Notes from the road — the P(x) digital diaries

<< Day 6 — Arkansas

Day 7: Friday, August 20th

by April

Howdy Folks! April here. Not nearly as literate or well spoken as either Cynthia or Chris, but I thought I'd give this a go too. Bear with me — last night was a doozy.

We actually got up at 6 am. Chris has an uncanny internal alarm clock and she had us up and moving and outta there by 7 am. This was essential, we had an important meeting with a Memphis documentary filmmaker (a friend of a friend of Cynthia's) and we had no idea what Memphis commuter traffic would be like. Well we had nothing to worry about traffic-wise (dodging big semis is second nature by now) but the big challenge turned out to be the sketchy and down-right inaccurate signage in Memphis.

Those Tenn. folks must all know where they're going and they sure as hell don't need any signs to tell them about it. We thought we were headed into Tennessee, and I do believe we crossed over and then back again and suddenly we were headed west from whence we came. I have no idea how this happened, there was much fluttering up mapage, and ideas bandied about, back onto the highway, crossed a bridge, thought we had made it to Tenn. NO! Arkansas again. Our third attempt we actually made it to the promised land and wound our way into old town. Very cute old town, filled with old brick buildings. The Civil Rights Museum is down here, as is the hotel that Martin Luther King Jr. was shot at. We parked and went into the most authentically old-time diner/café I've ever been in. The Arcade is actually a historical landmark, built in 1919. It was one of Elvis' fave hangouts, famous blues singers have plaques over their regular tables. But that doesn't mean this place is in any way clean, shiny, or touristy. The grime was as thick as the french toast we had. It definitely felt like home. We powered up on coffee, whipped out maps and postcards, befriended our multiply pierced waitress (see it did feel like home), and listened to the brand new alternative radio station they had playing. Rodney arrived shortly afterwards. Tall, dark haired and amiable, this documentary filmmaker was a joy to breakfast with. He worked on a Canon XL1 too, answered all our questions and reassured a frantic Chris that the audio was going to be fine and yes, there are amazing things that can be done in post-production. We had a wonderful 45 minutes with him before he had to get off to a shoot.

We were so won over by the atmosphere of the Arcade, Chris simply had to get interviews there, and by god we interviewed up a storm! The patrons, the cook, the owner and her multiply-pierced Christian daughter. I am consistently blown away by how knowledgeable people are. These random people we choose. It is amazing, that a fry cook in Memphis can describe the intricate balance of a wetland ecosystem. I am also impressed by how people really care about our environment and future. Chris wanted to hit the road and book it up to Missouri — she was unanimously out-voted in the only mutinous act to happen so far. This team wanted to see Graceland.

Once again poor signage figured prominently in our seeing much more of Memphis than we'd planned just cuz we were lost. C'mon, what else is Memphis known for? I thought there'd be big ole Elvis statues everywhere pointing their kingly fingers towards Casa de King. Nope. There was a Heartbreak Hotel right next to it though. Chris really wanted to get interviews inside Graceland, so she headed off to sweet-talk the management — we headed to the giftshop. I had no idea you could put the visage of Elvis on so many things. Amazing. Chris came back, no we couldn't shoot in there — but we had free upgraded tickets — the Graceland equivalent of an "E" ticket. Score! We took the little bus over and strapped on the Walkman which leads you through a tour of the downstairs portion of the palace. The soft drawl of some country singer I can't identify (but I'm REALLY getting to like the accent) and Priscilla Presley leads you through the rooms — untouched since the King passed. It's like 70's d&ecaute;cor gone crazy. Mirrors everywhere, an entire room done in shag fake fur. Crazy, man. It was lot smaller than we expected. It was a house, a larger house, but still not the palatial estates stars live in today. In back we saw the trophy rooms — which are packed with the gold records and walls and walls of awards Elvis won. His outrageous outfits, props from the movies and clips from his first appearance on TV were all on exhibit. He was a handsome devil when he was young. Little wonder the girls flipped. But by the end — well, as the tour tape so delicately puts it, "the pressures of stardom and prescription drug addiction eventually took their toll on an all too mortal man." Out in back, Elvis, his mom, dad and grandma are buried (buried in the backyard, isn't that just little hick?) Elvis died August 16th 1977. We missed the 22-year anniversary by days. The backyard is covered in funeral wreaths from all over the globe. The shear number is staggering. Amazing how many folks still mourn his death — even from other parts of the world, although Elvis never played a concert outside the US. We were all a little creeped out by the end of the tour. This is definitely the closest thing to American royalty. Strange to see a deity made of a small-town boy.

We were all good and ready to get the freak out of dodge, we were burning daylight and there were so many interesting people to be interviewed. So we hopped in the car. Cynthia and Kelli in the front — here was our first mistake. Both young ladies have a good nose for direction and map reading individually — however stick them together and they cancel one another out. ... Team that with the phenomenal signage in Tennessee and you have 1½ hours of hilarious fun seeing the good and bad and good neighborhoods of Memphis. Chris and I had a GREAT deal of fun at the expense of our navigators — who in turn took us over every big bump in the road so we could knock our big heads on the ceiling of the cab. One unexpected delight (and it was all unexpected cuz we were lost) was to get a close look at an oil refinery as we pulled in to spin around the surprised gatekeeper and head out again. We were so flustered, we just wanted to get the heck out of Tenn. We stopped in Covington — a small little town with a time capsule in its town square (do not open until 2023). The map was so wrong, we weren't sure that we'd actually made it out until we saw that welcome to Missouri sign. On and on we drive, trying to get as far as possible before dark overtakes us. Luckily Mo. Is much better on signs. We have heard tell that there is a place in Missouri where they throw something at you. We're not sure what that entails but beats interviewing more caf&ecaute; people, so we took the turnoff and pulled into Miner, MO. And Lambert's Café "Home of the Throwed Rolls" I kid you not.

This big barn-like structure is packed with old-time stuff — everywhere. The folks are very friendly! You sit down at a wood bench and table and nice folks circulate around with food. Fried okra? Yep, and they whip out a paper towel and plunk down a mound of 'em. Tomatoes and macaroni? Sorghum? Fried taters and onions? And then we ordered — there were good things like catfish, and great veggies. Now the main attraction is ... this young fellow comes out of the kitchen with fresh out of the oven rolls — yells "Hot rolls!" and people raise their hands straight up — all eyes are on the roll boy. And he pitches those suckers at you from across the room. He's a great shot — and when he misses, he blames it on the person sitting next you. I saw many a poor catch and those beside them got pegged. It was great fun. We picked up a chatty truck driver in line (Mr. Bill) who showed us the ropes, told us about the only place to go in South Dakota, and then we interviewed him after dinner. We interviewed lots of folks in front of that café. Seems once you take out the camera people appear out of nowhere. We got police officers, young couples, truck drivers, water boys and a big group freshly back from Christian Youth camp. All very chatty, all with wildly divergent opinions. From technology will save us to the end of the world is at hand. Warmed by the hospitality of these really nice folks, we settle for the evening in Miner, at the local Super 8. Cynthia did some scouting for the cheapest non-roach hotel. In the process through a case of mistaken identity she met a very nice young African-American man. He came over and chatted with us awhile. Seems racial prejudice is alive and well in this part of the country too.

We lugged ALL our heavy equipment upstairs. Can't possibly leave such precious cargo alone in a car — but boy what a pain toting in and out everyday. Got in and began the nightly rituals, logging footage, discussing the day's shoot, Cynthia trying to get online and send in our daily log. It was here we first discovered a trend in hotels. Phones that are un-detachable from the wall. Permanently wired, no way for us to jack in. I've never heard her curse such a blue streak before. We all made our calls to loved ones. One of the most draining things I find about being on the road is being out of touch with those I'm close to. I'm travelling with 3 great gals — but it sure is refreshing to get outside info from friends and loved ones.

>> Day 8 — Missouri

Cynthia in the morning

Days of the Diaries