I suppose the full force of the hoodoo didn't kick in until I'd taken that cheap plastic Indian feathered tiara off the wall and put it on my bald head at the same time Lucky had opened the little ceramic jar that sat on the dusty mantle in our cabin called "Electric Blue." Inside that little vessel were the ominous overtones of our immediate future. Lucky said it was an old lock of hair from a redheaded girl. I opined that it was more likely a cutting from an orange wig brought into the room by a clown. My mind immediately raced to the vision of clowns having sex on my queen-sized bed, with their red round noses dripping tinted snot into each others' mouths and their big-ass shoes extending over the edge of the bed, flapping with each disgusting penetration.
The walls and the roof were made of rusted tin. My bedroom ambiance was enhanced by an old outhouse door someone had clumsily nailed sideways to the wall.
My friend Lucky is many things – a long car trip allows you to find out all you need to know about someone – but what he mostly is is a camera. He's the Master of the Light and he can see a shot quicker than any other photographer I've ever been around. And I've been around plenty.
The trip, for him, had begun in Southern California and taken him on an adventure in his black Mercedes to our new common enemy to the north, Canada, for a relative's wedding (which he had to photograph for them, of course), then to Maine to visit the most brilliant writer I ever harassed the shit out of on this site (my guilt is overwhelming, so don't throw this in my face. Please). Then a stop to see our favorite MD and high school teacher somewhere in Maryland where he was at a conference of some sort. After that, straight South to visit Uncle dannye and check out the blues, BBQ and try to understand our point of view on that War of Northern Aggression.
This would lead us to not only visit as well as revisit Highway 61 at the Crossroads where you make bargains with evil on a full moon at midnight, but ultimately to spend the night in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in a place called “The Shack-Up Inn.” If Ryan thought it was funny that my wife and I spent time in a place called Tickle Pink in Carmel, California, I can only imagine that he will wet himself when he reads that Lucky and I spent the night in a room called “Electric Blue” at the Shack-Up Inn.
The “rooms” are actually old slave shacks or sharecropper shacks moved to the grounds of an old cotton gin where the office and “lounge” were located. There were other rooms available: the Robert Cray, The Crossroads, etc. But I booked Electric Blue because it had a wall between two bedrooms. I'm jealous of both my sleep and my virginity.
We arrived on Sunday, which was probably not the greatest plan, but he'd lost 5 days in Utah due to car problems, and time was running out for stuff needing done back in CA. So it's Sunday evening and we've polished off at least as much beer as any two white guys should drink in any one session. We began to discuss food which, if not eaten soon was not going to be eaten, leading to an even worse hangover on the Monday trip back to Little Rock.
PROTIP for Travelers: If you are in Mississippi in a recent-model black Mercedes with California plates and lots of expensive-looking electronics and photographic equipment in the car, and it's midnight near the Crossroads and you've just discovered clowns have been having an orgy in your suite with a tin roof and a bottle tree in your front yard; either a.) Call a cab, b.) go to Hertz and rent a Buick with Mississippi plates, or c.) Take your medicine and go to bed hungry.
We passed a place called "Mo's" that looked interesting until we realized we'd be the only white guys in the joint. You can wring your hands and weep and wail over race relations and either the beauty or danger of this current incarnation of that, but sometimes you just have to trust your gut. We went searching for Morgan Freeman's joint which turned out to be closed. But we made the mistake of parking and deciding to walk down Main (not looking for the gal etc.) and were soon approached by a young black man who asked Lucky for a cigarette. When Lucky politely informed the gentleman that he didn't smoke, the young man came over to me. I'm not the most stable of walkers due to recent health issues, but I like to think I can keep up on short hikes on level ground. Anyway, he asked me for a cigarette and got the same anwer. I was told that I was, "a lying motherfucker 'cause (he) just saw (me) smoking one a minute ago. " (I wasn't.) I kept my eyes on his hands as I turned away to stumble off, being a bit shaken. He said, "That's right. You walk away before you and your kind get shot." Lucky told me later that he was circling back to cold-cock the fucker with his expensive but also heavy camera and was watching his eyes. He said that they were pinpoints and he'd just sized him up as a tweaker loser who was probably not all that dangerous. Later, the desk guy at the Shack-Up said, "If that ol' boy had a gun, he'd'a fer sure pawned 'fore he ever got to you two." There were no shortages of pawn shops in the area; being close to Tunica, MS, and the casinos.
We got back in the car and went back to the only open place we saw, a Church's chicken joint. It had an armed guard in the form of a skinny older black man, but he had a uniform and a gun, so we went in and got some sustenence. I was still a bit shaken up, and the only other folks in the place were young black men, so it was decided that I'd wait in the car while Lucky got the food to go. Later he would inform me that he got almost everyone's life story while I was in the car and that there was nothing to fear but fear itself. But I was born in Mississippi and I'd come to the conclusion that I'd stayed one day too long.
After a handful of chicken fingers and the greasiest biscuit in the South, I fell asleep to the sound of crickets and the wind whistling through the bottle tree. I had a dream that Lucky was Bob Dylan and I was Robert Johnson. We were both walking down an old dirt road and a dozen crows were walking in front of us, showing us the way. The crows were all regular sized except one who was as tall as we were. Lucky/Dylan asked the tall crow where we were going and he replied, "You know damn well where we goin', fool."
I had an old Gibson guitar in a beat-up case and I remember thinking, "What the fuck am I doing with this guitar? I can't play this thing and it's a pain to carry." I said, "Bob, is this your guitar I'm carryin'?" The tall crow said, "You do less talkin' and more walkin,' motherfucker." It did not seem like a good idea to argue.
After what seemed like hours, we arrived at a place with a sign for Highway 61 on a pole with another sign for Highway 49. Bob found a big flat rock and sat down. “Lemmie see that Gibson,” he said. I handed it to him and as soon as he took it out of the case at least a hundred clowns appeared out of nowhere. The tall crow walked over and sat down behind a Hammond B-3 organ and started playing a tune with plumes of his wings that had become fat black fingers. Bob/Lucky started strumming the guitar and singing I Want You.
After the song was over, the clowns clapped, the crows flew away. The clowns quit clapping and dispersed. Bob turned to me and said, "See, this shit don't cost nothin' if you don't take it so fuckin' seriously." I felt clean like I'd just learned a valuable lesson that would change my life.
The next morning we got back in the Mercedes and drove back to Little Rock. Nothing much had changed, except everything.