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A road trip of sights and sounds suggested by readers

On a cross-country trip, one man rolled with the requests from Times readers who e-mailed ideas for music and food spots.

August 09, 2009|Mark Milian

ACROSS THE COUNTRY — As I thought about my two-week cross-country road trip this summer, I was wary about going it alone. But I found plenty of people to keep me company on the drive -- or rather, many of them found me.

I solicited tips in the Travel section and on our Daily Travel & Deal Blog, ( explaining how I was a Times intern moving to Los Angeles to become a full-time writer and asking readers to send advice on stops along the way of my music-themed trip.

I listed the dozen or so cities where I planned to stay overnight and requested that readers send me their choice concert venues. The overwhelming response transformed my adventure into our adventure.

Over the two weeks, my e-mail inbox and Twitter stream overflowed.

Many people suggested local favorites and hidden gems never found in any travel brochure. I blogged each day about my experiences.

Here is a recap of my trip:

New York

Reader recommendations about the core of the Big Apple were light, so I turned to locals on the streets of SoHo and Brooklyn. An Art Garfunkel look-alike pointed me to a CD release party. Boring. I'd have preferred the sound of silence.

But I found a wild soul concert at a bar in Brooklyn called Union Pool. The Rev. Vince Anderson & the Love Choir entertained and inspired a packed crowd of resident hipsters.

The Fresno native pounded on his keyboard and sang about stories from the Bible while the audience sipped beer and clapped along.

"You are the faithful remnant," Anderson shouted to the audience. "And the remnant is pretty healthy, indeed."

Washington, D.C.

By the second day, I still didn't have many reader picks to choose from. I landed at the Black Cat to see a local band called Mittenfields. The tip came from the band's bass player, David Mann. Kudos to him for the smart self-promotion.

He and his band mates put on a solid indie rock show. Guitarist Sam Sherwood sympathized with my difficulty finding good music here.

"There's not really a scene," he said.


Rolling with the trip's musical theme, I drove directly to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. I caught part of an onstage interview with Darryl McDaniels, member of the pioneering rap group Run-DMC. In front of an audience of local students and teachers, the godfather of hip-hop discussed how the genre should be used to educate.

"A lot of people don't want to use hip-hop as an educational tool," McDaniels said, "because a lot of the people who have been doing hip-hop for the last 15 years have been doing it wrong."

Are you telling me 50 Cent's hit song "How to Rob" isn't inspirational?

After touring the museum, I headed for some of the city's music spots that readers recommended.

One blog reader, who goes by the name Kathy the Great, suggested the Spitfire Saloon, which she accurately described as a "dive punk bar." The gruff, tattooed patrons and the mangled tricycles on the wall scared the bejabbers out of me.


Driving through downtown, I was starting to take notes on the bleak atmosphere of the auto manufacturing city. It quickly became obvious why Detroit ranked at the bottom of a recent TripAdvisor survey of users.

My trek took a detour when I received a message from a Twitter follower about Michael Jackson.

By the time I checked into my hotel, news of his death was spreading. So I hopped back in my car and fired up Google Maps software on my iPhone, entering the words, "Motown Museum."

Juggling the digital map and a camera, I sped to the Motown Historical Museum, where the Jackson 5 had recorded its early hits. By the time I arrived, dozens of people had gathered. I pulled my point-and-shoot camera from my pocket and approached the first person within earshot. "L.A. Times?" asked Richard Wilks, a Detroit local. "Dang, you guys are fast!"

I shot videos of reactions and of people dancing to Jackson songs. I rushed back to my hotel room, edited the video and posted it on YouTube. Within a couple of days, the clip had been viewed half a million times.

Gary, Ind.

Gary was not a planned stop. But Jackson's hometown now seemed like a worthwhile detour.

To say Jackson came from humble beginnings is an understatement.

"You don't want to be here at night," said Paul Warner, a freelance photographer who grew up in a house a few blocks away from the historical Jackson home.

Many had assembled on the Jackson lawn the night before to mourn the pop singer. Several of them stayed there or returned the next morning, carrying souvenirs and CDs.


Leaving Gary in the late afternoon, I made it to the Windy City in time for dinner, landing at Taste of Chicago, the annual weeklong food sampling event that took place while I was there. I managed to try a little bit of Chicago's best, including deep-dish pizza and a juicy Italian beef sandwich. After I met with a colleague from the Chicago Tribune, the night's entertainment was capped with a morsel of heartbreaking blues music at Kingston Mines.


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