From Chicago our next stop was Louisville, KT, in a mad dash to escape winter. It was a five-hour drive mostly through Indian and I hated it. It wasn’t because Indiana is pretty boring, though it is, or even just that five hours is too long to be in a car. It was the tolls.
I hate, hate, hate toll booths. If you’re a local and have a transponder to just drive through they’re bad enough but with that they are dangerous (lots of accidents as cars slow down at varying tempos), environmentally unsound (as cars slow and stop, idling, waiting their turn), time-consuming, and just all-around annoying. On top of that there is the whole “screw tourist” thing where in many cases they’ve done away with staffed toll booths and just bill the owner of the car. When the car rental agency gets the bill they pass it on to the renter – along with a $25 fee or something like that. Outrageous. So far we’ve only encountered that once and have been going through hell trying to get the Indiana department in charge of screwing tourists to let us pay it over the phone or online before they bill the rental company.
Where are the state Attorneys General in their role protecting consumers? Or state tourist industries convincing the Attorneys General to take it on? And while I’m on the subject, why don’t these people insist that rental companies allow a second driver at no additional cost. It’s inconceivable to me that there is any measurable cost to Hertz if Mark & I are both drivers and there must be a significant safety issue in ensuring that, if possible, there are two drivers for longer trips.
Now, Louisville. We finally got there in time for lunch with our old friend Sue Dixon and her husband Jim. Great fun catching up and, for me, meeting Jim. Sue & Jim have both spent their careers in politics (I know; hard to believe that Mark & I have political friends) back in the day when Democrats could win races in Kentucky. After the 2014 bloodbath, when Kentucky’s Trump-before-Trump-was-Trump Republican won, they’ve both stepped away from it so we needed to see how their new lives are going. All in all not so bad: more time for bonding with six-year-old Emily, a new business for Jim, and a well-deserved break from politics. I mean, who are Mark & I to complain about someone for stepping away from it all, right?
And there was a little time for exploring of Louisville, a city that seems to be starting to come back from some years of hard times. The downtown stretch where we were staying had some attractive buildings that had been restored and we saw some of that in progress as a couple of buildings had been entirely razed except for the facade. Good job! A look at the 2nd Street bridge from which Cassius Clay says he threw his Olympic gold medal when he returned to Louisville and discovered that gold medal or not, he was still just another … umm, you know the N word … in his home town. That plus an attempt at a bourbon tour that worked pretty well. When we got there they were sold out for the day but in cases like that you can just go up to the second floor and have a free tasting of three different local bourbons. In other words we didn’t pay for the tour but got the part that we were most interested in. Not a bad deal.
Then it was a fun dinner with Sue – Jim stayed home with six-year-old Emily while Sue proved just as fun and funny and smart as we remembered from all those years ago – and off the next morning to Lexington.
Lexington is less than two hours from Louisville and it was a surprisingly beautiful drive. Much of it was on the Bluegrass Parkway which was just a really pleasant drive (with no tolls…). It was finally becoming slightly springish with great rolling green hills. Real horse country.
Once we got into Lexington we were truly charmed. We were stopping her to see Ben Self, an old friend from politics. He was the Chief Technology Officer at the DNC back when they decided to hire us to make the VAN available to Democrats nation-wide, so we’ve always had a very soft spot in our heart for him. That plus the fact that he’s just a great guy all around.
Like a lot of people, though, he got burned out on DC politics and went back home to Lexington. What to do with the second stage of your adult life? How about open a local brewery? Sure enough, Ben has reinvented himself as Kentucky’s premier microbrewery. He describes the business as having a triple bottom line: to be a great employer, to be environmentally sensitive, and to be a great part of the community. He seems to have succeeded in all, while simultaneously running a (very) successful business. Oh, and in his spare time he’s returned to politics, serving these days as the Kentucky state Democratic Party chair. That’s a big deal.
On top of great fun just reconnecting with Ben and seeing this new life of his, we happened to be in Lexington for the major celebration of his sixth anniversary with the brewery. He invited seven of Lexington’s top chefs to come and serve small plate dishes paired with various of his beers. It was brilliant! Fortunately Mark & I had decided to just ignore our low-carb diet this one night and it was completely, totally worth it. Great food, great beer, and some fun people. We met a couple of Ben’s employees and to say they were enthusiastic about their jobs couldn’t be more of an understatement.
I can’t say enough about how impressed we were with his operation there. Almost enough to make me start drinking beer again. And on top of all that Ben’s wife Rebecca (whom we first met when we ran into them completely unexpectedly in the immigration line entering St. Lucia in 2008!) runs an impressive non-profit in the same building as Ben’s brewery demonstrating how old urban buildings can be used to grow food and teaching kids about all that. Crazy impressive.
Oh, and on the subject of Lexington, even without Ben and the brewery and just accidentally being there on the best night of the year, the city itself seemed really cool – great buildings, pleasant parks, friendly people. I thought we were just going to have a little visit with an old friend but it turns out I liked the city, too.
The next morning then it was off to Nashville, our third stop in three days. We were supposed to visit more old political friends here – a couple who met while working with Mark on Tom Harkin’s presidential campaign – but as it turned out they were both out of town so instead we had the afternoon and evening to ourselves. We took a nice afternoon walk out to the Villanova campus and on to Centennial Park, built in 1903 to celebrate Nashville’s centennial.
By now it was definitely starting to feel a bit more springy, with tulips and trees abloom. Very nice. Not only that but in Centennial Park you get to see what they claim is the world’s only full-scale replica of Athens’ Parthenon. Of course when we want to see the Parthenon we just drop by Athens to see the real thing, but the setting here in Nashville was pleasant too. In fact, after the centennial celebrations were over the city intended to tear it down but the people arose in protest so there it is still. And definitely not as hot as the summer stops we’ve made in Athens!
As for the rest of Nashville, the reason everyone else comes here? Well, I think maybe I’m just too old for that. In the evening we walked past a lot of clubs with cheap beer and really loud live music. Not exactly my idea of a good time. As Mark put it, too many 20-something Woo-Hoo!-ing. I’d thought that still we would stop into at least one and try it but they were just all too loud and too crowded so instead we found an adult place for a pleasant cocktail and then a steakhouse to make sure we were completely back on diet.
There you are, three stops in three nights. Finally done with snow and starting to find spring. Next it’s Atlanta where we have a couple friends to see and, since it’s probably the biggest city in the country that Mark hasn’t been to, we’re going to stay for three days. Enough of this driving every day!