Excerpt from a piece I wrote for Charleston Magazine, published as part of the “On the Road” series…
Maybe it doesn’t make much sense to drive all afternoon for a maraschino-red-tinted hot dog, just-seared on a flat-top grill and served with chili, thick-cut fries, and a tall cup of soda poured over flaky-crunchy ice. But every road trip needs a goal, and somehow the ad jingle of a 91-year-old middle Georgia hot dog joint – “I’d go a long way for a Nu-Way” – had kept us going for a couple hundred miles.
The destination was Macon, Georgia that sunny Thursday – for some music, history and sightseeing, and of course, to check out the narrow linoleum and chrome Nu-Way Weiners store downtown on Cotton Avenue. This southern river and railroad crossroads is a place I’d often heard of, but hadn’t yet had the chance to know in person. It’s one of those legendary music cities of the South, with a Memphis-style mix of urban and rural scenery. So ripe for soulful music, it’s said that here – 80 miles south of Atlanta – that Otis Redding, James Brown and Little Richard made some of their best performances. When you hit Macon, the Second Street exit will take you right onto Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., crossing over the chocolate-milk looking Ocmulgee River and underneath railroad trestles as it leads into the downtown. Pretty soon you’ll see modern, hulking museum buildings to honor Georgia sports and music. (The next addition to the museum district will be huge new facilities for the Tubman African American Museum.) And you can stop into the Welcome Center at the base of Cherry Street, housed in a grand old train terminal. That’s where we went first, and where I picked up brochures and asked for directions to the Nu-Way. The desk worker said, “you should know they have a real different taste.”
Besides a cherry-pop red hot dog with chili (with a little grill grease, delicious), and a Coke with excellent soft-crunch ice at the Nu-Way counter, Macon really came to life when we found the music. Down on Cherry Street there’s a jazz supper club, where couples are seated at candlelit tables by a hostess and then served cocktails – and food if you like – while the live music plays. The night we were there, the Macon Blues Legends were onstage. Lead singer James Duncan told stories of the Macon music scene, sang “Dock of the Bay,” “Hound Dog,” “Mustang Sally,” and his own 1960s hit “Wet Pillow.” And before he finished his set, the smooth-voiced singer talked of the recent funeral of his friend James Brown.
“There were so many people lined up that I couldn’t get a seat until somebody sang this song,” he said. Then the band hit the first beats of “Sex Machine,” the supper club crowd went wild with shouts and dancing, and I couldn’t be happier that I’d finally made it to Macon.
- Sandy Lang, March 2007