Several years ago I did the unthinkable (well, at least to Filipino parents) and left the nest. Really left the nest. I wasn’t moving to another country even though some will argue that The South feels like one within the United States. Regardless, it was unknown territory located clear across the country. There was no rush to get to our final destination in North Carolina. So about a month before my departure, it was decided to make the move into a two week road trip with stops in cities where we could visit family and friends. The mister and I decided who we would see along the way and with that information I was able to plan out the road trip. I like to think I’m a ‘go with the flow’ type person, which I can be for the most part, but as my first cross-country drive I couldn’t help myself. I planned it out to the very hour.
The countdown was on and I was nervous with excitement for this next chapter in my life. However, I wasn’t allowed to leave my hometown, in fact my home state, without a proper drunken goodbye. I really have some great family and friends. When the day came that I had to start my journey, I actually worked my last full shift that same day. I got off work, drove to my parents’ house, packed up the car, and said my goodbyes to my immediate family. We were on the road up to Phoenix for the night where we would start the real driving the next day.
We started the drive bright and early for the long day ahead. I had never driven through the Northern part of Arizona and was stunned with all the greenery. It was absolutely beautiful! Once we reached the I-40 we headed east towards New Mexico. As we got closer to the state line, the scenery looked like something out of a painting. The bands of color on the mountains were gorgeous! Once we reached Albuquerque we toured a little bit of their downtown and spent a lovely dinner with my cousin and her partner.
The next morning we woke up to a cooked breakfast by my cousin (love her!). She was on her way to work and so we said our thanks and goodbyes before she walked out. Our next destination was Fort Worth, Texas and so we hopped back on I-40 heading east. I was really dreading this drive because Texas is just too damn big of a state to drive through. Once we reached the state, I planned for us to sightsee a place just outside of Amarillo called The Cadillac Ranch. I had seen it on TV once and thought it would be a great place to see since it was on the way. It’s literally a row of Cadillacs half planted into the ground in a random field. People stop by, bring spray cans (or you can just grab one on the ground), and graffiti it.
We finally reached Fort Worth after what seemed like ages gone by on the highway. The evening was spent hanging with a friend who guided us around the city’s historic Stock Yard. We cut the tour a bit short since we had to start driving the next day.
Our next destination was south to Houston. Since it was a shorter drive we weren’t in a rush to get on the road. The mister has family there and so we planned to stay a few days. Finally! We were going to stay more than one day in a city. Houston is a huge city but our time was limited and so we had to choose our activities care. One thing that was on the sightsee list was NASA – “Houston, we have a problem.” A little fun fact about me: when I was in elementary school I actually went to Space Camp in California. My uncle worked for NASA and got me the hookup since I was the nerdier one out of family. So you can guess how excited I was to see this. For about $20/person we entered the Space Center and took their little guided tour. It was amazing to see all the massive buildings/hangars, rockets, and to be educated on top of it all.
The remainder of our days in Houston were spent with the his family and shopping. We went to The Galleria Mall which had stores way above my humble style. We also had the chance to check out one of their nightclubs with a high school friend. I don’t recall the name or which area it was located. Regardless, it was supposedly one of the hottest clubs at the time. Top club or not I would never go back. It wasn’t the venue, or the drinks, or the patrons. It was the staff. Unless you paid the bouncer $20+ or were of Middle Eastern descent, you weren’t permitted into the club until the bouncer had enough time to get his head out of his ass. Sure, let a few people ahead of us because they know someone that knows someone or paid you secretly by handshake. Whatever. I just hope to never encounter this level of douchbaggery again by a bouncer (you’re a BOUNCER, ffs!) again.
4. Memphis, Tennessee
After 3 days in Houston we had to bid our farewells to his family. Our next destination was in the City of Blues – Memphis, Tennessee. The morning we left Houston we stayed on the I-10 East heading into Louisiana. I really enjoyed this part of drive because at one point we were on a long, long bridge over the swampland. I grew up in the desert so I’m only familiar with lakes, oceans, and rivers. This was my first encounter with swampland and I loved every minute of the drive. It was amazing scenery. Once we reached Baton Rouge we had to take the I-12 East to connect with the I-55 North. By the time we had reached Memphis we had crossed 3 state lines.
It was only the afternoon by the time we checked into our hotel room. So we did what any typical tourist would do and visited their historic Beale Street. We first stopped off at the Tom Lee Park to get a nice look at the Mississippi River. When we got to Beale Street there were a few restaurants to choose from that were ‘must eat’ places. We made our final decision on Blues Cafe. The mister chomped on some of their famed ribs while I had … well, to be honest I don’t recall what I had. The wait time wasn’t terribly long and the restaurant was definitely packed. After dinner we walked up and down the street to check out some of the established businesses. I absolutely fell in love with the vibe. I loved listening to blues and jazz music filling up the street and was thoroughly enjoying myself. Before we went back to the car we stopped by a large crowd watching some street performers. I wish we had stayed longer in Memphis because I wanted to tour Graceland, home of the late Elvis Presley. Unfortunately, we only had the chance to drive by.
Well, the next destination was actually Bloomington, Illinois to visit a friend with intentions to see Chicago on one of the days. So, we got back on the I-55 North and continued the journey. We briefly drove through the upper right hand corner of Arkansas before hitting Missouri. Since we were on a schedule, St. Louis and the Arch were admired while in the car. There isn’t much to do in Bloomington and the only reason our friend was living there was because of school. Luckily, Chicago is only a 3 hour drive away and so we made a day of it. The boys slept while I was driving that morning. We parked in a structure close to Michigan Avenue and walked around the rest of the day. We mostly stayed on this road because there was just so much to see. Of course, we saw The Bean and Millennium Park. We ended our day with a dinner of Chicago-style pizza – the deep dish.
There were so many pizzerias to choose from but we decided with a recommendation of Gino’s East located on East Superior Street just off Michigan. The wait for a table was almost two hours. I was already hungry when we got there but by the time we sat down I was absolutely STARVING. I loved history written all over (literally) the restaurant. It seemed a little unsanitary but it gave the establishment lot of character. I’ve come to the conclusion that deep dish is not my favorite style of pizza. It was delicious food nonetheless.
When it was time to move on, we thanked our friend for his hospitality. Our next and final stop before North Carolina was Roanoke, Virginia. At this point the mister was ready to be home – new home that is. He drove the first leg of this trip and I fell asleep. When I woke up we had already passed Indiana’s state line and I barely made it to take a snapshot of Kentucky’s sign. I was not very pleased with him because he knew I was trying to get a picture of every state line sign that we passed. When we reached West Virginia I was in love with all the forests and mountainous terrain. We stopped at a lookout point to stretch and take some nice scenery pictures. Roanoke was nothing but a place to sleep for us. We got in pretty late and had no energy to do much.
7. North Carolina!
As we woke up the next morning, I couldn’t believe this trip was coming to an end. In a few hours drive we would reach North Carolina. Once we crossed the state line I smiled and said, “We’re here!” But we still had to get across the state towards the ocean to get to Wilmington. However, We had one more stop before reaching our new home.
Before I left Arizona I found out that my old next door neighbor (more like a childhood sister) had moved to the new state that I would call home for the next four years. She lived in a po’dunk town just south of the Virginia-North Carolina state line and about 45 minutes outside of Greensboro. When we reached her house I was beyond excited to see her. I felt like I was reconnecting with a long lost relative and I basically was. That’s how close they once were to me and my family. In fact, she still refers to my mother as hers. I, of course, met her husband for the first time but the best part was meeting my nephew. Blue eyed, blonde hair, and a smile that absolutely lights up his face and everyone else’s around him. We all went to lunch at a delicious Thai restaurant in Greensboro. We were only hours away from our new home so afterwards we decided to drive on from there. I didn’t want to leave her just yet but I knew it was time finish this trip and finally park the car in a garage.
This trip was an amazing experience. So amazing that I did it again four years later (different route and I’ll also keep you posted). It is a goal of mine to visit all U.S. states and now I can proudly add a handful of states to that list.