Out On Highway 61

Highway61:Me

You leave todays newspaper unread on the table next to your front door.  A dozen flies buzz around the hole in your window screen next to the formica table in your kitchen.  They get in despite the wad of toilet paper you use to plug the hole.

You walk home from a bar.  You weren’t the last to leave, but the guy behind you locked the door.  The drizzle doesn’t bother you.  Who needs an umbrella anyway?  The pavement is uneven.  Pools of rainwater reflect the image that’s been buzzing in your brain all day.

Face it, she left you.

But you don’t really care.  You don’t care because you have the blues.  You haven’t been dealt with a royal flush in the Poker Game of Life. You only get jokers and they aren’t even the wild cards.

You got the blues.  And, where do you go when you got the blues?  You head to the birthplace of music in America.  You catch the Shortline out of Port Authority for that slice of real estate that runs from Memphis to Natchez.

You head for the Delta Blues Country of Mississippi.  Gospel, R & B, Rock & Roll and the Blues were born here and that is where you belong.

Cause you got the blues, man…

This is Elvis country.  This is Hank Williams country.  Somewhere in this mystic triangle, two roads intersected.  A poor black kid who couldn’t play the guitar went off one night and met someone at the Crossroads, probably around midnight.  There he traded his holy and immortal soul for the gift to play the guitar…not just any guitar…but the best Delta Blues guitar in the country.

Robert Johnson, legend has it, came back from the Crossroads and could out play any man or woman who cared to challenge him.  He paid his dues, though.  After sneaking out the back door of his house, he promptly went into the back door of another girls house.  His wife found out about his midnight rambling and put poison in his liquor.  He died after crawling across the floor, barking like a dog and foaming at the mouth.

That’s the way the Legend goes.  Maybe it happened.  Maybe it didn’t.  But, that’s what I heard and that’s what I chose to believe.

This is the Blues Highway.  On a map, it’s labelled Route 61.  But, magic happened here.  For some unexplained reason, the poverty and despair of the poor blacks gave rise to a form of music listened to all over the world.  It rose up from the wasted cotton fields and dried-out soy bean fields of Mississippi and Louisiana, filled with hate, prejudice, injustice, hopelessness and violence.  It rose up and became the songs of the chain-gangs, the cotton pickers, the old men on the rocking chairs of back porches who sang and hummed as they swatted at the flies and gnats and sipped cheap gin.

Sorrowful music that somehow gave hope to those who were tied to the soil.  The white rock and roll singers co-opted this music and made it safe for white teenage girls to listen to.

The Great Migration of poor blacks and jobless whites from the rural North, took generations of the folks north, north to the industrial midwest…usually Chicago.

Bob Dylan anointed this road by naming his album Highway 61 Revisited.

I’m on the Blues Highway.  I’m driving Route 61 North.  It’s a 4-lane divided highway for a few dozen miles.  They must have torn down all the juke joints and gin mills to widen the road.  A ghost sign of a long gone motel is here.  An abandoned car wash is there.  I’ll only be driving the section that is noted in my Rand McNally as the Natchez Trace Parkway, but the Trace seems to follow a zig-zag pattern, crossing Highway 61, at different points.  The town welcome sign for Port Gibson is unique.  It has a quote from the great enemy of the Confederacy: “Too beautiful to burn”–U.S.Grant.  Vicksburg is our next stop.  The clay bluffs rise on the eastern shore of the Mississippi just a they do in Natchez.  I had been to this town several times when I attended college in Monroe, Louisiana in the mid-1960’s.  I wonder how much it has changed.  I read somewhere that people of Vicksburg say that the parks, lawns and sidewalks are really graveyards.  The Confederate dead are said to lay in the dirt…the ones that weren’t collected after the Union siege ended on July 4, 1863, when the city surrendered and the dead of both sides were buried in mass graves in the National Cemetery.

Highway 61 has had a dismal past.  But, from all the blood, death, slavery, poverty and cotton…came the music of the saddest kind.

So sad, it can’t help but lift your spirits.  If you got the blues, you got to listen to the blues.  It’s the only cure.

We’re leaving Vidalia, Louisiana just a week or so before an expected flood.  They can’t say exactly how high the crest will be, but the cement pad that our little RV sits on will almost surely be under water.

I just walked over to the levee.  It was dry.  I didn’t see the good old boys drinking whiskey and rye…and this will not be the day that I die.

NatchezSunset

[The Mississippi River Bridge from Natchez looking toward Louisiana]

 

 

To Let: Site # 143/ A Farewell To The Sunshine State

Site#143

[As I write this post, Site #143 is occupied]

On December 30, 2015, around noon, the radio in our red Ford Escape will begin to emit static.  It will crackle and hiss as my favorite country music station fades in strength.  Fort Myers will be receding, falling away into the south…into the muggy soupy haze.  The traffic on I-75 will be roaring past us.  The final songs are playing.  I hear the lines:

“Lookin’ in every trailer park for her red pick-up truck…”

and,

“If you’re gonna cheat on me, don’t cheat in our hometown…”

then,

“There’s a tiger inside of those tight fittin’ jeans…”

I think I hear,

“Tell it like it used to be, when you were still in love with me, before you got so used to me, and wanted someone new…”

Wait, a signal burst from the station,

“Billy gave up his wife and children…just to satisfy your 14 carat mind.”

and, just as the faint sounds of the best country music station in Florida fades into the ionosphere,

“You never called me ‘darlin’, darlin’…you never even called me by my name.”

“Before you got so used to me…”  It’s not that we are “used” to Florida, its just that the calendar will turn over in a few dozen hours to 2016 and we have places to see.  Former sharecroppers shacks in the southern cotton and soy bean fields and places in the western deserts.  We’re trading the Royal Palm trees for the Saguaro.  If you open your Rand McNally and look at the U.S. map, we will be riding along the belly of this great and varied country.  Landscapes will change…but the heart of this traveler will be setting a course toward the sunsets.

Our days and nights in Florida are at an end.  A night in Fort McCoy, another in Tallahassee and then we begin making our way through the heart of the deep south.  Mobile, Natchez and Vicksburg.  There are campsites waiting for us.  I have important personal business in Monroe, Louisiana…I hope it’s not hot and glaring in the sun when I sit beside that headstone in the cemetery in Monroe.  Then Shreveport and onto Dallas.  Mariam will fly back to New York City for several days of business-related meetings.  I’ll stay back…back in Texas where I will plug away on my novel.  I’ll sleep alone in the Lone Star state.  How much trouble can I get into while scribbling away in Arlington.

What are we leaving behind us?  So many things, mostly pleasant and a few not so.  The heat and humidity, unusual this year, will not be missed by me.  (But, I do enjoy going outside without wearing fleece.)

BigCypressNWR

[Big Cypress Wildlife Refuge]

We’re leaving our friends in Jupiter, Brad and Linda, who were so gracious a few weekends ago on the Atlantic coast.

We’re leaving my high school classmate, Katy (and her husband) who prepared a wonderful lunch for us in Zephyrhills.  Katy is my proof-reader.  We’re leaving my teaching colleague, Dianna (and her husband) who showed us the sunny side of St. Petersburg.  Dianna is a transplanted Connecticut yankee.  Good luck in the Florida heat, Dianna.  Teach those children well.

We’re leaving the sublime beauty and stark nature of the Big Cypress and Everglades Parks.

SawGrass

[Sawgrass]

The malls, the walls, the sand and the alligators.  The seashells of Sanibel.  The sunsets over the Gulf.  My learning to sail with Russell and sailing teacher, Randen.

MeSailingDay2

I will miss the Bike Bistro, where I bought a mug and had Mariam’s broken spokes repaired. (The free ball-point pens were orange-colored).  Farewell to Paulette and Emily who provided me with the best iced coffee on the hottest of days. They were more than baristas, they became my friends.

MeJava2

Java2

[Paulette (left) is a gifted artist & Emily (right) has a dog-siting business. They are the top two baristas in Fort Myers]

Gone will be the pink flamingo yard ornaments, adult tricycles, golf carts and circling Turkey Vultures.

Flamingos

Out of my life, like a cool breeze on a hot day, will pass the best public libraries this side of 42nd Street.

I will no longer drive along San Carlos Boulevard and tip my cap at the strippers who are all standing in front of Fantasy’s, waving to the passers-by.

New adventures are awaiting us on the roads to the West.

If you’ve read between the lines of my posts, you may have noticed that this writer is a restless soul.  I feel unspeakably lonely sometimes, even when Mariam and friends are near.  It’s my dark side.  My nightly companion is a melancholy that can’t be described easily.  Have you ever dreaded something and welcomed that thing in equal portions?  Love and hate.  Approach and avoidance.  The beautiful and the obscene.  The sacred and the profane.

Clearly, almost certainly, it’s the air sign of mine.  Gemini.  The twins.  Perhaps that explains my dual nature.

But, I think I can be fixed, like an old Chevy with faded paint that’s not running on all cylinders.  Yes, I think I’ve found the place that could be my Fountain of Youth.  I stumbled on this ghost town while googling the Mohave Desert.  I’ve never been there, but I know it exists.  It will be an unusual place and it bears the oddest of names.  It’s in the California desert.  It’s alongside the dunes and sage and cacti of the Southwest.  I’m not going to tell you (yet) where this place is located.  You will need to stay in touch.

Keep reading my posts.  I have so much more to share.

Good-bye Site #143.  It’s been a great two months.  Perhaps we can do this again sometime.  I’ll buy the wine and pay for the room if you sing that song I love…

Moon&Palm