My one goal today: drive so fast out of Texas the boundary line would show up on mapquest as a burst with the words POP and BAM surrounding it.
I stopped in Mt. Vernon for food (somhow, I can't manage the toasted breads, texas-shaped waffles and boiled eggs of hotel continental breakfasts) and ended up at a place that had, as its special, a fried vegetable of the day. Of course I tried it: fried broccoli. Not tempura. Just fried. With ranch dressing, of course (this is the South).
I flew through Texarkana but had to stop once I got into Hope, Arkansas. While my mom is one of those old school "Clinton is still sexy" baby boomer women, it never occurred to me this was his hometown until I saw the huge sign stating so. I knew I was in a different country when I stopped for gas and asked for directions to the local post office. Four minutes of directions later, I found myself at the post office - perfect. Even better, I drove back toward the highway easily and ended up right in front of Clinton's childhood home. There was a railroad track right across the way. I managed to buy a Clinton magnet for the parents and mailed a package of little goodies I'd bought so far for the kid.
I was already loving this trip - buying from small, independent stores and restaurants, stopping at only the smaller towns, talking with folks. I was having a good time and everyone was friendly. Still, I was ready to be in Tennessee already.
I'd been looking at schools that offer graduate programs in ethnomusicology but, in searching for these and in reading more and more I realized that the music that attracted me most was the music based in Southern cultures. Blues, jazz, folk. I was starting to fall in love with the blues without even realizing. So, my trip was for a real vacation but it was also to immerse myself in those areas with direct experiences rooting it.
Ah, I thought I'd never make it to Memphis but, crossing that beautiful bridge, overlooking the Mississippi River, I felt at home. Truly at home. In conversation with T later that evening he thought it might be deja vu but it wasn't like I'd been there before in an awkward sense. Rather, I drove in knowing I'd been there before.
I unloaded my stuff in the hotel, washed up, made myself pretty, and walked over to Beale Street. Oh, I had a good time just walking downtown. I got a couple of pics of The Orpheum too. I managed to find food at almost midnight at Mr. Handy's Blues Hall, where I drank my new favorite beer, Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale and cajun bbq'd shrimp and boiled potatoes. I spent about 10 minutes flirting with the cooks, who were relaxing after a long night of cooking. It was nearing 1 a.m. and the place was closing. Still, I couldn't get the recipe off anyone but, what looked like dried pine needles in the bbq rub on the shrimp must have been rosemary. An excellent meal.
Walking back to the hotel was easy, while a trolley ran through midnight, the walk was nice. There were big clouds, nearing 50 degrees and a slight, humid wind. I was four blocks from the Mississippi River and felt it. It really is a different thing to live near water. A prerequisite for the soul, if you ask me.
I had a conversation with someone I was seeing last year, who happened to call just as I was packing up the day before I left, who told me to be careful because of the crime. I could understand that - I'm a woman traveling alone into a number of cities known for their nightlife. But she showed her racism by adding that there were a lot of blacks in Memphis (who knew!), trying to connect one to the other. But I'd never felt safer. I knew this place. I had been here before. I knew the statue on the riverbank honoring a black man who saved the lives of a dozen folks when the ferry was capsizing. I knew the one-block park a block from The Orpheum. I knew these folks. They, like this river, were mine.
I happened upon five taxis waiting along a side street, where one Panamanian driver smiled at me and said "good evening sexy lady". I also had one guy walk opposite me but still at a respectable distance when he asked if he could come home with me. I said no and crossed the street but I never felt unsafe. I actually tried not to laugh out loud as he called out to me after to say "you've got it coming and going". Well, I can't deny that.
I slept great. I've never slept better than this first night in my new home town.