December 2018 – Mark Vawser
Road tripping through the southern states of America was at first not my first choice. I had never been to the US and next to the Revolutionary History of the east, or the glitz and glamour of the west, the southern states that delivered more votes for Trump than any other region didn’t fill me with instant excitement. However, after a quick google, I found the many varied and interesting complexities that are America’s south. Grilled
chicken, catfish, cowboy hats, Elvis, the smooth southern drawl, and most of all Disney World and Universal Studios. As with all things the addition of Harry Potter at Universal Studios sealed the deal and I was off to road trip through the south of America, starting in Dallas, stopping at Memphis, Nashville, Savanah, Orlando, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Houston, San Antonio, before completing the circle back at Dallas. Follow this Aussie boy through the American South as I traverse the red states one Walmart at a time.
Note on the Photography:
This was my first DSLR Camera, the Canon 1300D. This was also my first time using it in any major capacity. 2018 was the beginning of my photography experience and it was this trip that fired my passion for photography.
You will notice that my photos aren’t that good. They were taken by a very green armature, but every adventure has its beginning and this is mine. I hope dear reader that you will see a gradual improvement as this series continues.
Everything’s Bigger in Texas
The expected culture shock of arriving in a foreign land simply didn’t happen. Walking through a Walmart late on my first day was just like walking through any large supermarket/department store in Australia, except for the convenience of having ten stores in one but I’ll get to that later. Watching American television shows all my life it seems has given me the ability to fit in with ease, identifying brands, understanding slang, and deciphering accents. America seems to feel just like any first world, English speaking country, perfectly normal. One thing that is obvious, however, is the sheer size of everything in Dallas, everything was huge. The shopping centers were three stories high with a skating rink in it, the Highways were gigantic, intertwining each other in large loops, the roads are almost always three lanes wide and filled with large trucks (Utes in Australia). It was only after leaving Dallas that I saw my first small European car that populates the roads of Adelaide. The serving sizes are larger than Australia, but not as ridiculously large as tv would have you believe.
Dealey Plaza (December 2018)
A little fuzzy right? This is where I admit that I didn’t know what I was doing with my camera. I had it on manual with no way of knowing how to focus. At least it looks a little retro! If anyone asks that was my intention the whole time.
Yeah everything is bigger in Texas, but it comes at a price. The highways that surround the city of Dallas appear to almost strangle the city. They weave in and out of each other and one wrong turn can leave you on your way to Mexico. The traffic was also expectedly large, hitting peak hour can leave you in bottlenecks that move at a snail’s pace, so make sure you have an iPod or good company. Being in the middle of a desert state their wasn’t many trees, but not to worry the numerous billboards lining the roads will give you plenty to look at. I now have hundreds of numbers to call should an accident befall me, apparently I’m entitled to compensation! The flags ranged from mildly patriotic to U-S-A chanting levels, one car yard had a flag so big it could cover Adelaide. All were at half-mast in honor of the late President George H. W. Bush (Bush Sr, the one that was in the Simpsons). And even though I only saw a dozen Texans wearing cowboy hats instead of the expected hundreds it seems some stereotypes are there for a reason, everything is bigger in Texas.
The Sixth Floor Museum & Dealey Plaza
My first stop in Dallas was the site of it’s greatest tragedy, the spot where John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States was assassinated in 1963. As JFK’s motorcade drove through Dealey Plaza two shots were fired from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository killing the president. The sixth floor is now a museum dedicated to the event and offers a comprehensive account of JFK’s presidency, assassination, and the investigation of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man arrested for the crime.
The museum costs $16 USD and it is worth the money for any history buff. You receive an audio guide with the ticket and once you walk out of the elevator you are guided through exhibits showing the life and presidency of JFK. by the tenth exhibit, things take a somber turn as still shots of the assassination line the walls showing a blow by blow of the event. This is done with as much tact as possible and the goriness of the event is avoided. The showpiece of the museum follows as the corner window that acted as the sniper’s perch is revealed, boxes placed in replication of the environment of the time show how the shooter propped himself up giving him the perfect line of site down towards Dealey Plaza. This exhibit is sealed behind glass but the window next to it shows just how clear the line of sight was, bringing the many conspiracies of that event into question (I’m currently reading up on the many conspiracies of the JFK assassination so stay tuned for a future blog on that can of worms). After the snipers perch the exhibits follow the investigations and the demise of Lee Harvey Oswald, shot before he could be brought to trial. The entire tour took about an hour, although it could be done slowly if one has the luxury to be able to linger. Dealey Plaza itself has changed little, the famous grassy knoll still exists and an ominous ‘X’ marks the spot where JFK was killed with the second shot.
The Perot Museum of Natural History and Science
The Perot Museum of Natural History and Science was informative, to say the least. Six floors of education on dinosaurs, human evolution, the animal kingdom, engineering and the universe, all delivered in interesting and interactive ways that excite children and cause adults to unabashedly nudge hogging kids out of the way so they can have a turn on the earthquake machine! Needless to say, it was enjoyable, and all for just $20 USD.
The Universe floor showed the universe in all its splendour, interactive elements dotted the walls to better engage kids and big kids alike. The centerpiece of the exhibit was a multi-screen (approximately 12 screens) wall that showed each planet in our solar system, its position in relation to the others, and gave a blurb on each. The sweeping shots move from one screen to another as they take you to the edge of the universe. Although only 10 minutes long it is incredibly mesmerizing as it drives home the expansiveness of the universe and just how small we are in the grand scheme of things. Nothing is more humbling than learning about our universe. This exhibit was however just a prelude to the main event.
The next floor housed one of the best collections of Dinosaur fossils I have ever seen. Two Tyrannosaurus rex, a Brachiosaurus, Triceratops, Pterodactyl and many more. Adelaide has only a minimal Dinosaur collection so to see so many in such good condition was awe inspiring. Truly worth the price of admission. To add to this while I was posing under the massive jaw of a Tyrannosaurus rex the lights dimmed and a colourful light show was projected onto the Dino’s making it a family-friendly rave of knowledge.
Honorable mentions go to the gemstone exhibits, they made me want to quit academia and travel into the desert to mine precious stones. and the human body exhibits that had a human brain in a jar right next to multiple Nobel prizes for science and medicine, big brains everywhere!
Final Thoughts: Sundown Towns
Dallas was surprising but in the most expected way. The tourist destinations were great, the exhibits lived up to their promises and the infrastructure was able to handle the crowds with little to no delays. Even the expected street corner hustlers that tried to sell magazines, directions and even conversations were somewhat easy to ignore depending on the individual.
The surprising thing about Dallas for me was the level of poverty found just out of sight, rubbish littered the underpasses and rundown stores dotted the outskirts of the city. There were no suburbs, no houses, just apartments and businesses. The line between a good neighborhood and a bad was so blurred that a nice building could be surrounded by several run-down pawn shops.
As we drove out of Dallas this stark contrast was driven to its extreme as we passed through three small towns so dilapidated that it was surprising that anyone lived there. The housing consisted of prefabricated, thin-walled trailers or ramshackle shacks, half the main streets were home to closed stores advertised for lease, and despite it being midday were almost empty. But as we left theses sundown towns there was always a very large farmstead to greet us, gated, ornate and smelling of wealth these houses looked as if they could buy the town they resided in ten times over. I had expected to see signs of wealth inequality in the worlds biggest capitalist nation but not to this degree, it was surprising, but in an expected way. Welcome to Trump’s America.
*All Photo’s taken by me unless otherwise stated.
Want more? Check out the first leg of my Southern Road Trip below:
Part 2: Memphis
Part 3: Nashville
Part 4: Savannah