We delayed leaving this morning to the absolute last possible moment, trying to think how we could emulate John and Yoko and stage a bed-in as a conceptual art project and get to stay longer at the 21C Museum Hotel. But we’re not creative enough and also we’re not John and Yoko so we couldn’t pull it off.
Our first stop was nearby Churchill Downs, home to 134 consecutive annual runnings of the Kentucky Derby. We took a tour of the grandstands and are looking to make friends with some well-to-do type now that we’ve learned how much it costs to attend the Derby and actually see it. We got to see a few of the horses exercised on the track from up close and compared ourselves to a life-sized bronze statue of a renowned jockey. We felt quite… how should we put this… tall.
We then took the Backstage and Barn tour so we could admire the famous track and grandstands from a different perspective. We weren’t allowed to get as up close and personal with the horsies as we would have liked but we did get close enough that one handsome creature could pose for us. We think she wanted to be friends. We know she did. Why wouldn’t they let us be friends with her? Just because she’s worth tens of thousands of dollars? Should mere money stand in the way of being buddies, pals, friends for life? Maybe she had heard from the deer at Santa’s Fun Land about how we were just good for a snack or two, but her soulful eyes said she just liked us for ourselves.
Our guide for the tour was a sassy Southern horse gal whose every other word was “y’all” and who randomly stopped the tour to just chat with people that she happened to see. “Hey y’all! How ya doin? Oh me, not doin’ much.” This said while she has a van full of people puzzled why the van has come to a halt. It was amusing in a ultra-casual attitude kind of way, but in the end we really think that at least she’d be fun to drink with.
As always there wasn’t quite enough time to take in everything at the museum, which is crammed full of interesting exhibits on various aspects and components of the legendary Derby and the track that hosts it. Mary tried riding a simulated horse race and discovered it is pretty hard to be a jockey.
We checked out exhibits on everything from the presence of African-American jockeys to the details and history behind the horseshoe of roses awarded to the victor. We wanted to pay our respects to the late Barbaro but his gravesite and monument have not been installed yet.
For Mary who was a horse buff as a kid and still a fan as an adult and who has watched every Derby in the last 35 years, there was a visceral reaction being around this place.
Speaking of horses, our next stop was Horse Cave, Kentucky home to a really big cave that’s not called Horse Cave for reasons we were unable to ascertain. We asked. We still don’t know.
Visiting it meant committing to an hour tour and we were a little toured out at that point so we contented ourselves with just gawking at the cavern entrance, above which the town is precariously perched.
We had slightly better than mediocre diner food for lunch across the street, complete with a waitress who seemed baffled by every question we asked her including questions about the food. Maybe it was our Yankee accents.
From there it’s a short drive to one of our most highly anticipated sights, Dinosaur World!! Longtime Plucky readers will recall our extra-legal encounter with one such park in Arkansas and by God this time we were determined to do crappy concrete dinosaur bliss without risking a prison sentence.
We were surprised and gratified to find this Dinosaur World not just open (always a plus) but thriving and well-maintained. More or less accurate scale replicas of over 100 dinosaurs are scattered through some forests that echoed the primeval setting (if you can ignore the freeway noise in the background). Each has a plaque that simply but comprehensively gives the name, history, and other facts of the particular dino-species. It’s education without pain and with excellent concrete dinosaur bliss.
Unlike most of the trip, which Rick plans meticulously (a kind word), our visit to Nashville was always intended to be off-the-cuff. We had a list of things we might want to do but didn’t have anything specific we had to do. So when we got there, we took the exit that looked like it headed toward the big tall buildings (the Nashville skyline of song and story), just to see what we could see.
A bit daunted by a lack of any actual information, we dragged out the much-neglected GPS system that we got with Plucky Mobile but haven’t actually used since the trip started. We plugged in “Music Row” and the gadget pointed us in a direction that we just took on faith would be the right one.
But then a strange thing happened. As we were approaching Music Row, Mary asked “How does it know? It could be taking us anywhere, will there be cake there?” Moments later, the GPS sent us on a road that didn’t go to Music Row and in our recalibration to get back on track, Rick spotted a place called Gi Gi’s Cupcakes.
It seems that the GPS not only knew what it was doing, it knew exactly what we wanted. The GPS is now our best friend.
The cupcake craze in Los Angeles has become an epic battle, with stores opening and closing it seems every other week. We are cupcake aficionados and each have our favorites in town, but now it seems that we have a new favorite overall.
Mary had a simple chocolate with chocolate butter cream icing, with the cake including little chocolate buttons. Rick had a devil’s food with the same buttons, topped with raspberry buttercream dipped in chocolate ganache. We were crushed to hear they don’t ship to LA.
The GPS did get us to Music Row and Broadway so we got to see some of the famed landmarks in Nashville.
Our stopping point for the evening is Chattanooga where to our gleeful amusement we are staying at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Inn. Run by Holiday Inn, it is set in the former 1909 train station, the original terminal making for a grand lobby and many of the rooms set in original train cars. We’re a little disappointed we don’t have one of those accommodations but our rooms are big and modern and comfortable, with enough amenities to stock a small drug store.
The grounds around the train cars have fountains and plenty of landscaping. There’s a trolley that runs around the entire, very large, property, and onsite are multiple restaurants, shops, and other attractions including the Model Railroad Museum.
The HO gauge model in question is one of the largest in the world, three and a half decades in the making requiring more than 50,000 hours of work. It stretches seemingly to the horizon, with a big chunk of it dedicated to a pseudo replica of Chattanooga and the rest to general Appalachian Mountain territory. The details are amazing and sometimes laugh-out-loud. Is that a wee little Elvis driving a pink Cadillac? Why yes it is.
Just as Mary was reliving some childhood memories at Churchill Downs, so did Rick here. When he was kid he spent hours in his basement with his own HO gauge model railroad. It certainly wasn’t as big or detailed as this, but the fantasy world he created with his train set got him through a big chunk of his youth.
Overall the hotel is a terrific use of space and a fine piece of preservation.
We took the electric bus Downtown to find another nicely restored urban space, which is remarkable on a variety of levels. First, we’re just continually impressed by what the folks in this region of the country have done with their historic centers but second, and more importantly when it comes to this particular city, is the big rebound it has made.
Back in the 1970s, Chattanooga was declared America’s Most Polluted City by the Nixon Administration and was known, unofficially, as the “Armpit of the South.” That they have rescued their city core and turned it into a clean, bustling, and thriving metropolitan area is a bit of a miracle and could serve as a model for urban renewal elsewhere.
Despite many great options, the one we selected for dinner was merely so-so although the two flavored martinis Rick had with his meal (Georgia Peach and Chocolate) were quite good so who cares about the food? And really, we’re just counting the minutes until the Pig Hall of Fame tomorrow. All calorie consumption until then is mere fuel.
For those keeping track, our Cow! score for the day ended at 62-0 in favor of Rick, but the only way he got those cows was by stealing them in a brazen act of Police Car Variant strategy. See Cow! page for official rules.
Tune in tomorrow for our final day of driving and our penultimate day of Plucky Survivors 2008.