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Roaming South…. the end.

May 20, 2015

All in all it totaled ten states. Seven cities. Six days. About 3000miles… give or take.  Many, many seedy greyhound bus stations.  One train. One plane.  Only one bed. One very interesting night at the Memphis airport. One pair of broken shoes.  One very sturdy, trusted and dusty pair of Frye boots. A couple pretty good record finds.  Twenty or more cliff bars.  One fabulously superb meal.  About 30 rolls of negatives.  Miles of strange highways.  Miles of even stranger towns.  Oodles of personal information from complete strangers. Two new friends.  Hours of photographic stimulation, and only one real moment of fear.

Memphis.  

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.Blues Cafe. Complete with sad man in a suit out front. 

“Be stilllll….not like a catfish on a pole!”says Frank Wilson in an iconic slow, southern drawl.

“Now I hear ya babyy!  C’mon baby!”  He encourages his cab as if it were a woman up a not very steep incline on to the freeway.

Frank is as black as night, lean, wide eyed and friendlier than Mr. Rogers.  I couldn’t tell the exact length of his hair. It was so fabulously slicked back I almost commented on his finger waves.  He offered me air conditioning and we both opted for just windows down despite the heat, which settled around 94 degrees that day.  His “Baby” was falling apart at every seem and my legs were tickled with the torn pieces of cab leather that weren’t already stuck to me.  Unannounced and very casually he pulled into a gas station to buy cigarettes and a drink.  I play a little bit of a game with myself, where I try to judge a person’s character within the first moments of meeting them.  I boil it down to if I can trust them or not.  I trusted Frank.  He was casual and poetic.

(I’m painting his portrait with words due to my own carelessness and some film mishaps.  120 film in a 220 back works just fine so long as you keep tract of your shots.  Though it’s slightly romantic for me to think of the photos and portraits I’ll have frozen only in my mind because they never had any film to catch them.)

My instincts worked well in my favor.  I had taken the cab from the bus station to Graceland where he gave me two numbers and said he’d be at my dispose when I was finished being a tourist.

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..

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.Gold for days. 

The King's Pink Caddy.

The King’s Pink Caddy.

They're not blue suede in real life.

They’re not blue suede in real life.

There's something like ten thousand pieces of fabric covering these walls.

There’s something like ten thousand pieces of fabric covering these walls.

Well done on the wallpaper Elvis.

Well done on the wallpaper Elvis.

I wonder if he ate peanut butter, banana, bacon sandwiches in here.

I wonder if he ate peanut butter, banana, bacon sandwiches in here.

I sat down in a small, overpriced, watered down excuse for a vintage ice cream parlor.  I was running through all the things I had just touched that Elvis once touched and was joined at the booth by a lovely English couple.  She was 68.  He was 83.  Eighteen grandkids and four great grandchildren.  His hearing aid stuck far out from below his hat which read “Retired and Lovin’ It”.  She informed me they were traveling because you can’t keep the money in a coffin.  I’m supposed to inform anyone who looks at their photo that they grew up right near the Beatles.    He can’t drive anymore and she won’t so they came over to do three nights in Memphis and then on to a cruise.  They were far too polite for me to ask how they decided on Memphis so I just assumed it was Graceland.  I still wanted to pull out a map and tell them where they might find some more picturesque parts of the U.S. to see.  Instead I just helped them turn the flash back on their camera.

"Retired and lovin' it"

“Retired and lovin’ it”

“Now you can take the trolly up but DO…NOT… get on it if its empty!  And DO…NOT…get off all the way at the end if it’s dark out.”  Frank’s hollering warnings at me the whole ride.  I was instructed to stay in a four block radius of Beale street.  I hadn’t asked him for any help but he seemed to think I needed it.  No doubt in my mind that if I’d asked him to get out and walk with me he would have.  He took four dollars off my fare and dropped me around at a Starbucks because of a suspicious character near the bus stop.  I got an iced coffee, took my boots off and wrote a little.  Even from up on the patio I was haggled out of every bit of spare change I had.  Frank warned me of this but I was relieved to rid of my unwanted nickels and dimes.  How were the little English couple going to manage out this way? He had trouble paying for ice cream because it was in dollars.  But they wouldn’t be bothered.  Just like all the other Graceland tourists on the patio with me. They were in pairs.  I was young, alone, and seemingly approachable.  Everyone seemed intent on warning me of how dangerous it is everywhere.  I guess my politeness is construed as naiveness.  I had already trotted through Baltimore.  Rocked the short shorts under bridge paths in Norfolk laughing off the cat calls.  I politely denied the offers and requests for drugs in Atlanta.  I couldn’t start getting jumpy now and I certainly wasn’t going to sit at a Starbucks all night.  If my luck ran out I had two numbers for Frank Wilson, who says he doesn’t sleep.

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.Yes, I followed him a while.  He was following short shorts to the right. 

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Daisy Theater.

Daisy Theater.

Gumbo.

Gumbo.

I roamed downtown marveling at how deserted it was in mid-day.  I apologized in my head to Frank and ventured east to keep the sun on my back.  I figured I’d loop out and down and hopefully there’d be more going on by the time I got back.  A man in all black loped across the empty street towards me.  I didn’t trust him. Spare change is easy to lie about, although it was very true in my case that I had given it all away already, but I couldn’t deny having a lighter with a lit cigarette in my mouth.  He handed my lighter back and just as quickly grabbed my wrist hard.  “Baby be my friend, I need a friend”.  Shit, I thought. I’m alone,  approachable, jumpable.  Somewhere down the line I rationalized that staying un-showered may aid in that ‘not getting raped thing’ and smelling like a greyhound bus really just adds to the overall experience.  My free hand was already down at my pocket where a small knife was hidden by my over worn, stretched out tank top.  I wondered if the Hasselblad might be more effective as a weapon.  Then I remembered I was playing out scenes only because of what everyone’s barked at me, acting nervous wouldn’t do me any good.  I told him he had no need to be grabbing me, I was full up on friends and very truly out of money.  Which wasn’t a lie at this point.  He made a pouty face and trotted off.

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.Random bikini poster. 

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Next began my big Memphis exit.

I needed water, real food, sleep, and some shade.  I worked my way back from crumbling warehouses and poorly chose an outdoor blues bar with a live band.  When in Rome right?  I sat and began to get day drunk with a couple of vibrant homeless men being scolded for bringing their own booze in.  The band was precisely what you’d expect to see in a place like that.  A five gallon bucket out front with a sharpie scribbled “TIPS” label.  The front man stood about as tall as me but made up for height in the thickness of his glasses.  The keyboardist woke up today but walked straight out of 78.  I had more fun watching him load the equipment out of his van.  Hair falling below his waist, round yellow glasses and quite the pair of baggy leopard print pants.  I only hoped this meant they were really into the music.

New friends.

New friends.

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It was clear they played for tourists often when the not so shy little front man interrupted his solo to lay his guitar on my lap and play a few chords via mouth.  Thankfully it only lasted a few moments and I forced myself to laugh the red off my face with my new bum friends.  I switched to water and started looking up ways northbound.

This really happened.  Thank you to the random stranger for sharing.

This really happened. Thanks to the kind tourists for sharing.

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I knew I’d sleep like a rock no matter where I was at that point.  My best route home was a very early, and disgustingly cheap flight to Boston.  Frank dropped me off. What I did not expect was that I’d be the only frugal person trying to spend the night at the airport.  As in, the only person there. It was equally as cool as it was creepy.  I thought maybe I should break out into song and dance but convinced myself there must be an employee or security guy hiding somewhere.  It was very bright, very cold and at about 2am a cleaning crew came to buff the floors.  They moved the bench I was pretending to sleep on near an outlet some what away from the noise.  I couldn’t catch a break but it kind of made me smile.

Even in my roughest shape I had a lot of fun.  I really had no goal or destination.  Just to roam and take it in.  You see a lot more on foot.  All walks of life.  You get to meet rough drafts of people when they travel.  You can only fill out their stories from the bits they choose to share and the rest you make up yourself for them.  I thought about it when I was waiting for a train chatting with a worker.  I could have pretended to be anybody I wanted and just rode off.  I’m horrible even at fibbing though.

Nonetheless, the south is pretty friendly.  There’s small towns with good and bad sides, big cities with lost faces, and a few hundred greyhound stops in between with everyone else like me.

Eventually the sun came up, and the airport took life.  I had two employees jovially comment on seeing me try to sleep just wee hours before.  I guess a lot of people don’t do that after all.

When it was well past the boarding and take off time myself and other passengers started flooding the desk.  They didn’t have a lot to say, just that the flight was delayed.  Sure enough an announcement came from above that it was canceled.  I got a later flight scheduled with no issues and went to wait some more at my new gate.  I hadn’t kept much track of any time the whole journey.  No real need to.  I picked up my phone to check and only now realized I randomly chose September 11th to hop a flight home.  Queue fear.

Thankfully, my luck has still yet to run out.

I still have both of Frank’s numbers should you find yourself in Memphis.

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