Heading south, it gets dark early. I suppose it's the season, but on my way to Memphis it was more than that. It was going back in time, me, a man from Chicago, barreling through states: Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee -- and towns: Cooter, Blytheville, West Memphis. I can't remember most of them, obviously, but I was terrified.
My cell phone was dead. No one, except for two people, knew where I was. In the early 1990's this would not have been a thing, but nowadays it was a recipe for an episode of Cold Case Files. "We found him in the Mississippi," it would begin.
Yes, a flat tire in the peaceful rurals of Missouri or Arkansas. I could change it, I know that, but what then? What within a fifty mile radius? More blackness, desperation? No towns with an open garage, that's for sure. Maybe a strange trucker on a strange night? Danger? Stars? Helplessness? I did not wish to acknowledge my own mortality, but I had to.
As I drove I listened to the Cardinals game, anathema to a Chicagoan, so tedious and red, but I was grateful that it went into extra innings. I needed the monotone, the familiar pitch and catch: I could not listen to music, fearing the freedom of thought that it provides. I needed the basic, boring, Midwestern structure that I had deliberately flouted (and embraced) on an impulse to go to Graceland, where The King lived. As Muslims to Mecca, Americans...
I wanted, I want, to be American. I want to love the values than we all love. Elvis, Paul Simon, etc. And I do. And that is why I left Chicago on a Saturday afternoon without thought, without planning, just a reckless 80 mph drive south down I-57, guided only by the feeling that there was something waiting in Memphis for me. I love fall foliage. I love America.
I made it to a Memphis hotel around 11 P.M. There was a room. I slept there in a King sized bed, watching Law & Order reruns, my clothes draped on chairs airing out.
And the next day I went to Graceland, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee. There was a shuttle bus. And people, high-school students on a field trip on a Sunday. And I was so grateful to feel the shag carpet walls that Elvis once felt, the mirrored staircase, the sunburst clock, the Jungle Room, the televisions with dials. And it was so neat to see the carport and the smokehouse with the videos of Elvis, once King, laughing and smirking and speaking to all of us. There is no reason why he died, and he left us all a lot poorer. But...
I am alive. That's what's important.