As Alyssa headed north to visit family and venture further on her own, I decided to make one more big trip before I settle down in Asheville for the summer (and maybe longer).
Heading up I-75 from Tennessee to Louisville, I came upon a good omen. A good omen for me, anyway. Much like many other hipster-ish photographers, I really enjoy taking photos of decaying structures (when we were traveling together, Alyssa held the eye rolls and encouraged me every time I wanted to stop at any sort of roadside decay we’d pass by). So imagine my delight when I found this abandoned fireworks store / mini amusement park, the Patriotic Palace, three hours south of Louisville:
Coming upon this treasure confirmed for me that Louisville was the right direction to be heading.
The more I travel, the more I realize there are a ton of cities I know nothing about. Louisville, Kentucky is a great example. Various signs reminded me that the Kentucky Derby happens here. I knew that was a thing with horses. And I also knew that the Louisville Slugger is a thing. And I was 99% sure that was a baseball bat that was made there. But aside from that, I didn’t know much about that city before arriving.
One thing I continue to find true for every major metropolitan area, Louisville included, is a locally supported arts and small business scene. You know these scenes, they are populated by trendy coffee shops, foodie-style restaurants and the use of the term “gentrification” (the use of that word often depends on how many of the long-time residents have been pushed out by the usually accompanying higher housing costs). For road-tripping, I must admit that the trendy coffee shops are some of my favorite places to work. The $4 price for the cup of coffee is always appalling, but I stay and use the wifi for as much as five hours sometimes, so I’d say I get my money’s worth.
While passing through Louisville, I had a craving for soul food. When it comes to soul food, though, authentic trumps trendy. After Googling for a bit, I came across a random blog that I thought had found the solution: Shirley Mae’s Cafe.
At the entrance, you are greeted by the one front-of-the-house employee, Dee. Dee is the 59-year-old daughter of Shirley Mae. The other daughter, Dee’s sister, who is 60, works the grill with Shirley Mae (whose age wasn’t revealed, but a little simple math puts her in the possible range of late-seventies to early-eighties). Dee stopped her conversation with some regulars to let me know I could sit anywhere, so I took a seat at the bar. The lighting was rather low, and there were countless pictures of famous people who have come to visit Shirley Mae’s in its 27-plus years of business. But despite this place’s many brushes with fame, Shirley Mae’s is a no-frills, open only four days a week type of place.
Dee informed me that it was happy hour, so I got my two Budweisers for $3 and ordered the ribs with two sides, mac and cheese and cole slaw, all for less than 10 bucks. I quickly made friends with the only other people on that side of the restaurant, a mother and her two twenty-something kids. The food was everything I hoped for and more, but that was only part of the joy during my visit to Shirley Mae’s. The real treat was Dee’s storytelling and advice she happily doled out. Over a two hour period, Dee gave my new friends and I advice about unhealthy relationships (“If you step in dog crap and wipe it off on the grass, you still smell like crap when you go inside”), why she doesn’t eat salads (“Why am I gonna pay money for something that grows in my front yard?!”), and told us stories about growing up in Louisville (if you ever go, ask her about the funeral and the pig farmer). To top it all off, my new friends felt it was their duty to show me true southern hospitality, and they insisted on paying for my meal.
Despite her outgoing nature, Dee was too shy to be in a picture by herself but did agree to take one with me.
My choice to go though Louisville was a fortuitous one and I left on quite a high. I snapped a few more shots of the city at sunset before heading northwest out of the city to a delightful place in Hoosier National Forest that I would camp for the night (compliments of a cheap traveler’s best friend: freecampsites.net).