19 March 2009

Roadtrip '09, DAY 7: The Globetrotting Glecks

Tal & Sera's Big 2009 RoadtripDAY SEVEN - Thursday, 26 February.
Destination: Tunica, Mississippi -- Harrah's Casino.
Miles traveled: 345.1

Sunrise in our Indian teepee. With the full-size beds, we took the retro factor an extra step, and slept in separate beds - just like married couples did in 1955 (at least if one judges by television).

As previously mentioned, the appointments in the wigwam - the radiator, desk and bedframes, among most bathroom fixtures - are the genuine circa-1937 articles. I slept okay, considering the mattress left much to be desired. I joked that the mattress was probably just as old.

The shower had incredibly good water pressure. That's the good news. The bad? The water heater capacity was smaller than a 2-liter soda.

WIDE AWAKE, we got dressed (and wore short-sleeves without a jacket for the first time in many days), packed our stuff back into Rupert, then I went out to take more pictures in better daylight. The motel's owner opened the old office teepee and let us look around in there, and he even gave us a couple of the old '70s-era postcards.The "big teepee" used to have a restaurant on the main floor, with a full basement that served as the gift shop and the kitchen. The mini-teepees on each side were the restrooms.

The restaurant closed soon after I-65 opened in the mid '60s, causing US-31W to lose its mojo. The gift shop was then moved upstairs. I'm sure he would've let me look around downstairs, were it not time to get going.

Then we received a very nasty surprise.

Seems the water heater isn't the only thing with reduced capacity...

"DECLINED??!!" Seems the credit card we used for the motel was rejected. Ummmmm, that's not good. Ain't no way I'm within shouting distance of the card's limit. This was a card which we kept as a 'zero balance', and put into use for the motel and gas purchases which I'd pay in full from the tax refund (what finances these yearly junkets). The card had a $7,000 limit on it, and the balance was no more than $500. W? T? F?

I used another card for the room, it went through, and we set out. Our next stop was going to be breakfast at Denny's in Bowling Green. Well, that is now our second stop -- the first is the nearest pay phone. I'm calling the card issuer to get some answers.

And boy, did I get an answer.

The card was over the limit. Suddenly my $7,000 credit card morphed itself into one with a $400 credit limit, meaning I was now $100 and change over the top. The charge for gas yesterday in Kentucky went through, as did the cabin in Mt. Nebo. But they weren't about to approve the wampum for the wigwam.

You see, the day we left on the trip, HSBC massacred many of its cardholders. And I was one of them.

I got a supervisor, and explained that we had no way of knowing this went down ... and, I admit, I did make it appear as if we were 'stranded' (we weren't, really), which was good for their raising the limit back.

Back to a whopping $1,100. Bless them.

Well, ain't this a fine and craptastic top-of-the-morning. I am thankful for any blissful ignorance until after we left West Virginia ... any way you look at it, this was a sour start to our day.

Sera and I then hop onto I-65 southbound, destined for Bowling Green and trying to drown our "financial sorrows" with a good, nutritious Denny's Grand Slam breakfast.

Wi-Fi? Do-WHAAAAA???, Part I

Recently, Denny's rolled out internet access at most all of its restaurants. Even in the swamps of the South Carolina Lowcountry one can plug into the 'net at one of their locations.

But not in Bowling Green. There was nothing at this exit except (protected) signals from motels. (At this point, you're just waiting for me to say "craptastic", aren't you?) Other than that, the breakfast was good, the service very pleasant.

Next stop: "Talmadge"-ville

From Bowling Green - home of the GM plant where Corvettes are made - we left the interstate to take four-lane US-68 westward toward Russellville. We were listening to their local AM station (WRUS), which had live announcers and a midday agriculture report and even obituaries (!), truly a quaint idea in this day and age. I hope Russellvillians realize how blessed and fortunate they are ... true live and local "community" radio stations are getting rarer by the year.

We found the WRUS studio building south of town, hoping for a good photo-op (A picture of myself in front of the "WRUS" sign, to go with a pic of Seraphim - real name Amy - standing outside the building of WAMY in Amory, Miss). WRUS' building looked nice and unassuming, but no call letters on the building and just a concrete base out front from which a sign once rested. The only evidence of this being a radio station were the satellite dishes on the premises and the mast in the back with a microwave studio-transmitter link dish.

Well, poot. So much for that opportunity. I thought about going in and looking at their facility -- and I really, really wanted to -- however I wanted us to get to Tunica at a decent hour and to avoid Memphis' rush hour, something we wouldn't be doing with our thumbs up our collective asses in Kentucky. Let's get moving again.

But first, Rupert was fed some Shell petroleum at a station outside downtown Russellville for $1.72/9. We figure that should get us on into Mississippi without trouble. A $1.00 Kentucky scratch-off for each of us yielded a royal bust.

Buhbye, Wildcat Blue ... Hello, Big Orange

From Russellville, four lanes became two as we started out southwest at the eastern terminus of U.S. Highway 79 for the remaining few miles left in Kentucky. The next stop: Clarksville, Tennessee. We figured Krystal - another chain with wi-fi pretty much everywhere - would have a presence in this military town. Or somewhere else, most certainly adjacent to I-24. I recall from our last trip down that highway (December 2006), the US-79/I-24 interchange was a big watering hole.

Indeed, there are plenty of dining options at this intersection. We saw Krystal, and half a block down it was a Starbuck's. Sera was jonesin' for a Star-tastic latte, and Starbuck's also has wi-fi pretty much SOP at its zillions of locations.

Wi-Fi? Do-WHAAAAA???, Part II

And so began a comedy on so many ridiculous levels.

Starbuck's: "Wi-Fi? We don't have that ... I think Krystal has it, though .... "

Sorry, then, no coffee sale.

*sigh* We then double back down to Krystal.

Krystal: "Wi-Fi? Do-WHAAAAAAAA?????"

Good. Gawd.
We were just past lunchtime, and needed a wi-fi connection in order that we may e-mail Bolivar again to let him know that we were going to be in his and J-Lo's neighborhood. We didn't have his phone number handy, so we had to go for e-mail.

On the other side of this highway-o-heartburn was a shopping mall, complete with a Borders. Bookstores have wi-fi, don't they?

Uhhhhh, yes. If it works.

Border's: "It's done by T-mobile and I think it's broke."

I didn't see any open laptops in the coffee shop, so she might be on the level. In any event, even if it weren't "broke", it was a pay-for-play, and that's not an option.

At this point, these Clarksville, Tennessee inbreds were beginning to rub me the wrong way. So much for the Deep South being backwards, eh? I'm serious -- Savannah just swarms with free wi-fi hotspots at gawd knows how many stores. Ditto for many places in Alabama. Even golldurned TROY. These Clarksville people oughta be ashamed.

Thinking about how laughably easy it is to find hot spots -- even here in Rincon -- I was getting very pissed off. I needed an internet connection. This is not 2002, people, so get with the program!!!

I saw a sign pointing toward Clarksville's library. For one thing, we'd already blown through 45 minutes of valuable time; for another, I didn't feel like a wild goose chase to find this city's library; and most of all, using these galoots as a yardstick, I'd probably get the following response from the librarian: "Wi-fi? My granddaddy had one of them things. You stacked them long-playing records on that tall pole and they plopped down and played."

US-79 continued, skirting downtown Clarksville (sound effect: banjo strum) and I knew when we started seeing sleazy "we-tote-the-note" used car lots and title-pawn shops that we must be getting near the entrance of a military installation ... in this case Fort Campbell.

I feel sorry for any military family transferred to this gawd-forsaken place. I hope they bring a wireless card for their laptop. That's assuming they have cellphone service in Clarksville. I don't know. My cellphone was off for this duration.

But I did find something really cool in the middle of all this wasteland:

What a gorgeous thing of beauty! It resembles the old 1952-82 Holiday Inn signage, except for parts of it being turned around.

A postcard I found online has this sign pictured, and it had a postmark of 1965. My question is just how Kemmons Wilson (Holiday Inn's founder and creator/namer of the "Great Sign") felt about this tweak of a trademark. Below are both, side to side. You be the judge:

"One of these things is not like the other"

I can think of a lot of places I'd love to have a "vacation", and it sure the hell ain't here. "Wi-fi? My momma had an Admiral - had a lid on it, too, and the radio dial glowed this green color when we turned it on to hear The Grand Old Opry on WSM. We listened to Daddy's Flatt & Scruggs records on it, too. No, we ain't got no Wi-fi, but we do got black and white Motorola Quasars in every room. They even tune UHF stations, whatever in tarnation them are. No color TV, sorry, except for here in the lobby, but it only gits Channel 5 and not too good."

Every woman deserves a romantic trip to the Eiffel Tower ... even my wife

The next item on our travel agenda found us in the environs of Paris. Do not let it be said that I never took my wife to Paris.
Paris, Tennessee is a pleasant little city, and it marked my second visit to this place. The first time, oddly enough, was 15 years ago this month: February 1994. There's a replica of the Eiffel Tower in Paris' Memorial Park, built there in 1992. A picture of me was taken by my "practice wife", the illustrious Whatzername. I thought it would be an interesting A/B pair:

1994 ... and 2009 (I think I look happier in the right picture, don't you?)

Now wasn't that sweet and idyllic?

Next stop: Italy!

From Paris, we resumed our southwesterly jog down US-79 until we came upon the city of Milan. And that's not pronounced as they do in Italy, in Tennessee it's MI-lun.

Since breakfast was had rather late, we opted to go with a very light 'late lunch', and no better place than a Wendy's in Milan which -- part the clouds, sound the trumpets, cue the chorus of angels -- HAD FREE WI-FI INSIDE. And, wonder of wonders, the woman behind the counter knew what it was.

We sat down with our food, and each had our turn with the laptop. I sent an e-mail to Bolivar, with the subject line in all caps - "URGENT!!!" I left our cellphone numbers and hoped he would see it by tonight.

Nice dogg-----BAD DOG!!!

From Milan, we took US-45E into Jackson and right onto I-40 westbound for the leg into Memphis. It was looking as if we'd just miss the worst of rush hour, yet get into Tunica before it was too late to partake of Paula Deen's buffet at Harrah's, where we had a room waiting. Another consideration was the possibility of severe weather this evening -- we wanted to get settled in before any of that occurred.

The next stop proved an adventure, and not of the good kind. It would go on to be the craptastic pitstop to end all craptastia. The Pilot station showing its signage to us at Exit #42 on I-40 near Stanton, Tenn. lured us off the super slab for gasoline, "truckers' coffee" and - maybe - a DFD, as most Pilots had.

Sera went on inside to prepare her coffee while I put some gasoline into Rupert's 16.5-gallon gastric chamber. They were asking $1.69/9 for the privilege, which turned out to be the cheapest price paid for this entire trip. It was ... shall we say ... Pilotastic.

And that was the only good thing about this stop.

There was a black guy walking his dog - a reddish-colored mutt of medium size. The dog saw me and came toward me. I extended my hand in my usual 'I come in peace' fashion, he sniffed it and I started petting him as I made small talk with the gentleman. I made no quick moves (not a good idea with a dog who doesn't know you), but for whatever reason, this dog turned on me. He snapped and shit near bit my hand clear off. I credit whatever blazin'-fast reflexes on my part at keeping just that from happening.

The guy pulled back on the dog's leash, and started a lame apology, then asked if I smoked. "Ummm, no." "He doesn't like smokers." "Well, I've never smoked and I have never been near a burning cigarette today." Hadn't been since our last Pilot visit (Grayson, Ky.) the day before. I meant to say something about that on the last day's travelogue -- that whole Pilot station smelled like a golldurned ashtray. That's Kentucky for you. They lurve their tobacco.

Well, he took a quick powder from the scene, because he could see I was a bit perticked.

It didn't get any better, either. Inside, the bathrooms were n-a-s-t-y, there was no Diet Fountain Dew -- just Coke products -- and Sera said the coffee here looked gross. I got a DMD bottle, and the guy behind the counter made me abundantly aware that I was in the rimshot of metro Memphis, Tennessee. The man had an attitude which made the bathroom so clean you could eat off the floor.

Let's just say that there are certain people in Memphis who are nothing short of hateful and rude toward certain other folks, and leave it at that. I went to college 70 miles from there, and made frequent trips to Mempho, so I know of what I speak. It hasn't changed.

And evidently, the same goes for some of the dogs. Truly and verily, we were a long way from West Virginia and sweet black dogs inside rural convenience stores.

If you think that was the end of our fun, there's just one more thing. It was past dusk, and I didn't see the dark car coming toward me -- without its lights on!! -- as I turned left to the onramp. I came all too close to hitting it.

Okay, I'm getting the hell back onto this interstate. Note to self (and others): never, EVER stop at the Stanton exit (#42) on I-40. Eschew that part of Tennessee entirely.

After a couple of miles, I got my heart jumpstarted and at this point we were done with pitstops and both ready for some Paula-tastic southern food in Tunica!

Long distance information....

Memphis was uneventful, and the interstates all moving at a good clip. I-40 joined up with I-240, and we took it west around the southern rim of Memphis proper, picking up I-55 south to enter Mississippi. What we also didn't know at the time was that the Bob Evans we passed east of Mempho was the last one we'd see for this entire trip. :-(

And you know, after the craptastic time we had through a lot of Tennessee, I almost rejoiced when I saw the sign reading "Enter DeSoto County Mississippi." I never thought I'd ever find Missi-damn-sippi to be a happy sight.

Our last visit to Tunica was in February 2006, and a link from I-55 to US-61 at the casinos was still being constructed. It was finished now, and carries the designation of Interstate 69 (cue Beavis & Butt-Head laughing). I-69 has long been an interstate going from Indianapolis to the Canadian border at Port Huron, Mich., but is now being expanded into Texas, and given the lovely nickname "NAFTA Freeway", as it will connect Mexico with Canada.

How loverly.

For some reason, Mississippi has signed the little casino spur as I-69. And it took us quickly and easily to US-61, and less than mile from the turnoff to the casinos. We missed the clutter and stop-and-go of Highway 61 out of Memphis, with the countless billboards for the Tunica casinos, all reading like a who's-who of washed-up pop acts. Tunica seems to be reveling in its role as a pop music Branson, where stars of yesterday go to rot away.





It was roughly 7:45 when we pulled up at Harrah's to check in, only to be told that our room was at the other Harrah's building, about mile away from this one (and there's yet another adjacent, too!). A shuttle goes regularly between the hotels and this one, with the casino and restaurant. Ohhhh fine.

We go back to the other building (the Veranda), get checked in, and - whoops, we have a mandatory bellhop. They don't allow the rolling carts out of their sight (what, are they afraid we'll steal 'em and get the gold plating hocked for more gambling money??). Fine. Whatever. Just get us and our stuff the hell into our room, so we can hop the shuttle and get our damned food. We're starving.

The lady at the desk said the shuttle ran every five minutes. My ass. We just missed the one as we walked outside, and I counted 20 minutes before the next van pulled up.

I'd say it was about 8:20 before we got into the Paula Deen buffet, and they closed up at 9:00. It gave us enough time to get all full of catfish, fried chicken, rice and good tea.

Anyone who lives around Savannah knows what has become of Deen's restaurant The Lady & Sons. You have to get in line tomorrow to get a table in July. It's so long that we can walk outside into our front yard in Rincon, and take our place in line.

In other words, we had to go all the way to cotton-pickin' Tunica, Mississippi just to be able to eat Paula Deen's food!!!

Gamblin' time.....

Filled with Paula-tastic home cookin', it was time for the serious matter at hand: the wagering of our dinero in the various slot machinage on the massive floor of Harrah's Tunica.

We stuck mainly to the 25¢ slots ... and just as I sat down to start blowing my wad of cash, my cellphone (which I turned on after we left Milan) vibrated. It was Bolivar, and I quickly ducked into the bathroom so I could hear myself talk.

He and I spoke for a few minutes, and gave me an update on what's been going down in his life (I'll let him tell it). He had the day pretty much free tomorrow, so we decided to meet up for a late breakfast at McDonald's in Southaven, Miss. (the city immediately south of the Tennessee line, an extended suburb of Memphis). There was no way, if possible, I was going to miss out on at least a meal with the Bolivar Lifeform. Yeah, and Her J-Lo'ness, too.

That arranged, I got back to the slots. First, I went searching for Seraphim to relay to her our plans with Bol and J-Lo, and tell her the news in his life.

I was sidetracked by her machine having spasms. Yeah, she hit a nice payoff, nearly tripling her seed money. Sweet.

Me, I blew it all. It took over two hours to do it, but I eventually ran dry. Which was all for the better, because my right ankle was beginning another round of gout attacks. The (literally) stabbing pain was getting worse.

It was 11:40 or so when we walked -- or SERA walked, and I limped -- out of the casino and out front to grab the shuttle back to our hotel.

Seraphim had roughly double her original money (we had $60 each to gamble with), and I had nada. So this evening of gambling fun was virtually free of charge. Can't bitch.....

Wild Dew Chases and More Wi-Fi Follies

Once back in our fifth-floor Veranda room, Sera got ready for bed while I was going to stay up a little later. I wanted to get me a Diet Mountain Dew (and pop one of my Indocin pills for the gout pain), fire up the trusty laptop and, maybe, upload some webpages to the Birmingham site -- the ones I put together earlier back in Mount Nebo.

First matter was the procuring of the DMD. I limped myself to the vending nook on our floor, only to find a "damn ice machine." Well, crap. Elevator down to Floor #4 -- yes! A Pepsi machine with DMD. Cue losing horns ... the machine was out of order. Shit.

Figuring I'd deciphered the Harrah's 'code' - soda machines every other floor alternating with damn ice machines - I got back into the Otis to go down to the second floor. And, true to theory, there was a Pepsi machine waiting. The sodas were $1.50 for the 20-oz. bottles, which seemed on par with most convenience stores nowadays. I put in the money, and pushed the button corresponding with the object of my carbonated affection.

This MUST be a casino, because I doubled my winnings. Not one, but two (2) Diet Mountain Dews came out of the machine. Woo hoo!

Back in the room, I unpacked the laptop and booted her up. I tapped into the wi-fi signal from Harrah's, only to find out that they charge for the internet. What??

The charge? $11.95 a night. To quote John Belushi when told by Dan Ackroyd that he was going to visit 'The Penguin': "No. F**king. Way." Not when it's 12:30 in the morning, the weather going downhill, and the sandman is gaining on me.

Screw this. I wrote some more text for the travelogues, as I was hearing sheets of rain hitting the building, and some loud thunder. The TV was on the NBC station in Memphis, WMC-TV 5 (cue riverboat whistle), and there were severe thunderstorm watch boxes for much of northwest Mississippi and parts of east Arkansas. Even a TS Warning for Shelby County (Memphis). It was supposed to blow through and clear up by tomorrow. Let's hope.

It was about 1:00 (CST) when I shut everything down and went to sleep.


To be continued.............

Dead skunks spotted and/or smelled: 2

Bob Evans restaurants passed: 2
Diet Mountain Dews consumed: 4Number of surnames in Clarksville, Tenn.: 3
Kisses exchanged in front of the "Eiffel Tower": 2
Brutal auto collisions narrowly avoided: 1
Dollars Talmadge lost gambling: 60
Dollars Seraphim lost gambling: 0
Dollars Seraphim gained gambling: 125
Dollars of available credit vanished: 5,900
Poxes wished on HSBC: 5,900

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