20 September 2011


I’m leaving Memphis in about 45 minutes and headed south to the Mississippi Delta. There will undoubtedly be much to blog about from there, so I’d best try to catch you up on the past week or so in the meantime.

Norman, OK to St. Louis: It poured rain pretty much the entire way, visibility was limited and photography non-existent. At nearly every other off-ramp there was some sort of "Adult Super Store" or "Men's Spa." Apparently people driving Interstate 44 to St. Louis through the Ozarks require some extra attention. They also require catfish, and I stopped at a place called Dowd's Catfish House in Lebanon, MO. It was awfully good. The fried okra was also especially good. And also, apparently, they need to be on the look out for escaped hogs. There were a number of billboards exhorting those of us driving by to "Report Feral Hogs."

St. Louis, Bouchercon: What is there to say about a writers and readers conference? It was a lot of fun. Hanging out with old and new writer pals is the very best of water cooler time – something you don’t usually get when you work at home in front of your computer day after day. Meeting readers, both those who have heard of you and read your books and those who haven’t but who are interested, is always incredibly gratifying and humbling. Conferences like this remind me both that I really enjoy hanging out with my fellow writers and we are all incredibly privileged to have people interested in what we write and have to say.

And yes, we do drink too much. I did actually get back to my hotel room from the bar one night by about 1am – but I still couldn’t go to sleep until 3. In any event, the people whose company I enjoyed, who I shared that wonderful heady mix of silliness, seriousness and wonderment with, are almost too numerous to mention by name. So I’m not going to. You know who you are.http://www2.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

I was having far too much fun to take any pictures during the conference. I did take some walking around St. Louis though. (I had the usual fun conference walk – becoming something of a tradition – with my pal SJ Rozan. SJ used to be an architect and there is always some building or another that has caught her eye. In this case we went to see the War Memorial Building which was truly elegant, simple and very beautiful. Click on her name to go to her blog where you will sooner or later find some photos, no doubt. Actually, right click on her name and go there in another window or tab so that you can easily get back here.)

Road to Memphis: Colin Cotterill and I headed south from St. Louis, trying to take old Highway 61 – do a Google search, you’ll see how many songs there are about it, probably the second most after Route 66 – for as much of the trip as we could. It was, as you can see from the pictures, a somewhat religious experience. (It was Sunday after all.)

This is what we could only think of to call Road Kill Jesus. Look at it straight on and all you see is the cross, move to the side and the flattened out Jesus shows up. It was actually kind of cool.

Memphis: Graceland, the National Civil Rights Museum (built into the Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King was assassinated), Beale St., Gus’s Fried Chicken (some of the world’s very best fried chicken) – fun was had, much walking was done.

Graceland was not quite as remarkably garish, tacky and overblown as we'd hoped, smaller, too. But still, it had its moments.

The National Civil Rights Museum is very well done. It's built into the shell of the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King was assassinated. Standing, essentially, in the room, looking out at the balcony where the bloodstained concrete has been patched over and across the street at window where the shot came from, is frightening and very moving.

Across the street from it, however, Jacqueline Smith has inhabited a street corner for more than 23 years to protest the museum. She used to live in the Lorraine when it was a transient hotel, before she and the other residents were kicked out to make the museum. She wants people to boycott it. She thinks the money would be far better spent helping the poor and building low income housing by way of honoring the vision of Dr. King, rather than simply memorializing him. I'm still not sure how I feel about what she has to say, but she does make a strong, rational case. Check out her website.

Gus's on Front Street is the home of my new very favorite restaurant fried chicken in the country:

And far too much beer was drunk, all over town. Luckily we had a very knowledgeable "beer goddess" in one place to steer us in the right direction.

And Beale Street is very touristy, cacophonous with dueling blues bands of varying quality and many languages and accents that aren't usually associated with the South. Luckily for everyone, they do not permit reptiles:

We had much more civilized beers at Ernestine & Hazel's down on Front Street in a gentrifying area that some people are still fearful of going to at night. Their loss. Great bar, run by a very nice guy, with a truly superb jukebox. And it used to be a brothel upstairs - though no longer:

I am now in Clarksdale in the Mississippi Delta and shall blog about it later, or tomorrow. Right now it's the time of day when I ought to be out and about taking pictures.

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