It’s not much fun driving across America on one Interstate freeway after another. So when I got past Knoxville, Tennessee, and turned north toward Chicago I took some of the back roads instead. I had never been to the South, and I wanted to see it.
Tennessee is a beautiful state, and you can hardly see any of it from the freeway.
This place must be incomparably beautiful in the Fall. I barely missed the changing colors.
Some of the leaves were just starting to turn as I drove past.
Most of Tennessee’s topography is mild compared to that in the West, but it’s still rugged enough to be interesting.
Once again, the weather shifted as I crossed a state line. First the clouds thickened up.
Then the clouds became solid.
I took a smaller road off the main highway to get deeper into the woods.
Here is the Daniel Boone National Forest in Southern Kentucky.
You can’t tell, but it was raining when I took this picture.
There were occasional clusters of trees that all started changing their colors at once.
I saw more election posters in Kentucky than in any other state so far.
One billboard promoted someone for the county jailer. I loved that strong word and could almost hear the door slam: Jailer. Kentucky does not mess around with its criminals.
If I wanted to get to Louisville before 2:00 in the morning, I would need to get back on a major highway. So I drove onto the parkway going west across the southern part of the state. I had the whole thing to myself even though it was Saturday. That part of Kentucky is not densely populated.
I saw occasional oncoming traffic, but for the most part I owned the road.
The Interstate leading into downtown was closed. So I had to get off and drive on surface roads through the city to reach the center. I didn’t know it at the time, but Louisville (apparently) has the largest intact Victorian neighborhood in America. The entire inner city south of downtown is packed with block after block after block of perfectly preserved 18th century houses.
(It was dark when I arrived, and I went back and took these pictures after I woke up the next morning.)
Somehow Kentucky garnered a reputation for being a trashy state where cars can be found up on cinder blocks and everything from used tires to refrigerators are strewn across people’s front lawns. The second photo in this Onion spoof article pretty much sums it all up.
If I lived in Kentucky I would be pissed off at how my state is perceived on the outside. I didn’t see anything trashy, anywhere, and instead found Kentucky to be a beautiful, clean, tasteful, and dignified place. (Maybe I didn’t see the “right” parts.)
I suppose every region of America is unfairly stereotyped by people who live in other parts of the country. I wondered how Oregonians are thought of in Kentucky. Are we all lumberjacks? Hippies? Computer nerds?
I bought some road food (don’t ask) and an atlas of all 50 states at a Kentucky gas station. As I placed my items on the counter the old lady behind the cash register said, in a Southern accent, of course, “Looks like yer gettin’ some travelin’ fooooood.”
“Yep,” I said.
“Where ya goin?” she said.
“Oregon,” I said.
“Don’t know nuthin’ about it,” she said. “Don’t even know where that is.”
At first I thought she was kidding. Then I realized she wasn’t. She didn’t even know enough about Oregon to think we’re all a bunch of vegans or geeks. And so I felt slightly less bad about how her state is thought of by people in mine.
An antique storefront in old Louisville.
An old building in downtown Louisville. I took this picture while stopped at a red light, and I couldn’t tell you what it is. (Someone in the comments probably knows.)
Louisville’s Jewish hospital surprised me for some reason.
The city is famous for its Kentucky Derby. But the entire state is famous for, uh, southern-style fast food.
Urban sprawl killed off far too many downtowns in American cities. Portland, Oregon, where I live, has reversed the hollowing out trend perhaps more than anywhere else in America. Louisville has not yet recovered. But it looked to me like the recovery was getting started. Fourth Street was hopping on Saturday night. A whole section of it was closed to automobile traffic so drunken pedestrians could jam up the streets while going bar- and club-hopping.
Police officers cordoned the area off and checked IDs. You weren’t even allowed to walk on the street if you weren’t 21 years or older.
A group of young women with an inflatable man insisted I take their photo as they played with the man’s inflatable “penis.” They all laughed when I snapped the picture.
“We’re gonna be in the pa-per,” the black woman said.
Better than that, girl, you’re on the Internet!
Club-goers wait in line to get inside.
Milling around in front of the Lucky Strike bowling alley.
A Fourth Street bar, downtown Louisville.