020411 Muhammad Ali Center, Louisville, KY

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On February 4th, 2011 I got up and out of the hotel pretty early; we had a great big day ahead.  M’lady and I headed straight downtown, parked and did a walkabout.  Found a great little bakery, two coffees and two enormous breakfast-eliminating donuts for total of $3, or about what a tall latte would cost at Starbucks.  The streets of Louisville teem with art installations; there are painted horses (home of the Kentucky Derby), baseball bats cast in iron (the Louisville Slugger museum/factory is just around the corner), and every sidewalk tree is encased in its own unique ironworks sculpture.

Our destination was a beautifully architectured building by the waterfront, home of the Muhammad Ali Center.  Here’s something most people don’t know about me: boxing is my favourite sport and I even took a few boxing lessons as a kid.  My dad’s favourite athlete (at least until Gretzky came along) was Ali, and that rubbed off on me in a big way.  Really though, regardless of one’s stance on the sport he championed it is a widely accepted fact that Muhammad Ali was an icon and a hero. Furthermore, one must acknowledge that the Louisville native achieved rock star status and beyond, so a stop into the Ali museum was clearly in keeping with the Rock & Roll Field Trip we were on.

We paid our fee and rode the escalator up to the fifth floor to start our tour.  It soon became apparent that we had the whole place to ourselves – save for seeing a couple paying their admission when we were on our way out we didn’t see a single other soul in the place.  We started on the top floor with a fifteen-minute film on Ali and when it was done both of us were misty-eyed.  The film explains that early in his life Cassius Clay read the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling and he based his life and career on it.  I recommend that you google it right now and try to live those words as well as you can.

The museum focused more on information than artifacts. Sure, they had Ali’s shorts from the Rumble In The Jungle and the robe Elvis gave him in Vegas in ’73, but mostly the space was taken up by informative displays following the different aspects of his life.  After getting his bike stolen as a kid Ali started training in the ring so he could whup the ass of whoever had taken it, and through determination, confidence, and a brash arrogance that the media ate up like candy he eventually traveled the world and walked with kings.  I got chills around every corner.

There was a fun interactive section where you could don boxing gloves and try the heavy bag and a speed bag, and you could even shadow box with the man himself!  Given that we were all alone up there m’lady and I had a long leisurely workout in the ring.

Overall the Ali Center was a wonderful treat that I would recommend to anyone who has even just the most passing interest in the man or the sport that he legitimized.  I love that it exists and I will definitely go again, though I do hope that it’s generally busier than what we saw that day.

Back on the street we found a post office, hit White Castle (again) and got on the highway pointed south. I bit the bullet and drove right by the bourbon trail, Talbott’s Tavern, and the National Corvette Museum (will I ever forgive myself?), and three hours later – with the entire evening still ahead of us – we pulled into Music City: Nashville, Tennessee.

Which, of course, is a whole other story.

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