August 12, 2000



Mississippi Turning


I took me a little drive today, 525 miles worth. I drove to Nashville, where I had dinner with my old roomie Danielle, then I drove to Murfreesboro, where I had dinner with Mike and Dolly and Max, then I drove back to Nashville, where I had dinner with Danielle again, then I drove back "home" to Memphis, where I decided, for a switch, not to have dinner at all.

I didn't start out intending this day to be the Three Dinners of the Chuckster. My original plan was to have a late pancake breakfast with D and hang with her for awhile, then have an early dinner with Mike & Co., and then hit the sheets in Memphis at a distant relative of a reasonable hour so I'd be bright-tailed and bushy-eyed for work Sunday. It's important to have a plan. It's important so that you know when you've lost all temporal control. That way you know when it's time to ... well, have dinner again. Or something.

The whole thing started unravelling last night when I drove down into Mississippi, where they have casinos in Tunica. I'm a gambling junkie: put me within a state line of a casino and I'm going to go just about every chance I get. Tunica's casinos are only 45 minutes from my hotel, so with Saturday off from work and only a 500 mile drive clogging my schedule, well, Friday night qualified as a chance. Craps tables, here I come! Five hours later I was up $200 and had gotten an offer from the pit boss of a comped room and breakfast, and I finally decided to call it a night and get some sleep before I hit the road for Nashville. Go home, get some sleep. That was the plan.

Until I got lost in Deliverance country. I took a wrong turn in Mississippi on the way back to Memphis and somehow ended up deep in the wilds of Bumfuck. It was 2:00 in the morning, I was completely lost on back country roads, I was running out of gas, and I kept circling back to the one sign of civilization I could find: a blinking red signal at a 4-way intersection where there was a closed gas station that might just maybe open at dawn. I kept trying to backtrack to the highway I'd left to foolishly follow the "This Way To I-60" sign, but every point on the compass led to identical rolling farmland and cotton fields and darkened farmhouses and my echoes of Ned Beatty squealing like a pig pealing through the mist. Meanwhile my gas gauge got deeper and deeper into the red and I began to mentally prepare myself to camping out in the back seat.

But though fear was rising in my throat, I felt the hand of God was near me throughout my ordeal. And why not -- I had concrete proof that He was all around me: church after church after church after church. They were everywhere. I'm telling you, whatever backwater of Mississippi it was that I was lost in, it was just lousy with churches. I'd pass one, and before it had even disappeared from the rear-view mirror another would rise up before me. At one point I passed two churches directly across the road from one another. And the really weird thing of it is that probably 90% of these churches were Baptist. Nothing against Baptists, but, My God! How many churches do you need per capita? Y'all must be crammed in and living cheek by jowl to need that many!

Then, finally, there it was, rising from the mists of the darkened fields: The saving red glow of a Conoco sign. I was saved! I went in and asked the counterman a series of questions: 1) Where the hell am I? 2) How do I get the hell out of here? 3) What the hell is that on your neck? This guy was the living stereotype of the inbred southerner: yellow buck-teeth, pimply unshaven cheeks, wearing a dirty John Deere cap and overalls, big plug of chaw tucked up next to his gum, spit cup within reach on the counter, big goiter on the side of his neck, and a drawl so thick it was like blackstrap molasses...

I swear to you I'm not making this up, that really is what he looked like that. And my hat's off to the guy for saving my ass: he filled my tank, he knew where I was and, more importantly, he told me how to get the hell out of there. He was a really friendly, very helpful guy. And I wouldn't be a bit surprised to learn that his name was Bubba.

I was exhausted when I finally got back to my room, so tired that I crashed on the bed and didn't wake up until I was supposed to be in Nashville having pancakes with Danielle. And speaking of exhausted, why don't I take a break and pick this up in the next entry? Stay tuned for shocking revelations about exactly what a Man @bout Murfreesboro is really like!