Maybe I Could Be A Land Guy

US Space & Rocket Center

Astronaut is the career I’ve always kept in my back pocket. As in, “Well, if this writing thing doesn’t work out I can always be an astronaut.” There are others, of course — professional tennis player, long haul trucker, theoretical physicist, train conductor, flight attendant, assistant manager at the GAP — but astronaut has been the go-to for as long as I can remember. It’s the perfect daydream fodder for times when work is dragging on or I have writer’s block: I could be floating in outer space right now. All I’d have to do is go back to college and choose a different major and join the Air Force and learn to fly and overcome my crippling fear of heights, flying, and darkness, but I could totally do it.

As a potential future astronaut, the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama was a no-brainer destination. A mere two hours from Nashville, it’s an easy road trip straight down I-65 South. A couple weeks ago, Nick and I finally got the chance to go.

I’d been dying to visit ever since we drove past the famous roadside rocket on our way to Florida and I had an early mid-life crisis about every choice I’ve ever made that didn’t lead to a career at NASA (what have I been doing with my life?!?!). When we finally pulled into the parking lot, my demeanor could best be described as “poorly trained, easily excitable terrier arriving at the dog park,” but maybe even more excited than that because this metaphorical dog park was actually the BIRTH PLACE OF AMERICA’S SPACE PROGRAM.

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We entered through the gift shop, making mental notes of all the NASA-branded swag to purchase on the way out — mousepads, keychains, flight suits — check, check check. Then we continued on to the exhibits: an in-depth collection of artifacts and technological innovations that ultimately put Apollo astronauts on the moon. Like the t-shirts in the gift shop said, “Actually, it IS rocket science.”

The museum part of the Space Center is an odd mix of state-of-the-art and painfully dated. Behind a thick pane of glass that seems like it should house an impressive chunk of meteorite or a reanimated alien, there’s instead a painstakingly detailed recreation of a previous NASA director’s office. The diorama includes a desk, a chair, and a TV screen looping a video of his secretary talking about how, despite his genius IQ, he could never remember his umbrella (I feel you, dude).

Upstairs, in an exhibit dedicated to the International Space Station, another TV screen grabbed my attention as I was walking by. “You’re probably wondering how we go to the bathroom in space,” a male astronaut, floating in zero gravity, said earnestly into the camera. I stopped, looking behind me momentarily as if to make sure this pre-recorded video from the 80s was, in fact, talking to me. Then I happily parked myself in front of the screen for the next 10 minutes to enjoy his explanation and reenactment of disposing of human waste in space. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but I will say it involves a lot of suction tubes.

After learning about NASA directors’ interior design preferences and the intricate art of pooping in space, Nick and I ran outside to the best part of the museum: Rocket Park. Rocket Park is exactly what it sounds like: a park full of rockets. We cantered back and forth between rockets, staring up at them in awe, climbing around underneath, trying and failing to capture a perfectly timed “jumping in front of a rocket” photo.

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I couldn’t stop giggling and saying, “Nick! That’s a fucking rocket! Look! It’s another fucking rocket! That’s a real fucking rocket! Fuuuuck!” Being in such close proximity to these marvels of human engineering made me feel like a giddy schoolgirl. Specifically, a profane schoolgirl who’s not great at jumping.

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I was staring up at one of the rockets, gleefully swearing under my breath, when Nick gasped. “They have rides!” he cried and grabbed my hand. “Come on! Let’s go!” (Apparently both of us turn into excitable children when exposed to the magic of Rocket Park.)

Nick pulled me over to a blastoff simulator ride, where they strap you into a seat attached to a giant column and launch you 140 feet into the air at a speed that approximates blasting off in an actual rocket. It looked like a terrifying, unpleasant experience. I’ve never liked rollercoasters or thrill rides of any kind. At amusement parks, I tend to skip any ride that has a minimum height requirement and go straight for the kids’ rides, bickering with the attendant about the maximum height requirement (“Listen, if I take off my sandals and arch my back slightly we can both see I’m short enough for the Thomas the Tank Engine Toddler Express!”). Nick is exactly the opposite: he loves any thrill ride, the scarier and more vomit-inducing the better. He happily joined the hordes of middle schoolers in line for a ride. I hung back behind the spectator barricade with the other grandparents and chaperones.

“Aren’t you gonna ride it?” Nick asked.

“No way,” I said.

“How are you gonna become an astronaut if you’re too scared to ride the blastoff simulator?” Nick yelled as he was strapped into his seat between two giggling 12-year-old girls, all their legs dangling freely beneath them.

“Maybe I could be a land guy,” I said, “like George Costanza in the Coast Guard?”

Nick laughed just as the ride launched into the air. He rode it 7 more times. He didn’t even take a break between blastoffs. He just stayed in his seat, letting different tweens fill in the empty spots around. Upon further reflection, I think maybe Nick is the one who should be an astronaut, if he ever gets tired of being a pastry chef.

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I did, however, go on the other ride in Rocket Park: the G-Force Accelerator, a spinning circular pod that uses centripetal force to simulate 3 Gs pushing on your body. We watched the group ahead of us stumble out, tripping over their feet and massaging their cheekbones. Then we walked into the lowly lit circle, about the size of a studio apartment, and strapped ourselves into place against cushions ringing the inner wall.

A joyless woman in the middle of the circle operated the ride. The lights turned off when the ride started, but I could see her face remained expressionless even as the speed increased and all of the riders’ cheeks were pulled back against the wall.

“What do you think it’s like to be in here all day?” I struggled to yell to Nick, summoning all my strength to move my jaw enough to form the words.

“I don’t know,” Nick mumbled back.

“Do you think she ages in reverse?” I asked.

“Why would she?” said Nick.

“I don’t know, it just makes sense.”

Again, NASA, if you’re looking for a new recruit, I’m available.

At this point I noticed a group of teenagers on the other side of the circle trying to get my attention (we were two of about 7 adults in attendance at the park that day). Trying to get someone’s attention in a loud metal sphere when your entire body is being pasted against a wall under the force of 3 Gs requires quite an effort, but they somehow managed to twitch and peep enough to do it.

I strained to raise my eyebrows in their general direction, a tiny gesture meaning, “Yes? How can I help you? I’d be more friendly under other circumstances but I can’t move my face right now.”

“Your shoes!” they yelled, as the G-forces ramped up and their cheeks were pulled taut. “They’re…on….fleek.”

I can now confirm that shoe compliments are 10 times better when received in 3Gs, and if that wasn’t worth the price of admission to the rocket museum, I don’t know what is.

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On the way out of the Space Center, chewing the requisite astronaut ice cream Nick bought at the gift shop, we talked about how much fun we had, and how we couldn’t wait to come back. On the way home I checked to see if NASA had listed any astronaut jobs on Craigslist, you know, just in case.

The Best Little Honky Tonk In Nashville

Nashville Palace

A few years ago, Nick and I visited Nashville for the first time, for a long weekend.

On Sunday night, we put on our country best and went out to the honky tonks downtown. It was a good night to go out, because both of us hate crowds, and on Sundays the bars are more chill and stocked mostly with locals enjoying cold beer and good music.

We walked up and down Broadway, popping into different honky tonks (never a cover charge!) and staying for a song or two. The music, across the board, was fantastic. My love for banjos and steel guitars borders on a sexual fetish, so I was in heaven.

Once we got to a honky tonk called Layla’s, we loved the vibe and the music so much we decided to hang out there for the remainder of the night. We danced to a rockabilly band playing chunky, gleeful renditions of “Ring of Fire” and “White Lightning.” I drank 3 cowgirl cosmos, which were strong enough that by 2 in, I started telling Nick that if he were a baby horse, I would gladly sell him to the fair for a bargain price. And no, I don’t know what that means either.

The whole experience was so ridiculously, genuinely, undeniably fun — more fun than we’d had in a long time. There was nothing pretentious or ironic about it. And being from Portland, the world capital of irony and pretense (no offense PDX I love you!), that was such a refreshing change. I’m pretty sure it was there in that honky tonk, balancing on a couple of decrepit bar stools, dropping $5 bills in the mayo tub tip jar, that we first looked at each other and said, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to move here?”

Six months later, we sold all our stuff, packed up my Jetta, and did just that.

I still love Layla’s, but today my favorite Nashville honky tonk isn’t even on Broadway — it’s 15 minutes from downtown, across the street from the Grand Ole Opry and a sprawling outlet mall, next door to the Willie Nelson Museum and a place called Cooter’s. I’ve very purposefully decided to never find out exactly what Cooter’s is. I feel the same way about Cooter’s that I feel about God: even if its existence could be proven and defined, I’d rather not know. I want to revel in the mystery, all the awe-inspiring possibilities.

Anyway, my favorite honky tonk is called The Nashville Palace, and I love it so much that every time I go there I get a little emotional about it. Especially if I have a few drinks. Then I’m suddenly not just trying to sell Nick to the fair but repeating, over and over, “I just love this place so much. I’m so happy. I’m so happy here!”

Here’s why:

Nashville Palace

On any given night, the majority of the clientele ranges in age from around 50-85.

Every Friday and Saturday night, an elderly couple drive an hour from their rural town to tear up the dance floor here. They slowly twirl and two-step to Loretta Lynn covers and Buck Owens ballads, the woman’s hair perfectly sculpted into a foot-high beehive that doesn’t move no matter how enthusiastically she dances. When they pass your table on the way back to theirs, they will tap you on the shoulder and say, “Why aren’t you dancing?” When you finally do go out and dance, they will clap for you.

If you order a coke, the waitress will say, “We have RC Cola,” and you’ll say, “Even better.”

Nashville Palace

There’s a wall of shelves filled with old cowboy boots of every size, shape, and color. On the top shelf is a bedazzled jacket. If you ask about it, the bartender will tell you, “Dolly Parton left that jacket here,” and then you’ll say, “Like, in the lost and found? Shouldn’t we return it?” and the bartender will laugh and say, “No, she left it here on purpose. So we could put it on the shelf.”

There’s always a guy sipping whiskey at the bar in a big white cowboy hat. And a guy sitting next to him in a big black cowboy hat. And a guy sitting next to him in a denim vest with an American flag decal sewn onto the back.

Nashville Palace

The servers and bartenders will call you honey, baby, sweetie, love, darlin’, or some combination of all of the above.

Randy Travis was a dishwasher here before he became a country star, and they have a plaque on the wall to prove it.

Nashville Palace

Their vodka lemonade will get you real tipsy, real quick.

So will all their other drinks.

Nashville Palace

You won’t hear modern country hits here. You’ll hear classic country and western swing, played by women in frilly apron dresses and men with bolo ties who have played backup for the biggest country stars of the past century. Sometimes the band will start playing the opening riffs to a crowd pleaser like “Sweet Home Alabama,” and then they’ll stop and say, “Wait, we don’t play that kind of music here,” and laugh as the crowd boos. Then they’ll play Merle Haggard instead.

They have the best fried pickles and grilled cheese sandwich you’ll ever eat.

Nashville Palace

When the bass player comes around with the tip jar, she’ll ask you where you’re from, and how you like the music, and how often you come here, and if you have any kids, and if you’d like to go see her son’s band play.

The table nearest the stage has a sign taped to it that says, “Reserved for Burt and Carol.”

On the way to the bathroom, you’ll pass life-size cardboard cutouts of Dolly Parton and Alan Jackson, and depending how many vodka lemonades you had, you might try to hug them.

Nashville Palace

Nashville Palace

Nashville Palace

There is a 70% chance someone will call you a “purdy little thing,” no matter your gender, age, or how purdy you actually look.

The entire dessert menu is as follows: “Moon pies…$1.”

When you get up to leave, the band will nod and smile at you and the bartender will say, “Y’all come back now, ya hear?” and you’ll say, “Oh, I will. I most definitely will.”

Nashville Palace

Scenes From A Solo Trip To Memphis

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I’m listening to podcasts in the car, alone, on the 3-hour drive to Memphis. Stephen Tobolowsky is on The Nerdist talking about the health problems he’s faced throughout his life and what he’s learned from them. “The greatest gift in the world we have is time,” he says. I keep hitting rewind to listen to him say it again.

I’m sitting at a bar in Overton Square, openly sulking because my best friend Katelyn was supposed to meet me here, for a fun night together, but her flight from Portland got canceled. I’m drinking a watermelon cocktail called “the farmer’s daughter.” The bartender keeps looking at me sympathetically and saying, “Are you OK, babygirl?” There’s a couple next to me on a first date. They sip their drinks in silence for a long time and finally the guy says, “So, do you like Dr. Who?” The girl says no. Twenty minutes later, he asks again.

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The next morning, after breakfast, I’m walking around downtown. I’m still in a serious funk, feeling lonely and sorry for myself. I like traveling alone, I think, but not when I was supposed to be traveling with my best friend. I’m playing the victim card, hard. Ignoring the sidewalk cafes and beautiful old buildings and even the majesty of the Mississippi River one block over, focused instead on my tragic plight. I decide to call my mom. “I’m in Memphis alone and I’m depressed,” I say. I tell her about Katelyn’s canceled flight and that I basically just drove 200 miles by myself to have a pity party. My mom genuinely empathizes for about 30 seconds and then gets to telling me — in the kindest way possible — to snap the hell out of it. “Nona, you’re in Memphis! You have a whole day to do whatever you want to do! What was it that Kurt Vonnegut said? ‘Unexpected travel plans are dancing lessons from God.’ SO GO DANCE.” Her words are like a bucket of ice water dumped on my head. Jarring, energizing, exactly what I needed. By the time I thank her and hang up the phone, I feel reborn. I’m ready to dance.

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Now I’m walking along Beale Street at 8 in the morning, in the rain. There’s no one else around. Just empty blues clubs and wet sidewalks. For the first time since I arrived, I’m happy to be alone. It feels like a strange, wonderful gift to see such an iconic place on my own — not just alone on the street itself, but alone in the city.

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On the way to the National Civil Rights Museum, I turn a corner and am suddenly face to face with the Lorraine Motel balcony where Martin Luther King was assassinated. It’s been preserved to look exactly as it did on that day, right down to the vintage cars parked underneath. My breath catches in my throat. Getting closer, I hear his speeches being played on loop. It’s still early in the morning, but there’s a large group of people gathered here, listening. I join them. The history, the loss, the pain, it’s all palpable. It’s real and immediate. It hurts.

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I’m sitting on a bench overlooking the Mississippi River, thinking about life and history and time. The greatest gift in the world we have is time. The greatest gift in the world we have is time.

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I’m at a candy shop. There are rows of glass jars filled with toffee, gummy bears, caramels, jellybeans, chocolate-covered everything. I fill two little baggies with chocolate-covered cashews and chocolate-covered Oreos, which are $11.15 and $15.40 per pound, respectively. Both look like generic clumps of chocolate to me, and neither bag is labeled, but the guy at the counter instantly keys their prices into the register before I can even tell him what they are. “Can you tell the difference between all these candies just by sight?” I ask, gesturing to the 30 different jars of identical, marble-sized balls of chocolate behind me. “Oh yes,” he says. “The only two that give me trouble are the dark chocolate espresso beans and the dark chocolate peanuts. Those can get a little tricky.” For some reason I love knowing that there’s a man in Memphis who works at a candy shop who can identify a hundred different chocolates but can’t quite get the peanuts and espresso beans.

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I’m at a Mexican restaurant, sitting alone at a table for two near the kitchen. The waiter is insistent on learning my name, so much so that he’s writing it down on a napkin. “W-Y-N-A-D-A,” he spells out triumphantly. “Is that right?” I laugh and tell him no, it’s Winona, like Winona Ryder? He says, “Oh. Well I wouldn’t know how to spell her name either.” Then he squats down next to the table to tell me the specials. “We are famous for our tableside guacamole. It’s perfect for sharing with — oh.” He looks over at the empty chair and grimaces, then turns back to me and says, sympathetically, “Well maybe you can come back with a friend someday and try the guacamole?” I laugh about this exchange until my oyster tacos arrive. They’re delicious.

I’m in the car on the way to Graceland, eating chocolate-covered Oreos and listening to Paul Simon’s “Graceland.” The road is winding through forests, passing old cemeteries and new outlet malls. I’m singing with the windows down, unabashedly loud. Shouting, really. “I’ve reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland!”

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I’m standing in Elvis Presley’s living room. I’m standing in Elvis Presley’s fucking living room. I’ve never considered myself a huge Elvis fan but I am absolutely giddy about this. I tap the man next to me on the shoulder and say, “Can you believe we’re here?” He squints at me over his glasses and frowns, “My iPad tour is stuck on the dining room.” The iPad tour is required for all Graceland guests. It is narrated by John Stamos.

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On the way home there’s no radio reception and my phone battery is dead, so I have a lot of quiet time to think. I’m thinking about Memphis, and how I want to go back soon. I’m thinking about my best friend, about how much I miss her since I moved away. I’m thinking about being alone, how difficult it can be. I’m thinking about Elvis’ dance moves, and dance lessons from God, and how maybe they’re the same thing.

Donuts & Loathing In Louisville

Louisville

We chose a weird day to go to Louisville.

It was a Monday, first of all. My brother Devin had been visiting from Portland, and was leaving super early the next morning. My boyfriend Nick had just worked something like 11 days in a row, early morning shifts, and was enthusiastic but understandably exhausted. A formidable thunderstorm that had sparked tornadoes across the midwest was headed our way, pointed directly at the route from Nashville to Louisville. If you’ve never been in the south just before a big storm, believe me when I tell you it’s a strange experience, on a few different levels. The atmosphere is uncomfortably hot and balmy, punctured by sharp wind gusts and crackling with electricity. There’s something else in the air though: anticipation. You can feel how close the storm is, how badly the sky needs to break open and release all that built-up rain and lightning and fury. The best way I’ve found to describe it is, “Imagine you’re crammed inside someone’s nose and they’re about to sneeze…for like 6 hours.” It fucks with your sinuses and your emotions equally. Before a storm, I get a migraine and a nagging sense of anxiety that doesn’t let up until the first clap of thunder.

On that Monday morning, getting ready to leave, I felt a familiar throbbing in my temple. But we wanted to take Devin on a southern road trip and damnit, this was the day we were going to do it. The three of us piled into my car at 8AM. Nick fell asleep in the passenger seat almost instantly, leaving Devin and me to practice raunchy Italian phrases and civil war trivia for the three hour drive.

By the time we arrived we were starving. We followed signs off the highway pointing toward a “historic district” – because that must be cute, right? – and stumbled across an adorable little bakery called Nord’s. A quick Googling revealed this was one of the “must eat” places in Louisville. How serendipitous! How meant to be! So even though none of us were particularly in the mood for sweets, but hungry and tired and in dire need of protein, we went in.

We were met by large glass cases full of donuts and a woman with one of those faces that exudes sunshine. “Morning, y’all!” she said. “What can I get ya?”

We each chose a donut, and she asked how our day was going while bagging them up. I told her it was our first time in Louisville.

The woman smiled. “Well,” she said, “We need to get you a welcome gift!” She grabbed some extra donut bags and started filling them with donuts — filled donuts, jelly donuts, eclairs, maple bars, cinnamon swirls. She held up a maple bar coated with crushed nuts and cinnamon. “This is my favorite kind,” she said, filling up a bag with 4 of them and handing it to Nick, “and I don’t even like nuts!”

We thanked her profusely and left with 3 armfuls of donut bags. Nick spotted a coffee shop just down the block, so we waddled over, ordered iced coffees, and sat down in a corner to enjoy our spoils. I took a bite of the cinnamon nut bar that was the donut lady’s favorite. It was so good I finished it off in 3 bites.

Devin, who can give you a detailed breakdown of any movie star’s fitness regimen and is prone to saying things like, “My body is a temple,” ate half a custard-filled round before announcing that was the first donut he’d eaten in 10 years and he could already feel the sugar poisoning him. Nick and I ate two donuts a piece. Maybe two and half. Maybe three. Maybe four. Maybe five. Those minutes are kind of a blur now, to be honest. A sweet, delicious blur.

Louisville Bakery

Louisville

Louisville
Dangerously high on sugar, we crammed the leftover donuts in the trunk and piled back into the car to head downtown.

I have an annoying tendency to latch onto a word or phrase that I believe sums up whatever new place I’m exploring, and then repeat it nonstop for the entire time I’m there (in Birmingham, for example, after seeing a number of impressively sculpted hairstyles, I kept saying, “People here are so well-groomed!” until Nick was finally like, “What does that even mean?”). In Louisville that word was “urbane,” as in, “This place is so urbane! People here are so urbane! Look at that guy! Look how urbane he is!” I think Devin actually said it first, while we were navigating the hurried swathes of young professionals on their lunch break downtown, but I fixated on the word because it perfectly summed up my surprise at how different Louisville was from Nashville. They’re both friendly southern cities to be sure (just ask the free donut lady), but Louisville struck me as more formal and sophisticated. People here were more dressed up, a little more serious. The downtown area is rich in history, full of  brick buildings and candy-colored storefronts, but there’s a sense of modernity and worldliness that reminded me more of downtown Seattle than other southern cities I’ve been to.

Louisville

Louisville

Louisville

Louisville
We walked along Main Street for a bit before ducking into a gorgeous little cafe called Proof for lunch. After sitting down we realized the restaurant was connected to a hotel which was also a modern art gallery (say it with me now: how urbane!). The route from our table to the restrooms was stocked with large-scale paintings, sculptures, and interactive exhibits. A tiny television screen over the sink in the women’s bathroom flashed staticky video of a man’s eyes watching you as you wash your hands. Unsettling, but cool — the way art should be, right?

Everything we ate for lunch – a bison burger for Devin, gulf shrimp roll for me, cauliflower sandwich for Nick – was fantastic, but I have to take a moment to pay proper respects to the complimentary baguette they served before the meal.

Nick is a pastry chef and is usually a super harsh critic of baked goods. Like, to an entertaining degree. One of my favorite things to do upon spotting a deflated-looking croissant in the pastry case of a coffee shop is nudge Nick, point at it, and wait for the inevitable dramatic sighs and muttered comments — “That thing doesn’t even deserve to call itself a croissant!” I’m positive he was a temperamental Parisian chef de cuisine in his most recent former life. As you can imagine, getting a compliment from Nick about a baked good is a rare thing, a huge deal. And this baguette they served at Proof, this perfectly crunchy, chewy, light, airy, golden brown baguette? Nick deemed it the best baguette he’s ever eaten. We really should start carrying around a plaque and a mariachi band for such occasions. (The baguette was from Blue Dog Bakery, by the way. Well done! Your plaque is in the mail.)

I’d say lunch was the high point of the day, literally, because we were still riding a massive sugar high from the donut binge just before. Unfortunately you can’t soar on the wings of fried dough forever, and as soon as we left the restaurant we crashed in spectacular fashion. Suddenly the three of us had no energy. We dragged our feet in the heat of the early afternoon. The wind was picking up, strong enough now to knock you off balance. “I forgot how to walk!” I whimpered to Devin and Nick, who both seemed to be struggling too. We limped over to look at the Ohio River from a waterfront promenade, breathing heavily. We all stared at the choppy water in silence, surely thinking the same thing: “Why the fuck did we eat so many donuts on an empty stomach?” My head started pounding. Finally Nick said, “Cool bridge.” That seemed like as good a summation as any, so we got back in the car to go explore other neighborhoods.

Louisville

Louisville

Louisville

Louisville

Louisville

The next couple hours included a bit of shopping and browsing in NuLu, an area of little shops and cafes in beautifully restored old buildings, and a lot of sitting on benches staring into the distance. Somehow, late in the afternoon, we ended up walking slowly along Bardstown Road. I don’t even remember how we got there. “Louisville is so cool,” Devin said, “but all I want to do is take a nap in the car.” (The next day, a few hours after dropping Devin off at the airport, I would get a text from him: “Hey, I realized why I was being so weird in Louisville. I have the flu.”) We were about to call it a day and head home early when I noticed a bookstore on the next block. Carmichael’s Bookstore.

Last year Nick and I sat next to a man from Louisville at a wedding. We got to talking. He said he owned a bookstore. I was taking a break from writing at the time, and honestly, feeling so burned out I wasn’t sure if I would ever write again. This man told me to keep writing, and when Nick mentioned that I had written the first draft of a children’s book, he promised to stock it in his bookstore when it came out. I couldn’t remember for sure, but I think the name of that bookstore was Carmichael’s.

And what a beautiful bookstore it was. I looked around and unfortunately didn’t see my literary fairy godfather behind the counter (maybe he was off inspiring other frustrated writers), but I did see floor-to-ceiling shelves and quirky art work and a warm, welcoming space. Nick, Devin, and I split up into our favorite sections (cooking, history, and poetry, respectively). I plopped down on the floor with a stack of haiku anthologies and instantly felt my migraine subside.

Louisville

Louisville

Carmichael's Bookstore

I don’t know if it was the quiet time, surrounded by the serenity of books, or the fact that the sky finally, mercifully let loose a massive downpour while we were there, but by the time we left the bookstore, the three of us felt rejuvenated and renewed. Within a few seconds we were completely soaked, but we were also cogent and energized and giddy for the first time since arriving in Louisville. Thank you, Carmichael’s.

Just down the road was an old church that had been turned into a bar called Holy Grale. We ran inside to escape the rain and get some food. Sitting upstairs, sipping beers, watching the rain pour on the roof outside the thick window panes, we all took a deep breath and reflected on the day. “We’ll come back here,” I said dramatically, raising my glass. “We’ll come back on a day when the weather’s better and we’re well rested and we won’t eat any donuts or just a normal amount of donuts, and we’ll have an amazing time.” Cheers.

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I was dreading driving back in the downpour, but as soon as we got in the car, the rain stopped. On the way home, we were treated to the most beautiful Kentucky sunset. Maybe the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. Orange and blue brush strokes across the sky, framed by green rolling hills. It lasted for what seemed like a very long time. And we all watched it in silence, savoring every second.