St. Louis Zoo To Open Animal-Themed Hotel

The St. Louis Zoo has some major expansion plans in store for the next several decades, including an open savannah, a gondola crossing the park, a formal restaurant and a boutique hotel. The Missouri zoo will be making big changes to their existing park and developing a new site, bringing the total campus to over 100 acres, and creating new animal habitats and attractions. Don’t get ready to book yet, the full strategic plan is not due until the end of 2014, and construction could still be well into the future.

Where else can you overnight with animals, even if you don’t have kids?
Cincinnati Zoo has several after-hours options for families and kids, such as family camping outside the giraffe exhibit or inside the manatees building. You can even travel with the zoo on an African safari to Kenya.

Cleveland Zoo has a variety of fun overnight programs for children, but the adults have the option of a cash bar and make-your-own s’mores in the summer months. Costs are $90 to $300, depending on tent size.

The Houston Zoo Wild Winks program is primarily for children, but private events can be arranged. Want to sleep without the fishes? On November 1, adults can attend the annual Feast with the Beasts fundraiser event with 80 local restaurants providing food and drinks, animal appearances, and a performance by Smash Mouth. The zoo also hosts trips to Yellowstone, Alaska and Kenya.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park regularly offers “roar and snore” overnight camping excursions for children and families, and an “adults-only” option where you can learn animal facts for mature audiences only. Tickets range from $140-$264 per person, depending on age, membership, and tent size.

The Washington National Zoo hosts adults only for summer snore & roars including wine and cheese and an after-hours tour. Families and kids can choose their favorite animal or regional tour, from Amazonia to chimpanzees, but eat before you arrive, dinner is not on the menu.

Have A Heart: How This Organ Meat Is Eaten Around The World

Americans are frequently credited with having a lot of heart, but when it comes to eating them, we’re not so hip on the idea. Even though offal, or “nose-to-tail” eating has been on-trend for some years now, a lot of people still flinch at the idea of dining on animal heart.

The reality is, heart is a delicious, healthy, versatile meat, devoid of the strong flavor possessed by most (improperly prepared) organ meats. My chef friend Ryan Hardy says, “The heart is a muscle, just like loin or shoulder.” A former farmer who makes his own charcuterie, Ryan’s made a name for himself with dishes like veal heart scallopine, and other rustic, meaty treats.

The rest of the world uses the hearts of all sorts of critters, from frog to horse, in a variety of ways. In honor of our own heart-centric holiday (that’s Valentine’s, y’all), I’ve provided a list of the most well known dishes, along with some modern interpretations of classic recipes, by some of the nation’s most acclaimed chefs.

One of the tastiest/least frightening of heart dishes are these skewered and grilled chunks of beef heart from Peru. Although anticuchos can be made with the hearts of other species, corazon de vaca is the most popular, and sold by street food vendors across the country, and in other parts of South America.

Cobra heart
We’ve all seen it on the Travel Channel, whether it’s “No Reservations,” “Bizarre Foods,” or some other show. Or perhaps you’ve experienced it for yourself: the old, snake-heart-in-a-shot-of-firewater, or swallowing the still-beating-cobra or frog heart. It’s what men in parts of Asia use in place of Viagra, and frankly, I’d take impotence, any day. For anyone who’s ever stared into a bottle of rice whisky, cloudy with flecks of tissue, and observed a bobbing gray blob of reptile or amphibian heart, you know what I’m talking about.
The beloved national dish of Scotland consists of a sheep’s stomach stuffed with a highly-seasoned mixture of the animal’s lungs, heart and liver, mixed with oatmeal. If that doesn’t tempt you, perhaps the cooking technique will. Boiling is nothing if not sexy.

Originally, this term referred to a stew of game birds, and dates back to the 16th century. Today, it refers to the edible organs – usually heart, liver, and gizzard – of poultry, which are used for making gravy. Tip: Caramelize these suckers before attempting to make stock and/or ragù from them; it makes all the difference in depth of flavor in the final dish. Serve atop fresh pappardelle pasta, and you have a dish that says, “I love you.”

Coer de Veau Farci
This classic French dish from centuries past consists of veal heart stuffed with forcemeat (often mushrooms) and wrapped in caul fat, before being cooked in the oven. It’s served with a reduction of the pan juices and white wine enriched with butter. According to “Larousse Gastronomique,” the French bible on all things culinary, “Pig or sheep hearts are used to make a ragout or a civet [a game stew thickened with blood].”

In the contemporary world, heart is growing more mainstream thanks to the work of chefs and food personalities. For example, last June, I attended a cooking demo by Andrew Zimmern at the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen. The theme was “Game On!” and Zimmern prepared a handful of dishes utilizing oft-unloved animal parts. He converted the dubious, especially with his grilled venison hearts with arugula, sauce Gribiche and shallot rings

Another acquaintance of mine, Jonathon Sawyer, chef/owner of Cleveland’s acclaimed The Greenhouse Tavern, is serving up confit beef heart paprikash (with bacon, onion, smoked paprika, steamed potatoes and spaetzel) as part of this year’s Valentine’s Day Menu. I asked Jonathon what had inspired this untraditional take on paprikash, which usually calls for chicken meat (heart-free).

He told me, “It was partly inspired by my travels in Europe. When cooking things like offal at the restaurant, we like to use familiar flavors that encourage our guests to give it a try. To me, nothing is more comforting than a big bowl of Hungarian paprikash just like Grandma Szegedi used to make.”

That, my friends, is love.

[Photo credits: heart, Flickr user Baie.; haggis, Flickr user CasadeQueso]

Cleveland New Mexico: Where Cars Go To Die

A shabby peach convertible hogged the front yard. It stretched out like a sunbathing teenage girl would – at a long diagonal, facing the street, just begging to get picked up.

I walked right up to her, crouching down at the battered grill, where both headlights were missing, like gems pried out of a ring’s bed. I’d forgotten how much headlights, when you’re squarely in front of an old car, look like eyes. In this case: doe-eyes, blank and coquettish.

I had just a moment to photograph; the dogs would soon bark. Whose dogs? Anyone’s dogs. Everyone’s dogs. In Cleveland, a one-street town deep in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo mountains, I could count on two things: rusty cars, crowding front and backyards, and dogs, roaming said yards, ready to bark at me.

I’d first chanced upon Cleveland on a road trip from Taos – a long, meandering ride through fields and hillsides where the chipping hoods of old sedans kept peeking out of the sagebrush. New Mexico, I’d decided, was where cars go to die.

But nothing prepared me for the Mora Valley. Here was a place with more dead cars than living people. They filled pastures and slumped down ravines, their tires folded over in rolls, windshields cracked like lightning bolts. Two hours southeast and many mountain passes from Taos, I found myself in the true rust belt of America, wondering what joker named it Cleveland.

%Gallery-171373%In fact, this town was originally called San Antonio, founded in 1835 along a skinny river, 7,000 high in the sierras, in the northern reaches of what was then Mexico. Only in 1892 did San Antonio rechristen itself Cleveland (after Grover, the American President), for the purpose of getting a US post office. Still, Cleveland belonged to the Wild West, a town of mills and saloons, murders and feuds, hidden in the mountains and guarding a culture all its own.

I tried to find out more about Cleveland by asking around Taos. All people seemed to know, though, was a story about a bear. They told it like a tall tale. Once, not so long ago, an old lady was cooking in her kitchen. A black bear let itself in and attacked the cook. One Taos man had this to add to Cleveland’s lore: “It’s the Appalachia of New Mexico.” Back in high school, he was afraid of Cleveland guys. Something about shotguns.

Still, Cleveland called me. Those cars. All that rust. I’m no automobile expert; it’s antiques – the kind not at all in mint condition – that get me. I love the earth-tone palette, history’s whisper, the wear and tear of a couple lifetimes. But it was the way these old cars mingled and merged with the desert that so pleased my eye. The once-shiny work of the factory, reclaimed by the tan earth.

So I went back to Cleveland with a simple plan: I’d walk into the yards most dense with junkers and start photographing. I counted on four things happening. One, I’d get to admire the rusty beauties up close. Two, someone would come outside and ask what on earth I was doing. Three, I’d smile, give a wave, and dial up the charm before anyone could pull a gun. Four, they’d tell what was up with Cleveland.

There’s no pretty sign welcoming you in cursive letters to Little Cleveland. Instead, a mangled white Ford sits atop a hill like a giant lawn ornament. I’d taken no more than three steps towards it, hardly lifted my camera, when the barking began.

I didn’t look at the dogs, well able to imagine their teeth. Instead, I watched a silhouette fill the doorway of the trailer just behind the car. A man. Shirtless. I waved at his fluid silhouette and hoped he’d take my side.

Rick wore just jeans, plus a great mane of black hair that would make many women jealous. His body was lean but sinewy. I was pretty sure he could lift that dead Ford with two hands.

Why so many junk cars in Cleveland? I asked.

Rick widened his eyes at me. “Because people don’t want to get rid of ’em!” he cried, like my question was all wrong. Like maybe I should be asking why anyone throws anything away in this world, certainly here, deep in the mountains, where even a humble man has plenty of room.

Rick told me about a nephew, in Colorado, who’s real handy with cars. One day, Rick hoped, the nephew would turn these pieces back into a car. We stared at the hunks of Rick’s dismembered Ford, most of them stuffed in the open trunk. A side door bent outward like a giant metal wing. The sunroof was wide open, ready to collect rain. Yes, it was raining. A little, then a lot.

Rick pointed up his steep, dirt driveway. “That’s about to be a river.”

Rain soaked the valley of dead cars while I took cover in my living car. It was a borrowed sedan with Texas plates, which could be a liability in this town. The first settlers here built their homes in a tight line to protect against attacks. The Comanches were a threat, but so were nearby Texans, who led a raid here in 1843.

To this day – and even through sheets of summer rain – you can see traces of Hispanic influence all down the main drag. The busiest restaurant in town makes a single promise outside – TAMALES – and down at the gas station, you can’t miss the assurance that red and green chilies are in stock. Sure enough, I found the local pepper for sale in little pouches, easier to reach than a Slim Jim.

The woman working the counter is the daughter of a serious junk car collector. “He’s got a ’29, a ’48, a ’49 …,” she rattled off the make of her dad’s prized vehicles, pausing to remember some year in the 1970s – the youngest of her dad’s other kids.

But why so many? I knew that New Mexico had a long past, that people here hung onto its relics, and that rust was more of an aesthetic than an eyesore. But why so much of it in Cleveland?

“They’re waiting for an offer,” the man in line behind me said.

That’s just how it looked across the street, where the peach convertible showed off her curves, top down. I’d just risen to my feet to peek in the convertible’s open (and garbage-stuffed) cabin, when the dogs began again. Yipping this time, sounding safely puny. It was just enough noise, though, to tip someone off.

“Hi there,” a next-door neighbor appeared. He was built like a cop, bulky up top, but rather than kick me off the property, he lead me right into his neighbor’s backyard, where the real beauts were – the junk cars nobody was angling to sell.

I followed my guide through weeds, over woodpiles, past an ochre van with a bedroom’s worth of clothes creeping up its intact windows; past a long black hearse of a car with a tree branch resting across its windshield like a third wiper; past a white sedan, so mottled with dust it looked scaly.

I nearly missed the car tucked behind the house, reachable from someone’s bedroom window. A tree had risen through it, wedging between car body and bumper, climbing straight towards the clearing sky.

You can look at a car and more or less tell from its curves or angles what era it’s from. There are certain giveaways: rocket-like taillights, airplane hood ornaments, grills like gangster teeth. But behold a car that a tree has grown through and you get a sense of how very long it’s been junked.

Back on Route 518, I set out to crown a junk car king. The guy with the old Wagoneers, preppy misfits in their green and navy stripes? The school bus junkie, his property overtaken by giant metallic bees?

But I knew the junk car kingdom when I saw it; anyone would. Picture an automobile show, with one classic car from the past ten decades, left to rot in a field. Both sides of the main drag were edged with old sedans and vans and one truck whose crooked grill looked punched in, like a hockey player’s teeth. And behind it all, like an afterthought, a big barn of a house.

I smelled grass – freshly-cut – as soon as I cracked the car door. Strange, I thought. In the rare places where grass grows in New Mexico, people aren’t much into mowing. Just across the two-lane road, I spotted a couple men in work gloves doing something even stranger than cutting grass. Something I didn’t think happened in Cleveland. They were throwing things away.

Luis seemed relieved to take a break from clearing junk. Dressed from head to toe in black, he wore glasses with a glare so strong I couldn’t look him straight in the eye. The whole time we talked, Luis never quit rubbing his sore, gloved hand. “You wouldn’t believe how much we’ve cleared!”

But I did. To our left was a heap of garbage the size of your standard cabin. It wouldn’t disappear until many trucks took many trips.

Luis told me how many whiskey bottles he’d chucked today, how many rattlesnakes he’d scattered today, and how the owner of this house would bristle if he knew about today’s junk clearing. Raymond was in a rehabilitation hospital, after a bad fall. If he recovered and came back, he’d find only his house here, decades of garbage taken out.

“Have you heard about the bear attack?” Luis asked.

I nodded. In fact, I’d been meaning to ask someone whether it was true.

“That happened here,” he said.

By “here,” I thought Luis meant Cleveland. He meant the big barn of a house at our backs. The bear broke into Raymond’s kitchen, attacking and killing his mother.

The scrape marks across the front door were, in no uncertain terms, the work of a large claw. The door’s glass pane, which the bear pushed through, still hadn’t been replaced. Like so many of Cleveland’s scars and bruises, these were left raw and legible – indefinitely so.

The story Luis told me got more and more bleak. The bear attack was gory, and Raymond was the first on the scene. He didn’t take care of himself, drank too much, hardly washed his clothes. I felt like I was hearing the tale of the town’s fallen man. Until, that is, we got back on the topic of junk cars.

Raymond did one thing right. He invested in old cars, rare cars, cars other people scrapped without thinking twice. He parked them on both sides of the road, behind the woodpile, between crab apple trees, and just waited it out. Recently, a couple from Oklahoma was driving through Cleveland. They made an offer on one of his junkers. From the sky fell $6,000.

“Pretty smart, right?” Luis asked, eyebrows lifting, finally catching my eye. I couldn’t disagree. And I got the sense that this story – more than the bear story – hovered over this town, fueling the hopes of car collectors. You could call the men of Cleveland hoarders; you could also call them dreamers. Keeping a junk car in view, right out your window, I realized, feeds a vital fantasy: that one day, you might just have more.

I was about ready to drive off, but wanted a moment alone with the old cars of Cleveland. Spotting an isolated lot, I gunned it down a gravel road towards a cluster of tanks, cranes and the most beautiful old cars I’d seen all day: a pair of pastel ’51 Pontiacs.

What nature had done with these two Pontiacs was about to make my click finger sore. Purple blossoms sprayed out from the open engine. Tan brambles claimed the steering wheel. A riot of weeds hid the seat cushions. And on the round, red-speckled hips of both cars, the silver insignia with a Native American profile, shone like a day-old coin.

Any minute now, the sun would find an opening in the lavender clouds cottoning over the valley. It was the perfect finale, save the sound of car wheels on a gravel road.

“Can I help you?” asked a man riding shotgun in a modern SUV. His son was driving. I sensed more people in the backseat. Jacobo, owner of this tank yard, had brought the entire family to find out what I was doing here.

“I’m just photographing old cars,” I said, ready to put two hands up. I had, though, one thing going for me: I loved Jacobo’s Pontiacs, and so did Jacobo. Fiercely. That’s probably why I hadn’t gotten shot in Cleveland today. The old cars were the town pride, and I was framing them. So I was cool, I was let in, and before I knew it, I was following Jacobo down muddy roads, past dead tractor trailers, so he could show me the army green truck just like on “M*A*S*H.”

Propped on wooden planks like a washed-up boat, the “M*A*S*H” truck was hidden behind a barn. You could still make out the Red Cross insignia, but not for much longer. Side mirrors hung on by bent twigs of metal. Just like on “M*A*S*H,” but phenomenally beat up.

Jacobo’s entire family waited in the running truck while I crept around the dead one. What else, I wondered, was hidden off route 518? A first edition limousine? Train cars? Some Rolls Royce entwined by cacti? How much potential were the people of this town sitting on?

The climb out of Cleveland was steep; my view was aerial within minutes. I looked down over the pristine expanse of green, unlittered from this height. The Mora Valley could pass for a Promised Land up here. It dawned on me, foot pressed hard against the gas, that no one had given me the most practical reason to let sleeping cars lie in Cleveland. Your grandfather’s old Chevy probably wouldn’t make it over these peaks, and any truck that dragged it would have to work mighty hard.

And yet I found an old school bus trying its best, pulled over at a scenic overlook where I, too, paused for rest. A scruffy man in oil-stained jeans sat on the bottom step of the bus he’d just bought at auction. A chiropractor, he rides through Cleveland every now and again, ready to buy. A lot of guys, he confessed, turn him down.

“They say no?” I was as amazed as amused. All those guys talking potential, quoting me numbers: I loved the image of them shaking their heads when the moment of sale came to pass.

“It’s complicated,” he told me, gazing into the clean panorama of pines. “You have to understand the psyche of New Mexico.”

I ran through all the answers I’d collected in Cleveland, reasons for the abundance of junk cars. “The laziness,” said the gas station cashier, the only woman I’d spoken to all day. Another person said sentimental value: “might be the first car their dad drove.” A shy man watching me photograph by his barn brought up scrap metal; he would one day scrap his broken bus, but first, wanted to build a shed for it (yes, a shed to protect what he planned to scrap).

As for Jacobo, whose Pontiacs are allegedly worth $35,000 a piece, he chalked it up to liberty. Old cars keep a man free, he said, unlike the computerized cars of today, which authorities can track. He preferred a car no one could follow, and that any good mechanic – a friend, preferably – could fix.

I’d given up hope that any two Clevelanders would answer alike. People seemed to use the junk car question to just tell me about their town, their ways. I wondered whether we could all do this – define ourselves, quite well, by the things we won’t give up. What other people part with – easily, ritually – and we cannot.

Talking junkers, Clevelanders painted themselves sentimental and hopeful and suspicious and proud. They like to sit on potential, uncommonly patient. They’ll wait for decades, ready for someone to make an offer, ready to cash in, or ready to say no, and keep what’s always been theirs.

[Photos by Colleen Kinder]

Presidential Road Trips You Can Take This Weekend

Road trips taken over the weekend can get us away from our normal routine and surroundings without a lot of planning or cost involved. Some people would like to get away from election season ads on television, websites, newspapers and magazines. Others are really into the process of selecting the next president of the United States and look for ways to feed their addiction. Here are some easy fixes for travelers who just can’t get enough of the election year hoopla.

Stop by any 7-11 store and cast your vote by simply buying a drink to participate in their 7-Election. A blue or red cup choice counts as your vote for either candidate and can contribute to a historically precise way of predicting the election outcome.

2004, the 7-Election predicted Bush would defeat Kerry 51 to 49 percent.
Actual vote: Bush 50.7 percent, Kerry 48.3 percent.

2008, the 7-Election Obama would defeat McCain 52 to 46

2012 election running totals are posted on the 7-11 website.

The Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas, features exhibits, special events, and educational programs. Like other presidential libraries and museums, replicas of the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room are a highlight of a day-trip visit.

Permanent exhibits utilize documents, photographs, videos and interactive stations. The National Archives has information on all the presidential libraries, mostly located east of the Rocky Mountains.

The Sixth Floor Museum At Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, formerly known as the Texas School Book Depository has a permanent exhibit featuring films, photographs and artifacts that chronicle President John F. Kennedy’s life, death and legacy.

Another exhibit in Dealey Plaza, has been designated as a national landmark. The grassy knoll of Dealey Plaza is a small, sloping hill inside the plaza that became infamous following the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

The birthplace of President Grover Cleveland in Caldwell, New Jersey, has historical significance dating back to 1881 when Cleveland was running for governor of New York. Like other presidential birthplaces, the Grover Cleveland site preserves artifacts from Cleveland’s early years including his cradle and original family portraits.

Even those with no plans to travel (except out of the United States if their candidate does not win) have some help. JetBlue’s Election Protection will fly about 1,000 disappointed voters out of the country (and back) the day after the election.

“We decided to give people a chance to follow through on their claim to skip town if their candidate comes up short,” Marty St. George, senior VP of Marketing for JetBlue said in a Time report.

Still, if a road trip this weekend is in your plans, here are some tips for making it a great one.

[Photo Credit: 7-eleven]

The Southern Road: Traveling Through The New Industrial America

If you’re not from the American South, you probably have an image of it in your head. It might have squealing pickup trucks and Daisy Dukes. Or hoop skirts and cotton plantations from “Gone With The Wind.” Maybe the streetcars of New Orleans, or the twang of Paula Deen.

What if I told you that the American South has become a land of opportunity, where people no longer have to leave home to find their fortunes? What if you knew that more than a third of all the cars sold in the United States are made there? And that its population is no longer just white, black, and Hispanic, but European and Asian?

In August, I traveled 4,000 miles over two weeks across the New Industrial South. I plotted a road trip that took me to all the car and truck plants between Mississippi and South Carolina that have been built in the past two decades. I talked to autoworkers and managers, chefs and mayors, university officials and farmers, wait staff and retirees.

And I came away thinking that people up north have no idea what’s happened below the Mason Dixon line. Thanks to the auto industry, and everything that came with it, the South is full of cities where there’s been growth, where people buy new cars and homes, and send their kids to new schools and to play on new skate parks. Towns have new city halls. Instead of selling the past, economic developers are salivating over a new future.

If you only visit one of these places, say, Birmingham, Alabama, you see some of this, but not all of it. Driving the entire region, however, fills in the picture in a complete way.

Over the next weeks, we’ll be exploring the impact of the South’s new industry in “The Southern Road: Traveling Through The New Industrial South.” We’ll have lots of tips to help you plan your own southern road trip.

Most of all, we’ll provide impressions. And this was my main one.

Traveling the Southern Road made me think this is what it must have been like in Detroit, and Cleveland, and Gary, Indiana, and Pittsburgh for our parents and grandparents. While those cities are striving to write their next chapters, you can go see the story of the new American economy playing out right now, all across the South.

%Gallery-164205%The contrasts are striking, beginning with terrain. My trip began in my hometown, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Once I passed Lexington, Kentucky, en route to Greenville, South Carolina, I found myself driving around sweeping curves and up and down hills. As I crossed Tennessee and North Carolina, I was in mountains. And the geography stayed interesting as the miles clicked up, reminded me quite a bit of New England, only lush and verdant in a different way, with live oaks, moss and pines.

The variety was staggering. If you prefer to stay in luxury hotels and dine at some of the country’s top-rated restaurants, you can do that in Chattanooga, Tennessee, now the home of Volkswagen’s new plant. Or in Birmingham, Alabama, which has Mercedes-Benz just west of town and Honda within an hour’s drive to the east. Downtown Greenville, South Carolina, bustles at night, in no small part due to the BMW plant right by the airport.

Do you want to couple history with your auto town visit? Then head for Montgomery, Alabama. That’s where Hyundai built its first American factory, only 10 minutes from the spot where Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat. Near Tupelo, Mississippi, there’s a brand new Toyota factory a few exits down from Elvis Presley’s birthplace and the hardware store where he bought his first guitar.

Perhaps you’d like to see what happens to a small southern town when a car plant becomes its neighbor. Canton, Mississippi, fits that bill. So do Lincoln, Alabama, and West Point, Georgia. These towns also have gorgeous lakes and recreational areas only a stone’s throw away.

Many of the plants are open for tours, and the most elaborate, like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and VW, have visitor centers where you can drop in even if you’re not going to see how the cars are built. Several of the plants have gift shops, where you can buy golf balls, shot glasses, T-shirts and picnic baskets. (Too bad Kia’s gift shop isn’t open to the public because it had the cutest souvenirs – the toy hamster and sock monkey that have appeared in its ads.)

Other plants don’t allow the public to visit, but even if you don’t set foot in one of the factories, it’s easy to spot what happens when one of these big auto plants comes to town.

The first thing you might notice is new highway exits, new overpasses and new roads around the plants. They’re often part of the incentives that the states paid to land these factories.

The next thing to look for is development. Fast food restaurants and new hotels are the first signs of growth. But you’ll also see billboards for new subdivisions, and you’ll notice even more in the way of smaller factories – these have been opened by the suppliers to these big car companies. Often, they’re set next to the freeway a few miles down, because they often sell parts to more than one automaker.

What I found on the Southern Road is that the impact of these factories goes a lot deeper than what you can see on the surface. When you have newcomers from Germany and Japan and Korea, their culture comes with them.

That’s why you’ll find the makings for a Japanese breakfast, like miso soup and steamed rice, on the breakfast buffet at the Lexington, Kentucky, Residence Inn. That’s why you can now rent a loft apartment for business entertaining at Soby’s, the popular restaurant in Greenville – because BMW and other European companies wanted a private place for a small group.

To be sure, the South hasn’t become one big Manhattan, and no one would mistake any of these cities for Los Angeles. Southern culture is still widely apparent, from men automatically holding open doors for women, to gas station lunch counters and lots of fast driving. Divert from your Mapquest directions, and you’ll find long stretches of farmland and dusty roads.

But you can stop for Starbuck’s on the way to your plant tour. And you might even wonder, “What would it be like to live here?”

Micheline Maynard is a writer and author based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She previously ran the public media project Changing Gears, and was Detroit bureau chief for the New York Times.

Setting Up Your Trip:

These are some of the car companies that have public tours or facilities for visitors.

BMW Zentrum, Greer S.C. (plant tours, customer delivery center, and more). Open Monday-Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Call 1-888-TOUR-BMW or

Mercedes-Benz Visitor Center, Vance, AL (museum and plant tours). Museum open daily, tours given Tuesday-Thursday. Call 888-286-8762 or

Volkswagen, Chattanooga, AL. (gift shop and tour) Eight tours a week, Tuesday through Friday at 9 a.m. and 1:30 pm. Inquiries:

Hyundai, Montgomery, AL (visitors center and tour). Tours given Monday, Wednesday, Friday, also a Thursday evening tour. Call 334-387-8019 or

Nissan, Canton, MS (gift shop and plant tour) Tours by reservation. Call 601-855-TOUR.

Honda, Lincoln, AL (plant tour) Tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. By reservation at