Memphis And Beyond
By Ken DeLaat
No we didn’t go to Graceland.
Why? I don’t know for sure. We never really talked much about it and it was Easter Sunday and all and truthfully neither of us have ever been big fans of Elvis. For one, he plunged onto the scene about the time my brothers (significantly older brothers I might add) were entering their teenage years so while ‘The King’ was known to the household I was raised in Lil and I had been more a part of the Beatles generation.
The other factor was that his music never really touched me much. I mean his songs were ok and his larger than life personae was intriguing but there was no Elvis mystique for me. His movies were those generic kind of vehicles where Elvis would always play...well… Elvis, I guess, and they always had plenty of girls with one special girl and he was the hero who generally thwarted some bad guys and ended up with, you bet,, the girl.
At any rate neither of us being Elvis aficionados we blew off Graceland and made a landing on...
...Beale Street where we stayed in a hotel overlooking the avenue filled with clubs and eateries that specialized in all things barbequed.
We spent Easter afternoon strolling through the area and listening to a variety of blues that would drift out from one establishment and blend into the sounds from another as we walked. There was an opportunity to take in a couple of young and agile street performers doing some truly impressive acrobatics. We got approached by local panhandlers who have advanced beyond pretending their monetary requests were for anything other than a bit of booze (“Could you stand me a shot?”) and while struck by the honesty no cash was yielded their way.
I lingered long at the Blues themed toilet seats on display as Lil seemed to ponder whether I was going to ask about replacing one of the seats at home with one these beauties. Admittedly consideration was given, but only fleetingly.
Being primarily a non meat eater save the occasional hamburg, Lil took a long look at the menu at BB Kings place that involved the aforementioned plethora of BBQed items and deep fried pickles seem to be the vegetarian special. She ended up choosing something that came in a basket while I wolfed down a splendid grouping of ribs, fries, and side of slaw There was a fine sounding band blaring out some hard driving tunes that would have made old B.B. proud. Folks were dancing and dancing well, mind you. This was no simple grinding to the music but some really fine moves put on display by the couples who took to the floor. One guy from the bar sat in for a song or two, folks were in a celebratory mood and it seemed to be a rather festive atmosphere..
All in all it ended up being one of the more unusual Easters we’ve spent together
The following day it was decided to continue down river and of course, we took Highway 61 the route that spawned songs from Sunnyland Slim, James “Son” Thomas, “Honeyboy” Edwards, Big Joe Williams,, and Mississippi Fred McDowell among others.
Trouble was, the highway 61 route to Natchez was not the old 61 as I found out later but a stretch of flat, fertile land that never yielded a single glimpse of the river .It was a nicely maintained highway that took us through the Neil Young ‘Southern Man’ song with “Tall white mansions and little shacks.” We managed to find a McDonald's for our daily dollar coke and (generally)clean bathroom stop when a torrential downpour hit the town that evidently did not have storm sewers adequate for such a cloudburst resulting in traffic coming to a near halt.
Undaunted we pressed on as I thought better of sharing the knowledge that we were smack dab in prime tornado country during their prime tornado season.
In a way our recent trips south have had an exploratory element to them. In a few years we plan on spending some of the harsher months in warmer climes and while Florida is too crowded and Texas is….well it's Texas I guess... and Arizona is too far, we are looking into what area might be well suited to being our residence for a couple of months a year.
I liked the Carolina’s a lot as did Lil. We found an area that has remained a candidate, but when we pulled into Natchez something occurred that seemed to suddenly bring some semblance of sense as to why at random I chose this sleepy southern town for us to visit on this trip.
Those who know me are aware of what some call a peculiarity I possess regarding a personal fascination with the frequent spotting of lonesome shoes along the roadways. While many dismiss this as coincidence I’ve always held there had to be more to it than that and have expressed this in an ongoing monologue delivered during discoveries. I’ve found this repetitive rambling road trip rhetoric can severely test the patience of even the most charitable among us, so there are repeated attempts to temper my enthusiasm at a spotting particularly if Lil is counting knitting stitches or perhaps nodded off momentarily.
Despite the many miles of travel the phenomenon of orphaned footwear alongside of the road had been a rarity on this trip. A boot just outside of Joliet and a tired looking sandal just inside the Arkansas line were the only omens...I mean mysteriously misplaced shoe type items…..to be encountered.
But just as we passed into the Natchez city limits and began what turned out to be a kind of surrealistic leg of the trip, there they were.
One on each side.
A colorful women’s athletic shoe on one shoulder and a man's dress shoe, like maybe a wing-tip type, on the other.
“I see them. And now you’re going to say ‘What does it mean?’ right?”
“No,“ I replied while being struck with a sudden and all consuming awareness. “I think I know exactly what it means.”
It’s amazing how some looks don’t even have to be seen.
You can just kind of feel them.
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”-Ursula K. Le Guin “The Left Hand of Darkness”
Next: Belgians, Antebellum, Stuckey’s and The Trace
Letter to the Editor Policy
Near North Now welcomes original letters from readers on current topics of general interest. Simply fill out the form below. Letters submissions are limited to 300 words.