Becky says things about … an American road trip – PART 5: Memphis

Our first evening in Memphis was textbook: we went to BB King’s Blues Club.

In the bustling, low-lit club we ate yet more BBQ ribs, drank beer and listened to the utterly fabulous BB King All Stars (for the measely cover charge of $5, which, next to the $5 I spent on the Golden Girls magnetic bookmarks in Gatlinburg, was the best $5 I spent all holiday).

In the sax and guitar-pounding room, as the beer flowed, I got completely carried away by the cool-as-hell blues and decided that I could – nay, would – become a famous blues singer-songwriter, and how difficult could it be to shove together a funky baseline, an electric guitar and some devilishly saucy drums, and finally I’d worked out how I was going to make my fortune, and it was all going extremely well in my head until the All Stars did Purple Rain, complete with the 8-hour finale, so incredibly brilliantly, that I had to go to the toilet to recover, and I became so distracted by the inexplicably huge gap in the toilet cubicle that I forgot about being a blues singer.

Let us talk about this for one moment. Please can someone from the Department of American Toilet Cubicles and Urinational Privacy (DoATCUP) explain to me why  you must have colossal gaps in your toilet cubicles? Every single toilet we went in on our trip – be it a bar, restaurant, or that scarily remote gas station in Georgia – had a door that sort of hovered in an open space, attached to the frame by a uselessly massive bracket. In one toilet in a bar in Nashville, I sat on the loo and literally made eye contact with a woman’s reflection as she washed her hands at the sinks. I didn’t feel violated, as such – just confused.

Anyway.

The next morning we thought we’d go and see what the toilet cubicle gaps were like at Graceland, abiding by the little-known 178th Amendment ‘He who visits the City of Memphis must visit Graceland, irrespective of His feelings for or about The King, or He shall be considered a wierdo and a loser’.

So we entered the Graceland compound – a Hollywood set-style street of museums, diners and gift shops – and queued to buy tickets, then queued to enter a small room to watch a short film about Graceland, then queued to get on a mini bus that drove us across the road  to the house itself, where we queued to get through the front door. Whilst you Americans do like to make an industry out of what could be a relatively simple process, we Brits did appreciate an effective queuing system.

Here’s the old boy’s gaff:

Nice front room, where he did the crossword and watched the news:

Kitchen, where he cooked microwave dinners and drank tea:

And here’s the old dude himself:

If you love Elvis, go to Graceland. If you don’t love Elvis, you still have to go to Graceland because if you don’t then the people who love Elvis will stare at you like you have a watermelon for a head and celery for arms.


We now need to talk about ducks. Why? you ask, quite fairly. Because they are a Really Big Deal at the stately Peabody Hotel in Memphis.

So, legend has it that in the 1930s some cowboys smuggled in some ducks to the hotel (the crucial ‘Why?’ in this story was unclear to us), and chucked them into the fountain in the grand, palatial lobby. The next morning, the manager apologised to the guests for this unexpected mallard invasion, to discover that, actually, the guests were thoroughly enjoying watching the ducks mucking around in the fountain.

And that, my friends, is all that is required to start a 90-year tradition.

Every day at 11am and 5pm, the Peabody hosts the ‘Duck March’. Which is conducted by the Peadbody Duckmaster. I am not joking. This is the most coveted position in America next to the guy who seals up the gaps in toilet cubicles.

So there we were, at 10.50am, hanging over the balcony in the Peabody lobby, eagerly awaiting the appearance of these ruddy ducks.


Yes, that is a red carpet. For some ducks.

At 11am on the dot, the Duckmaster – clad in a red tailcoat and a top hat – grandly announced in a faux English accent that in a few minutes’ time the ducks would descend in the lift from their suite – yes, their suite, the suite for ducks on the top floor of this five star hotel, I hope you’re grasping the magnitude of the duck situation here – and they would proceed to waddle up the red carpet and hop into the fountain.

And a few minutes’ later, that is exactly what they did.

There they are.

I mean, underwhelmed is the wrong word – I have had no previous experience of this sort of duck ceremony on which to base my expectations – and there was obviously something delightfully charming about the gravity that was bestowed on this event – so I’ll just say that watching some mallards waddle up a red carpet and cock about in a fountain left me simply whelmed.

 

Later that afternoon, we spent an incredible four hours at the amazing National Civil Rights Museum, which is built around the shell of the motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated. If you’re in Memphis, go. It is astonishing. And, in case you spend quite a lot of time wondering why the initials ‘MLK’ are stamped on pretty much everything, I can inform you that they quite clearly stand for Martin Luther King, and are not a peculiarly mis-spelt announcement for MILK, which was the misapprehension under which my road trip-addled brain was labouring for a good two hours, until the realisation hit me like a massive and wholly justifiable fist.

We then spent an hour driving around the centre of Memphis trying to find the Hertz garage to return our trusty little car to her rightful home. It took an hour, because the Hertz garage felt that a sign the size of a thumb that was half-concealed by a window frame behind seven concrete pillars, was sufficient to alert people to its existence.

It was during this frustrating circular drive, and our subsequent walk back to our hotel, that we experienced the city of Memphis in all its bustling glory.

And when I say ‘bustling glory’, I mean absolutely silent and deserted weirdness.

I have been to many cities, and a usual characteristic is an abundance of traffic and people. You know, the things that make up a city. Life. But Memphis had none of these things. We walked a mile back to our hotel through the ‘centre’ of the city, and saw three people, one tram, and a dog.

Even when we had walked to and from the Civil Rights Museum in Downtown Memphis – Downtown, which normally signifies the place where all the busy cool stuff happens – there had been merely a dribble of cars and the odd pedestrian looking a bit lost.

Either there is a good trade on invisibility cloaks in Memphis, or everyone was at Graceland. They are the only two feasible explanations we came up with for the spooky emptiness of the city. It did mean that there were no queues when we stocked up on provisions at Walgreens, but if anyone has any explanation as to why Memphis is so creepily deserted, I’d love to hear it.

Due to an ungodly early start the next day to catch our AmTrak to New Orleans, we had an early dinner at the famous Rendevous restaurant – more ribs; I mean, by this point we were starting to take on a shiny BBQ hue – bid farewell to the blues bars on Beale Street, and hunkered down in our hotel room to pack and watch Con Air. 

Conclusion: The blues are fabulous. The museum is fabulous. Hell, even the ducks are fabulous. But, as a city, Memphis is… peculiar. If you go, stick around Beale Street. Because apart from the ready availability of invisibility cloaks, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot else going on.

Next up: Jazz, shrimp, a very drunken evening, and a dramatic home invasion escapade in New Orleans. 

Becky says things about … an American road trip – PART 4: Nashville

Not long after leaving Gatlinburg, and winding our way out of the sultry haze of the Smokey Mountains, Mother Nature decided she’d spoilt us with all the endless clear blue skies, and unleashed hell, in the form of a solid wall of rain.

Immediately, the ability to use my eyes to see things was rendered completely useless.

With astounding collective proficiency, myself and my fellow road users all slowed from 70mph to 20mph in about four seconds, and I crawled through the grey torrent for what seemed like an age, hoping fervently that I was still on the road (I say hoping, because I could see neither the end of the car bonnet, nor any evidence of road on either side).

This devilish downfall did eventually ease, but it set the scene for our visit to Nashville. We arrived at our Best Western in the rain, and admired our room’s view of the hotel pool in the rain, and overheard a conversation in the lobby that this was the most rain the city had had in approximately five billion years.

But despite the rain, we had matters to attend to: a trip to the Bluebird Café.

The Bluebird Café is a ‘listening room’: a tiny venue the size of someone’s living room, seating only about 70 guests; in the centre of the jumble of tables is a circle of four chairs where the musicians play their music to each other and the privileged audience who have managed to get through the Glastonbury-style competitive ticket process. The novelty is you don’t know who you’re going to see until you get there. We’re not talking mega stars here, although apparently Taylor Swift turned up there recently. So you never know who you’ll end up listening to.

Due to the intimate size of the Bluebird Café, it is necessary (and delightfully peculiar) to share tables with complete strangers, so Sarah and I were ushered through the tangle of fairy lights and chair legs to a table at which four 60-somethings were already sitting.

Now, we were acutely aware throughout our entire trip in the Deep South that us Londoners stuck out like a sore thumb, and that we wore our tourist-ness like giant flowing capes whether we liked it or not. However, I can tell you that two women from London do not stick out in a bar in Tennessee nearly as much as four wealthy retirees from Bel Air.

Sarah and I were immediately seduced. The twinkly-eyed gent who looked like Liberace introduced them all (which was a total waste of time, as neither of us can remember any of their names, hence they are resigned to history simply as The Bluebird Four), and collectively they quizzed us on our trip, tossing admirations like dollar bills over our ‘braveness’ to undertake such a trip as ‘two women alone’. (It turned out both couples had been together since high school. The two lady Bluebirds had, Sarah and I judged, never done a day’s work in their lives.)

We were entranced by them: their perfectly manicured neatness, their eye-watering private-members’-club politeness, their unquestioning assurance that we didn’t mind being given the Spanish Inquisition by four complete strangers (we didn’t). It was the start of a beautiful friendship, of that I was certain. We would be invited to their Bel Air mansions for Christmas, we would be presented with Rolexes in little white boxes, we would be written into their Wills….

Then 12 minutes into the music, as the musicians strummed their compositions into the respectfully silent room, Liberace fell asleep, the other male Bluebird started composing a lengthy and tut-ridden email on his phone, Liberace’s wife looked down at the carpet with an inexplicable single tear rolling down her expensively creamed face, and Mrs Tutting Bluebird hissed loudly into the centre of the table ‘We’re leaving after this song.’ Two minutes later, during the enthusiastic applause, the Bluebird Four rose en masse like bored Royalty and bustled out of the room, without so much as a ‘We’ll pay for your flights at Christmas’.

Despite our unceremonious dumping, we had a wonderful evening of country music, beer and Nachos, and if any of the BlueBird Four are reading this: we’re still available to come to Bel Air this Christmas.

The next morning we took shelter from the rain in the Country Music Museum, which was extremely interesting, but perhaps not as interesting as the astoundingly rubbish stone effigies of notable musical figures in the Country Music Hall of Fame, not least of our mate Dolly:

Then we found Broadway.

On Nashville’s Broadway a West Side Story-style musical battle plays out: on one side of the street a row of bars flashes neon signs and shouts live music at the row of bars across the street, which retaliates by doing exactly the same. The result? The coolest, oddest, let’s-get-drunk-est cacophony of music you’ve ever heard. In each bar’s open window was a band playing various sub-genres of country music, and as we sloshed through the puddles (yes, it was still raining), one song from one bar would fade, have a brief tussle with the song from the next bar, then that song would be beaten down by the song from the next. It was brilliant.

As we walked past the bars that were brimming with the sort of frenzied energy that, in a normal boring city, doesn’t bubble up until about 10pm, we were acutely aware of the serious and unspoken dilemma that we were now facing: we would have to start drinking.

There are times in one’s life when one has to make a potentially life-saving decision. Here, at 12.30pm on a rainy Sunday in Nashville, on the coolest and most lively street in the Universe, we were faced with two choices:

1) Sprint straight into the nearest bar, tell each other we would only stay for a couple of beers and then have a sensible lunch, a lunch that would never materialise, and instead we would simply descend into a long afternoon of booziness that would inevitably result in one of us being sick in a drain by 5pm; or

2) Have a very slow and very big lunch that neither of us particularly wanted, but which would at least arm us against the onslaught of an afternoon of crapulous inevitability, and hope that it would be at least 8pm before one of us was sick in a drain.

We sensibly chose the latter, and feasted on ribs, pulled-pork baps, potato salad and macaroni cheese at Martin’s BBQ. This killed a good hour, after which we almost ran back to Broadway and tucked ourselves into the dim, purple-lit Robert’s Western World bar where we did what any sane human would do on a rainy Sunday afternoon in Nashville: drink beer and listen to country music.

Which we did with gusto and aplomb.

Here is a diagram of our afternoon in Nashville:

If you’d asked us at 7.30pm on that Sunday, as we slumped over the bar at Teqila Cowboy, what Nashville is like, you would have received this reply:

Hence why we called it a day (yes, I know it was only 7.30pm, but that’s just how we roll), demolished a Nathan’s hot dog from a street corner stall, got a cab back our hotel and collapsed in front of a true crime documentary until it was an acceptable time to pass out.

If you ask us now what Nashville is like, you will receive this reply: Nashville is pure, untamed fun. If you like country music, BBQ ribs, and a down-to-earth, no-frills, shoes-are-slightly-sticking-to-the-floor sort of time, it’s the best place ever. Especially on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

And especially when it turns out neither of you needed to be sick into a drain.

UP NEXT: blues, ducks, and the deserted city in Memphis.

 

 

Becky says things about … an American road trip PART 3: Gatlinburg, Tennessee

After an overnight stop in Athens, Georgia, we ploughed up through the green and red fields of rural Georgia under a crystal clear sky, briefly cutting through a thin slice of North Carolina, where we passed more churches than was surely practical. I immediately had a burning question for these churches:

WHERE DO YOUR CONGREGATIONS COME FROM?

Seriously. This is how the drive went:

Church. Church. Fields. McDonalds. House. Church. Gun outlet. McDonalds. Fields. Church. House. Church. Gun outlet. Fields. Church. Rifle range. Church. McDonalds. Church. House. Fields. Gun outlet. Church. Church. Fields. McDonalds. Church.

I can only imagine that their congregations are solely made up of gun-wielding McDonalds’ employees.

After an hour winding through the deep green veins of the Smokey Mountains, we emerged into the flat valley of Gatlinburg. I had imagined a quaint Swiss-style resort tucked humbly in the mountains, hanging baskets blooming from wooden chalets, the smell of mulled cider wafting on the fresh breeze  – the odd cow roaming pensively – instead, we got the Blackpool of Tennessee. Under the disapproving gaze of the hazy blue Smokies lay a bustling strip of arcades, amusements, hot dog and doughnut stalls, tacky bars, shops selling all the tat you could possibly wish for – and it was when I saw the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and the movie memorabilia store that I wiped a tear from my eye. It was ruddy brilliant.

Upon walking through the door of the Airbnb office, the moustacheod cowboy behind the desk drawled ‘Ah, there y’are, Becky and Sarah,’ and when I asked how he knew it was us, he replied ‘Cos there ain’t no other soul comin’ my way today.’

Three minutes later we were back out the door with the key to our condo. This relaxed process was a far cry from the Spanish Inquisition we’d had checking in to the Daytona and Athens hotels, where we had been asked for ID, credit card, date of birth, known allergies, top ten favourite album covers, mother’s maiden, and favourite sexual position.

Our Airbnb was on the fifth floor of a condo complex (block of flats to us Brits), with a view from the balcony that was reasonably acceptable.

A couple of hours later we were sailing high above the mangle of shrubs and trees as a ski lift hoisted us up the mountain, our bare feet dangling in the hot air, our knuckles whitening and our colons twitching at the beautiful yet almost-certain-death below us.

At the top of the mountain, bathed in the red evening sun, was an Alpine Disneyland: a toytown of chalet-style shops, a bar, and a complex of rope bridges clutching the tree trunks of the mountainside. All accompanied by some yodelling. When one finds oneself in a mountaintop toytown, the only thing to do is to have a pint of incredibly strong local ale and go for a stroll on the perilously high treetop walk. This we did with the alacrity of a couple of slightly tipsy mountain goats.

The next morning, we felt we should do A Walk as that’s what people do when they’re in the mountains, so we drove into the darkening, tangled heart of the Smokies to do A Walk to Grotto Falls.

At the entrance to The Walk was a sign telling us that at any one time there would be 37,000 bears watching us, and if we should come face to face with one we should firstly try this:

And if Mr Bear took umbrage to that, and if we were still alive, we should secondly try this:

That was the long and short of it, anyway.

Fortunately we didn’t get to practice our bear-survival skills, and made it to the extremely pretty waterfall with merely a few splodges of bear poo on the soles of our trainers.


Are you a die-hard supporter of the 45th president of the United States? Do you live in the Gatlinburg area? Do you enjoy a statement t-shirt? Then it’s your lucky day!

Bizarrely, neither Sarah nor I fancied any of these jolly t-shirts, but we DID fancy the movie memorabilia store, where we spent probably the happiest 20 minutes of my life.

After a hard day of not seeing any bears and avoiding being gunned down by Tennesseans as we took photos of us giving Trump t-shirts the finger, we spent the evening on our balcony playing cards (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cards – thank you, movie memorabilia store) and drinking wine, which was a delightful way to spend an evening until a bug flew into my nose and I threw my wine in Sarah’s face in shock.

Question: what do you do if you’re staying six miles from a Dolly Parton-themed theme park called Dollywood?

Answer: go to Dollywood.

It.

Was.

Brilliant.

For three solid hours we were flung about on some of the best roller coasters I’ve ever been on, and I became intimately acquainted with Sarah’s vocal chords.

In the gift shop – a veritable shrine to Dolly Parton, her plastic face beaming from every item – I had the following illuminating conversation with the pink-capped girl at the checkout:

Then came Funnel Cake-gate.

A Funnel Cake is America’s way of making a doughnut even more lethal to your arteries. Instead of a single lump of batter plopped into the fryer, the batter is piped into the hot fat so it creates an intricate nest, thereby increasing the surface area of available fat-soaked dough by approximately 23,000 times. It is then doused in icing sugar.

We demolished this arterial onslaught in around eight minutes (theme parks are hungry work) and experienced a brief moment of sugar-induced elation, during which we planned every detail of our campaign to be the first female presidential duo of the United States, and then, as though draining through the bottom of a bucket, our blood sugar levels succumbed to the greatest sugar and adrenaline crash in the history of the universe.

It was all I could do to drive us back through the mountains and crawl into a late afternoon coma. The lesson? Roller coasters + funnel cake = absolutely nothing. Forget it. You’re finished.

Conclusion: Gatlinburg is F.U.NAnd if you’re a Trump-supporting, church-going, gun-toting, bear-fighting, Funnel Cake-loving adrenaline junkie, then you should definitely go.

UP NEXT: Rain, country music, and another booze-filled afternoon in Nashville, Tennessee. 

Becky says things about … an American road trip – Part 2: Savannah, Georgia

Happily, the 230 mile journey from Daytona Beach to Savannah can be considered a success, because I only ended up on the wrong side of the road once, and nobody died.

Around 2pm, we crested a wave on the freewayhighway and sank into the plush green garden of Savannah.

Savannah is a small city near the east coast of Georgia, across the Savannah River from South Carolina. At its centre is a lush green canopy of live oak trees which hides a serene underworld of dolls’ houses and secrets. The grid of streets is puckered with 22 grassy squares, gently breathing under the tangle of branches. The pavements are tickled by the braids of Spanish moss that trail from the trees.

It was immediately the most beautiful place I had ever been in my life.

Our Airbnb was a wooden Victorian treasure trove just off Forsythe Park, complete with an actual porch and an actual wooden swing seat suspended from the porch ceiling. This caused perhaps over-zealous excitement.

 

After a lazy stroll through the squares, gulping in the green-sweet air, we emerged on the cobbled riverfront where an old steamboat hissed at the bank. There, we experienced a clear sign from God: it began to drizzle just as we spotted a chalkboard offering $5 margaritas. So we ‘popped in’ to a restaurant bar called The Shrimp Factory.

Four hours later, we popped out again.

Allow me to introduce you to our new Shrimp Factory friends (who will assume the names we prescribed them the following morning when our memory of exact details was quite sketchy):

Boston Sue and Donald Sutherland, a middle-aged couple from Boston. Sue’s initial reserved seriousness was magically transformed by the shots I was palming off on her, and suddenly she was whooping and hollering and trying to set Sarah up with the bartender; Pissed Ruth, a 45-ish woman travelling alone from New York, who sank margaritas and told us she’d had a terrible day, and who ended up getting absolutely smashed and hanging off our shoulders telling us we ‘motherfucking ruled’ for doing our road trip; and finally Mr and Mrs Jim, a charming couple from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. (We did know Jim’s wife’s Christian name at some point during the evening, but it is forever lost to Drunk Lost Property.) Married 45 years; ‘he still makes me laugh, and I still make him cry’. Jim happily supped beer and looked on while Mrs Jim downed cocktails at superhuman speed and clamoured over us, wanting to know our life stories.

By 7pm, we were all best friends and they all watched eagerly as the bartender gave Sarah and I two shots of Moonshine. This Moonshine was 100% proof. This could have set a dangerous precedent for when we returned to the UK.

When deep in such boozy conviviality, it is astounding how many topics you can cover. In this case: Trump (“the most retarded president we’ve ever had” according to wise old Boston Sue); the Catholic Church; youth vs age; the moral debate about legalising cannabis; the US penitentiary system, and death. All light, fluffy stuff.

By 9pm, we were all steaming drunk: Boston Sue and Pissed Ruth were dancing, Mr Jim and Donald Sutherland were swayingly discussing golf, and Mrs Jim was tearily confiding in Sarah about their gay son and about how Mr Jim was absolutely            fine          with it.

By 9.30pm we were back at our lovely Airbnb and I fell up the porch steps.

Despite a hangover the next day that was in the ‘top three worst of my life’, Sarah gallantly made it through a trolley bus tour of the city, and survived a surprisingly chirpy me dragging her round the muggy squares while I took millions of photos of millions of trees from millions of different angles.

At 4pm, an ice cream still hadn’t sorted her out, so the only thing for it was to have a drink.

It didn’t go down well.

We had an early night.


Fact: if you google ‘Savannah, Georgia’ the following picture will appear:

It’s not a mythical land, it’s not a scene from a Disney film, it is the Wormsloe Plantation, and I took the above photo the following morning whilst hanging out of the car window as we trundled slowly beneath the silent mesh of trees. Not bad for a woman in charge of a moving vehicle, eh?

We had a sweaty walk through what was essentially a tropical rainforest that screeched with peculiar insects, including forest crabs that scuttled willy-nilly across our path. This was unsettling, but I suppose it was preferable to the plethora of entirely possible alternatives.

The plantation ruins were a little underwhelming. I mean, they were only from the 1700s, and when we Brits have got castles and churches that date back to 120AD, it takes quite a lot to astonish us.

On our way back to the city, we broke a world record: the Longest Time Two Humans have Spent Trying to Fill Up a Car at a Gas Station.

28 minutes to be precise.

In our humble land, we fill up our vehicle with petrol, and we then pay for the precise amount of petrol we have used.

America likes to turn this simple process into a perverted game, whereby you have to guess how much petrol your car needs and guess how much it is going to cost. Before you so much as lift the pump from its clasp.

To make things even more fun, the little screen at the pump inexplicably needed to know our postcode, presumably so it could send us a Christmas card, and after the 17th time of being asked for this information and there was still no sign of petrol appearing from the pump, we were becoming desperate.

After what felt like three days of hopeless fannying around, an assistant finally coaxed Sarah inside, where Sarah guessed how much it would cost to fill up our little Hyundi with three quarters of a tank. Sarah’s guess was $60 off the mark.

Whilst we were delighted that it had only cost $20 to fill up the car, it meant another embarrassed trip to the assistant to get $60 put back on Sarah’s card.

Dear America:

After a fat Ruben sandwich at Clary’s Diner, and a cultured tour round the beautiful Mercer-Williams House, the muggy heat of the day got to us, so we sought refreshment in Pinkie Master’s.

Pinkie Master’s had been suggested by our Airbnb host in response to my question ‘where do the locals drink in Savannah?’, and it very quickly became the second most beautiful thing I had seen next to Savannah itself.

At 4pm on a Monday afternoon, it was just us, the bartender and the locals, and as we sipped jars of tequila and grapefruit slushies (which are gifts from the Heavens), we sank deeper into the wonderfully eccentric world of a local dive bar in an eccentric city.

As one local left, another took their place. We met Big George and Tiny George, Gregory ‘The Legend’, Irish Ian, and when the door opened and a big guy walked in to greetings of ‘Hey, Coach!’, I lost my shit.

We were told about the guy who used to come in to the bar with a tortoise on a lead (‘Fuck that tortoise’, grumbled the barman); we discovered that it was here that Jimmy Carter first announced he would run for President (apparently); we watched a good-natured argument across the bar between two locals, which ended with one happily saying to the other ‘I wish you were dead’.

When Carol and Ian from Bradford – yes, Bradford, England – came in, and we learnt that they had fallen in love with Savannah ten years ago and had actually moved here when they retired, I may have reacted strangely.

As the day darkened outside, and as the neon signs around the bar glowed ever brighter, I decided I wanted to move to this peculiar, beautiful town, and hole myself up in this dim neon-glowing room and become an eccentric local, and drink tequila and grapefruit slushies. Forever.

BEHOLD ITS BEAUTY.

Unfortunately, we had to drive to Tennessee the next day, so we dragged ourself off the bar stools, bid farewell to our 5-hour friends, stumbled home and assassinated a pizza.

Conclusion: If you go anywhere in the States, go to Savannah. It is impossible not to fall in love. And I don’t just mean with tequila and grapefruit slushies.

UP NEXT: Mountains, Dolly Parton and bears in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. 

Becky says things about … an American road trip – Part 1: Daytona Beach

Cherished Listener, behold a tale of two English women’s road trip in south-east USA.

My friend Sarah and I galavanted through Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Louisiana in a whirl of suffocating humidity, BBQ ribs, gallons of beer, Trump T-Shirts, life-changing hangovers, bears, and a dramatic home invasion escapade – and I would like to say things about it.

So without further ado, turn off Netflix, get yourself a cool beverage, tell the cat to shut up, and we shall begin.

DAYTONA BEACH 

The car journey from Orlando airport to Daytona Beach started badly and went downhill from there.

I first tried to leave the Hertz car park through an exit clearly marked STAFF EXIT ONLY and was ushered back out the right exit by a polite Mexican; then within minutes of being on the freeway (freeway or highway? Is there a difference? Does it matter? What does anything even mean?) we had missed three exits and I was trying to quell the rising urge to go back to the airport, fly straight back to London and tell everyone we’d made a terrible mistake.

After eventually deciding we were going the right way, and navigating the 319 inexplicable toll booths that all charged 75 cents for the privilege of driving past an unmanned shed, it was all going well, until there appeared in the road ahead of us the jagged, ripped flesh of a car tyre that looked like it had been spat out by a T-Rex. There’s not much one can do at 70mph on a four-lane freewayhighway packed with rush-hour traffic, so I elected to simply run over it. This felt similar to driving over a tree branch embedded with six-inch nails.

Clearly I had just irrevocably damaged the rental car we had been in for less than half an hour, and our pierced tyres were going to flatten and flop about and eventually spasm off and whip into the air causing a devastating multi-vehicle pile-up, the tragedy of which would pale in comparison to the $3million we would have to pay Hertz, so I got off the freewayhighway and checked our tyres in a McDonald’s car park.

Anti-climactically, they were fine.

I then spent the next 20 minutes trying to get back on the freewayhighway. You Americans may wonder at my driving abilities, but let me tell you, when one is sitting in the wrong side of a car, on the wrong side of a road, everything becomes wrong; in this case, driving two miles in the wrong direction, performing approximately 13 illegal and wrong manoeuvres, driving the wrong way down a road, and inadvertently and wrongly turning on my windscreen wipers during a frantic three-point turn.

It was then that I vowed we would never again exit a freewayhighway unless the SatNav told us to, and even then it’d have to have a damned good reason.

Miraculously and only partly wrongly, we made it to our oceanfront Holiday Inn, and the next morning’s sunrise from our balcony made up for our distressing car journey, and for a night battling an air conditioning unit that sounded like King Kong with a chest infection.

We waded through the cloying 95-degree-4895%-humidity in search of breakfast, and it was on this short journey that all our fervent hopes that America is playing a massive practical joke on the rest of the world were shattered – for slapped on an electricity generator was a bumper sticker that defiantly yelled TRUMP PENCE 2020.

To keep our spirits alive we breakfasted in the Daytona Diner – a nostalgic haven of movie and TV memorabilia, adorned with plentiful images of Betty Boop being provocative with a Harley Davidson – and the waitress patiently explained to us the 297 different ways we could have our eggs.

After breakfast there wasn’t an awful lot to do up our end of Daytona Beach, unless we fancied getting a tattoo or visiting the mini golf where we could ‘feed and hold live gators’, so we spent the day by the hotel’s oceanfront pool.

It was at the pool that I made the following three important anthropological observations about our American cousins:

1. Americans do not swim. At least, not those Americans in Daytona Beach. Not a single one of the 20 or so Americans in the pool swam more than two meters. Instead, they plopped themselves in, arranged themselves in a convivial circle, and had a semi-submerged chat. An hour later, they emerged wrinkled and refreshed, and flopped onto their sunbeds with the laboured sigh of someone who has just swum the Channel.

2. Beards are there to be worshipped. The 60-something whale-bellied dude who had the bushiest, silkiest, lushest beard we’d ever seen (for this reason we inventively named him Father Christmas) lounged against the side of the pool sensually stroking his facial mane, while a hareem of adoring women bobbed round him, clearly seduced by the silken foliage. Sarah and I were mesmerised, particularly when he told a story in a deep, chocolatey southern drawl about his previous hotel in South Carolina where a kid shit in the pool.

3. The pool is a perfect place to show off one’s dedication to the gym. An oiled terracotta beefcake, adorned with hoops in both ears and a signet ring the size of a golf ball, spent two hours manfully astride his sunbed staring down at his pecks, which he flexed in turn to the beat of ‘America’s Greatest Stadium Ballads’ that he was kindly playing on his portable radio for all the pool to hear.

After a few hours of my skin slowly dissolving in the sun, I went for a stroll on the beach.

And it is stunning.

It is endless, silky (much like Father Christmas’ beard). Clouds floated in the wet sand. Clusters of tiny birds scuttled back from the lapping waves. Children busied around castles and moats. Elderly couples lounged under marquees, holding hands and peering contentedly into the blue. A topless man frantically pawed at the sand, whipping up torrents with his hands, muttering under his breath ‘It was here somewhere. Motherfucker was here somewhere.’

I called it a day and went back to the hotel.

That evening, after a cab journey to Daytona Beach’s main drag, I decided we should go to a biker bar. When in Rome, and all that.

A quick glance at Google Maps told us that the promisingly-named Main Street was the place to go for biker bars.

It was 6pm on a sunny Saturday evening in Daytona Beach.

Walking down Main Street at 6pm on a sunny Saturday evening in Daytona Beach was simply a sunnier re-enactment of the opening scenes of 28 Days Later where the dude wakes up to discover that he’s the last human left on earth.

There was no one. I mean no one. Despite the many inviting bars with names like Dirty Harry’s, Filthy Mike’s, Downright Unpleasant Steve’s, and the echoes of heavy metal wafting onto the baked pavement, there was not a soul to be seen.

After making it to the end of Main Street without seeing so much as the lovingly-coiffered fronds of a beard, we came to the conclusion that a) Main Street is actually an abandoned film set that no one’s got round to demolishing yet; b) Main Street doesn’t come alive until much, much later when the hoards of bikers emerge from their cocoons of corrugated steel and drink beer and compare clutch brackets until dawn; or c) Main Street had been hit by a devastating and extremely localised plague, which had wiped out its entire population, and the chipped, peeling facades actually concealed piles of decomposing corpses.

Whatever the reason, we had abjectly failed to have an authentic Saturday-night biker experience, so joined the gaggle of tourists at the end of the pier at Joe’s Crab Shack.

And there I innocently ordered the fish and chips, and innocently discovered that the batter of the fish was basically KFC skin.

I don’t mean my fish was coddled in actual chicken skin – although I wouldn’t put it past you cheeky Americans – I mean that the Colonel’s secret herb and spice mix had somehow found its way into my fish batter.

And after 13 seconds of resisting this heinous abomination of an English classic, I gave in.

We had a post-dinner stroll along the dingy Boardwalk, passing the amusement arcades, fried chicken and doughnut outlets, and the decaying bones of a wooden roller-coaster.

We weren’t 100% sure about this dusty, tattered edge of land that was Daytona central, although it didn’t fail to provide a somewhat clichéd introduction to the South, particularly in the form of the baby-holding guy who was wearing a T-Shirt that proudly growled ‘Spare me the debate – I’ll stick to my guns’, lovingly embroidered with images of rifles.

After finding ourselves on the outskirts of a U2 tribute concert, we decided we would permit jet lag to get the better of us, and wearily taxied back to the hotel and the throaty splutters of our air conditioning unit.

Conclusion: Daytona Beach is stunning. Daytona is like a humid, unkempt Brighton. And we never did find out if Main Street rose from the dead once the blazing red sun went down.

UP NEXT: Moonshine, the hangover from hell, and the best Monday afternoon ever in beautiful Savannah, Georgia. 

 

Becky says things about … a 13 year-old’s diary

Great and powerful Listener, I have been inspired by the wonderful Tess at If Destroyed Still True, who does the unthinkable and publishes her teenage diaries online for the world to snigger at. She has inspired me to delve into the first diary I ever kept, at the tender age of 13, back in 1998.

Listener, it is a hotbed of invaluable life lessons and insights.

Come, if you will, and allow me to share them with you.

The sky’s the limit 

Monday 19th January 1998

I’m 13. Wow. What a thought! I’ve decided I want to be a detective or a police woman if I don’t get to be an actress. Or I’d like to do stuff with the Titanic, like be a ‘Explorer of the Titanic’ because I find that ever so interesting.

Friday 23rd January 1998

Watched Parkinson. It had Dawn French, Carol Vorderman and Geri Halliwell on it. I’m going to be famous and get asked to do something like that. I know I’ll be REALLY famous when I get asked to be on Parkinson.

Computer games are extremely important

Thursday 15th January 1998

I still can’t get off level 4 of Theme Hospital, and really don’t know what I’m doing wrong. No matter how neatly I make the rooms or clean up the sick or stop the rats from spreading I just can’t get to level 5. Oh well. Keep trying.

Wednesday 23rd September 1998

I have found a way of cheating on levels on Theme Hospital!!!!! BEST DAY EVER.

Thursday 24th September 1998

Went to Megan’s to help with her homework. I ended up showing her the Theme Hospital cheat but it doesn’t work on her computer. I’m quite pleased about that actually.

Teenagers occasionally lack empathy

Saturday 7th March 1998

I’m really not enjoying flute lessons. Linda keeps giving me a load of crappy exercises to do which are either really boring or really difficult.

Saturday 25th April 1998

Didn’t have a flute lesson because Linda’s mum died. YES GOT OUT OF A FLUTE LESSON.

 

The world doesn’t revolve around you

Monday 2nd March 1998

Told Andrea about getting a hamster. She didn’t want to talk about it. She doesn’t like talking about ANYTHING apart from herself.

Boys are an emotional roller coaster 

Tuesday 28th July 1998

Went to Tom’s with Kyle and Aaron and we were going to watch a horror film but ended up watching Fawlty Towers, which is so much better. Me and Tom were snogging but then he started eating cheesy Doritos so I pretended I’d had enough of snogging because YUCK.

Saturday 3rd October 1998

I think Tom’s losing interest in me. He hardly ever phones me now. Oh well. That didn’t last very long.

Sunday 14th February 1999

Went to Pizza Hut with Tom. Then we went back to his house and he made me laugh for approximately two and a half hours.

JUST REMEMBERED it was Valentine’s Day today!!! We didn’t even get each other a card!! I wonder if that’s why he wanted to take me to Pizza Hut, as a Valentine’s treat? Bit rude if so, as I paid for half.

Pride comes before a fall

Monday 8th June 1998

I got the highest possible mark in History!!! For my slave diary!! Mrs Waite said it was worthy of publication!!! I AM A GENIUS AT HISTORY.

Tuesday 9th June 1998

I got 28% in Maths. I will never understand Maths.

 

Witty comebacks are a skill to be acquired

Monday 20th July 1998

We did the fashion parade in Drama (‘Plastic Fantastic’). I wore my plasticky skirt, high shoes and sparkly top. Bit cheaty, I suppose, but I didn’t have time to actually make anything. Well, when I did my little catwalk thing, I got back and there’s Erica and Caitlin. Erica’s going ‘She looks like a prostitute – a right tart!’ Then she goes ‘You’re cheating, it’s not very plastic, is it?’ So I go ‘Well your face is.’ I’m not sure it was a good insult but it’s the best I could do at short notice.

The first proper party is everything

Friday 24th July 1998

There was a party at Julia’s! Mum and dad let me go because I begged. Me and Tom were snogging loads, and we all sang songs in the attic room and mucked around with a Hoover. At 4am it started getting light and I did one of those ghosts boards with Ellie and Candice (can’t remember what they’re called – weejie board??). Anyway I don’t know why we did it or what the point of it was, but we were awake until FIVE THIRTY and then I fell asleep on a windowsill and woke up at nine!!! It was SO COOL!!!!

Fashion is mega important, but occasionally tricky

Sunday 26th April 1998

Went to Kingston with Mum and she bought me some new Nike trainers and some Adidas shorts, and some combat trousers and an army top. They’re all really cool and I look like All Saints in them.

Friday 17th July 1998

Wore my really cool pinstripe trousers and new Reebok jumper to Mufti Day. Really cool. My make-up was a disaster though. I did it from my big new make-up box from Argos, and I did my eyeshadow in orange and with thick eyeliner like all the girls wear, but mine just looked awful.

Teenagers can be harsh

Thursday 17th September 1998

The most terrible thing happened today. Between me and Alyssa. Because I STUPIDLY told Cara and Robyn about the list of the people Alyssa hates. I told them not to tell anyone. I go into the form room at lunch. Alyssa comes in. EVERYONE goes ‘Why do you hate me, Alyssa? Who else is on your list?’ They were all yelling at her and I’m sitting there thinking ‘Oh my God. What have I done??’ I made her cry. I felt SO bad. I have never been so horrible to anyone in my entire life.

 

Trying to be a grown-up is fraught with difficulties

Saturday 26th September 1998

Went to see ‘Lethal Weapon 4’ at the cinema with Ellie. It was a 15 certificate!! But we didn’t get asked for ID or anything! As we were going up the stairs into the cinema, we heard our names being shouted, and Megan and Alice were in the queue and they yelled up ‘Did you get in??’ IDIOTS. We legged it into the cinema and hid in the seats.

Sometimes, life is unfair

Friday 13th October 1998

I got moved in German because I was chewing on my jumper. Not sure it was fair to move me. It was MY jumper, after all.

It’s the small things

Monday 25th January 1999

Me and Susie had fun with a note under the table in French. Cara flicked a spring at Mr Hickman and I threw a rubber in her mouth. It was so cool.

A social life doesn’t always work out

Friday 16th October 1998

Me and Ellie went to what we THOUGHT was a planned sleepover at Julia’s but when we got there her parents were in and Julia wasn’t there and we ended up watching two episodes of Friends with her parents and then we left and wandered round New Malden and went back to Ellie’s and Dad picked me up.

One is aware of one’s abilities

Thursday 1st October 1998

I hate Art, I hate Maths, I hate French. We had to draw SHAPES in Art today. I AM 13 YEARS OLD. I know how to draw a rectangle for pity’s sake.

Technology had a long way to go 

Friday 29th January 1999

Me, Ellie and Ruth tried to do a three-way phonecall. It didn’t work. I thought we’d pressed all the right numbers but I ended up hanging up on them both and when I tried to call them back they were both engaged.

Presents were brilliant

Friday 25th December 1998

Christmas Day. Got some BRILLIANT presents: a manicure kit, a sheep hot water bottle, fibre optic lamp (cool!), Robbie Williams album, Austin Powers video, Body Shop smellies, chocolate, a Delia Smith cookery book about eggs, pink folder, fluffy pencil case, a blow-up picture frame, make up bag, bubble bath, nice earrings x 2 pairs. I think I’ve done rather well.

So what have we learnt from this experience, loyal Listener?

1) Being a teenager was cool.

2) Lethal Weapon 4 is a hugely underrated film.

3) Not everyone wants to talk about hamsters.

4) Inevitably, you will get old and ask for a slow cooker for Christmas.

 

Becky says things about … small pleasures

Most glorious Listener, the other day I returned from purchasing kitchen roll to discover… that I already had kitchen roll.

Quite apart from being peeved that I had over-stocked, I was perhaps unjustifiably delighted. I had gained kitchen roll! I wouldn’t have to buy any more kitchen roll for at least four days! I could be frivolous, perhaps even whimsical, with my surplus supply of kitchen roll! I was almost tempted to knock over a glass of water just so I could mop it up with my abundance of kitchen roll without the creeping fear of running out!

You will agree, loyal Listener, that this would constitute, in the grand scheme of life, a small, perhaps even minuscule pleasure.

But it is these small pleasures that can brighten the otherwise turgid monotony of our days.

Consider this: a vicious cockwombling driver roars dangerously in front of you, filling your car with noxious fumes and preventing you from hearing a crucial moment on Radio 4. A few moments later, you come to a serene stop next to the disgraceful bumface at a red light.

That, my friend, is a small yet palpable pleasure.

As is taking a priced item to a checkout – an item that you were perfectly prepared to purchase at the stated price – to then discover that the item is three pounds cheaper than the stated price.

But what of the divine pleasure of catching someone in the exact moment that they do something stupid? What joys can be gained from seeing a hapless stranger (or even better, a friend) spill drink down themselves, or trip up a kerb, or accidentally fall on a knife? The other day I was fortunate enough to glance at a dude in a cafe at the exact moment he stabbed himself in the mouth with his fork.

And yes, the post-workout feeling of intense smugness and rejuvenation and vitality is undoubtedly something to celebrate, but it pales in comparison to having your well-meant exercise attempt thwarted by something entirely out of your control.

And what of this? You are at a restaurant. You are in great company. You have ordered your food. Your companion is scintilating, witty and beautiful, and is offering you the best that social small talk can proffer. But all you can think is whereismyfoodwhereismyfoodwhereismyfoodwhereismyfood.

It is a tense time. It doesn’t matter how stimulating the company, waiting for your food to arrive is a time of anxiety and mounting hunger.

So you go to the toilet. You don’t need to, but in four minutes you can distract yourself from the screaming absence of food.

And, if the Gods are smiling down on you, if Life Itself has dealt you the perfect hand, you return to your table…

…and your food is there.

Let us not forget the power of a good floss. You have scrubbed your teeth vigilantly and with gusto, you have mouthwashed and spat into the sink with the force of a thousand bullets, and yet one touch of a silken thread of floss through your back molars reveals a piece of mouth gubbins so substantial, that your self-disgust is trumped only by self-admiration at your dextrous ability to rid your mouth of such a monstrous piece of culinary refuse.

Celebrate the small pleasures, dear Listener. Each small pleasure is a tiny triumph in the marathon of Life (particularly seeing someone fall over, which is worth at least five small pleasure points).