The car rolled downhill at first. From Knoxville to Memphis, the i-haul , my groovy Apple-looking car that hauls ass and hauls my stuff, drops me out of the green, rolling hills to a plain. . Not unpleasant, don’t get me wrong, just flatter. The humidity rises, and I feel my favorite old delta blues plunking away in my chest.” Sugar babe, I’m tired of you. You don’t treat me like you used to do...”
I pass a nuclear reactor, or is it something else with giant, scary funnels flipping off the sky? In the water of the pond/lake surrounding it, two men stand on a raft, fishing, looking for all the world like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, or maybe something from a Bierstadt Hudson River scene, still and glowing in diffuse light.
The winds howl and suck at the humidity. The i-haul is encrusted with bug splatter. " No rings on her fingers, no bells on her toes, bugs on her headlights and runs in her hose..."If I don’t get this off now, will it come off? Or can I just do it one time when I arrive in Austin? Apparently, I will cross the Mississippi right I after I leave Memphis. Everything will flow in a different direction from there.
Here I am! Beale Street, listening to music, busting out of every crevice. These folks aren’t The Wannabes, they are The Ares, the real thing. Me too. My brain music transistions from the Delta blues to Memphis blues, and the grit, grind, and amplification goes way up. Two little boys beat their marching band drums in such a clatter of good humor, in the style of Otha Turner and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band. A tiny little kid back- handsprings down the length of the street, up and down, endlessly. Man, that kid sure earns his money. I hope he gets some of it anyway.
As the sunlight wanes, the street fills with folks in their Saturday duds, plastic drink cups in hand. The big bottoms in their tight pants make me indescribably happy, like passegiata in Italy, when people parade in front of each other, making the effort to dress up and interact. The driver of a horse-drawn carriage thick with plastic gems and topped with a golden angel, takes my photo in his vehicle, then gives me a big plastic diamond, saying it is the tear of an angel who has gone to heaven in my place. See? I must be headed in the right direction.
Then I invite myself to sit with Cheri and her husband at The Corner Bar, where we share a table on the rooftop, witnessing the mighty flow of bottoms and music on the street below. Clusters of white army guys on leave, looking like sperm with their shaved white heads, stick together. Housewives who look as though they want to be wild on their weekend away from hubbies, spend a long time talking to the policemen arrayed across the intersection. The hair-dos of the black women are intricate and varied, each one completely different from the other, like topographic maps on their heads. The young black guys waft in clouds of testosterone, their big basketball shoes preceding them like limousines.
Cheri, looks at me steadily and says,“You’re on the right path. Patience and faith.” I’m tellin’ ya, this trip is, well, full of shiny moments! Then, when her husband goes to the bathroom, she tells me she is going to leave him soon.
Day Three of The Road Trip. Rock n roll is still erupting all around me here in Memphis. It’s in the Motel 6 lobby, the gas station, the Starbucks, the public bathrooms. At once familiar (I remember all the lyrics and inflections of all the old greats) and cheery, it’s been a good, thumpy soundtrack for this stop.Babee, babee, where did our love go? But a happy tune.
The sun and wind burst and bluster down the streets. Morning employees hose down last night’s spilled beer and sugary drinks off the sidewalks in front of the juke joints, blues cafes and BBQ palaces. One lone musician holds court, belting out his "Lucille". I swallow my first Memphis BBQ pork and baked beans for lunch. Am I missing the BBQ gene? Was this place a phony? I am trying so hard not to be negative, but really, this pork seems insipid. I look in the front door of the Rock n Soul Museum, but as it cost $11, I decide to stay outside in the living Rock n Soul.
Walking over the hill towards the Mississippi (gosh it makes me happy to type MISSISSIPPI, saying it aloud to myself, to make sure I get all my s’s), I come upon The Place where all the action of Memphis is that day. It's the citywide annual Crawfish Boil. Families and alumni groups and other collections of folk had set up canopy tents under which they arranged themselves with their coolers, potato salad, and homemade baked goodies.
I find a cool place on a pier about six feet above the crawfish operation. A thirty foot long Budget rental truck spews out sack after sack of live crawfish, brick red and wriggling. The rubber-gloved ladies at the beginning of the Crawfish Conveyor hose them off and cull out stuff that should not be there (ugh, what could THAT be?). They shove them down into a waiting basket on a pulley/weight device that reads ONE TON. That cage swings and drops the hapless crawfish into boiling pots the size of VW bugs, where they sing out their last living notes.
Out of the giant boiling cauldron (whoa, look at the sweaty muscles on that boiler guy!) onto the conveyer again, they are doused with dark red powder, the color they had been when they lived. They're divvied up into one gallon white plastic buckets and toted off to be dissected and gobbled by the happy faces of Memphis.
I seem to be amidst the Harley throng. Is it about posing? The women wear white tank tops under their black tank tops, no bras. Tight jeans or shorts and solid black boots are strapped on to the lower half of their bodies. The men sport either long hair or close- cropped or shaved heads. The men own and drive the motorcycles. I wonder what they do when they're not at Crawfish Boils? What media do they consume? What do they eat for breakfast? What is their sex like? I didn’t ask them. I probably should have. I want to understand the world this time around.
Well, I am about to cross the Mississippi, that great flusher. Really, with its brown waves, it appears to be some kind of bodily conduit, maybe gastric or cardiovascular, taking the toxins from upstream out to sea. Like the River Jordan, I suppose. Funny, as distinct as it is, the time here is indistinct, iffy. I appear to have crossed a time zone that my phone knows about, but my computer does not. Whatever the hour, it is time to cross the river, and to see what’s on the other side, down the road to Austin!