It’s a good thing Nashville is not very far from St. Louis, because to say we got a late start the next morning would be an understatement. Somehow, despite refusing to change into my pajamas and sleeping on the couch in my entire outfit, I had the presence of mind to drink about 8 glasses of water throughout the night. Thank God, because my horrible hangover would have been much worse otherwise. I think Lauren and I had great intentions of leaving early the next morning, but that obviously didn’t happen. You know that feeling where you’re nauseous and you know you need to eat, but the idea of eating is the least appealing thing in the world and makes you feel even more sick? Yeah, that was us on Saturday morning. A song came on the radio about whiskey and we immediately turned it off because it was just way too soon. Suffice to say that we decided to skip our first scheduled stop, which was a distillery. That meant that our only stop of the day would be at the Hillybilly Garden and Toyland near Paducah, KY.
I’d like to say that Hillbilly Garden is exactly what it sounds like, but there is no way to mentally prepare for this place. As we pulled in, I was already glaring at Lauren and writing it off as a failure because, well, at first glance it looks like a lot of trash sitting around in someone’s yard. On second glance, it also looks like this, because that’s what it is, but there’s sort of a method to the madness. Anyway, as soon as we hopped out of the truck, we noticed two roosters trying to fight each other and a host of other birds. Not a good omen. A cute barefoot kid came out of the house and told us that someone would be out in a minute to give us a tour. That person happened to be his mother, a kind, warm-hearted woman with a big smile who was, by her own admission, a hillbilly. Lauren quickly told her that we’d like a tour, but that I was afraid of birds. The woman called her daughter over and told her to scare the chickens away. The daughter (who was maybe 7) interpreted this instruction to mean “scare the chickens directly towards the person most terrified of them” and I ran off shrieking. Chickens can go to hell.
The woman’s husband, Keith, came out shortly after to give us a tour of the property. We really had no idea what this entailed, which actually is probably a good thing. Basically, Keith’s grandparents owned the place as a gas station and store back in the 1930s, and after they died, Keith came back to claim the property. He had a tendency to accumulate “junk,” which the neighbors didn’t appreciate, and a legal battle ensued. Ultimately, Keith prevailed and began creating folk art out of all of the landfill castoffs that he could find.
The tour is about an hour long and consists of Keith walking you through the entire yard and showing you each piece of art he has created using junk. Most of the pieces are actually incredibly creative, and he comes up with clever puns to go along with them. A stack of tires becomes “The Leaning Tires of Pisa” and a cemetery of shoes is “The Garden of Lost Soles.” While I got a good number of the jokes, plenty of them were kind of obscure music and movie references that we didn’t really understand, but we made an effort to laugh at Keith’s jokes nonetheless. I think he enjoyed the confused looks on our faces.
The tour ended with a stop at what was Keith’s original vision for the property, Toyland. He began collecting toys when his first (of 6!) kids was born and grew fascinated with them. He has about 20,000 toys in total, but only has enough room to display 3,500 at the moment. No matter, because Toyland was actually really amazing. All of the figures and trains are meticulously lined up and somehow manage not to fall over. It was pretty cool seeing toys from across the generations. I particularly enjoyed the string puppets from NSYNC’s “No Strings Attached” days. I did not enjoy the Rosie O’Donnell doll. Who would give that to their child? Terrifying.
So, if you’re ever near Paducah, KY and you really love bad puns, this is a must-see. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you about, well, all of it.
We spent the whole rest of the car ride trying not to throw up or pass out thanks to the massive hangovers. Lauren had made the mistake of belligerently texting one of our friends in St. Louis pictures of our debauchery the night before with lots of inflammatory statements like “YOU BETTER BRING YOUR A-GAME BECAUSE NASHVILLE IS AMAAAAZZZINNNNNNG, BITCH,” so he was fully prepared to make us pay when we arrived. I couldn’t even bear the thought of drinking again but we had to rally. We were SUPER stoked to see our friends Matt and Colin. You may remember them as 2/5 of the non-murdering group of Navy guys that we met in Japan! Yes, we met random guys and hung out with them in Japan in multiple cities, and yes, we also drove across the country and visited them in their own city. Is that not a thing that people do? Of course, as we headed to the first brewery and drove directly through a pretty bad neighborhood, we immediately had flashbacks to the time they sketchily took us to a bar through a dark, underground parking garage and decided that their plan to kill us was back on. Maybe we should just not visit random men that we meet overseas.
No, they’re awesome. It was just like old times again, which was actually a major concern for me and Lauren as we thought that it might be awkward or just not as fun as Japan. No worries. Except for the fact that we managed to find what can only be described as the actual worst beer in the world (a terrible combination of “tropical teas” and a bitter German wheat beer), it was awesome. Oh, also except for the fact that I felt like I was going to die every time I even smelled alcohol, but the guys were really fun.
Thankfully, we felt considerably less like death the next day, although still not the best, which made me realize how old I’m getting/why I shouldn’t drink like I’m in college anymore when I’m blatantly not. Lauren and I had a ton of stops to make on the way to Tulsa, all of which revolved around Route 66 and the World’s Biggest [insert bizarre attraction here]. We’re suckers for kitsch.
As a huge fan of the University of Texas, Lauren was staunchly morally opposed to even entering the state of Oklahoma. It is a true testament to our friendship that she accompanied me on this trip. Not wanting to let the rivalry go, she pulled out her Colt McCoy Longhorns jersey as soon as we crossed the state line. Good thing I was already wearing my newly purchased Sooners shirt in preparation!
With that, an epic road trip came to a close. In summary, my best friend and I spent 3 days driving across the Bible Belt while nursing soul crushing hangovers. Now that I think about it, that may have been God’s way of sending me a message.