Friday, May 1, 2009
Check Out Time Mr. Popeye, the 9th Ward's Road to Recovery (a St. Named Desire), a Memphis Minute, Ed's Fish House and Where's My Glasses?
Why am I writing from Blythville, Arkansas? Well there were no motels in Turrell or Burdette. Besides Ed's Fish House, home of the world's second best catfish, (first place is still McGhee's (sp) in southern Oklahoma)is in Blythville where I took shelter from the storm. I did not think I could ever hit a storm as bad as the one I hit in Iowa on the way down, but yesterday evening, between 6:15 and 7:20 p.m., I was literally fighting for my life.
Having made the mistake of not listening to my inner voice and staying in Memphis, where I had made an unplanned, spur of the moment detour to the Stax Museum. It wasn't just that "I couldn't get enough of a good thang", as Johnnie Taylor sang, my my plan was to pick up my brother Pete (who over the years had hung with me, made sure I had a ticket to a concert I couldn't afford, and stepped up to become a family leader after my father died and especially after my oldest brother Paul passed away unexpectedly and way too young) a long sleeve sweatshirt and give Ponderosa Stomp bumperstickers to the two staff members who recommended my motel and music while in town, only to miss its closing by a minute.
Stupidly I had journeyed on under the delusion that I would impress Jody with my iron butt story of driving straight back to Minnesota, only to get an hour past Memphis and run smack into a greenish black horizon with lightning strikes just off to the west of the highway.
Thinking I could outrun the worst of it, I cranked it up to between 95 and 100 MPH and roared past all the traffic in the right hand lane, which consisted mostly of semis. Oblivious to the risk of a speeding ticket or perhaps a reckless driving (20 mph or more over) charge, my main concern was getting as much distance between me and the much taller metal targets, the big rigs, as I couldn't get over the conversation I had with my ex-wife Cari, who, when I had called to talk to my son August after getting into New Orleans, said "I'm so glad you called as we had heard on the news that a motorcyclist had been killed by lightning in Missouri". (God bless her for saying that and I often thought how much more fun I would be having sharing this trip with her.)
It eventually began coming down so hard that I could not see thru my windscreen. My glasses fogged up completely so I had to resort to pulling them down to the tip of my nose and stretching my head over to the right so I could see over and around my glasses and screen, which even at my reduced speed of 60 mph, felt like needles to the eyeballs, causing them to tear up and my eyelids to involuntarily close. Making matters worse, if that was possible, was the fact that all the truckers I had so cavalierly blown by only minutes ago were now barreling up from behind me and in this complete grey-out with visibility literally about 30 feet, they were probably not going to see the little red dot of my tail light before it was too late. With lightning striking in the fields just to the left and ahead of me I saw the Blythville exit sign and that one mile could not come fast enough.
Luckily just to the west of the highway I spied a Best Western Motel and made a beeline for it. Standing on the mat just inside their doors hoping it would soak up the water streaming off my thoroughly soaked clothing, I shouted across the lobby "How much for a single?". "That would be $65 plus tax" the young female clerk replied, I paused slightly for dramatic effect (I was going to pay it even if it cost $200 a night) before answering back "You've got yourself a deal".
When I asked "where's a good place to eat around here?" The clerk responded, "that's easy, other than the two fast food joints, there's the fish place". "Fish place?" I say. "What kind of fish?" "The best catfish in the world" she replies. "Just take a right at the stop sign and go about a mile west past the graveyard and the car dealer (abandoned Nissan dealership) and its on the south side of the road". "How late are they open?" I inquire as it was now well after 7 p.m. "Until 8 or 9 (p.m.)" she retorts. ("Well, which is it" I think to myself, but then remember I am in the "Natural State" and time really doesn't have the same significance as it does up North.) "Thanks" I add as I hurriedly depart hoping to make the possible 8 o'clock deadline should the rain let up and hopefully after putting on something a little drier from my soft sided and now squishy saddle bags.
I talk to my college-aged daughter Genny (who I am so very proud of) by cellphone who, when I ask if she is keeping up with my blog, comments that it keeps her and her girlfriends (hi girls!) in stitches. Sorry Gen if I too often show my concern with what might seem like negativity or criticism as it was a learned behavior and hard to shed. "Raise with Praise" I once heard a wise African American mother say. Amen to that, it's just hard to put into practice.
And on that note, the rest will have to wait as some of the other guests are giving me looks like I am overstaying my welcome on the courtesy computer terminal in the lobby/cafeteria buffet of the motel. I just have to add before it slips my mind, thanks to the clerk Judy for volunteering to go search my room before I leave to look for my prescription eyeglasses as I typed this. Unfortunately she didn't have any luck finding them which means I left them at Ed's Fish House and they don't open til 4 p.m. Judy again comes to my rescue and writes down the phone number for Ed's so I can give them a call when I get home.
I also want to add that this motel sports the most incredible complimentary full, and I mean full, breakfast including eggs, sausage, make your own waffles (apparently the new trend in motels down South)and something that I have never heard or tasted before Biscuits and Cocoa gravy. They're made by Theresa, the other day clerk/cook and she was so kind as to give me the recipe, which I hope I can remember as I don't have a pen. So with grey skies and ran in the forecast as far as Doppler radar can see, I pull out of the motel around 10 a.m. and bid a fond adieu to Blythville.
After traveling not more than ten minutes the rain is back. Slow and steady at first and then in a repeat of the previous eventing, it becomes a torrential downpour. Always the eternal optimist (and thinking its way too early to start looking for a motel), I press ahead in near zero visibility.
In addition to the precipitation, it was an appreciable 10 degrees cooler than the day before and this added to the precariousness of the situation. As it would later be explained to me by an astute, amateur meteorologist up the road, the hilly terrains combined with the cool wet temperatures had the effect of producing a white, wispy ground fog, especially in the low areas.
Under these conditions, it was extremely hard to see my bike, either oncoming or from behind. But from the side, my idiotic selection of a color scheme made it virtually invisible. " I gotta find someplace to pull off and take cover", I think to myself. Sometime during this period of reduced visibility I must have crossed over the Missouri state line since starting to appear out of the water and wisps of white is the outline of a highway sign announcing, thank god, that a rest area was shortly ahead. For reasons still unknown to me, I park in the side lot instead of just pulling up to the front doors leaving me a long slog through the saturated grass (I should have taken the sidewalk).
To be continued...