Join Gadling and Traveling the American Road at a Los Angeles happy hour!

Our summer long project is coming to an end. For more than two, long months, bloggers Paul Brady and Stephen Greenwood have been wandering across the country, surveying the landscape in Detroit, soaking up the culture in Savannah, visiting Cape Canaveral for the final shuttle launch and then moving west towards the Pacific. It’s been a great few months, but our editorial calendar is full and new projects await, so we’re bringing the boys back to New York City on the 11th of August to dive back in.

Needless to say, we want to wrap things up with a bang.

So to celebrate the conclusion of Traveling the American Road and to send the guys off we’re teaming up with the Los Angeles Consortium of Online Travel to host a happy hour in Venice Beach, California. Please join us at the Hotel Erwin on Wednesday, the 10th of August at 7:30 PM to get the festivities started. We’ll have a great view of the lovely beach, fabulous drink specials for our guests and best of all — prizes to give away to registered attendees. And since we’re capping the happy hour at 75 guests, your chances of winning are pretty high.

Here’s the straight dope:
Where: High, the rooftop lounge at Joie de Vivre’s Hotel Erwin @ 1697 Pacific Ave in Los Angeles, CA.
When: Wednesday, August 10th from 7:30 – 9:30 PM
THE INVITE: Sign up to attend here. We have to cap the attendance at 75, so don’t delay!

Win a Two-Night Trip to Texas with this Traveling the American Road Giveaway


As much as it pains me to write, my road trip across the country will soon come to a close. But it’s not too late for you to get in on one of the many prizes I’ve been giving out along the way. To go out with a bang, I’m giving away a free trip for two to Texas, in partnership with Texas Tourism.


One winner will get a two-night trip for two to Wildcatter Ranch, set on 1,500 picturesque acres of North Texas hills, about 90 miles northwest of Fort Worth. You and a guest will enjoy two nights at the ranch, including breakfast and dinner in their award-winning steakhouse, your choice of a massage or facial, plus a variety of activities such as horseback riding, skeet shooting, archery and ATV tours. All you have to do is get yourself to Texas, and AOL and I will take care of the rest.

To enter, just leave a comment below telling us your favorite part of my Traveling the American Road trip. You’ve got until 11:59 p.m. on August 10 to leave your comment. After that, we’ll randomly select a winner from the entries. Oh, and if you need to catch up on all my travels, you can do that at travelingtheamericanroad.com. You can also see the full terms and conditions of the contest here.

Good luck, future road trippers. If you want a head start on planning your trip to Texas you can grab a guide here.

A Whirlwind Tour of Walt Disney World


I am not, as far as I can tell, in Walt Disney World’s target demographic. I’m not four. I’m not a family man. I’m not Brazilian. I’m not even a fan of animated movies. But to drive through Central Florida after seeing a shuttle launch and pass up the parks? To miss out on a quintessentially American summertime diversion? To skip a chance to meet the one and only Mickey Mouse? I’m not nuts.

Traveling the American Road – A Whirlwind Tour of Disney


My plan was a whirlwind tour of all four of Disney’s parks, trying my best to try what attractions had been added since my last visit, in 2007. Then, I was in town for the opening of Expedition Everest, a ride that challenged my poor tolerance for roller coasters and impressed me with its ability to make visitors feel like they were hiking the Himalayas, even in the heat of Central Florida.

This time, the big draw was the Wild Africa Trek, a new behind-the-scenes tour of the Animal Kingdom that takes visitors behind the fences, out to Disney’s “savanna” and ends with a killer lunch on an African safari-inspired wildlife watching pavilion far from the crowds. To amp up the excitement, trekkers cross a crocodile enclosure on rope bridges, distressed to look rickety even if they were reinforced by steel cables. Anyone who’s seen “Temple of Doom,” though, can’t get past their primal fear of a rope bridge collapse.

I survived, obviously, to see Epcot and its world pavilions. There’s something hilarious about visiting “France,” “Ireland,” “Italy” and “Mexico” when you’re a travel writer. In every one of the miniature countries, I was studying the architecture, comparing it to my memories, figuring out what it is we remember about the places we visit – and wondering why we forget the things we forget. Is that really what the Eiffel Tower looks like, I asked myself, cocking my head, as I couldn’t clearly remember the original’s shape.

At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I tested the limits of my stomach with a ride on the Star Tours simulator, a 3-D ride set in the Star Wars universe, in which C-3PO is an accidental tour guide and passengers fly through the galaxy. A visit to the American Idol Experience impressed not just for its slick production values – from where I was sitting, it could’ve been the real TV show – but also for the talent of the contestants on stage.

I ended my tour at the Magic Kingdom, the park that to me, a person visiting without my kids, seemed the least interesting. But the polish here was the most fine, the smiles on singers the most gleaming, the lawn edging the most precise, the background music the most bubbly. The good news, thanks perhaps to some friends inside Disney: I did manage to meet Mickey. I even put on a set of ears.

Exploring the Double-Edged History of Montgomery, Alabama

In Montgomery, during the Freedom Rides, I heard Martin Luther King say that while Brown v. Board of Education had been the legal turning point in the movement, the Montgomery bus boycott and the sit-ins were the psychological turning point.

So writes Calvin Trillin in a recent New Yorker, reflecting on the civil rights struggle in the deep south, which he covered for Time magazine “from the fall of 1960 to the fall of 1961.” He’s writing, then, on a sort of fiftieth anniversary for the movement, which of course spanned nearly two decades, making any hard and fast anniversary difficult to declare.

Another anniversary looms large in Montgomery this year, that of the outbreak of the Civil War, 150 years ago this past April. The stage was set for a Confederate victory at Fort Sumter, South Carolina when the Montgomery Convention met, in February, in what was the Alabama capitol building’s senate chamber, to organize the new secessionist government.

For both anniversaries, this summer was a fascinating time to drive through Montgomery.

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As Trillin continued in his piece, describing an event commemorating the Freedom Rides held in Jackson, Mississippi this May:

One of [Governor Haley] Barbour’s speeches was at the unveiling of a plaque that marked the old Greyhound station (now restored as an architect’s office) as a stop on what the state is calling the Mississippi Freedom Trail. … Civil-rights-history buffs can soon be guided to, among thirty or so other places, the university where Clyde Kennard applied for admission in the fifties, only to be framed and thrown into jail. They can see where Medgar Evers was shot, in 1963, and where another N.A.A.C.P. leader, Vernon Dahmer, was killed in 1966, when the Klan firebombed his house.

The names Evers and Dahmer are engraved, as are many others, on the Civil Rights Memorial outside the Southern Poverty Law Center in downtown Montgomery. Designed by Maya Lin and inspired by King’s paraphrasing of a biblical passage–”Until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream”–it’s a somber fountain in black granite, honoring those murdered in the years following Brown v. Board of Education. A group of school kids walked up at the same time as me, touching the names on the slab, remembering the dead. Inside the center, a melted clock hangs on the wall next to the security checkpoint, explaining the need for a magnetometer and X-ray machine: The clock was damaged in a fire sparked by Klansmen at the SPLC in 1983.

The center is on the same street as the First White House of the Confederacy, the modest but stately mansion of Jefferson Davis, the southern states’ first president. It now sits on Washington Avenue, across from the capitol building, though it was originally located at the intersection of today’s Bibb and Lee streets. Administered by a White House Association, it’s filled with some of the Davis family’s effects, period furniture and supremely knowledgable docents, selected by the Association to educate the public on the republican nature of the C.S.A. and its Civil War-era history.

Less than a mile away, the Rosa Parks Museum memorializes the life and momentous contribution of Montgomery’s most famous seamstress. Owned by Troy University, the building is on the historic site of the Empire Theatre, where Parks refused to give up her seat on December 1, 1955. (The bus on which she made her stand by refusing to stand is now in Dearborn, Michigan.) The Montgomery Bus Boycott began immediately after, with the support of King, who at the time was preaching at a church on Dexter Avenue. Visitors to Montgomery can tour the landmark, now embellished in name as the “King Memorial Baptist Church.” It’s where King, with the help of Parks and many others, planned the bus boycotts that helped secure desegregation of public transportation nationwide.

The city, as Mississippi has done with its Freedom Trail, embraces the Civil Rights struggle as a tourist draw, putting together an easy-to-follow itinerary and audio tour of its most notable historical sites. Montgomery also looks further into the past: Visitors can also follow a Confederate Trail itinerary, complete with a stop at the First White House. Following both routes gives visitors a fascinating double-edged look at the complicated history of Alabama.

Atlanta, an Olympic City 15 Years Later


Fifteen years have passed since Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic torch, Kerri Strug landed her heroic single-footed vault and Eric Robert Rudolph detonated a pipe bomb in downtown Atlanta, during the 100th anniversary of the modern Olympic Games. Well-considered development for the event has since transformed the city, which continues to draw new residents, start-up businesses and flights to Hartsfield-Jackson, the world’s busiest airport since 1998. In the last fifteen years, Atlanta has become the south’s booming, sprawling capital and an example of what urban development can achieve–and not achieve–over the long term.

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The most gleaming example of the power of Atlanta is the Georgia Aquarium, the world’s largest, located in downtown, hundreds of miles from the ocean. Built at a cost of roughly $300 million, its main tank holds 6.3 million gallons, stocked with whale sharks, manta rays, reef sharks, tiger sharks, surgeonfish, jacks, grouper, snapper, sawfish and something called a wobbegong. Elsewhere are penguin exhibits, an otter enclosure, a Beluga whale tank and touch pools, where kids squeal as they pet live rays and bonnethead sharks. According to its official FAQ, fishing poles are not allowed inside the aquarium.

Built downtown, the aquarium has drawn more than 10 million visitors since its opening in 2005, just north of Centennial Park, the epicenter of the games. In its orbit are other development projects, including Turner Field, the former Olympic Stadium converted for baseball after the games and now home to the Atlanta Braves. Centennial Park isn’t simply a monument to games gone by: the weekend I visited, the National Black Art Festival was taking place in the park and selling out nearby hotels.

In Midtown, arts are an ever-growing draw, starting with the always-expanding High Museum of Art, which doubled in size in 2002 when starchitect Renzo Piano added three buildings, including one with a cheese grater roof that diffuses natural light into the contemporary galleries. (A reflective Anish Kapoor sculpture reminiscent of his Cloud Gate in Chicago was a visitor favorite on the day I visited.)

Not long ago, The Wall Street Journal reported,

The central neighborhood of Midtown was long desolate and undesirable, despite being home to the High Museum of Art and the Fox Theater. Today, it’s overflowing with new condo developments. … In 2007, the nearby Alliance Theatre cemented its place as a performing arts hotspot with a regional Tony Award. At night, new clubs offer first-listens of what could become the next big hip-hop track.

In Buckhead, first-time visitors–like me–are stunned by the scale of development; it’s a city within a city. Young people from across the south flock here, in part for the rowdy bar scene but also for the economic opportunities–and the fact that all the other 20-somethings seem to be moving here. There are chain restaurants and stores on seemingly every corner, but some local entrepreneurs are giving it a go, with shops and restaurants and even, yes, food trucks. On my visit, Taqueria Tsunami hadn’t yet opened to serve its “Pacific Rim tacos,” much to my disappointment.

Back in downtown, progress continues. The Federal Transit Administration will grant the city $47 million in federal money for a downtown streetcar project, on which construction should start imminently. Secretary Ray LaHood says the new circulator, connecting Centennial Park and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, will employ nearly 1,000 people and drive economic growth downtown. And at the historic site on Auburn Avenue, preserving King’s boyhood home and neighborhood? The city is using TARP money to make capital improvements.

Seems the only thing that needs an update is Varsity, the much loved but well past its prime drive-in that slings greasy burgers overlooking the always-jammed I-85. Atlanta could do something about the gridlocked traffic, too, but people keep moving here, 15 years after the city’s global coming out party.