Beyond Route 66: Coast to Coast driving USA

Leaving Route 66 behind at St Louis (two days off the official end in Chicago) we still had a significant chunk of the USA to cross to get to the east coast. Like about a third of the country.

Easy. Interstate Highway, GPS, hit GO.

Problem One. Graeme had set the GPS for the shortest route. And forgot (also didn’t tell me…). Felt this would mean that when we were lost on Route 66 that it wouldn’t automatically put us on the Interstate (maybe because occasionally Route 66 puts you on them? I don’t know; when it comes to driving men and women’s brains don’t work the same—real study showed women more likely to have to turn maps upside down. Keep this in mind.) St Louis to Memphis? Didn’t seem to be a problem—a no brainer. I think Graceland kind of sucks everything towards it.

memphis (14)memphis (3)

Interstate directly south. Memphis to Nashville? Seemed to do some weird things in the suburbs and we got to see some really nice streets…both these towns incidentally have some lovely homes and not at all what I imagined. (and Memphis’s Beale St very like Nashville’s, though the latter has way more live music).

nashville (4)bealest (4)

But then Nashville to Knoxville seemed a little short distance wise so diverted via Sweetwater to see the second largest inland sea in the world (only allowed because I had got brownie points by finding the Dylan exhibition at Nashville). Route seemed a little weird, but we got there. Next day to Asheville? Why aren’t we taking the route with the big sign to the Interstate marked, er, Asheville? There are miles of the Smoky Mountains between Tennessee and North Carolina…and yes we were about to do every twist and turn and probably see a few moonshine stills along the way…And why doesn’t this damned GPS tell us things in advance? Damn, we’re meant to be in the Right lane just after we turned left…

‘No not there, here.’

‘Which way is here?’

‘Left, no I mean right…’

Driving on the other side of the road doesn’t help…your brain kind of reverses most things but you (?women) still think Right is the hard turn across traffic. Don’t get me onto what happens when you hit a roundabout.


Problem Two. We are used to high fibre breakfasts, walking 5-10km per day (me), 10-20km (Graeme), and going to the gym three times a week. I have had back surgery and my CT scan shows lumbar spine that look good…for an eighty year old ( I take calcium daily…bone density isn’t so bad). Sitting all day after a diet of bagels/pancakes (breakfast), donuts (snacks), no coffee (undrinkable), deep fried everything/pumpkin pie (dinner)—can I leave the results to your imagination? There are signs all through Tennessee with bible quotes, but I missed this one: bless every establishment (hotels/gas stations) that provide fresh fruit…And the Knoxville coffee shop in our hotel.

Problem Three. The Sunday after Thanksgiving is the day for maximum traffic, and worst of all if coming into New York. We heard this news at the gym (yes we found one—bless hotels that provide these too) right after the weather news showing snowstorms in central USA where we had just been. Good luck on the latter as we missed them—but on the former? Yep, our longest drive scheduled for…Sunday. Thank you Expedia and easy cancel-able rooms. Meant a mere two hour drive first thing in the morning and no traffic, no accidents and we are at Newark to hand the car back by nine am. (Then a terrifying cab drive to Manhattan, but we got here).

Not being one to dwell on negatives and wanting life to be in balance—what about the positives?

One: 3,714 miles from Coast to Coast. We’ve walked two versions of Coast to Coast in the UK; Wainwrights, about 300km from St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay and Hadrian’s Wall 150km from Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solnay. Walked about half the distance (2,038 km) from central France to west coast of Spain.

This (Route 66 and onwards) was way longer, less physically taxing (despite problem two) but even more diverse. Accents vary across UK more than Australia, but both way less than the USA, and while Australia and UK have city and country food variations, again nothing like the diversity of cuisines and culture that USA throws at you. Slow drawls to crisp sharp enunciations; Californian vegan to Southern BBQ, grits and catfish; weather that varied from snow to sunshine, and mostly the latter; people that are worldly (usually meaning well-read rather than well-travelled, and either way still with a USA is centre of the world belief) to never having left the State and more curious to hear about what we thought of their own country – that they hadn’t seen and we had – than about ours; “have a good day” smiles and generosity of spirit to “telling it like it is” to the wait staff who seem to accept it as perfectly reasonable (our last night in Tennessee we heard two conversations that would have in Australia had (1) a bouncer called in and (2) a refusal to serve, had they happened in Australia—in both cases the wait staff here were completely nonplussed.

Two. Even with our dollar in way worse shape than when we lived here in the USA for seven months, things are pretty cheap (at least until the Chelsea Market oysters). If you are prepared to do all basic hotels, this could be a really cheap way to holiday. Gas is very cheap by Australian standards, and the roads are brilliant.

Three. Fun—and enough variety to have fun the way you want. Shopping? You bet—souvenirs overload, Black Friday sales (shoes!), Boutique clothes in unexpected places (I got a divine evening jacket in Santa Fe). Things for the kids? Now here they are expert (possible theory is that most Americans always retain a part of their child self—read as don’t grow up…)—Disneyland on both sides of the country, Dollywood (Tennessee—we passed the signs), The Lost Sea Adventure…the list goes on. Entertainment? Well we did start in California aka Hollywood and finished in New York where Broadway, MET and MOMA are on my list—and that’s just the first few days. To say nothing of the restaurants and plays, from Broadway to a tiny 13th Street theatre we just fell across.

Thank you America. You aren’t perfect, but you sure as hell have got a lot right.





About annebuist

Anne Buist is the Chair of Women’s Mental Health at the University of Melbourne and has 30 clinical and research experience in perinatal psychiatry. She works with Protective Services and the legal system in cases of abuse, kidnapping, infanticide and murder. Medea’s Curse is her first mainstream psychological thriller. Professor Buist is married to novelist Graeme Simsion and has two children.
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