Friday, November 20, 2009

Tom Owen Cultural Studies and Greyhound Cultural Studies

My friend and fellow historian Dr. Tom Owen is offering the following class for learning a lot about a lot of Louisville culture in a few short hours. Tom, of course, is Louisville's teller of hisotry. He is having a special show this Sunday, Novbember 22 at the Clifton Center called Everybody's Gotta Be From Somewhere - Close. It is at 2 o'clock and is free. I'd suggest attending this little lecture for a quick and concise lesson on Louisville and her neighborhoods. He will also be showing highlights from his six videos taken around town.

In another way of learning about Louisville cutlture, Dr. Owen suggests boarding the TARC Route #18, sometimes called Preston/18 or 18th Street or Preston Highway line. This particular line starts out in southwestern Jefferson County near the intersection of Watson Lane and Dixie Highway, arguably as deep in the "heart of Dixie" as one may be within the confines of Jefferson County, Kentucky. It follows northward along Dixie Highway from Valley Village to Valley Station to Pleasure Ridge Park to Shively to the Hallmark neighborhood to the Algonquin neighborhood to the California neighborhood, then at an offset intersection continues north on 18th Street through the Russell neighborhood and into Portland where it turns east along the Market/Jefferson streets corridor. It this section, one passes through Beecher Terrace, the Downtown Business District, and the East Market Street corridor (which some do-gooders are proposing we call NuLu). At Preston (going south) or Jackson (going north), the route follows southward out of downtown and into Clarksdale, the new Liberty Green, the U of L Medical Cpmplex, Smoketown, Shelby Park, Preston Park, Swiss Park, Parkway Village, Audubon, North audubon (which is actually south of Audubon), Audubon Park, the Fairgrounds area, Prestonia, and points southward. Preston Street becomes Preston Highway and the route continues through the western edges of Newburg and into Kentucky's largest unicorporated population center, Okolona. The route then courses a little to the east through suburbia into and out of Jefferson Mall, the terminal point.

One can only imagine the variety of souls one may encounter by repeatedly riding the full course from one end to the other and back. On a recent trip to San Antonio, Texas, in an attempt at a broader understanding of varying cultures, and because I simply like to watch the countryside as I am travelling along, I made my way there and back as a passenger aboard a Greyhound bus. This is Tom Owen's cultural lesson expanded exponentially.


It would be simple to say that the route was not long: I65 to I-40 to I-30 to I35E to I-35. Short and simple. Such a description of the tour would be an unjust way of describing what was, despite some setbacks, an interesting and enjoyable visit through four states and numerous seatmates.

We left Louisville on Tuesday evening en route to Nashville, Tennessee. Getting out of Louisville was time consuming as it was lane-switching day for the construction along I-65 from the Watterson Expressway out to the Snyder Freeway. This was to be a recurring problem throughout the trip, evidence of "Your Obama Stimulus Tax Dollars At Work" on most the interstates in all four states. It takes a while for the conversations to commence on such a trip, but once they do, there is a cornucopia of ideas related between passengers. The passengers themselves offer an interesting cross blend reflecting the melting pot of America's citizens. There were young couples, old couples, blacks, whites, browns, and others. Single women between college and home; single men between wives and girlfriends. A number of young black men who congregated together in the back of the bus oddly along with what could only be described as redneckish whites. And on each bus were a handful of Amish and a larger handful of Hispanics, mostly Mexicans. Understanding the Spanish langugage is very useful when touring America in this fashion. Dominating the conversation from Louisville to Nashville within my earshod was a retired truck driver from Bowling Green who has some medical problems and an aging hippee maiing his way from Canada to Florida. The hippee had spent three days in Louisville and was impressed by the "radical downtown architecture." He commented on West Main Street, the Glassworks, as well as the Court House and City Hall. After a short stop in Bowling Green, we arrived in Nashville at twilight. The young guy sitting next to me from Louisville to Nashville (and on to Memphis) did not say a word.

In every bus center save one (Louisville), there is a sign saying "Welcome to [name of city, name of state]."

After a short stay in Nashville, along with the discharge of some passengers and the boarding of others, we left for Memphis, Tennessee along Interstate 40, Tennesses's rendition of the Western Kentucky Parkway. As it was dark, the conversations, if any, were much quieter. My little area was controlled, so it seemed, by a young lady intending on telling all of us to be quiet as she needed some sleep. Keep in mind that it was only about 6:00 pm. Our next stop was a pick up at Jackson, Tennessee, the hometown of my dear friend Jarvis Wade. But, before arriving there, we came to a dead halt - near the town of Bucksnort. And for forty-five minutes we sat. And finally the kid sitting next to me spoke up. He, like all of us, was curious about the delay. He went on to say he was from Columbus, Ohio and was going to see his wife in Memphis. I didn't ask why the two were in separate cities. We had plenty of time to talk at that point. For the next three hours we travelled a total of nine miles, eventually coming upon the cause of our delay, a fatal single-vehicle accident (and fire) along the side of the road. Passing this unfortunate site, we continued to Jackson, the county seat of Madison County, Tennessee.

At Jackson we picked up passengers who had been waiting in front of a long-closed-for-the-evening Greyhound Bus Station (shown at right), one built in the art-deco style of similar design to Louisville's former bus station on Broadway, but of a much smaller scale. One of the newbies was an older man whose occupation involved driving newly built trucks from one point to another, using the Greyhound to make his connections between trucks. He was headed for a truck frame somewhere in Texas which he would subsequently drive to Indianapolis for additional work. He was from Henderson City, Tennessee and I mentioned that I thought I had distant relatives from there, related to my Grandfather Noble's brother, who lived in nearly Jackson. He knew of several Noble families in the area.

We travelled together from Jackson to Memphis for starters. At this point we were about three and half hours hours behind schedule.

The less said about my additional four-hour stay in Memphis the better. Nothing about it was pleasing and the Greyhound Bus Company should be fined for their operation in that city. For the record, the random Drug Check turned up nothing. And the jerk that was driving the 3:00 AM bus to Amarillo was not just "licking his lips." He stuck his tongue out at me and that was the cause of my outburst. At this point we were about seven hours behind schedule.

We left Memphis headed west to Dallas, quite a long haul somewhat diagonally across Arkansas, which when crossed diagonally is quite a trip. This took us through the capital city Little Rock with the Bill Clinton Presidential Library clearly in view off to the north, as well as other places that in the pre-Bill Clinton days most of us did not know of - one town named Hope and another named Hot Springs. Hope of course is the hometown of the former president, where as a child his last name was not Clinton but Blythe. Blythe is the maiden name of my great grandfather Lewis's mother, Sarah Catherine, but they were from the Owensboro area to my knowledge. Hope, by the way, is also the hometown of former Louisville Mayor and Kentucky Attorney General Dave Armstrong.

Further south of there was a town with a familiar name - Okolona. I'm sure like all the other Okolona's except for the one in Jefferson County, theirs is named for a tribe of Native Americans. We made a stop in Prescott, Arkansas and another one in the 400 block of the East I-30 Frontage Road in Texarkana, Arkansas where four blocks to the west is State Line Avenue and one enters Texas.

Texas. Texas is truly a different state of mind. Texans seem to be a rather independent sort, still not comfortable with their status as a state of the United States of America rather than their lone star status as the Republic of Texas, this despite the fact they've been a part of the American Republic since December 29, 1845.

Crossing no hills and no dells, we entered into Dallas after passing over a large body of water known as the Ray Hubbard Lake (at right), an artificial body of water serving as a reservoir for the drinking and other water needs of Dallas. It is a vast empoundment (23,000 acres) where one can see miles and miles of water across a fairly flat plain, differing from of Corps of Engineers lakes in Kentucky which tend to fill up a number of valleys in their formation.

We stopped in Dallas where, I have to say, the transfer from one bus to another was the most organized. Among all the bus depots, Dallas' was the cleanest, largest, and seemed to be very well operated.

We left Dallas southward along Interstate 35E which after a few miles becomes simply Interstate 35 en route to Waco. I must have slept through the stop at Waco since I have no recall of it at all. When I awoke we were already headed to Austin, shown in the picture above. Sitting next to me was a tall, muscular, handsome, and very fair complected young man - Andrew, the only person's name I learned on the entire trip. He is a vocational student, studying welding, at some Texas Vocational College. He was headed to Austin to meet his parents, girlfriend, and some others for dinner. The next morning he was going to Beaumont where he would pick up his new ride, a 2005 Dodge Ram Pickup. He was clearly excited about it talking the entire trip between the two cities. He told me all about growing up in Austin, doing the music scene - he plays guitar and piano - and generally liking being a Texan. He also mentioned politics, the only time along my trip anyone did. He had voted as an 18 year old for the first time last year and he voted for Barack Obama. Talking to an 19 year old from Texas who voted for Obama in his first trip to the polls. I was almost in love - it was too much to handle. I wished him well when he departed at Austin. His big broad hand completely covered mine in the handshake the way the late Mel Meiners did. Austin, by the way, is a much, much larger place than I had imagined. According to the Census Bureau, the population within the Austin city limits is close to 750,000 with the metropolitan area having about 1,600,000. That contrasts with the entirety of Louisville-Jefferson County Metro (small cities and unincorporated territory included) which has a population of aboout 711,000.

It is hard to determine where the suburbs of Austin end and the suburbs of San Antonio begin. Sandwiched between the two is the city of San Marcos, the seat of Hays County. We make a brief stop there and then moved on to our desitnation. My seatmate from Austin to San Antonio was an interesting looking fellow, looking something along the lines of Monty Python. Young, tall, and very thin and wearing a hoodie, he clutched in his hands an unsecured collection of papers and books which he told me was his "guide to the future." He is to be a monk in some very small very conservative Catholic monastery. He was going to San Antonio to meet his Superior. I wished him well; he said nothing more.

I finally arrived at San Antonio, eight hours later than expected, but still there and made my way by cab over to my hotel.


The return trip wasn't nearly as exciting, partly because I was now an accustomed traveller. One learns the nuances, getting of the bus and immediately getting into the reboarding line, even if you aren't reboarding for another 45 minutes. There is also the drill of rushing over to the Charging Stations, something travellers of the past did not have. These are banks of electrical outlets used for recharging cell phones and laptops. You exit a bus, drop your bags in the reboarding line, and head to the charging station to claim a plug. Then an interesting thing happens. You plug your phone in, with all the others, and walk away. Noone seemed to be hovering around to protect their valuable phone or lap top, not even in Memphis. I found that reassuring.

We left San Antonio a little later than scheduled due to an "misunderstanding" about whether 24 bottles of Mexican Tequila could safely travel in the underbelly of the bus against state and federal laws. After some deliberation, it seems that such transport can happen. I think at that point there were only 22 bottles to be transported, the distribution of the other two perhaps making the trip possible. Maybe. This trip northward had more than the usual share of mexicans, most of whom had arrived from Laredo (and Mexico itself) on an earlier bus. My companion from here to Dallas was a young mexican about 22 years old (veinty-dos). I never learned his name and as it turned out, he and his family made the exact same trip as I did, all the way to Louisville. But he switched seats at Dallas. We didn't talk much as he spoke no English other than to say his age and that he was headed to "Loo-Eese-Bee-Yay" which translated is Louisville. While not saying much he showed me some of his official papers along with some pictures from his wallet, which was attached to him by a long silver braided chain. But I never did learn his name. Along the way, we made the same stops - San Marcos, Austin, Waco (which this time I saw), and Dallas, arriving there about 11:30 pm.

As I said before, the Dallas depot is a very large and greatly organized operation, method amid chaos. We left from there headed to Little Rock and eventually to the hellhole at Memphis. My seatmate was an older Amish man with long hair tucked up in a hat dressed in the usual black. He was travelling with his wife, their two children, and one other young person. They were en route to Pennsylvania. None of them said much at all - not to each other or to anyone else. I was curious about always seeing the Amish on the bus since I've never seen them in the car. Finally, I worked up the nerve to ask why this apparent discrepency? He allowed several reasons. The do not drive cars, but they are allowed to hire others to drive them if travel distances are extreme. This seems unorthodox to me but what do I know. I'm just trying to find my way from the Catholic Church to the Episcopal Church which on the surface seems easy but so far has taken me going on six years. But, I digress.

He went on to say something about families travelling together trumping the law against use of a car as well as the idea that a car extols the prominence of its owner while riding public transportation puts all on the same level palying field. His explanantion completed, he said no more.

We stopped briefly in Prescott, Arkansas and a few other towns, one to pick up eight recently released convicts from a prison van. All young, all white, all carrying their little see-through cotton mesh bag of belongings, all eight of whom immediately made their way to the back of the bus joining the everpresent young blacks and young white rednecks, all seeming headed to either Atlanta or Detroit, niether one of which was on my route. At some point I drifted off to sleep, waking only when we arrived at the depot in Little Rock - actually in North Little Rock.

There is one of those ubiquitous coffee dispensing machines in Little Rock. Simple $1.00 Dixie Cups of coffee. I added sugar although I usually drink it black. I had gotten a cup from the same machine on the way south and it was relatively good. So was this second cup. I really wanted to be awake so as to see the Mississippi River once we crossed back into Tennessee. Crossing this great body of water is always a somewhat moving experience for me. Although I've crossed it a few times in the air, seeing it at ground level can be emotional. I had actually missed it when we left Memphis on the way down. It is one of those major marking points in our Republic, like crossing the Alleghenies in the east or the Rockies in the west. Thus, I was awake for my transposition back into Tennessee on Interstate 40 across the Hernando DeSoto Bridge (shown below with Memphis in the background).

Memphis in the daylight and less the confusion is a little better than what I experience on the way down but not much. I had been in Memphis as a little boy when my grandfather was working there building a Kroger distribution center. This would have been in the mid 1960s so I do not remember much. We stayed in some extended stay apartments called the Bellevue and there was a pool but it had no water. We visited Graceland, then home to an alive-and-well Elvis Presley and also visited some military base closeby. I may go back someday but I doubt it will be anytime soon.

For the first time since before leaving Louisville, there skies were overcast and we eventually drove into rain, rain which would be with us through Nashville and into southern Kentucky. I do not remember who weas seated next to me on this part of the trip. After the brief stop in Jackson I went to sleep.

I woke up outside of Nashville where we transferred to our "destination" bus to Louisville. Leaving Nashville I was ready to be back home. My final seatmate was a young lady, a junior in college from somewhere in upstate New York. Where she had been I do not know. She introduced herself and said very little else. I remained awake for the final leg of the trip. She spent the entire time texting people. She must have texted everyone of her contacts, as she never let up all the way into Louisville.

It hit me somewhere just south of Shepherdsville that I was home - my long trip halfway across the country and back at an end. Back to whatever business is at hand, I will always remember my lesson of cultural studies aboard the Greyhound to San Antonio.

Dorothy was right. There's no place like home.

Don't forget Tom Owen's program at 2:00 pm on Sunday at the Clifton Center on Payne Street.


Tim Havrilek said...

Enjoyed reading about your trip. I think you have earned the right to be called the Charles Kerault of Kentucky.

gprofessionals04 said...

Very interesting article. I felt like witnessing every thing from my own eyes. It is like a beautiful journey i had at the end of the article.
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The Archives at Milepost 606


Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Never married, liberal Democrat, born in 1960, opinionated but generally pleasant, member of the Episcopal Church. Graduate of Prestonia Elementary, Durrett High, and Spalding University; the first two now-closed Jefferson County Public Schools, the latter a very small liberal arts college in downtown Louisville affiliated with the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. My vocation and avocation is politics. My favorite pastime is driving the backroads of Kentucky and southern Indiana, visiting small towns, political hangouts, courthouses, churches, and cemeteries. You are welcome to ride with me sometime.