On the Road Again: Notes from the Tour de Beasts

The menu board at Southern Star, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The menu board at Southern Star

So I just got back from the first leg of my book tour for In the Garden of Beasts, and I’ve got lots of intel about hotels, diners and other joints that I really liked. From time to time I’ll pass along descriptions of places I stumbled upon that for one reason or another seem worthy of praise. Please note that no one’s paying me for these recommendations. These are just some nice places that I came across while on the road:

–Nashville: The Hutton Hotel is one of the most cordial and well-appointed hotels I’ve stayed at in the U.S. The exterior doesn’t look like much, frankly, but inside it’s all smart decor and nice people, and some killer wines served at the complementary five o’clock wine reception, a trademark event at Kimpton hotels. It is also the first hotel I’ve come across in America to adopt a system that is commonplace in Europe: A room-key operated power switch. To turn on the electricity in your room, you have to stick your plastic key in a little receptacle by the entry door. When you leave and take your key, you literally shut the room off—and save huge amounts of energy.

Lovely mailbox at the side of a street, in the shape of a catfish

Catfish mailbox, Nashville

–Also Nashville: At lunchtime on May 10, the day Beasts launched, my publicist and friend, Penny, raised the matter of lunch. We had no idea where to go. We could have gone back to our hotel, the Hutton, which has an excellent restaurant, but it suddenly occurred to me that I had an inside line on Nashville: My daughter in Italy, who has a friend who grew up in Nashville. So, thanks to the wonders of technology, I texted her, she consulted her friend, and he came back with the recommendation to go to Rotier’s, on Elliston, and order a cheeseburger, a shake, and any fried vegetable that looked appealing. So, we did, and loved it. I learned later that if you tell people in Nashville that you had lunch at Rotier’s, you suddenly gain a notch in their appraisal. If I lived in Nashville, I’d be there every day, which also means that if I lived in Nashville I would weigh 275 pounds.

–Chattanooga: Here too lunch was the issue, so we did a u-turn on a busy street and pulled up next to a pedestrian, and asked him where we should go for a classic lunch. He thought a moment, and asked, “You want the southern thing, meat and three sides? That kind of place?”

We nodded enthusiastically.

“Well try Southern Star. You make a left up here at Broad, and go another few blocks. It’s on the left.”

Just talking to the guy made us fatter, so we hit the gas and roared on down Broad—well, we were in our rental Hyundai Sonata, so really, we weren’t exactly moonshiners racing along the backroads of Tennessee, but just go with it for now, okay?

We came to a commercial district full of low office buildings, not the kind of locale where I’d expect to find a good lunch joint, but there it was. The restaurant is bright and airy, with menu boards on the wall, and polished concrete floors. I had meatloaf, carrot salad, fried zucchini, potatoes, and iced tea, a perfect lunch. One note about iced tea: In the south you need to decide, do you want your iced tea sweet or unsweetened? I chose sweet, and I have to say—as we told our waiter—it was probably the best iced tea I’d had in my life.

We skipped dessert because we were already making impact vibrations in the surfaces of people’s drinks with every step we took.

We headed on south, toward Atlanta, me idly wondering whether William Tecumseh Sherman—the still-much-reviled Gen. Sherman—traveled this path or not, and wondering whether I should reveal that Gen. Sherman was in fact my great great grandfather. He’s not, of course, but I enjoyed imagining the ruckus that such a disclosure might cause in Atlanta, where I was to speak that night to an auditorium full of history buffs. I certainly would have made headlines if I’d ended up hung from a stanchion in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, though such an outcome, while garnering attention, certainly would have further complicated the life of my publicist, since it’s been at least a year since an author in her charge has been lynched.


After the Window-Sill Wars: Rehabilitation of the Red Rose Army

There is new evidence that elements of the Secret Red Rose Army have dispersed to all parts of the country, doubtless because they fear prosecution by the World Court for their role in the recent unpleasantness on Erik’s window sill, in particular that grotesque incident involving the apple-corer. Surveillance photos have captured what appear to be Army members hiding out in far-flung locales. If you happen to encounter one of these fugitives, please send it to Erik’s agent, and mark the envelope, Att: World Court.

Here’s one of the exiles, photographed on the campus of Vanderbilt University in Nashville. His timing was poor, for he happened to choose a city that of late has been experiencing a plague of cicadas, which emerge every 13 years and spend their days flying into people’s mouths and hair.

A Secret Army figurine spotted in Nashville


Note: Approach these army members carefully. They are desperate and cranky and given to unpredictable behavior. The best technique is to distract them by throwing something in front of them, like a pebble or laptop, and then grab them quickly from behind and drop them into a burlap bag. Then spin around three times and shout, “Monongahela.”

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Erik Larson is the author of six previous national bestsellers—The Splendid and the Vile, Dead Wake, In the Garden of Beasts, Thunderstruck, The Devil in the White City, and Isaac’s Storm— which have collectively sold more than twelve million copies. His books have been published in nearly forty countries.

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