I drove down to New Orleans last week to hear my son's band play at the House of Blues. Unfortunately, to get to New Orleans from Memphis, you have to drive 300 miles through Mississippi on I-55, aka Groundhog Day highway. It's an endless stretch of four-lane repetition — mile after mile after mile of little rolling hills funneled between rows of trees.
You get bored. Sure, the radio offers a nice variety of options — as long as you like Christian music or right-wing ranters. But I don't. I played the Oxford American's music-issue CD and heard the first rap song I ever liked enough to play more than once: David Banner's "Cadillacs on 22s." So there was that.
I came up on a long line of motorcyclists. I think they were the Mississippi chapter of "Hell's Codgers." White hair streamed from beneath their little black helmets. Their jowls were flapping in the wind. Their biker boots had velcro straps. Even their leather jackets were wrinkled. I passed them as they pulled into a Denny's, presumably to raise hell during the early-bird special.
After about five hours, you finally feel like you're making progress when you start seeing the swampy bayous north of Lake Ponchartrain. A half-hour later, the city gleamed in the evening sun across the wide expanse of blue water.
I'd booked a little hotel in the French Quarter, a rambling joint where you had to first go upstairs, then down another flight of stairs to get to your room. I'd recommend it, but bring earplugs. This city never sleeps, and neither will you if you can't shut out the partying from the street.
Andrew's gig went well. Lots of his former White Station classmates who'd moved to New Orleans showed up. It's weird seeing people sing along to your kid's music. And even weirder being the only "old" guy in the room. Andrew and I talked for a while afterward, and we checked out his new tour bus, but he had CDs to sell and gear to pack. He was headed to Austin the next day. A long hug, and he was off.
The next morning, I had black coffee and eggs outside in the early sun. Cascades of pink and purple petunias hung from the balconies. The sidewalks were wet from an early rain. I read the Times-Picayune and felt very civilized. I didn't want to leave, but I had to. Groundhog Day II was waiting.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation announced last week that the I-55 "old bridge" across the Mississippi would be closed for nine months, beginning in 2017, so that the department could build new exit and entrance ramps. This is a really horrible idea, with potentially disastrous economic, public safety, and even national security ramifications ...
It's deep in a November night in Memphis, and I'm awakened by rain. It's coming down hard, sounding like a million pebbles hitting the roof. The gutter I've been meaning to clean is overflowing outside the bedroom window. A flash of lightning illuminates the room, and I do what I've done since I was a boy: count the seconds 'til the thunder rolls. I get almost to 10 before I hear a distant rumble. Two miles or so. Someone else's lightning ...