Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?

Travels with Roxy

Photo courtesy Rebecca SchoenkopfWe weren't in Nashville anymore. We knew this, like getting smacked in the head with a raw steak, because of the frost in the air. Oh, don't get me wrong; Nashville had snow on the ground. I'm talking about the waitresses in the Texas roadside diner where we had stopped. Whole minutes crept by while they puttered with buckets of lemon wedges before finally turning around to fulfill, wordlessly, our polite request for the day's fifth cup of coffee to go, please, ma'am. We and our sexy big hair were not welcome in the truck stops of central Texas. Let me just be clear: your female Texans are evil whores.

Roxy and I had flown to New York the day after Christmas to pick up a car and bomb it back across this big ol' country of ours in time for New Year's Eve. But storms in the Panhandle had jammed Route 40, and then storms in Shreveport threatened Interstate 20. So we turned left at Louisiana and right at Texas, flying across the godforsaken I-10, where they apparently find it perfectly acceptable to put their towns 467 miles apart. Washington, D.C., is home to the country's least romantic people (if you don't count the residents of Irvine); think of Bob Packard, and you've got the ethos. But they've managed to build themselves one hell of a romantic view. Though the Capitol is blocked off for President-elect Numbnuts' inauguration, the beeline between it and the Washington Monument is the kind of vista that hushes your chattering mouth. We hooked up with Peter Loge, a Hill veteran and director of the Justice Project, an outfit aiming to ensure fairness in executions. "Fairness" and "executions"? Baby steps, I guess. We had margaritas at a "Mexican" restaurant and then hit an Irish pub, where Flogging Molly and Nelly Furtado were on the box and a buttoned-up Irishman was playing an intense game of pool —like HB's Surfin' Congressman Dana Rohrabacher hanging out at the Harp Inn in Costa Mesa. Except for his buzz cut, this guy looked nothing whatsoever like the Surfin' Congressman, but I was unable to shake the creepy feeling. Loge dubbed him Dana O'Rohrabacher, which was hella funny if you were there.

Loge is really waggish and un-deadly-serious, especially for a guy whose life has been spent fighting for noble causes. Bono, take note!

We got the futon in Loge's loft, a former carriage house paneled—badly—with cheesy faux oak on the ceiling by a senator who stayed there in the '40s or '50s while his front house was being remodeled. That senator was Joseph McCarthy: good fighter against the dirty Commies, bad handyman.

Virginia is for lovers. I don't know that personally, sadly, but the Georgian mansions that dot the main road (at least after one has passed the creepy Pentagon) do have a certain and-the-rivers-ran-red-with-blood kind of elegance to them. With the snow quieting the hills and valleys, thoughts of barefoot revolutionaries with dysenterous stomachs, walking on their gangrenous feet while their officers stayed warm and cozy in their tents, no doubt heated by burning slaves for firewood, are inescapable.

Through the Appalachians in southwest Virginia, one enters probably the second most beautiful state in the country (after Orrin Hatch's Utah): Tennessee, which rolls on forever. Even in winter, with the grass yellow and the trees nude, the freshness of it all is shocking. For a city girl, the clean air is liable to bring on a lethal case of zits.

Must! Have! Smog!

Knoxville's downtown is deserted after 5 p.m., but the area near the college —sports bars and Taco Bells—showed a glimpse of neon, like a fast debutante in the 1890s flashing some ankle. We settled into Charlie's Sports Grillto watch the West Virginia/Ole Miss game. Sadly, Charlie's was bigger on the inside than we expected and had the feel of a chain. Roxy and I disagree on many things—her idea of fun is stopping and taking a picture in front of each new state sign, and my idea of fun is not stopping and taking a picture in front of each new state sign—but we are completely simpatico when it comes to eating. Down and dirty: the more potential health-code violations, the better. But Charlie's, despite its cleanliness, serves up a plate of what Roxy called "really fucking good ribs," and the rib-eye steak was perfectly fatty. Plus, the salad had actual bacon on it.

Happy, we headed on to Nashville, where we circled around Opry Mills—the natural progression of historic landmark (The Grand Ole Opry) into giant stupid mall. In Opry Mills—Fashion Island, watch out!—they sell speedboats. We were scared and got the hell out. In Nashville proper, the cute, dumb cops will let you make a U-turn in the middle of the street after directing you toward the section where the locals drink. Walking into the Broadway Brewhouse is not a whit different from walking into Costa Mesa's Pierce Street Annex, except that the boys in Nashville hold their liquor better and don't grab at you.

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