bourbon Street, where I found a blues street artist playing saxophone. I sat down right next to him and we had an incredible jam session! I originally brought my guitar because I wanted to play the blues on Bourbon Street, but him being there was the icing on the cake! People stopped to take pictures! How cool!
New Orleans looks and feels exactly as it does in all the movies. Then we walked over to the Mississippi River and watched a steam ship go by. At that time Jocelyn’s mom notified us of her location so we all met up. I met her mother once before and she is just as warm as a person as Jocelyn is. She graciously took us out for some authentic Louisiana Fried Chicken, and it was delicious! I couldn’t get enough and never ate so much chicken in my life! But here it was yet again. An awesome time with an awesome person, and the feeling of wanting to stay.
After New Orleans we drove all night to Memphis Tennessee. At 1am we arrived at our hotel, The Guest House At Graceland. Yes, we stayed at this Palace right next to Elvis Presley’s Graceland! Too excited to sleep, my daughter and I walked right next door to the front Gates of Graceland. I had to see the place first in order to sleep that night. Our hotel was all Elvis theme, and our shower was double headed. It had a faucet from the top and a faucet from the side so you were engulfed in warm water. At least that’s how it was supposed to be anyway but not how it was for us. No, our shower’s cold water was broken so we never got to enjoy it. I overheard another guests though say they were in their shower for over an hour not wanting to leave. The next morning we learned the cold truth that no continental breakfast is offered and you have to pay for all of your meals. Then we got hit with a $10 parking bill in order to leave. We paid $235 a night when honestly we would have gotten much better service at a Holiday Inn.
Jocelyn, Heather and the kids, had no interest at all to walk through Graceland. Instead they went off to do some sightseeing while Elizabeth and I bought tickets, and waited for the tour bus to take us through the gates. Once again I brought my guitar. I was telling people before the trip that I was determined to play my guitar in Elvis Presley’s living room, but no one thought I could do it. As we got off the bus at the front door, a security guard held back the line so I could get my picture playing in front of Graceland. As I played, a group of old ladies kept taking my picture for some odd reason. I didn’t care. I thought it was funny.
As the tour took us through I ended up in the living room. Here was my chance. Just as I said I would do, I grabbed my guitar and started playing Heartbreak Hotel. Elizabeth took a picture and so did the old ladies again! Walking through Graceland seems surreal. This was the king of rock and roll’s house and I am literally touching the walls! But it was sad. Very very sad. If felt like going to a funeral. Everything is laid out exactly as it was, and just like in anyone else’s house, they have candid photographs of themselves with their family. Seeing Elvis with Priscilla and Lisa Marie, really brought it into reality that these are just people trying to live a normal life, and that they were a family. A family devastated by tragedy.
As the tour continued I ended up out by the pool. The inspiration struck me again to play my guitar. This time I played a slow blues rift and everybody stopped to listen. And you guessed it, more pictures taken by the group of old ladies!
By the pool is the burial site of Elvis Presley, and I sombrely gave my respects. Still, I couldn’t help but feel like if the King was there, we would have had a hell of a jam session and a hell of a good time! I just know it!
As we waited for our tour bus to pull up, I entertained everyone by playing some Elvis songs. Again I had my picture taken outside of Graceland. This was no doubt a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I was savoring every moment.
After the tour, my wife and Jocelyn picked us up and we were off to Kentucky. Heather couldn’t believe that I actually played my guitar all over Graceland. Neither could my mother who is a huge Elvis Presley fan. She was very excited to get my pictures text to her. My mother said that Graceland is on her bucket list and that I have inspired her. I hope so.
The interstate driving through Memphis is incredibly dark at night. There are no street lights or reflectors. It’s like that all the way into Kentucky. I hated it and actually had to pull over for 20 minutes because I was feeling disoriented. But just before midnight we made it to our hotel, The Embassy Suites. This place was only $150 a night and 10 times nicer then The Guest House At Graceland. We had a living room area with pull-out sofa, a kitchen area, and a bedroom with a double Queen. We also had an indoor pool and a buffet style continental breakfast that had everything you could think of!
Everyone but me wanted to go swimming after breakfast. I just wanted to make it over to see the Horse Park. But this was everyone’s vacation not just mine, so I put on a happy face and hung out by the pool for an hour while they all enjoyed themselves. Jocelyn and Elizabeth seemed to really enjoy the hot tub! By 12:30pm we were all packed up and ready to leave to go home, and to stop by the Horse Park along the way.
My personal opinion of the Kentucky Horse Park is that it is a huge waste of money. Let me explain. Driving through it is like a maze. There aren’t many signs directing you where to go. I wanted to visit The Roemer Foundation and the USEF but they were closed! I was so disappointed! And this made absolutely no sense because other organizations were open and their gift shops were packed with people. I’ve always been a glass-half-full kind of person, so I tried making the most of it anyway and had a look around. I got to see the Man O War Memorial and also Secretariat. I thought that was pretty cool. And I walked over to the Rolex Stadium where there was a showjumping competition so I thought that was pretty cool also. But you have to walk and walk and walk. Everything is spread out from each other and not very well organized at all. They even put up fencing around making your walk even longer instead of it just being a straight path with easy access. Personally I didn’t like it much and I feel like Gladstone is sufficient enough. I also feel it’s much prettier and much more organized.
Feeling exhausted from all the unnecessary walking we did at the horse park, we decided to stop for lunch. I was delighted to see that Waffle House is also in Kentucky! I ordered a double cheeseburger and hash browns and could have kept eating if I allowed myself. I love Waffle House!
As we left Kentucky we entered West Virginia. Don’t ever let anyone tell you trees are endangered. The whole save a tree expression is an absolute fallacy. West Virginia is nothing but rolling hills upon hills, with acres of trees for hours and hours, and miles upon miles. And actually starting at about Virginia all the way down to Mississippi is nothing but trees along the highway for hours and hours. Trees are not endangered. It’s simply not true. And I’m actually shocked as to how much undeveloped land there really is!
Not wanting to stop and eager to sleep in my own bed, I kept driving through the night. By 2:30am we arrived back home. All of us were ready to be home because as we crossed the state line into Pennsylvania, we all let out a cheer! There were plenty of moments during the vacation where I wished we could have stayed longer, but while I drove on those dark highways late at night, all I wished I could do was take a nap on my big sofa in my living room back home.
This road trip really gave me a feeling of accomplishment. It’s an accomplishment in knowing that I’m living my life to the absolute fullest. We traveled through 13 different states and over 3,000 miles. That’s incredible! I have memories that will last my entire life and I got to experience this with my wife and my children and also our best friend. It was an absolute perfect experience that I will never ever forget. It changed me. I can’t quite explain it but it changed my outlook on some factors in life, and I feel that I’ve grown as a person.