My mom was concerned I was "mooching" off Ron King, in Little Rock, and off others. Even I didn't find the situation where Ron housed me and paid for dinners and beers to be ideal. But, I reminded my mom that mostly I just mooched rides and spare floors to sleep on. And, any ways, I didn't ask for anything that wasn't offered. But, if someone casually offered something, I was sure gonna take it! (- except for flat-out handouts of money; I tried not to take those.)
White-bearded Ron re-assured me, as he drove me out of Little Rock. "You didn't mooch off me, man." He was a cool guy, happy to have me stop in.
Hitchhiking onward, I got a ride from a different Ron. This Ron had a black moustache. He drove a beat-up pick-up truck. He was going to go hog-hunting the following day. He seemed your average manly, heterosexual guy. He said I could stay at his house that night, if I wanted.
I pondered this offer, thinking it would be a cool experience if I got to go hog-hunting. And then:
Black-moustachioed Ron said, "I'll give you a blowjob."
Whoa! I didn't want to do that kind of hog-hunting!
He'd said it as casually as if he would've said, "You can sleep on my couch."
Luckily, we were already at Ron's off-ramp, so I turned down his offer and was out of the car within fifteen seconds. Ew.
The next ride wasn't much better. Albert, a big guy with multiple chins, looked at me weirdly. He commented that a lot of guys must preposition me when I hitchhiked. I was like, "What do you mean?" Normally, guys just left me nicely, platonically, damned-well alone!
When I thanked Albert for the ride, he thanked me. And he said it was a shame we didn't get to know each other better. He was weird, too.
I was feeling gross. Eww. And, only five days ago, a big, bald black guy had invited me to come over, while I was walking with my bags through Little Rock. He said, "You know, we could put in a porno and have ourselves some fun." By "have ourselves some fun," I hoped he meant "play Scrabble." By "porno," I hoped he meant ... well, I think we all know what he meant. I didn't hang out with him.
What was going on here? I had wanted to go to the Deep South, to Mississippi and Alabama, because it really interested me. But, if I got one more bad ride, I was going to give up and go home.
That was enough to give a guy like me the blues.
Alberta Blakely was my favorite ride of the day. (That wasn't a tough sweepstakes to win.) She was a 41-year-old, very christian black lady with "JESUS" on her bumper sticker.
She'd been scared at first to stop for me, but she ultimately turned around and stopped. She wore big glasses and didn't think too highly of herself. She used to be on crack, but she said God gave her the power to get off it. I said early on in the ride that I learned a lot from people by listening, and she just kept saying how ignorant she was.
But, she taught a great lesson. She said that when she saw people and they seemed low and sad, that was when she would go up and talk to people. I, on the other hand, talked usually to positive people, selfishly. Alberta's method was more caring.
She didn't feel she was better than anybody. "I may drink too much, you may smoke too much, he may do heroine, you may ..."
She said, "I know my church makes a whole lotta noise," when I asked her about rambunctious, Southern black churches.
After her ride, Tommie and Drew, two young black brothers, drove me across the wide, murdy Mississippi River in the back of their pickup truck. Nice-looking Tommie and I talked only briefly, and Tommie said, "Just remember to put us in your book."
The two brothers dropped me in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
At the Delta Blues Museum, the lady working there let me go in for free. That was great, because I wasn't planning on paying anyway. I saw pictures of old Mississippi homes and swamps and cotton fields. There were displays on famous blues musicians, like Muddy Waters and Son House and Pine Top Perkins.
After this, I had nowhere to go. My situation could best be summed up in song form:
Yeah, I'm so blue
as blue as the sea
I wanna spend two weeks in the South
and I don't know ...
Yeah, I'm so blue
as bloo-oo-ue as iced tea.
I only got seventy-four dollars
maybe two dimes
and six copper coins!
Yeah, I am so blue
as blue-blue-blue as a pea.
Weird people - I tell 'ya -
they keep picking me up.
It makes me wonder
what the he-ell is up!?
Yeah, I'm so blue
as blue-oo-oo-oohhh as a tree.
Yeah, I am - yeah, I am so blue!
it a-uh-all looks bloo-oo-ue
to me ...
Luckily, I didn't have to worry about where I'd be sleeping for long. Joni, the older lady working in the museum, saw me with my bags and ponytail sticking out of my hat and knew I was innocently drifting. She invited me into her big Southern house.
The house's owner was Joni's friend, Scott. The house itself was a light-green, wooden, two-story huge cube. It had about twenty-five creaking, roaming rooms. Tennessee Williams, a Clarkesdale native, had written "The Glass Menagerie" on this house - a story spookily about two old ladies who lived there and poisoned people. The house's feel was old and private and sit-on-the-porch relaxed. Owner Scott said there was plenty of room for me to crash in the house for a while.
In the eight days I stayed there, we caught a few shows of Mississippi Delta Blues. One characteristic of the blues was the "back-beat," the drum beat that remains in the background and follows the other instruments rather than leading them. In contrast to rock-and-roll, blues had a more soul-howling cry in its gone-wild instrument solos. And the blues liked to sit back and enjoy each individual drum smash or guitar riff that was played: it didn't excitedly trip over itself and try to play too much.
All the blues musicians, black and white, could really play. Whether the bands had two members or five, my body felt and followed the beat.
Clarksdale lay near the crossroads of Highways 49 and 61, where blues artists used to go when there was a full moon to play music and sing for whole weekends. The blues was born in the surrounding Mississippi Delta. It was born on cotton plantations, where blacks - supposedly "free" from slavery - worked full days for fifty cents apiece.
Nowadays, in Clarksdale, pop. 10,000, many whites still own extravagantly large houses like Scott's, while the poor black majority still lives in much dimmer conditions.
I tried to check out a black, Gospel church on a Sunday. I never caught a service, but I did befriend Bonita, a light-skinned black lady wearing strong, nice perfume and a turquoise, fancy shirt. She was fifty, and she took her son, Shane, and me to a Sunday buffet. She and Shane were really nice. Bonita, though, "witnessed" to me on God and christianity with most of her breath. She felt confident that I would "find Jesus" one day and call her. Her favorite line to me was: "Stop the hitchhiking!"
Man, I loved the Southern accent on girls. One night out at a bar, I met a collegiate blond with light-blue eyes like precious gems. Her brown-haired friend had dark, black blue eyes like a lost sea I wanted to swim in. When they gently "iped" their caring, peppy voices, I wanted to clutch to their sounds like butter to cheese grits.
But, mostly, while in Clarksdale, I talked with the guy I stayed with. Hey! Scott didn't even have a Southern accent!
Scott was a forty-year-old freelance film-maker from Atlanta. He'd bought his Clarksdale home because he was passionate to make documentary films on two local issues: 1. The Blues. 2. A government proposal that would allow the draining of some of the Mississippi Delta, which Scott said would horribly alter the rich and beautiful Mississippi Delta environment.
A tributary of the Mississippi, the Sunflower River, ran through Clarksdale. Its thin, brown gait gave life to bright-green grass and giant trees around its shores. Scott's right; it would be wrong to see something like that go, for a reason Scott didn't even understand. Hopefully, he gets that documentary done. And may the blues, too, live on.
Later, y'all. Modern Oddyseus.
Thanks - anyways - to Ron; Albert; Alberta Blakely; and Tommie & Drew for the rides!
Much thanks to Joni, Ames, and Scott for the places to sleep!
NOTEABLE WILDLIFE SIGHTINGS: kudzu (a yellow-green overwhelming ivy that grows quick and sweeps over trees and everything, its pentagonal leaves blanketing the land like patches on a quilt)