Some stories from the past, and my ongoing series, "Aunt Clara's Wheelchair"
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Going to Memphis
Sometimes, often when we are young, we decide to do somthing and just do it. That is what I did when I made up my mind to go to Memphis and pay my respects to the king, Elvis Presley.
I had been hitch-hiking around the country for a few years. I'd thumbed my way to Texas and California and Colorado. I'd slept in churches and roadside parks from Virginia to Mississippi to Illinois. I'd sung "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" in nursing homes in Ohio and biker bars in Georgia. Sometimes it was only because of that beat up old guitar I was carrying that I got a ride at all. Also, I'm sure my rendition of the Jimmie Rodgers' song, "In the Jailhouse Now", actually got me out of jail a little sooner than I expected. Perhaps the cops were moved by my poignant performance or, maybe, they could stand my off-key shenanighans no longer! In any case, I was free. Young, a little wild, and free.
One time down in Texas, in July, I headed out for Austin. Willie Nelson was having a big picnic and I determined to go out there and meet this saint of country music. Just outside of Houstin, after walking all the way across that monstrosity, a nice grey car pulled over and I got in and what a ride it was! Just imagine being a twenty somthing year old, somewhat lost and a little scared, excited and searching for who knows what (the meaning of life?) just out there being lazy and being free and catching a ride all the way to Willie's picnic, breaking out my guitar and singing "Mr. Tamborine Man" and fourteen other Bob Dylan songs and thinking, "oh my God, I am rolling across Texas in a Rolls Royce!"
That little whim, the picnic, turned out to be a fine idea. The great Merle Haggard was there and I got to meet him and Willie both. When it was over and I walked back out to the highway, I didn't get a ride in a Rolls, but I was happy. Happy, inspired, and free.
I made my back across Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and on down to Ft. Lauderdale, in the Sunshine State. I worked odd jobs. I goofed off at the beach, partying and playing, and waiting for spring break. Well, spring break came and one night, around a campfire on the beach,after not making too big a fool of myself by singing one of my own songs, I met a pretty girl. Her name was Pansy and she was only a few inches taller than me and we fell in love pretty quick. We sang and danced and had the kind of time that only the young can have, really. But then, rather sudden, the air got cool, downright chilly, when she discovered that I was really just a sort of a hobo, hanging out, broke, and living in a pup tent in a vacant lot just down the road.My young heart was broken for a few days, but then I was saved by another wild idea...I realized the only thing to do was to make my way to Memphis. I must go to Graceland!
Well, this time I decided to go in style. I called my older brother, collect of course, and begged him to wire me enough money for a train ticket. He was in the Air Force in Alaska and had a steady income. Besides, what are big brothers for? He agreed and in a few days I was showing off in the club car on the Amtrak bound for Elvis Presley Boulivard.
Guess what? We had a three hour layover in Nashville and I thought I'd take a little walk up Westend Avenue. Three hours later I made another fanciful decision. I saw a help wanted sign hanging on the door of a place called Tortilla Flat. I took the sign off the door, walked into that dive, and said, "I'd like to work here". The old man, Wild Bill was his name, put me to work. I swept the floor, made greasy tacos, poured cheap beer into mason jars, and sang Hank Williams, Dylan, and, by now, quite a few of my own songs.
I had never lived anywhere, in my whole young life, more than a year or two, but I stayed there, in Guitar Town, almost ten years. I never made it to Graceland, but I still have full intentions of going there.....someday.