I spent the last six quarters I had to my name at a pay phone in Dixie asking Jon to wire me some actual cash this time. Enough to make me cold hearted for a few days.
Jon’s a writer and I’ve always found that if there is one sort of person in this world that you can always trust to come through for you it’s those who don’t trust their words with sound frequencies but instead with ink. It’s because they have to think before any words come to them at all. They are not the action-first sorts of people.
Every time I pull things like this Jon always gives me such horribly long speeches about how I could really manage to call him sooner and in doubt, I am always welcome to call him collect. In the end I manage to find myself asking him to please stop talking like some poetic father and just send me the money. You’ll never learn, he mutters, as if on cue, every time. And maybe it’s not that I’ll never, but just don’t want to right now. These phone calls are just as much a part of the road to me as are the yellow lines.
At any rate it was not much of a surprise that Jon did indeed pull through and send me enough money to make me cold hearted and happy for a few days and send me on my way back to Illinois.
When the summer hits, my schedule usually misses. Teenage bands with teenage fans get out of school and get booked and I’m usually left wandering the states looking for the best way home. My last show was at a desolate town in Alabama just outside of Tuscaloosa and the next morning found me already across the Mississippi border making a straight line for Jackson.
It is a part of my knowledge that this trip could be much easier, and faster, if I just left Alabama on Interstate 65 and rode it all the way north into Indiana and the grabbed I-74 into Illinois. Or for that matter took I-55 out of Jackson as far north as I needed.
But I’m not the type of man that takes the easy way out.
I took the night in Jackson and paid way too much for gas and beer but on the road, you get used to that sort of thing. Over priced fuel for both the car and the head is just something that comes along with the trip. Jon had sent me a few hundred dollars so I shelled out fifty of it for a bad motel room but at least it was a bed to sleep in and not the bench seat of pick-up truck. And there was air conditioning. Be it from a horribly loud and smelly unit. It worked, and that’s what matters in the hot, hot Southland.
In the morning the decision came up to me to either head north or head west towards the river. Now the Mississippi River is a powerful thing and anyone who tells you any different has never driven along side of it from Minnesota to the gulf. Or from New Orleans back to Itasca. Now there’s a trip that will change you.
The point of that is to say that I can’t help but be drawn to drive that route again and again. So I sent myself westward until I reached Vicksburg and then headed north towards Greenville, and eventually the Tennessee border.
Memphis is a city that, despite its population, has managed to stay small-town minded. It’s the sort of place a man like me can get used to. Maybe its just Elvis, but I can’t get enough of the place. I pulled into a bar I used to frequent in the days that I lived in the city and the bartender recognized me in moments. He poured me a tall one and asked where I had been, how I was doing, what was I going to do next.
A cover band churned out an over-practiced rendition of “All Shook Up” and I thought one, they needed more reverb and two, if you can’t do something right, it’s not worth doing at all. When their set was over the guitar player came down and picked me out and mentioned a thing or two about some demos I had put out in the early nineties and how he used to sit in this bar and watch me when he was in high school and during his attempt to flatter me and his failure to do just that I made small talk with him about his equipment, his hopes, his dreams.
The jaded part of me wants to look the boys that do this to me in the eye and say, do you know how hard it really is out there? Are you prepared for a lonely life of suitcases and interstates, broken strings and broken hearts? Tell them, you’ll never make it big kid, your guitar is always out of tune and your face is all wrong.
But I don’t, I just tend to smile and nod and pretend that I’m enjoying the conversation and lead them to believe that the life of a traveling musician is all worthwhile.
I can’t lie and tell them that I would give any of it up, because I wouldn’t.
The bartender said he owned some property just outside of the city on the river banks and when he offered me the opportunity to sleep out there on a dirty couch I couldn’t refuse. It wasn’t the most comfy place in the world but neither is Memphis and I still like it just the same.
He closed the bar up a little early and the bad cover band and I followed a truck full of drunks and the bartender out to the cabin.
We sat up till dawn around a campfire watching the water slowly make its way down to the Gulf of Mexico and singing songs that we all knew by heart. I could have taken the couch that night but I didn’t; let the cover band singer have it, and just stayed right out there by the campfire and snuggled up to my guitar in my sleeping bag and in the mud.
Memphis is a hard town to leave and so a few days I just didn’t. Illinois has been waiting on me for five months and a few more days will not hurt it.