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March 18-Out of the South
by Lenny Hughes
We were holed up again this weekend at Atlantic City's Borgata casino after that long romp through the South.
Saturday night, the show ended with a toast to the gambling palace from Tour Manager Ben, Lewis and John, commemorating more than 100 performances the Black circus mounted there over the years. It also celebrated twice as many live broadcasts that the guys have done since beginning the "Rant Is Due" phenomenon.
It was also the casino's 15th birthday. You should send them a card.
A toast at The Borgata
We were just coming off an 11-day stretch last week that started in Richmond and wound up in Louisville.
Lewis called it "The South Will Rise Again Tour," to some mock-angry reactions from the Kentucky crowd. Of course, Lew responded with an appropriate gesture.
The South Will Rise Again
You may recall, I wrote about the first half of our southern sojourn when we were in Charleston, where we saw our old friend Jeff Costa, and toured some of the historic sites in the town where the Civil War started.
Our old friend, Jeff Costa
I ran across a reconstructed Confederate submarine in one of the parks near our hotel. The hotel itself used to be a fort before "the war of Northern aggression," as some call the old conflict. It's now an Embassy Suites.
Nearby is the Charleston Music Hall-a renovated train station that was built in the 1850s. A sign of the present times is pasted on the entrance: a warning that "concealable" guns are not permitted. Fortunately, I always keep my shotgun in plain sight whenever I attend a concert.
From there, we rolled west to Asheville, through the Great Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. We stopped on the way for a fine lunch in Saluda at the Green River Barbeque outside of Asheville. Lewis can't pass up barbeque, especially if there's a pig on the marquee.
Asheville is one of the best towns in the country, and it's developing in the right way. The newer nightspots and trendy shops haven't nudged out the classic older attractions. There are half a dozen used bookstores within walking distance of each other. An antiques mall sits in the middle of town, spanning almost an entire block.
One of the contemporary-style places is a champagne bar, but it also functions as a used bookstore--a perfect blend of the new and old.
Home of the great novelist Thomas Wolfe, Asheville has restored his family home, and created a fine museum, laying out his history and displaying many of his possessions. Wolfe (not to be confused with the other great Tom Wolfe, who wrote "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," etc.) went to UNC, just like Lewis, with hopes of being a playwright (just like Lew), but instead of turning to standup comedy, Wolfe turned to novel-writing. "You Can't Go Home Again" and "Look Homeward, Angel" are best-known.
The latter got him in hot water with the town, since he based it on real people and thinly disguised them.
According to the display, "Almost everyone was angry at the writer and his novel, which was even banned from the public library."
I didn't get any Wolfe books, but in the Captain's Bookshelf, I found an inscribed copy of Shelby Foote's "Follow Me Down." It's a later edition, but Foote almost never signed his books, except for friends and relatives. Also got a signed Walker Percy (he signed anything for anybody, but it's still pretty cool).
History hangs all over the town. So does art. Lots of crafts shops (not my cup of tea), but they brighten a place, so long as they don't phase out the antiques and collectibles.
Even the Asheville Community Theatre has survived the years, and competition from TV and the Internet. Opened in 1946, it once featured then-unknown actor Charlton Heston as a director.
Asheville Community Theatre
We did two shows at a very pleasant music hall, the Orange Peel, and everyone loved it.
Sadly, we took our leave and headed for Nashville, a town that's not devoid of history and art, either. Development there, though, has the potential to overwhelm them. You'd never know you were looking at Andrew Jackson's first law office, if it weren't for the historical marker hanging on the facade of a skyscraper.
On our way there, Frank stopped for fuel, and we all piled into the truckstop, as one of our favorite touring activities. John and Lewis studied an automated milk-shake machine at the Speedy Cafe. Lew was impressed with the Jamwich, a ready-made peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich in a plastic bag.
"Who NEEDS this?!" he ranted.
And who needs Twinkies and Hostess Sno-ball ice-cream? But they were there, too.
Automated milk-shake machine
"Who NEEDS this?!"
The Nashville show was at the Ryman Auditorium, original home of the Grand Ole Opry. They've preserved it fairly well as an historical site, but the Opry has since been moved to a bigger, modern facility.
Last stop on that wirlwind tour was Louisville, Kentucky, home to the late Muhammad Ali, and the great Jennifer Lawrence. The show was at the venerable Palace Theatre, one of those beautiful vaudeville/movie houses that has been happily preserved.
On our short break, I worked on a special project. While in Asheville, I found a much-desired Dr. Nut softdrink container. The Louisiana almond-flavored beverage (now defunct) was the favorite drink of Ignatius Reilly, the wacky hero of John Kennedy Toole's comic masterpiece "A Confederacy of Dunces."
I had bought it from that cavernous Lexington Park Antiques store, wrapped it in carpet remnant and walked it down to the Asheville P.O.
But before I could display it with my Louisiana literature, I had to straighten out the nails and metal reinforcement bands that had become bent and twisted from decades of loyal service to the Dr. Nut company.
It took me a full day to make it perfect, with of course some help from Zina's cats, and now it's among my proudest possessions. And as I make my way back home on the Northeast Regional from Jersey, I can't wait to see it again--along with those cats.
Later this week, we return to the South-if you really can consider Florida a part of the true South.