American South Road Trip?
September 29, 2008 7:57 AM   Subscribe

Road Tripfilter! Is it feasible to drive from NYC to New Orleans, hitting stops along the way, without going insane?

The Boyfriend and I are thinking of driving from NYC to DC to Ashevillie to Savannah to New Orleans this winter over the course of 2 weeks. Any route recommendations? Things to see and do and eat along the way? Is NOLA in any shape to be visited?

Side Note, The Boyfriend is British and never been south of D.C and is convinced we'll be killed by rednecks. What should we see/do to convince him otherwise?

We wont be killed by rednecks, right?
posted by The Whelk to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
As long as you're not a Mexican, the rednecks are more likely to kill you with indifference than malice. They might think his accent is interesting. That's it.

NYC to NOLA and back in two weeks sounds positively leisurely. (of course, I've platoon-driven from Yosemite to St. Louis non-stop. Don't try that at home, kiddos.)
posted by notsnot at 8:07 AM on September 29, 2008

> We wont be killed by rednecks, right?

No, you won't. Has your boyfriend seen Easy Rider by any chance? Why does he even think that?

I've driven across the country [north, south, east, west, all of it] over ten times, many times alone as a thirty-something woman and no, it's fine. However, people in rural areas often appreciate not being called "rednecks" (with some notable exceptions) so maybe you can work on your please/thank you routine before your trip.

I stayed in New Orleans for a week about 6-8 months after Katrina and it was fine for visiting. There were some places still all messed up -- as I think there may still be -- but generally speaking yes it's fine and open for business.
posted by jessamyn at 8:08 AM on September 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

You should make it a canoe trip instead. Watch Deliverance with your boyfriend shortly before the trip; that should calm his nerves.

People will probably be very, very excited by his accent. Like, your waitress will go tell four other waitresses, and then you'll have a group standing at your table asking him to say that thing he just said.

Savannah is pretty.
posted by phunniemee at 8:20 AM on September 29, 2008

Response by poster: Argh, bad poster. I should have mentioned we're both men and the cause BF's worries are a bunch of odd, half-formed ideas taken from Gone With the Wind and general ignorance.

Savannah is pretty.

I've heard! Are there things to do besides remark on it's loveliness? ...not that that isn't lovely.
posted by The Whelk at 8:27 AM on September 29, 2008

My son drove from Texas to New York and the yankees did not kill him. They think his accent is "cute".
posted by bjgeiger at 8:28 AM on September 29, 2008

Best answer: Oh, NYC to New Orleans is VERY do-able.

Check out the book Road Trip USA -- it's a travel book that focuses on the roads rather than acutal cities, and concentrates on the two-lane highways that would be ideal for you as a) they're less busy, and b) they have the cooler stuff to see. The book follows the road from start to finish, and tells you about the diners and freaky roadside things on the way, mentions hotels you can stay at, and even gives the occasional radio station recommendation. It even points out the sections where "it's nothing but strip malls for the next 50 miles so you can just make up lost time on this stretch".

The web site for the book also has an abridged guide to each of the routes. In your case, you're going to want to pay attention to most of the Atlantic Coast route, which goes from Atlantic City to Key West; from there you can connect to US-80 from Georgia across to Mississippi and then following the book's Mississippi River route down to Louisiana.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with the book, I just love it and have used it on two road trips now.

As for worrying about "life on the road" -- I've done solo road trips twice, and both times found that if you just act polite and decent that people will be friendly. They'll only look down their nose at YOU for being stuck-up city-slickers if they sense that you're looking down your nose at THEM for being hicks and hayseeds. But smile and be friendly and you'll have waitresses in pink nylon uniforms calling you "hon" and flirting with you, truckers drawing you road maps when you get lost, and locals at the gas station following you out to your car because they overheard you asking directions to some landmark and they want to tell you about a particularly cool side trip you should do.

Also -- try the food, especially in New Orleans. If you eat what they dish out, you'll not only get in people's good graces, you'll have some of the best food you've ever had in your life. Hands down.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:29 AM on September 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

Ahhh, just saw the "we're both men" addendum.

Eh, even so, that probably won't make much of a difference. I'd wager that the average person who meets you, if they have any fleeting hesitation about you whatsoever, will probably just decide to believe that you're cousins.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:33 AM on September 29, 2008

Well if your going thur Savannah you can look up The Lady Chablis.
posted by bjgeiger at 8:37 AM on September 29, 2008

I drove Boston to New Orleans in the early nineties looking like a goofy punk rock kid and never felt threatened at all. No one really cares that much.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 8:37 AM on September 29, 2008

We wont be killed by rednecks, right?

That's profoundly insulting. That attitude has a good chance of ruining your trip by itself.
posted by bilgepump at 8:38 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I did that ride I was pleased to find that along the major route, whatever that was, the truck stops would rent books on tape that could be dropped off at a stop further along. I listened to The Butcher Boy, twice.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:46 AM on September 29, 2008

Like any part of the world, the American Southeast has places in its cities where you need to watch your step. Fortunately, even these places aren't as dangerous as other places in the country (like DC or Detroit), let alone other areas in the world. Unless you deliberately go looking for trouble, i.e. spend hours driving around urban side-streets after 1AM or flirting with the locals in dive bars, you should be fine.

If anything, your race (and I'm just assuming that you're white here, so correct me if I'm wrong) might be a bigger deal than anything else. Racial tensions are real, and a white boy showing up in a predominantly black area after hours can lead to trouble for all concerned. In the city where I went to college, there was a neighborhood where if you were white and the cops saw you there after dark, they'd just pull you over, because the odds were pretty good that either 1) you were looking for drugs or a hooker, both of which are officially discouraged, or 2) you were about to get robbed, which the cops don't like either.

Long story short: don't be stupid and you'll be completely okay. Though not as visible as in the NYC megalopolis, there are plenty of out men and women in the South, and very few of them run into more trouble there than they would anywhere else.
posted by valkyryn at 8:47 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

They won't kill you, but they will ridicule you if you order an egg white omelet, or ask them to leave out the ham that comes with it, even though you're still paying for it.

Don't forget to pick up a bag of boiled peanuts when you gas up.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:49 AM on September 29, 2008

No, you won't. Has your boyfriend seen Easy Rider by any chance? Why does he even think that?

perhaps he saw top gear's american road trip holiday episode, in which the hosts were attacked by rednecks in an alabama gas station?
posted by lia at 8:51 AM on September 29, 2008

No, you won't. Has your boyfriend seen Easy Rider by any chance? Why does he even think that?
perhaps he saw top gear's american road trip holiday episode, in which the hosts were attacked by rednecks in an alabama gas station?

Ah, but the hosts had DELIBERATELY posted inflammatory messages on the sides of their cars, that were specifically DESIGNED to PROVOKE attacks.

So I would say that unless you have a sign on the side of your car reading "Robert E. Lee sucks donkey balls", their experiences will probably not be yours.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:56 AM on September 29, 2008

i doubt that you two are *so* suave & sophisticated that rednecks will fall upon you in a fit of pique. that holds whether you decide to travel through Nashville or the heart of the Appalachians.

I've made that trip from ohio --> nola several times. No recommended route, but a big recommendation for a trip to new orleans. you have your choice of the 'did katrina even touch this city?' or the 'omg, it looks like it happened last week' parts of town. you can still find plenty of places where only a handful of people have reclaimed their houses, but the city is very much open for business.
posted by msconduct at 8:57 AM on September 29, 2008

I was at first, as a native Southerner, very offended by your "killed by rednecks" comment. I wanted to lay into you, and then I saw how you amended your question to include that you are a gay couple. And I gave serious thought to my answer, instead of responding with a knee-jerk, "Hey, why do you think we are all racist rednecks south of the Mason-Dixon line, you asshat?"

And while I would love to have you come to my home down here in the South, and while I don't personally know anyone who would feel differently, the truth is that in some areas of the South openly gay couples are still, sadly, apt to run into discrimination and intolerance, and denying that kind of homophobia exists would not be productive to your question and this thread.

So: In my opinion, the WORST that would happen to an openly gay couple in most places would be a few snickers or ugly looks. BUT if you seriously are worried about how you will be received in this beautiful, well-worth-visiting part of the world, you may have to be careful about public displays of affection in the more rural areas you visit, where you are apt to find more conservative and traditional folks, some of whom seem to believe anyone "different" threatens their way of life.

Please don't let that dissuade you from visiting! These people really are in the minority, and we do have a lot to offer visitors to the South.
posted by misha at 9:02 AM on September 29, 2008

You won't be killed by rednecks. Be safe, though, about where you stop at night. If you feel like a place is sketchy, grab your bf and move on.

Are you planning on driving both ways? It might make more sense to stop in Savannah on the way back, as it's on I-95. That way, you'd be going NYC->DC->Asheville->NOLA, and then could do something like NOLA->Jacksonville, FL->Savannah, GA->(maybe stop in Richmond? It's a cute little place and also on I-95)New York. Two weeks is more than enough time to see most of these places, and then some.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:05 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

If the fact that you are a same sex couple is what is causing the worry you certainly don't have to be any more concerned about Savannah or New Orleans than just about any other city in the US. If your impression of either city is based upon something like the movies mentioned above you're in for a surprise. Unless you start making out in the booth I doubt you'll raise notice even in truck stops along the way. We've got our share of bigots down here but we aren't from some other planet. (Also, I'm pretty sure the top gear guys could have found the same kind of trouble on Staten Island, or any number of other places outside the south, if they went looking for it. If there is a difference it's that the southern rednecks are going to be less concerned about the fact that a camera is rolling.)
posted by Carbolic at 9:09 AM on September 29, 2008

Best answer: Buy a copy of Jane and Michael Stern's book "Roadfood" and use it to plan your route.

Seriously. It will make you happy. And fat. Do it.
posted by paanta at 9:12 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Having lived in Savannah for six months, I don't think you'd run into any explicit trouble. I've spotted more than a few out gay and lesbian couples around here. Tourism-wise you have four options: trolley tours, ghost tours, walking tours, or just getting a book and using your own feet. One place rents bikes, and one place rents scooters. If you have good legs, you can see most of the historic district by foot. The Paula Deen thing requires showing up early, and there are better food options not mobbed by fans.

Outside of the historic district: Fort Pulaski, Tybee with your usual beach stuff, and lots of wetlands.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:20 AM on September 29, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the book recommendations so far. Roadfood looks right up my alley. My greasy, greasy alley.

We are planning on driving there and back and I hadn't considered Richmond but it sounds lovely. I'll look into that Mississippi River Route. Crossing the Mississippi is one of my few favorite memories from childhood cross-country trips.

Apologies for the last line. I've been patiently explaining to the BF that Asheville, Savannah, and New Orleans are not hotbeds of violence and strife and his reaction is hilarious and that didn't come through and argh. Bad poster.

Keep them coming! I'm getting excited already.
posted by The Whelk at 9:46 AM on September 29, 2008

Response by poster: KirkJob, any tours you recommend in particular? Alternatives to Paula Deen?
posted by The Whelk at 9:48 AM on September 29, 2008

I've never been on any of the tours, I know that I bailed out of the haunted pub crawl because it looked ans sounded lame.

Firefly Cafe on Habersham and Troup Square South of Liberty isn't bad if you want something in the $10-20 range. Clary's on Abercorn is a greasy spoon where I've become a regular, although quality varies. B. Matthews was worth a visit on, I think it's Bay and Habersham. Moon River is a microbrew pub that had reasonable pub grub on Bay. I've never actually eaten at any of the Deen restaurants nearby, so I'm speaking entirely by reputation. I've heard good things about the Pink House. I was underwhelmed by Esan Thai and the Asian Bistro downtown. Griffin Tea Room is ok, and worth it if you are into gilded age woodwork and stained glass. Unfortunately the regional specialty seems to be crab cakes, and I'm a vegetarian.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:19 AM on September 29, 2008

Having grown up in rural Alabama and lived most of my life in the deep Southern bible belt, I can most assuredly say that two gay men from New York passing through will hardly be noticed at all. If you were moving in, you'd be mobbed by Junior Leaguers trying to get you to dish delicious gossip over finger sandwiches.

Note: While Savannah is gorgeous, it is way out of the way. The direct route via Knoxville/Chatanooga/Birmingham/Hattiesburg, MS will shave many, many, many hours off the trip. You may not care, but I'd at least return this way.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:11 AM on September 29, 2008

You would have to try REALLY hard to run into any trouble in New Orleans over being gay men. I thought we were too accepting of teh gays and that's why God sent Katrina to destroy us? (Although, that would of course imply that God is REALLY bad at geography, as he missed the Quarter and Southern Decadence entirely...)

Regarding Katrina - NOLA is all fine, as far as tourists are concerned. Yes, you can still find lots and lots of destroyed houses that are in various states of repair, but anywhere you would want to go is fine. There are a few stoplights out here and there due to Hurricane Gustav, but that's it. There are more restaurants open now than Pre-Katrina, the French Quarter wasn't hurt, some of the bars never/barely closed. Okay, the Macy's still hasn't reopened, but why would you go there anyway? Rebuilding after Katrina forced some of the really hole-in-the-wall places to actually have to clean and paint!
posted by artychoke at 11:18 AM on September 29, 2008

Best answer: Last summer me & a friend drove from NOLA to NYC over 5 days. We did not go insane. In fact, it was a great trip.

We avoided the interstates entirely, because interstates mean boring scenery and crappy road food. Instead, we drove on smaller roads- usually 2-lane highways- through interesting scenery- farms, small towns. We avoided capital/major cities unless there was some reason to hit one- I think we only stopped in New Orleans and DC before we hit Manhattan. Smaller cities have cheaper hotel rooms, too.

A couple suggestions:

Bring your laptop to the front desk when scoping a hotel room. If you can't gt a wifi signal from the front desk, forget it- it's only gonna be weaker in your room.

Go for a little run every morning before you hit the road. Good way to see the scenery, and it will alleviate back pain from sitting in a car all day.

Get a big fat road atlas.
Keep post-it notes handy. Once you pick a route & decide on the next few exits you'll take, make a note of it on a post-it or two and stick it on the dash. Then you don't have to sit there with a big fat road atlas on your lap all day just to remember what the next exit will be.

Download stand-up comedy albums to listen to during whatever time you habitually hit your daily slump- for us, that was around 3-5pm. Comedy (especially fairly high-energy, narrative comedy recorded in front of a live studio audience) is better for keeping you awake than music or podcasts. We listened to Eddie Murphy, Bill Cosby, and Richard Pryor. David Cross & Dane Cook would be good, too. Mitch Hedburgh, although we love him, made us sleepy on the road (quiet voice, non-narrative / non-sequiturs).

Each of you should pick a personal quest.
My companion's quest was to photograph funny church signs. We'd see a church and get all excited as we approached, straining to read if it was a good sign, and if it was, we'd be happy to double back, stop, and get a good angle on the pic. "What on Earth are you doing for Heaven's sake?" "Satan divides and subtracts. God multiplies." etc. It's nice to have an unpredictable reason to stop, it gives you energy.
My quest was to eat real southern cornbread. This influenced all our food choices- we went to restaurants that looked like they might have real cornbread & therefore avoided chain restaurants. Ask locals working well-paid jobs- bank teller is a good one- where to get a good meal in the neighbourhood, they'll have the best advice.

Go through Chattanooga Tennessee and get a lemonade and pulled-pork sandwich from Master Blaster. Tell them the Canadian girl from last summer sent you, the smiley one who came in with the tall grouchy guy, and then took a zillion photographs, and then FREAKED OUT about how good the food was. It is seriously the best BBQ I've ever imagined. They only open 4 days a week because on the other 3 days they're brining the meat, for pete's sake. They're flat sold out by 3pm Sunday afternoons. Oh man. Plus the owner-lady was lovely and chatted with us for ages. If there is a heaven, and if I manage to trick them into letting me in, I won't be surprised at all if Master Blaster is the welcome dinner. Total highlight of the trip.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:37 AM on September 29, 2008 [5 favorites]

Oh, I just saw the gay thing. We actually met a lot of gay men driving through the south. Every male waiter we had seemed to have plucked eyebrows and a flamboyant disposition. It was nice.

Also, my pal and I were a bit of a sight in the South- we are different ethnicities, so people took us for a mixed-race couple, which is uncommon in some of the smaller towns, for instance. And both of us are visibly members of minority groups that are unusual in the region. In fact I might go so far as to say that we are a little conspicuous-looking no matter where we are (tall, strange haircuts, etc), so we really felt like we stood out in some of the areas we passed through. Also, on this trip we were driving an awful, overly flashy yuppie rental car which stood out like a sore thumb. Despite all this, the worst that ever happened was a few strange looks that made us uncomfortable once or twice. We never felt as though our safety was in jeopardy.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:53 AM on September 29, 2008

Response by poster: These are all amazing. Thank you so much. I've reviewed the other threads and I think I have a good idea on how to do this. I've got a lot of family ties to Georgia and Louisiana and I've ben putting off going for a while., because of distance or cost or whatever, but now? I think I will.

Drivin' through Chattanooga..., is it easy to get to the Choo-Choo hotel? Cause it would make the entire, messy thing worth it if I could stay at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo

posted by The Whelk at 5:59 PM on September 29, 2008

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