Students take road trip through the South

Amy Thompson

For Spring Break, my two close friends — Eva and Laura — and I decided to take a road trip to my hometown of Knoxville, Tenn., and hit major cities along the way. We entitled our rendezvous “Sippin’ through the South.”

Throughout our journey we encountered everything from a Russian cab driver that spoke like Gru from “Despicable Me”; men in St. Louis who asked us if we believed in love at first sight; and a psychic who turned our lives upside down momentarily.

Oh and I cannot forget the game we created, “Would You Still Be My Friend If …”

Here are the highlights and must-see attractions from St. Louis; Indianapolis; Memphis; Nashville; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Peoria, Ill. 

Day 1: Started out early to St. Louis. We did the McDonald’s thing, picked up our rental Toyota Corolla, and hit the road. About six hours later we arrived in the city. Lucky for us, that day happened to be the day of the St. Patrick’s Day parade downtown. Needless to say we were thrilled to hit the town, and get “Sippin’ through the South” off to a great start.

We arrived at the hotel, and chatted up the front desk workers and found out that we needed to call a cab. We hopped in and this short gray-haired man whose name we cannot remember introduces himself. For all of you who haven’t seen “Despicable Me,” the man talked exactly like Gru, the Russian foster father. All we could think about was the cab driver saying “three little kittens.”

Gru took us downtown to Laclede’s Landing right on the riverfront, to get some dinner from Morgan Street Brewery. It’s pale ale was delicious — very thirst quenching. The brewery also had fried mashed potatoes. It sounds weird, but they were surprisingly good.

After dinner, we were ready to head to the first bar. Soon after we realized that all the bars would blur into one. I believe we made it to Hannegan’s Restaurant and Pub, Heartbreaker’s Rock and Roll Saloon — our favorite — Joey B’s On the Landing and Big Daddy’s.

The crowd seemed to be an older crowd than we were used to. We learned this the hard way. Both Eva and I gave out our phone numbers to older men that we met that night — tip: learn the rejection hotline number.

Also, since there was a parade, the street was blocked off and you could drink in the streets. There were vendors selling alcohol on the street and there was music and bars made of tents. We didn’t make it to bar close, but we did make it back to the hotel. I’m pretty sure our cab driver hated us.

Day 2: We did the tourist thing. Our first stop was the Lamborghini and Rolls Royce dealership. When we got there it was closed, but that didn’t stop us. We fogged up the glass walls looking in at the automobiles. Our next stop was downtown where we went to Gateway Arch, took some pictures and went into the museum that accompanies it. The museum was fascinating and free; yes you have to go through security and cannot take your concealed weapons with you, but it was worth it.

On our way out of the city we made the ultimate St. Louis stop: Anhauser Busch brewery. Probably one of the best things we did on the trip. The brewery tour was also free and so were the pretzels and two beers at the end. And no the Clydesdale horses do not drink beer. I asked.

After the tour we piled into the Corolla and drove to Memphis. That drive was about four to five hours and we played Would You Be My Friend If: I drove a semi truck with no trailer everywhere? If I slept with your husband and paid him $5,000? If I rode a scooter everywhere? Etc.

That night, we had ambitions to go out in Memphis, but St. Louis kind of kicked our butts, so we stayed in and went to bed.

Day 3: Since the night before was easy, we were out of the hotel early and went to Beale St. It was a Monday so it was pretty dead, but just seeing Beale Street, we could tell if would be amazing at night. There were bars like B.B Kings and the Rum Boogie and much like Nashville, there was music pouring out of every establishment.

We visited downtown to get lunch and shop around, then we went to Graceland, Elvis Presley’s home. Eva is a huge fan of Elvis, so it was a prerequisite of the trip that we go. Let me tell you one thing — it was the biggest waste of money and time. The house was nothing too special that they could charge us $30 for. We got to tour the house and the premises and that was about it. Most of it was original, but we also didn’t get to see the entire house.

Parking was the huge bummer of the trip. It was $10 at Graceland. Since we stayed downtown we had to pay for parking everywhere we went including the nights we stayed at hotels.

After Graceland we were off to Music City. We got there at a decent time and did the usual; checked into the hotel and chatted up the front desk workers. Throughout our whole trip we stayed at Marriotts and most of them were located downtown — the one in Nashville was the best because it was only about two blocks from everything. When we arrived we even had time for a dip in the hot tub, which conveniently was located right next to our room.

So we got ready and ran to the store to get beverages because we learned that if you go out on the town it is really expensive. Remember college drink deals? Yeah, they don’t exist in the real world. It wasn’t unusual for us to spend $5 on a bottle of Bud Light.

By then we were ready to head to the 2nd Street in downtown Nashville. We cruised a little to scope it out, and then we choose a bar that seemed to be the most happening. We went to at least five bars. I remember the names of two: The Stage and Coyote Ugly. We sang karaoke to “Take me home tonight” by Eddie Money at one bar, and met a dude from Boone, Iowa at the next. We ended at Coyote Ugly and it was empty, so the bartenders let us dance up on the bar and be total tourists. It was pretty awesome.

Day 4: We quickly fell into a pattern of alternating days with drinking and touristy activities. On this day we went back to the Broadway Street in Nashville during the daylight and shopped around. American Apparel and the famous Hatch Show Print Shop are located right on the strip. And of course there are plenty of nick-knack shops along the way as well. There were a ton of boot shops, like the ones where you walk in and can try on an $800 pair of boots. Laura was in heaven. After looking around Nashville, we were broke and ready for Knoxville.

The next few days weren’t exciting. We arrived in Knoxville, visited the hideous gold ball skyscraper thing that is a remembrance of the 1982 world’s fair, and took a look around the University of Tennessee campus — ours is way prettier, but as far as sporting complexes, UT wins hands down. We got back to my place and just chilled for a few days.

We were basically out of money, but we dropped some spare change on going to a psychic to get our palms read. Whether you believe in psychics or not, it was very enlightening and humorous at the same time.

Our psychic called us out on things that she should have never known and made wild character assumptions. Even though we didn’t believe most of what she said, we spent a good three hours afterward in my kitchen trying to decode what she said and what we were going to do with the information. 

Our St. Patrick’s Day consisted of us lying in the 80 degree sun, multiple booze runs, playing catch with the football and attempting to play some golf in my backyard.

Unwillingly, we knew that we had to go back to Iowa so we left Knoxville on a Friday night and drove six hours to Indianapolis. We got in late, so we couldn’t go downtown, but we did end up at the hotel bar, had a drink and called it a night. The next morning we realized how much we missed by not being able to go out — the city looked amazing. If we go on another road trip it will include a night out in Indianapolis.

Our halfway stop home was Peoria, Ill. It was a pretty city on the river. You could definitely tell that we were getting back to the Midwest by just the size differences. We had a nice lunch there at an Irish pub that had clog dancers. About three hours later we arrived back in Ames, exhausted and not ready to be home. The trip was one of the best trips we all have ever taken; good company, a drink in your hand and the open road.