St. Louis, MO – evening

I’m tired.

I didn’t get a particular lot of sleep last night.  Kind of a stressful drive, too.  The longest one I’ve had yet (but read on for dire tidings in that department), and out in the middle of it, as far from anything as I was all day, the RV starts acting strange.

It got loud.  I thought the gas pedal had gotten stuck to the floor.  But I wasn’t going faster, it was just louder.  I know there are fans that kick in and make the engine a bit louder, but I’m used to that.  It was more than that.  I decided to pull over, but no exits.

I slowed down a lot, because a really loud 45mph sounds nominally better than a really loud 65mph.  After what seemed like forever, with me knowing the engine was going to explode in a huge fireball that scatters debris for miles and miles, with me wondering every 12 feet if I should just pull over here on the side of road and call AAA, finally there’s an exit.  I pulled off, stopped the engine, and popped the hood.

No, I have no idea why I popped the hood.  I know nothing about cars.  Hell, if someone told it needed it’s tonsils out, well, I really couldn’t argue the point with them.  Maybe, just maybe, there was something obvious, a Tab B hanging half out of a Slot A (preferably with the legend: insert Tab B into Slot A if engine gets really loud).

What to do.  I decided not knowing what to do while moving in the general direction of St. Louis had slightly more appeal than not knowing what to do sitting still in Off-Ramp, USA.

So off I go, noisy as all hell.  I’m going the highway minimum speed, wondering what’s wrong, wondering should I stop, wondering how much this is going to cost me, wondering how many pieces my sister was going to chew me into for burning her RV to the ground.

Suddenly, it went away.  I would love to have seen the look on my face.  It just plain went away. And I started feeling so relieved and no no NO there it goes AGAIN!  I pulled over again at the next Rest Area.

What did I do first?  Pop the hood, why not?  I’m sitting there thinking “I don’t know anything about cars (I reach down and pop the hood), there’s nothing under there I can even recognize, let alone fix (I get out of the RV and walk around front), why I am even wasting my time (reach under the hood and pop the latch) a monkey poking at the engine with an umbrella in his tail has a better shot at mechanical success here (prop the hood open with the hood-standy-up thing. [See what I mean?  You see? “Hood-standy-up thing.”  Dear Lord, I shouldn’t be allowed to drive Barbie’s Dream Corvette without an adult present]).

To no one’s great surprise, I find myself baffled at the array of dirty, greasy, and OW, son-of-a-bitch, quite warm parts (yes, I really did touch the just shut-off engine.  I know, I told you so myself.  Just stay clear of me, my car’s bound to go off like a roman candle someday, and you don’t want to be around for it).  Not being humbled enough with the existing evidence of my ignorance, I get back in the RV.  I don’t know if you’ve been in a motor home before, but certain ones (like the ones built on the Chevrolet 454 chassis.  Did we all pay attention to Wednesday’s chassis lesson?) have a console between the two front seat that allows access to the engine

Oh, yes I did, too.

Without going into overly much detail, my trouble-shooting was just precisely as successful from this angle as from the other.  I did manage to re-attach the console without hurting myself, though.

So I did the only thing I had left to do.  I went up to the Rest Area building and took a whiz.  My confidence bolstered by a completely error-free urination procedure, I sat down to decide what to do next.  I obviously wanted to just drive on ahead (It really shouldn’t be making that noise), after all, if something happened, I had my AAA card (seriously, that noise is not a good sign), and, besides, except for the obvious, there were absolutely no symptoms, the thing was running just fine (STRANGE NOISE BAD!  BAD, BAD!).

Just at that moment, I felt an ant on my arm and went to flick him off of it.  Not an ant.  Red and black spider (I know what a black widow looks like, this wasn’t one.  But bright reds and yellows are warning signs for Mother Nature.  Like if you ever see that bright yellow frog RUN!).  I accepted this as a perfectly appropriate sign that I was to get out of there as quickly as possible, and I started up the RV.

The noise was gone.  The RV ran as well as it has since I’ve been in it, all the way into St. Louis.  I have no explanation for what happened or why it stopped happening.  It’s almost frustrating, I can’t even take it in someplace now (“It was making this noise that it doesn’t make anymore…”).

Well, that story took longer than I intended.  I had just wanted to explain that I’d had a stressful day and didn’t feel like writing an update tonight.  But now that we’ve come this far, it doesn’t seem as though that’s at issue anymore.  So I’m going to do some thinking out loud, or on paper, or whatever this is.

When I made the rough cut itinerary, I used a bunch of AAA maps, partly because they gave them to me free, and partly because they all have these little sub-maps with driving distances and times between major cities and Interstate junctions.  So I apparently knew right up front what I was doing, I just can’t for the life of me recall why I did it.

Most of my eastern trips had driving times of three to four hours.  Most of my western legs are eight and nine hours.  Like I say, I have _no_ clue why I thought this was a good idea.  So here’s what I’m thinking now.

I’m going to blow off my second day in St. Louis (I think mostly what I was going to do here was go to comic stores, and with San Diego coming up, that seems less of a priority at the moment) and spend two days driving to Denver.  I was intending to do St. Louis to Denver in two days, so it’s not that much of a change.  What that should do is get me back to my original schedule upon arrival in Denver.  Then I’m going to spend only two nights in Denver, rather than the alloted three.  That should give me a day to play with between Denver and San Diego, which I’ll probably need considering the distances I was looking to cover on some of those days.

One thing this means is that there won’t be any updates until Denver.  I plan on staying over in Salinas, Kansas tomorrow night, and even if they _do_ have a modem outlet, the office will be closed by the time I roll in.  So it might very well be Monday morning in Denver before I get another update published.  There’s a peculiar kind of time warp that happens on these trips, and “Monday morning in Denver” seems eternally far away from here.  But you might see multiple updates that I wrote on the road appearing at the same time.  Or you might not.  Okay, I’m officially babbling at this point.  What do you want from me, I told you I was tired when I started this thing…

Memphis, TN – morning

Well, I’m in Memphis doing a little laundry before I leave town, and you can’t leave the machines unattended.  Well, I mean, you _can_, but the signs are written in a manner that suggests possible gunplay if you try it.  So I brought along the laptop and I’m getting updates done.

Late late late last night I ended up writing about Graceland, I guess it was something that just wouldn’t wait until morning.  I’m kind of interested to see how people react to it.  It’s easy to be funny (and this is what most people have said they enjoy about the updates) when situations are existentially meaningless, but I just couldn’t make light of what happened at Graceland.  So we’ll see if anybody thinks I can write about serious stuff.

The rest of the day was great, too.  I went downtown, despite the warnings of the the folks who run the KOA here to keep my doors locked and windows rolled up the entire trip (yeah, right.  I’ve got no AC in the Tracker.  If I kept the windows rolled up my head would have exploded) and be sure to park in a guarded garage if I hoped to ever see my car again (well, my bike is on top, and the first three garage parking areas were too low-ceilinged for me to get in.  So I just parked on the road.  Everybody’s still alive and well).

First stop, Beale St.  Pleah.  It might have been hot stuff at one point, but now it’s all overpriced bar/restaurants and more of the snow-globe ashtray variety gift shops (what does a “gift” like that say to someone?  “I have no taste and I thought you wouldn’t either?”  “I was on my way home, and remembered at the last minute that I’d better get you something?”  “I really shouldn’t be allowed to spend money without supervision?”).  To be fair, I was there in the middle of the afternoon, and some of the bar/restaurants were presumably overpriced because they had live music at night.  So perhaps Beale jumps, jives, and wails at night.  But it was doodley-squat during the day.

Union Ave was next on my list.  The Peabody Hotel is there, and I stopped in to see the famous ducks.  There they were, in the fountain in the lobby bar, which was, by the way, packed with people having cocktails.  I didn’t think much of it at the time, because I’d done my share of hotel lobby boozing it up on the company’s dime while business traveling, but thinking about it now, it was only about 1:30 in the afternoon.  Do these people ever work?  Of course, look who’s asking _that_ question…  I mentally noted that the duck procession was scheduled to head upstairs at five.

I walked down Main St. for awhile.  Nothing.  Truly, it was mostly buildings for lease.  I saw maybe five people.  Well, actually, I did see one cool store, a vintage guitar shop.  They did, in fact have a reverse-body Firebird, but they wanted $3250 for it.  I rarely see those guitars, but that still seemed high.  My suspicion was confirmed when I noticed several Fender Mustangs priced between $800 and $1000.  They were more like $400 to $600 guitars.  And besides, none of the three people working there so much as condescended to say hello to me.  Guess I’ll take my $3250 elsewhere.

I wanted to see Sun Studio, but I didn’t know where it was.  I thought it was supposed to be right there on Union Ave.  Luckily, I noticed a sign: “Memphis Tourism Office.”  Bingo, they had maps and booklets of all variety.

Turns out Sun _is_ on Union Ave, just way way _down_ Union Ave.  I decided to make the pilgrimage and get some exercise in the process.

A half hour of walking and about four gallons of sweating later, I was there, and just five minutes before the next tour was supposed to start.  In I went.

Sun Studio is three rooms.  There’s an entry room, the studio itself, and the control room.  And the tour didn’t go into the control room (All the equipment in there had been updated, the tour guide said, and so was not historically significant).  That brought the cost of the tour to a grand total of 4 dollars per room.

NOTE: between last paragraph and next, many hours and miles went by, and we’re now coming to you live from St. Louis.  Really, I can see the arch… But now back to our regularly scheduled update.

They tried to make up for the lack of area on the tour with audio:  the guide would point to a picture of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Howlin’ Wolf, or whoever, then play some of the recording session, one tape generation away from the original master, right there on the studio monitors.  It was pretty neat, but in order to get to everything in the half-hour “tour,” you sure didn’t get to hear much of any given song.

I probably would have given them eight bucks to just go stand in the studio awhile, so I wasn’t particularly unhappy that that, essentially, is what happened.  But as we were leaving, I got the feeling that not everyone there shared my viewpoint on this.

Another half-hour walk, back into the city.  I had about an hour and fifteen minutes until the duck march, so I thought I’d do the RiverWalk on Mud Island.  Mud Island is a long skinny bit of business about two good Frisbee throws into the Mississippi from Memphis.  The Memphis Belle sits in retirement there, along with the RiverWalk, a few shops, and a museum.

At this point in my journey and my day, I was about museumed out.  Add to that only just over an hour in the future, I wanted to check out those ducks.  Add to that I was beginning to do some math in my head and I realized what I’d spent so far today, so I decided on asking for the four dollar ticket that just got you onto the island, rather than the eight dollar ticket that allowed museum access as well.  I stated this as simply as I could: “One adult, no museum,”  and handed her a ten.  After I turned around, I realized she’d given me the eight dollar ticket and two singles, rather than the four dollar ticket, a one and a five (I must have hallucinating at this point in the day, I swear I saw a five when she was handing me change).  So she screwed up a full 25 percent of my four word request.  From where I was standing, it was pretty much the important part, too.  I was pretty worn down, and decided not to fight about it.

I went upstairs and got on the “monorail.”  I have no idea who thought this gondola hanging on a wire could be accurately described as a monorail.  More of a no,norail.  If that bothered me, you could tell I was getting a little tired and cranky at that point.

I did the museum first, figuring to get some value for the extra four bucks.  The first room was yada yada yada.  The plaque on the wall leading to the next room said something like enjoy our re-creation of an 1800s side-wheeler.  Through the door was maybe 20 by 30 foot room, with a piano at one end, a little stateroom with two bunk beds, and a little bar with vintage bottles.  “How swell,” I smirked to myself as I walked out the other side of the “re-creation”…

And onto the bow of the boat.  The room I’d come from was the second of three stories of a huge indoor steamboat.  Well, the front end of the steamboat, anyway.  But still, they did some nice work on that.  I was impressed.  I went up to the pilot’s room, and down to the engine room.  Nifty.

Later, not having learned my lesson, I was rather blase about their “through the next door is our Union Gunship re-creation,” which was actually just a low-ceilinged room with big wooden cannon pointed out the windows.  “Phhh,” I phhhed, until turning the corner to realize it was another multi-story roomful, the gunboat was almost complete on the outside, and there were Rebel cannon on a section of fort across the way.  Again, most nifty.

Nothing else in the museum compared to those displays, unless you count the turn-of-the-century Gibson Archtop guitar, the first vintage guitar I’d actually seen (Graceland had a reproduction displayed, but at least it was in the original leather, personalized guitar cover Elvis often used.  Sun had nothing but repros.  And they were all for sale, which sat rather ill with me for some reason).  That was pretty cool.

By now I’d realized that I was going to miss the duck procession, so I took my time around the Memphis Belle and the RiverWalk.  The RiverWalk is actually pretty cool, too: it’s a half-mile long scale model of the upper Mississippi, with real running water, geographically accurate contours, and maps of the cities alongside.

I took a bunch of pictures and headed back to RV sweet home.  Cleaned up, had some decent ribs, and got out a guitar.

Memphis, TN – late night

Graceland.  How do I start with Graceland?

Elvis was always on the periphery of my musical tastes.  I was more likely to enjoy an album by someone who was influenced by Elvis then by the real thing.  Then again, he was responsible for songs like Suspicious Minds and His Latest Flame and Kentucky Rain and In The Ghetto (Mac Davis wrote that song, did you know that?).  CDs may have their downsides, but one definite plus has been the surge of rereleased songs, often remastered from original tapes, occasionally with alternate versions of songs or outtakes, or partial takes (The Beatles Anthologies are probably the highest profile of these efforts).  And I’d actually been kicking around which of the Elvis sets to get (there are three, 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.  And I think I might just have to splurge and get the 50’s _and_ the 60’s first), even before I knew I was coming to Graceland.

So when I realized I was going to be camping near Graceland (remember the Opryland/RV campground connection?  Well, Graceland is the next stop on this particular tour, please keep your hands and arms inside the bus at all times), I knew I had to go.

After Nashville, where the attractions in the Opryland suburbs had truly frightened me, and The Hermitage had left me rather flat, I wasn’t on very solid ground here.  Also, I had mixed emotions as to how I “should” react.  As a snob and a smart-ass, I am required by law to textually pounce upon any perceived weakness, oddity, or abnormality in any group that can be described stereotypically.  But as a singer and guitar player, in all seriousness, there’s a certain amount of reverence going on here.

So I what-the-helled it, and got the platinum ticket to see his cars and his planes and his mansion and his socks and underwear.

The mansion itself was not nearly so stand-offish as The Hermitage.  Perhaps Andrew Jackson would have been a more inviting host had he penchants for TVs, firearms, and peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches.  They didn’t fix the tear in the felt on the pool table, instead they told a story about it.  They told you not to touch anything, but they tended to turn the other direction a lot (Velour bedspread on the bed on the plane.  And a _really_ long seatbelt).  I won’t go so far as to say Elvis decorated as I would have, but I felt a kindred spirit: I could tell _he_ felt it was comfortable.  And I was comfortable with that.

The tour wound through the living room, music room, media room, the famous Jungle Room, then out back to Vernon’s office, the horse pastures, then into the trophy room.

The trophy room was where it started.  I began to sense what it was all about.  The effect one guy could have just singing a song, just doing something he loved to do.  I went down a hall lined with gold records. They meant something.  I went through display cases filled with jewelled jumpsuits of leather and seude and God-only-knows-what, alongside pictures of the concerts where he wore them, concerts in front of thousands of people.  That meant something.

Outside the trophy room, I stopped my little tape player (the tour was on tape, we were all issued a walkman at the tour bus) and struggled with this for a few minutes.  It meant something, but I couldn’t tell what.

I started the tape again, and walked toward the racquetball court, the next stop.  There were a lot of people there, and my walking was actually a little bit behind what the tape was telling me.  The tape was talking about a ceremony that had been held in the racquetball court on the fifteenth, maybe twentieth anniversary of Elvis’ death.  Apparently, Elvis had never recieved all the gold record awards he was entitled to.  And many records had sold enough to go platinum, or multi-platinum, but had only been recognized as gold.  This was just one of those things that sometimes happens to big artists.  At any rate RCA had researched all the sales records and determined what gold and platinum records Elvis really deserved, and presented them en masse, posthumously.

Right about then I walked into the racquetball court.

From where I was standing, it looked fifty feet wide and a hundred feet high.  Covered with gold records, with platinum records.  One hundred and ten, the tape said from somewhere that seemed far away.  Some as much as quintuple platinum.  Millions of records.  Millions and millions of records, of songs, of…

I just stood there.  I began to feel the extent, to understand the enormity of what this meant.  I was blinking as fast as I could because I knew everyone was going to be looking at that idiot over there, crying at a bunch of sales awards.

But they aren’t sales awards.  Those are people.  Those are lives he touched

Those are differences he made.

Those are people.

I was kind of foggy walking away.  The only remaining stop was the meditation garden, where Elvis and those closest to him rest.  This seemed to be one the most popular areas of the mansion and grounds, there were dozens of people lined up several deep stopping around the grave.

I just walked around it.

There’s nothing there, Elvis isn’t there.  Elvis is with those people.  All those people, reflected in the records on that wall, they all have pieces.  Elvis gave them pieces.  Elvis gave me a piece.

I got my piece a little late, or at least understood its value a little late.

In recognition, I respectfully offer this piece of me, for what it may be worth to you.

Memphis, TN – late night

I’m talking _really_ late night.  I’m talking well into tomorrow morning late night.

Today was a wonderful but exhausting day, and tomorrow I’ve got the longest single-day drive of my trip so far.  And I don’t know if it’s just me (my size makes an awful lot of life physically uncomfortable for me) or if they purposely design the driver’s seat in these things to be almost exactly the opposite of what you might consider comfortable.  The steering wheel is precisely the wrong distance and angle from the seat.  The gas pedal is diabolically positioned so as to place maximum stress on at least two major muscle groups in the right leg.  The height of the arm rests ensures an awkward carpal tunnel situation.  And the best air conditioning vent is located such that anything in the cup holder will deflect the cool air everywhere away from you.

The gist of all this is that I’m not really up to writing an update tonight.  On top of wanting sleep, I’m rather creatived-out at the moment.  Perhaps Elvis himself was smiling on me, but after dinner (Marlowe’s, supposed to be the best ribs in Memphis.  They were good, but if these were the best in Memphis, you should really go to Cincinnati for ribs) I got out my guitar and my notebooks.  I wrote one completely new song, got a chorus and the verse melody for another new one, and finished one that I haven’t been able to write a final verse for over the past several months (second time that’s happened this week).

So when I get back, I’ll play you all the tape, and perhaps you can forgive me for this lapse.

But tomorrow’s a travelling day, and travelling days have been good for update writing so far.  So I owe you for Graceland, Sun Studios, The Peabody Hotel, and Mud Island (which is _much_ better than the name implies).  Don’t worry, I’m good for it.

Memphis, TN – afternoon

Just a quick note before the office shuts down.

Graceland and Memphis today.  Great day.  I’ll be writing more tonight, but it won’t go in until tomorrow morning.

Thanks to everyone who’s been reading, and particularly to those who’ve been emailing me, it’s wonderful to hear from you.

By the way, it’s hotter than hell in August here.  I’m scared of what it’ll be like when it gets to _be_ August here…

Memphis, TN – evening

What a generally excellent day.

I mean, considering I had to get up at six in the morning (did anyone catch that I was completed screwed up with regard to the time change when I complained about having to get up at 5 “my time?”  I left my watch set to EDT, but set the clock in the RV to local time (since I have to reset it every time I’ve unhooked).  I was in bed reading and had a panic attack when I realized I must have set the alarm wrong, because the hours of sleep the clock suggested I had left differed from the suggestion my watch had.  Still, 7am “my time” is too damn early, any way you slice it…) and drop seven bills at a Chevy repair shop, the day had a ways to go to make up for it.

I mentioned breakfast, after that they told me I had about four hours until the RV would be ready.  So I hopped in the Tracker to see what Nashville had to offer.

At first, I was a little disappointed.  I drove directly towards downtown on the road where the Chevy place was located, and turned down a couple streets in the downtown area.  It looked pretty much like every other downtown area in the US (that homogenization issue rears its ugly but familiar head), and, besides, it was only eight-thirty in the morning at this point: everything was still closed.

After realizing I was approximately two turns away from not being able to find my way back to the Chevy place, I retraced my steps and drove back towards Opryland: there was a lot of associated tourist crap around there…

Several of the museums along Music Valley Road (and here I use the term “museum” in it’s loosest possible sense) opened at nine, so I had a few minutes to select which might best pass some time.  Cars of the Stars?  The Willie Nelson and Friends Wax Musuem (What, you think I’m making these up?  You can’t make up crap like this)?  Luckily (only considering the circumstances was it lucky), each and every one of these museums had a gift shop out front.  Now, these aren’t your typical museum gift shops (and why would they be, at this point?) where you could buy items associated with the subject of the museum.  No, this was like being in some land-locked Gay Dolphin where all the snow globe ashtrays have “Myrtle Beach” scratched out and a cowboy hat and “Nashville” penned in, many times spelled correctly.  And no, that’s not the part I consider “lucky.”

The lucky part was that the security was not what you’d call air-tight, and you could see into the museums and check out an exhibit or two before ponying up the admittance fee.  Now, I think we all know that I eliminated The Willie Nelson and Friends Wax Musuem from contention at the outset, and, further, I think we all know why.  So I snuck a peek into the Cars of the Stars museum.

You know the stories that you hear about celebrities with too much money who buy the stretch limosines with TVs and bars and bowling alleys in them?  Well, them’s not the cars what are in here.

What we’ve got here is the burned out husk of a ’50 Ford that Elvis once traded for his first train ticket anywhere the hell out of Tupelo.

Get yourself a couple sheets of cardboard, write things like “Dolly Parton’s Chevrolet” and “Loretta Lynn’s Buick” and “Billy Ray Cyrus’ Yugo” on them, then go to any used car lot and set the signs on the hoods, and you’ve got a reasonable facsimile of the Cars of the Stars Museum experience.

So I chose the one remaining option, the as-yet-unmentioned-in-this-account Toy and Train Museum.  Inside the obligatory gift shop offering hilarious gee-gaws like the plaque picturing two naked youngsters from behind, the little boy uttering to the little girl that boffo punchline: “No, you can’t touch it, you already broke yours off,” were two halls, of a total area a bit less than that of my rather spartan house.  Now that I think about it, I think there are probably several more toys _in_ my house than in this museum…

Now, they did have some interesting stuff that I would have liked to have known more about.  But the organization was like a rough cut of cleaning up your room as a child: first pile all the toy soldiers here, all the windup cars here, all the toy boats here.  The only difference is these people put up windows and started charging other folks for a look.  The documentation, when there was any, was hand printed in large letters on narrow paper, with what I’ll generously refer to as creative hyphenation, and tended towards the general: “The tin cars in this display were made from 1890 to 1950, in the US, England, Germany, and Japan.”  I’d have a better chance of learning about the history of a particular car with a calendar, a globe, and two darts.

And I don’t know much about the preservation of wood, metal, and plastic, but they also had original boxes for some of the toys, and even one comic book.  And I _do_ know something about the preservation of paper.  And you could learn a lot about how to properly preserve paper by simply doing the opposite of everything that they had done: bare paper (it was one of those give-away books with no glossy cover) laying under flourescent lights, surrounded by items made of cheap plastic (most plastics are constantly breaking down and releasing dangerous gases.  Just another example of better living through chemistry).  I stood there and watched the book decay for a few minutes, just for a larf.

The train section was a little more interesting, but tended towards wind-up English trains, rather than the Lionel O gauge stuff I’ve learned a bit about through osmosis.  They had a reasonably impressive electric layout going; my Dad would have loved that little steam engine careening through the pressboard town at about 274 scale miles an hour.

After that little adventure (which I actually rather enjoyed, despite my overly-syllabic evisceration of the experience), I stopped at the neighborhood outlet mall.  There’s that homogenization thing again.  No lie, on this trip I’ve now driven past five, FIVE, sets of Tanger Outlet Stores (ever since I saw my first set in Commerce, GA, years ago, I’ve wanted to vandalize the “T” in their sign, so they’d be the ANGER OUTLET MALL.  I feel this more accurately represents what is typically going on there, anyway).  Anyway, this time it worked in my favor, because I knew there’d be a Totes outlet there (there was) and I could buy a cheap umbrella (I did).  The umbrella had a tag that showed the $5.99 price was an excellent bargain, as the umbrella had a suggested retail value of $22.  Kind of disillusioning that the umbrella’s slip case was clearly labelled “Suggested Retail: $12.”

This had not yet filled up my alloted time.  I started driving back towards the Chevy place, not knowing where things might be that were fun yet close enough and easy enough to get to.  On the way in, I saw a sign for the Hermitage, and thought that might be cool.

I suppose it was.  I guess that sort of thing is simply lost on me.  Bygone opulence, restored, rebuilt, and repainted to hold at arms length for nine bucks a head.  Some of you know my comic collecting tends to be lower-grade stuff.  There are several reasons for this (it’s more affordable and available, so I might actually complete runs I start, and I can read them with my own oily fingers without worrying about damaging them further), but one is that low-grade (the more beat-up stuff) lends a sense of history for me:  I can _feel_ the time that’s passed, I gain perspective on what the object has gone through to get here.  High grade items, and particularly restored items, whether comic books or the homes of dead presidents, offer me no texture, no struggle, no sense of survival.  The Hermitage looked to me like a great big dollhouse, with which I was not allowed to play.

Man, rereading that last paragraph, it looks like I had a crappy time.  I really didn’t, I enjoyed it while I was there, and I’m glad I went.  Perhaps the value in those kinds of things is not what we see in the object, but what the object shows us in ourselves.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, I then went and wrote a fat check for RV repair, ran across a fantastic comic book store (did I mention my newly-acquired Amazing Adventures #1? Oh, yeah, I did…), found a KOA Kampground next door to Graceland (for true, _next_ _door_ to Graceland.  I’m walking there tomorrow morning.  For some reason that’s a little unreal to me.  Walking to Graceland…), drove there, made myself some sammiches, and sat down to write.  Thanks for reading what I’m certain is the longest update yet.  It was a lot of fun to write, I hope that comes through when you read it.

And please keep the email coming.  I know my replies are kind of short (because I typically have to run my email there at the counter while people are checking in or buying biodegradable toilet paper for chemical toilets), but email is the only human contact I get that goes beyond “Are you ready to order,” “Will that be cash or charge,” or “And please remember, NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY.”

Memphis, TN – afternoon

Yes, I’m walking in Memphis.

The RV seems much happier now, thank you very much.  It did set me back an alternator, a starter, and the labor to put them in, but, as I mentioned in my last report, better there than in the middle of the desert somewhere.

When planning the trip, I had thought about the possibility of driving at night, then sleeping in rest areas which are going to be much safer in the daylight.  Well, since I had to get up so early today, I stopped along the way to take a nap.  I soon realized my little plan was doomed.  Ever been in an RV in Tennessee in the daytime without electricity?  I’ve been in toaster ovens that were cooler, and damn near as roomy.  No way I’m gonna try that in a desert, nor even a prairie…

Once again, the KOA Kampground I’m staying at is modem-friendly during the store’s operating hours.  So this entry is going to be short, but I’ll probably do a longer entry tonight.  Just don’t expect to see it until after I get up tomorrow…

Oh, something I’m excited about:  Amazing Adventures, Vol. 1 No. 1, featuring Dr. Droom by Jack Kirby, 1st Marvel Silver Age Super-hero, pre-dating the Fantastic Four by 5 months, Good+ condition.  A hundred bucks.  Mine, mine, mine.

Nashville, TN – morning

No sooner do I complain about not being able to find the good-food-at-good-prices, small-time, home-town kind of restaurants than I’m sitting in one.  Capital Chevrolet (the wonderful folks who were the only ones in this time zone who’d said they could fit me in.  When in Nashville, please stop in and buy several fine Chevrolets) is right across the street from just such an establishment.  The service manager told me to call back in about 30-40 minutes, and suggested breakfast.  “There’s a McDonald’s and stuff,” she wrinked her face as she said it, “but Diane’s is a real good home-cooking place, and you get a lot for cheap.”  Sold.  I’m waiting on my cheese omelet with biscuits and gravy and home fries, now.

And now I’m eating.  How’s this for up-to-the-minute web page reporting?  I can now officially recommend Diane’s Kitchen, on Murphreesboro Road in Nashville.  The omelet is very good, but the biscuits and gravy are great and the home fries are almost potato-chippy, sliced thin and fried crispy.  Wonderful.  I’m going to go eat now.

Well, now I’m back in the office of Capitol Chevrolet, they’re finishing up looking at the belts and are getting me a price on a starter (it’s been, shall we say, reluctant).  They have a waiting room with a… wait for it… extra phone line.

If you’ve known me a couple of years, you know I’ve gone through some changes over that time.  One of the biggest, I think, is the way I can now look at things differently, and by doing so, have them affect me differently.  Two years ago, I’d be bitching and moaning about having to be up so early, wasting time in a repair shop, just knowing that they were going to rip me off for parts and labor.  Now, though, it’s so much easier to look at things this way:  I had breakfast in a great little restaurant that was just the sort of thing I’d been hoping to find, I’ve got a little extra time with a phone line (again, check last night’s update.  That was exactly what I needed), and any expense here I can mentally compare to the expense and pain of having it break down on the road in the middle of the desert somewhere.  Whereas two years ago, I’d have been bitchy with everyone and generally upset, now everyone seems to be smiling and chatting with me, and I’m generally happy.

A couple friends I’ve been talking to lately have been having some difficult times (they know who they are), and find it hard to swallow my advice that just re-framing things this way can make any real difference.

Sitting here now, I have to reiterate: “Yes, it does.”

Nashville, TN

Well, I’m in Nashville.  More specifically, I’m just off the Briley Parkway.  Okay, I’m actually on Music Valley Drive.  Alright, alright, yes, I’m at Opryland.  I know that seems like an odd place for one with my musical tastes to be hanging out.  But when you imagine the type of folks who would probably enjoy Opryland, then imagine the type of folks who would likely vacation in a motor home… well, you can do the math.  You can’t swing a dead cat on this road without hitting two RV parks and a wax museum (Disclaimer: no dead cats were harmed in the preparation of this tour update).

Actually, there was an ad in the campbook I have for an RV sales and service joint right next door to this campground.  The RV has been making this squealing sound when it starts up and when the big engine cooling fans kick in while running, kinda like there’s a belt loose or something.  Seeing as how I’ve been driving through the mountains of Georgia and Tennessee, you can understand my desire to keep any squealing to an absolute minimum.  So I was hoping these jokers could take a look at it, and I chose the closest campground.  Well, it turns out there are some subtleties to the phrase “RV service” of which I was not previously aware.  Silly me, I assumed it meant that they might service my RV, and I had to be educated by a man wearing what appeared to be his Sunday-go-to-Meeting overalls that the “RV” in “RV service” refers only to the house-type part that you can walk around in.  Further, this housy part is attached to something called a chassis, which, as far as I can ascertain, is basically a long El Camino.  After being properly advised of the terminology, I began a series of phone calls, each a unique adventure, yet each invariably ending with the phrase “Naw, we don’t do no chassis work.”  By the end of the last call, I realized that these were all simply salesmen of 3/4 sized furniture with drawers that spring open automatically when the RV hits 45 miles per hour (the furniture’s drawers, not the salesmen’s.  Brrr, now _there’s_ a grisly bit of imagery).

There are apparently twelve people in the continental US who do chassis work on RVs.  All of them are booked through the turn of the century, thanks for asking, so if you’re planning to have an RV breakdown early next millenium, you should call now.  I expect RV chassis mechanic to be the hot job market over the next several years.

I finally got a number for someone that someone’s friend once “took a motor home ta,” and they said they could try to look at it first thing in the morning.  A Chevy dealership, I guess it’s more like an El Camino than I knew.

So now I get to get up at 6:00 in the morning to get to the Chevy dealership when they open up at 7:00.  And I just crossed into the Central Time Zone, so I’m to be up at 5, my time, tomorrow morning (stop laughing, Lon).

All of which actually has nothing to do with what I wanted to talk about today, which is the homogenization of America.  First, there’s that street in your town that, not long ago, was pretty much empty.  Now, however, there’s four lanes of traffic and a turn lane.  Looking down the road you see Circuit City, Taco Bell, Wal-Mart, Sports Authority, KFC, and a gas station where you can buy hot dogs that have been spinning since the Eisenhower administration, single roses in plastic, and digital watches for $1.99.  Coming back up the other side is Office Depot, Pizza Hut, Nationsbank, McDonald’s, and the locally named version of the Mexican restaurant where the #4 is a taco, an enchilada, and a tostada.

How do I know about that street?  The same street is everywhere I’ve gone.  Back home, we called ours Laurens Road (or Woodruff Road, if you’re newer to the area, but they’re the same road.  And don’t give me any crap about them intersecting…).

More subtle than that are the restaurants.  Max and Erma’s, Bennigan’s, O’Charley’s, Friday’s, Ruby Tuesday’s, they’re all the same damn place.  Rio Bravo, Don Pablo’s, Chi-Chi’s, El Torito, the same story Mexi-fied.

As I was driving around Nashville tonight looking for the Chevy dealership (no way I’m waiting till morning and trying to find it in the dark), I thought about having dinner in some place like a Two Guys or a Taco Casa: a place that might not look like much, but had great food at good prices.  Just try to find those places, I dare you.  There’s no way to tell if the not-looking-like-much is the sign of unpretentious quality, or of a quick dose of E. coli, at least until the doctor’s tests come back.

So I ate at El Rio Pablo’s, or some such.  They charged me for chips and salsa.  Didn’t tell me they were going to:  I sat down, she said “Care for chips and salsa?” and, like a dork, I said okay.  $1.99 showed up on the ticket.  I tipped 15% (which, for me, is actually a fairly low tip already.  Work in restaurants a few years and your attitudes towards these things change quickly), but I used what the meal would have cost without that 2 bucks for my tip computation.

I’ll bet that showed her.

LATER THAT NIGHT (A special bonus update section)

Okay, I did, in fact, write all this on the 28th.  However, no one’s going to see it for several days after that.  Had a small problem, you see…

Ever hear of FTP?  It stands for file transfer protocol, and it’s a way of moving files from one computer to another over the Internet.  More specifically, it’s the way I move my web pages from my laptop to the server in Atlanta where is actually located.  I create the page on my laptop, connect to the ‘net, and FTP the new pages to the server so you can see them with your browser.  I use a program called CuteFTP 2.0, largely because I used to use CuteFTP 1.0 before I upgraded to WIN95.  New operating system, new version of the program.  One of the reasons I liked CuteFTP in the first place is that it was shareware.  Now, I never bothered to actually pay for it, and CuteFTP 1.0 kept popping up a little box that said “please register,” but let you go on and use the program anyway.  Well, CuteFTP 2.0 seems to have fixed that little bug.  I really did intend to register before I left, but it was one of those things that “I can do later” and now here I am, not registered, and the damn thing made good on it’s threat to not work no more.

It’s not a huge deal, I can register via the web and get my registration via email in 24 to 48 hours (according to the web site).  The bad news is that the connection I had tonight (I went to the camp office to connect somewhere between “I’ll bet that showed her” and “LATER THAT NIGHT”) was so bad I couldn’t get the registration page to load properly, so it’ll be 24 to 48 hours from the next good connection I get (which could be a day or two, easy), and then it depends on how soon after they send it that I get my mail (Again, a day or two is not out of the question).  So, worst case, it might be a week before you see new web pages.

Unless the thing is stupid enough to just let me roll back the date…

Kennesaw, GA – late night

Last update from Georgia.  I realize that not much has gone on, particularly not much that was worthy of three updates in a day, but I’m still figuring out how this whole process is going to work.  I was hoping to have phone hookups to the RV, but apparently those are pretty rare, but available if you look hard enough.  At least this place had a modem jack in the office:  I had to download mail and upload the web pages while standing there at the check-in counter.

The good news is that I’ve worked out a system for minimizing the amount of time actually on the modem while still getting mail answered and the web updated in a relatively timely manner.  I’m writing this around midnight the 27th, and will post it the morning of the 28th before I hit the road for Nashville.  Not too bad.  Now the question becomes what will my access look like from the Volunteer State.  Stay tuned…

What I learned in Kennesaw, GA:

1.  Cell phone salespersons do not always tell you what you need to know back when you bought the damn thing.  But other cell phone salespersons will go well out of their way to help you, including making long-distance phone calls for you, even when they know they’re not going to make a dime off of you.  Good luck determining the difference at first glance.

2.  The OK Cafe is every bit as fantastic as I remember it being.  After stuffing myself with country fried steak, macaroni and cheese (six different cheeses.  The words “that’s just too much cheese” have never left my mouth, but the temptation was there), and whole kernel corn (many of the kernels were still in rows from where they were freshly sliced from the cob), I decided to have a little dessert.  It would have been more fair if they had actually written “Piece of Chocolate Cake as big as your Head” on the menu, so a person would know what he was in for (can anyone rewrite that sentence for me so that it doesn’t end in a preposition?).  There’s a French phrase for being stuffed that translates to: “My back teeth are bathing in it.”  That’s just precisely how I feel right now…

3.  I need to buy an umbrella.

4.  A change of scenery can be good creatively.  I’ve had a song sitting around that had refused to let me write any more lyrics for it.  I liked the music a lot, but after about a verse, the words ran dry.  I’ve been back to it off and on over the past year or so, but it stubbornly remained unusably abbreviated (why is abbreviated such a long word?).  Well, sitting here tonight I wrote that son-of-a-bitch the last verse it so richly deserved.  I almost broke out the four-track to get it on tape right away, but then I realized what time it was, how early I’m hoping to get going tomorrow and everything I need to do to prepare for that, and just how well packed the four-track and its associated cables are, and I decided that perhaps Nashville or Memphis would be a more appropriate place to record music (I understand they do a little of that in both places…).

That’s all for tonight.  Please drop me an email if you’re actually reading these, I’d love to hear from you, whoever you are.