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

<< Day 7 — Tennessee

Day 8: Saturday, August 21st

by April

We actually slept late (7:30) today — ahh so refreshing! We stumbled around in the room separating sweaty clothing from camera equipment, while our fearless leader Chris was already up and at 'em! She went to the dreaded omnipresent Wal-Mart (we've seen them EVERYWHERE) and picked up much needed supplies. Life on the road with this whirlwind schedule leaves little time for things like shopping. Which is great cuz none of us are really into that anyway, but we had left the shampoo back in Arkansas and were seriously considering dreadlocks if shampoo wasn't secured soon. We packed and had a leisurely breakfast when Chris arrived back and we hit the road. I think we've really hit our stride now. Everyone is well versed on the routine, the equipment, the interview schick, loading and unloading and eating cheap diner food. We're running like a well oiled machine, still working on shrinking what we call the 'dick around' factor, but on the whole putting large amounts of interviews in the can and miles beneath our wheels is becoming second nature.

First goal this morning was to head to the shores along the Mississippi River, and talk to some for-real river people. Checking out the map, the small burg of Neely Landing looked ideal. Off we hopped from the freeway and wound our way back into the jungle-y, vine-filled (hot, humid and sweaty) backroads. Pavement gave way to gravel and then to dirt. Chris was getting more and more excited. Up this road, down that one, check the map, turn around in the driveway of some mobile home with big barking dogs. April and Kelli begin the sing the theme from "Deliverence." Back forth and up and down ... no Neely. So back to the freeway, on the way we pass large barbed-wire-fenced acreage owned by Proctor and Gamble. Hmmmm. Big "Keep Out" signs all over. Just exactly what does P&G do here? We went to the front gate and into the huge parking lot.

Chris stopped and asked a man coming off shift.

"Hi! Is Neely's Landing a real town?"


"Does it have a store?"


—Here Chris bit her tongue to keep from saying "Then it's not a real town," instead she said "Thank you!" and back to the highway we went.

On to a cute little town right along the Big River, St. Genevieve. This is the oldest town west of the Mississippi, filed with old brick buildings and we're told it sits right on the New Madrid faultline. While no quakes have rocked this area in some time, many residents are sure they'll be shaking before long. We interviewed some of the really nice residents there. Many downtown store owners, like the florist and the photo shop owner. A great deal of love in this small town and we were feeling it too. They had all lived through the big flood of '93 and it seems to have brought them close together. Its not uncommon for us to interview one person and get recommendations to talk to several others, some times they even escort and introduce us to new folks. We interviewed a high school teacher who used to live in SF (and sold the first Betacam in the US) as well as a young couple from St. Louis who invited us to share their bottle of Missouri wine. The mural being painted by the couple who owned the photo shop depicted the settling of the town and the ice cream shop they sent us to afterwards was divine!

On the high school teacher's advise we headed up to St. Louis to track down a specific location ... an older residential area, Kirkwood, which is predominantly black has been knocked down to make way for a huge "Super" Wal-mart. This is directly across from the "Big" K-mart. Its amazing how much land they're using for this project. Acres and acres. We drove to the residential district in the hazy late afternoon sunshine and cruised the area. Lots of folks were relaxing in big groups on their front porches. Large groups of kids were playing games in the street. It seemed a lower economic scale area, but with big trees and old houses — very homey.

Our visionary Chris, a woman with guts to spare, started hopping out at every gathering, approaching with a big ole smile on her face. Completely undeterred by the squinty looks of distrust — seems that blonde Californians in pickups didn't show up here on a regular basis, much less attempting to elicit opinions. Many "no"s didn't dampen her spirit, she kept on trying and considered it a success if she could get them to smile. Finally, a "yes" and after that interview the "yes"s came one after another. A longtime home owner, 2 fairly drunk young men in the street, a young man whom the city had cited eminent domain and shut down his auto repair business, and many more. By the end of our 2 hours there we were surrounded by a big group of kids, all of whom "wanted to be on TV!" We sent them off with release forms, which quickly came back signed and we interviewed everyone of those cuties! Including the sweet little boy who had crawled into the back cab with Cynthia and Kelli. Off again! This time to make tracks to Hannibal, Mo. It simply looked like a town that might be big enough to have a motel. We have had the problem of pulling into a 1 horse town (well it LOOKED big on the map, it was in red and all) and finding no accomodations. Reminds me of the olden times, when you had to travel to the next town that had an inn, and not all of them did. Luckily we haven't had to sleep in a barn yet — but the trip's not over. We landed at the Econolodge, next to the Mark Twain Museum sign. We had unwittingly landed in Mark Twain's hometown. The setting for his famous tales of young rascals and big rivers. I don't remember the Econolodge featured in any of those, but then its been years since I've read "Huck Finn." The nightly ritual commenced (and it was upstairs AGAIN daggit). We were very tired. Cynthia worked on updates, Kelli did the much needed laundry and Chris and April logged.

You know, if I might break here for a moment, filmmaking is a challenging thing in itself. So is traveling. Put the two together and you've got a real challenge in communication, frustration, exhaustion and the like. I must say I've been so impressed with the level of communication in this group. Check-in and clarifying A LOT have been saving graces in this trip. This particular evening Chris, Cynthia and April got into a good get down and gritty hashing out of expectations and responsibilities. We feel so much better after that, but when you're in the thick of it, it can be mighty dark. This session of clearing the air left director, interviewer and camerawoman very happy and unified. And with that, we all had a beer and went to bed.

>> Day 9 — Missouri into Iowa

Cynthia in the morning

Days of the Diaries