Although I'm now a bit more of a researcher than a student, the departure of many of the university's tens of thousands of students could not and did not escape my notice. And, because of who I am, I couldn't be aware of such an exodus without wishing to be part of it.
I'd put together a plan to go and hike Canyonlands. It was a plan which didn't work. Jusko dropped me a line to say he had an invitation to go to Guatemala, and was indeed going (later the trip, and then his participation in it, would be cancelled and reaffirmed at least three times). Dirk's family went on an unexpected trip, making it important that he have time to work. My other companion was never available to make plans with. And so the company dissolved.
But, as per usual, I had a few back-up plans. Seattle, Denver, North Carolina, Ann Arbor, and Paria Canyon were all in the mix. Beautiful places, interesting people. But, at 11PM Thursday night, after swing dancing with Michelle and stopping by Mickey's Dinner, I knew that I had to go somewhere else and dropped a quick text message.
|About four hours later I'd slept, showered, and missed the departure time. I stood there by the front door, with my familiar backpack on, uncharacteristically holding extra baggage—a sleeping bag and a pillow— in my hands. rtg. No one was there, but, then again, I was five minutes late. Worriedly, I poked around the kitchen, the ground floor, the second floor, and, finally, on the third floor, found Elora who told me no one was really up/ready yet.|
As people came downstairs, my confusion grew a half-dozen stories of where and when we were meeting unfolded, but we eventually wound up by a fifteen-passenger van behind the house, laboriously backing it down the long, long alley way. A few blocks later, at the McDonald's, we stopped and seven people filed out, some of them with very large suitcases. A number of packing permutations later, one of the seven had decided to fly down (his step-mom, as an airline employee, has free flights), and the rest of the stuff had consumed the back seat of the van. On top of it all rode Jake's bike.
My brother, on principle, never allows the use of what I call electronic navigation aids (ENAs) in his car, a fact he impressed strongly on me one night when hit some confusion whilst driving back from the North Woods. Although I believe in knowing and utilising the available resources, it's a viewpoint that I've since come to appreciate following Cumberland Island and now this trip. ENAs seem to tell you where to go, while saying nothing about where you are. The little screen and the device's singular focus obscure the larger purpose of your journey and the many route options available. And ignorance promotes fear.
|So I was sad when we came to St. Louis and found my suggestion that we swing by the Arch met with a chorus of "I think we should follow the GoogleMaps directions!" and "What does the GPS say?" In the end we did swing by downtown. The GPS wailed the whole time, using every exit as an opportunity to get us to turn around. Somewhere in that howling it probably told us how to get to 55S (you must get off the interstate, drive by the Arch park, and then take a different ramp up), but we certainly missed it. A few miles later we were heading South again on the bypass loop, and I saw the Arch from a completely new angle. I felt bad about having missed 55S, but a few people said they enjoyed passing by the Arch and no one said they didn't, so that's a success, right? Anyway, I learned and will get it right next time, and that's part of the joy of self-navigation.|
Just south of St. Louis we stop for gas and another brief frisbee game. Afterwards, I take the driver's seat.
And this is like coming home. I learned to drive in a 14'+ van, riding in magisterial height, dominating the road with my size. In Alaska, I did most of the driving for the crew in our fifteen-passenger van. And now I'm back in one again and it feels so comfortable. A 02006 model, the engine is quite and strong, accelerating us southwards without a hint of effort.
We get off the interstate in Memphis and cruise downtown in search of a parking spot. On this search, I have Tim, my copilot, roll down the window and ask a random guy where it is that we should eat. "The Rendezvous", he says without hesitation. Later, I back the van into its parking spot and we pile out. During the chaos of exiting and meter feeding, I sidled over to the horse-drawn carriages. Where could we eat? At first the lady pointed at a restaurant a block away with neon signs nearly a block high. I told her this was off-putting, and then she began describing some other places.
Yet when the van was taken care of, the whole group wandered off in a random direction with ten different leaders each of whom saw different restaurants as an option. And how should one decide where to eat? Personal predilections? My preference is to try to let the city decide. The traveler's choice is, even with long experience, essentially capricious and born of ignorance. The city has long since made its judgment and the verdict is ready on the lips of passerby. So I stall the group at the intersection while a stooped black man crosses the street.
|"Where is Rendezvous?" He repeats the question and a couple of black ladies passing by overhear. All three begin, nearly in unison, to extoll the goodness of Rendezvous as they begin to lead us in that direction. And now, rather than wandering in isolated group-think through a foreign environment, we're part of it, our group split in conversation with our three guides. At some point they mention the restaurant is down an alley, and I know we've found the right place.|
Inside the restaurant is a winding series of side-rooms with old road signs and memorabilia hanging from the ceiling and covering the walls. Signed photographs of beneficent musicians, artists, and politicians smile down at us from the walls around our table. The menu is very direct. You can buy pork ribs (located in big letters, dead center, famous, world's best, et cetera) with side-dishes (surrounding the ribs on the menu and in life), or one of a scant collection of other meals. Soon, four rib platters are been shared and devoured around our table. And they are delicious!
I make a swing by the restroom and discover the signed thank you notes and photographs of President Obama, President Clinton, the Prime Minister of Japan, the entire staff of Air Force One, and the US Ambassador to Australia on the wall framing a big picture of the recently-deceased owner. Rendezvous, it seems, is the place.
|And not just for the diners. The man at left has been working here for forty years.|
We wandered into the night and, drawn by the prospect of pie and desert, discovered Beale Street: four something blocks of solid music clubs spilling jazz, patrons, and booze into the streets. It took a half-hour to wander it and swing dance to the music, but the road was calling.
The Thrill of Discovery
And that call again separated me philosophically from my companions. They reasoned that we didn't want to arrive out our destination too early. I felt that we should front-load the travel time in case we ran in to car trouble on the way. The extra time could be spent sleeping rather than by dawdling. Memphis had been succinct, but there were ways to extend it unnecessarily.
Regardless, we were back on the road and the dawdling, if we needed it, would come later. I started the night with another round of Alok Sharma flashbacks, but actually managed to get some sleep later on as others who had been napping drove. The night, however, was far from over…