Big Country Little Car Tour, Day 7
I had about a half dozen different days in one on Monday, starting off at the National Civil Rights Museum. I'd forgotten Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, and the museum is on the site of the motel where that occurred. Approaching it on a sunny morning, the plaza around it nearly empty, nothing going on but birds, is unsettling; on top of that, having visited Graceland the day before and then, for whatever reason, selecting an oral-history biography of RFK as my bedtime reading the night before, I had alternate realities on my mind — what that world is like in which any or all of these men got to get old.
The museum itself is, put simply, oppressive. It's laid out well given the sheer volume of material, but then: the sheer volume of material. I got so angry. Just let James Meredith go to fucking school, and if you don't want to hang out with him, don't fucking hang out with him! How hard is this? That aspect of racism is just baffling to me — not that I "get" any of the other aspects, but leaving the (im-)morality of going to these harassing lengths aside, don't racists have anything better to do? TV to watch? Jobs to go to? Card game? Something? I mean, there's the crappy beliefs themselves, and then there's living in the room above the dude and bouncing a basketball on the floor for hours at a time so that he can't concentrate on studying. I don't mean to make light of it, but: get a life, racists, Jesus H.
I stormed out to the car, exhausted, and the road out of Memphis into Mississippi didn't help my mood much; for much of the way, it's flat, straight as a string, with no turn-offs and not much to look at besides casino billboards. After a while, I decided the hell with it — I need coffee, I like blackjack, and my mood needs changing up.
Into Bally's in Tunica I went, promptly dropping the average age within by about 40 years. Blackjack in Tunica is dealt more informally than in Atlantic City, which took getting used to, and my mood wasn't the only one in need of an adjustment — our dealer, Dorothy, was Frisbee-ing the cards at us like a sullen Bond girl. She did favor me with a handful of twenty-ones, though, and I left up $45 and made my way to Greenville and the McCormick Book Inn, where the owner offered me coffee, and waited until I'd already purchased a book about the 1927 flood to tell me everything the author had fouled up (he'd spent the bulk of my browsing time on the telephone, chasing down evidence on the same subject). It's a welcoming store, and the coffee is delish, but while the owner is nice, do not get him started on Rising Tide.
The rest of the afternoon I spent either driving aimlessly around Greenville — a postcard town, at sixes and sevens in some areas, in which pothole repair is not a priority — or reading Shelby Foote's book about Vicksburg in a sunny parking lot. Three different people stopped to make sure I was all right, which is very sweet, and then couldn't get their heads around the response, "Just reading a book."I'll grant that a lunchbox with pedals containing a big blonde with her feet up, reading a Civil War history, is perhaps not an ordinary sight, but I got the feeling the bafflement proceeded primarily from the reading part. Do any other readers get that from well-meaning strangers, or even acquaintances and friends — confusion at the idea that you read when you don't have to, when it's not for school or out of desperation, that they want to ask, "But what the hell would you do that for?" but somehow knowing they shouldn't?
Then I went to Doe's Eat Place to meet friends of a friend. That place is awesome (I've had apartments smaller than a single shrimp on my plate last night) and so are the friends, who politely weathered the "I haven't seen anyone I know personally in three days; I will now share some thoughts" gale.
It didn't feel that late when I got on the road again (…okay, it may have taken some time for me to stuff myself into the car), but going to Monroe, only the moon kept me company. Wait, that's not true: I did have a nice visit with the entire staff of a McDonald's in Arkansas. The employee at the first drive-through window, where I paid, tipped everyone at the second window to the incoming motorized M&M, and when I pulled up to grab my coffee, it looked like a phone-booth frat prank in there, all the night-shifters crammed around the window to take a look. "Evening, folks." "…Awwww!" Into Louisiana, I drank coffee and listened to Bob Dylan's country album and thought about trips home from Grandma's as a tiny sprout, when I would sternly tell the moon to stop following our car, and I was glad she hadn't listened.
Tags: Big Country Little Car Tour Bob Dylan Campbell Doe's Eat Place Elvis Presley friends games James Meredith Martin Luther King Jr. McCormick Book Inn Robert F. Kennedy Shelby Foote tiny + cute = leverage travel untimely demises