“…Go on, I’ve had enough, dump my blues down in the gulf
She loves you, Big River, more than me.”
And as I drove on down through Mississippi further south towards the Gulf, I was accompanied by the soul enriching music of Johnny Cash, Elvis, George Jones, Roy Orbison and the Zac Brown Band. There is a reason I loved Memphis so much; why I am able to look past the crazy homeless lady who cornered me asking for $20. Because at the heart of the city is a beating heart of music. Blues, R&B, country, rock. It’s all there and it’s all so nice.
I did want to get the hell out of there though and when I left it was much later in the day than I would have liked. At two o’clock, I knew I would have to do some night driving in order to make up for lost time so I set my course for the only town I could think of on the coast- Biloxi. No, it wasn’t a completely random choice- I had just done Biloxi Blues last summer and thought it would be fun to send Armando a picture of me in the city. You know, life imitating art and all that.
Well I had to get through the rest of the state first, an eight hour trek from top to bottom. Surprisingly it wasn’t that bad, again, I had great music along the way bringing me back to my southern roots and remember, Mississippi is rather beautiful even with the trees and grass all having fallen victim to winter. As I am driving, however, my buddy Jay calls me to see how everything went with the tire. I told him fine and that I was looking to make Biloxi that night. This was followed by a cautious “really??” I said, “Yeah, what’s up with Biloxi?” And he reminded me that it’s a seedy casino-driven city and that even the nice hotels are apparently creepy and smell of smoke.
Well, come on, what was I supposed to do?
A solution! Jay actually offered his house in Pensacola, Florida for the night. Sure, it was an extra two hours but two hours was literally nothing compared to what I was used to at this point. I agreed and my course took a slightly different turn as I was headed back to the Sunshine State that very night. Making up for lost time indeed!
Before I move on, I would like to make a note about Jackson, Mississippi. It is the state capital and it is probably the smallest capital city I’ve ever seen. I don’t remember one skyscraper! Not that I’m knocking it, I’m just used to seeing any kind of population center have some tall buildings. But not sleepy old Jackson. Huh.
Okay, so moving on. I made Pensacola that night after driving through Mobile, Alabama and across the Mobile Bay- which I’m sure would have been stunning had been during the day (You’re welcome, Alabama!) By this time it was around 10 and I was quite tired. I had never met Jay’s folks before but they were super nice and just the best, offering me sweet tea and the best grits I have ever had. They’re called Nassau grits and they were crazy good! And I’m not the biggest fan of grits. But damn. Grits.
True southern hospitality, for sure, but I don’t even know if it’s because they live in the South. I think it’s just being a genuine human being and wanting to be nice to a weary traveler. If that’s unique to just the South then it shouldn’t be. It’s a lesson in compassion that we should all take away from. In fact, I would say that the thing I enjoyed the most on the entire trip were the warm personalities and good-natured individuals I got to meet. Actors, directors, and artistic producers all sharing a hotel and riding the shuttles together, but not letting any ounce of ego mar the relationships we were trying to build. That was truly wonderful.
The next morning I awoke to an empty house and after leaving the key under a rock and writing a thank you note, I bounded into my car and went to my last destination of interest. It was a place called Ft. Pickens right on the Gulf coast, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and as cool as the Civil War fortification was, it was nothing compared to what surrounded it.
For days I had been driving through freezing temperatures and basically feeling a true winter but that morning I could not believe the weather. It was as if I had finally reached the promised land. A perfect 65 degrees, hot sun, the turquoise water of the Gulf, and dunes of sand so fine it looked like flour. As I drove across the bay with my windows down and in a t-shirt with pelicans soaring overhead I couldn’t help but be overcome with a tremendous surge of love for my home state. It’s moments like that when you really do appreciate where you come from and boy, I had never been prouder to hail from Florida. Or be in it.
After I ran around Ft. Pickens for a little bit in this paradise-on-earth, I decided that it was time, once and for all, to go back home. I knew I could make it that night, but I also knew that I could make it the next morning so I opted for the latter when my good friend, Lucas, said I could stay the night in Gainesville. So I again found myself at the receiving end of someone’s graciousness and I wasn’t spending the evening alone in a motel room. It was the perfect respite so he and I did what we always do in Gainesville, and that was get pleasantly drunk.
With home being just another two hours from there, I woke up at a reasonable time and pulled into town by noon of that day. I have to confess, however, it was not “home” in St. Cloud, but rather UCF. I had that untimely business to take care of. In fact, I spent a further two days in Orlando before finally get back to the Cloud and unpacking my car!
Whatever the timeline and however it ended, I still had an incredible time. I met so many wonderful and talented people in Memphis, including reuniting with old dear friends such as Terrance and Kevia. I got to once again see parts of the country that were completely new to me, and I’m constantly amazed at how truly ginormous, diverse, and beautiful this country is. Nassau grits in Pensacola, blues in Memphis, even snow in Alabama. As I often attest, the South can be a dirty place, but as a whole I believe it is imbued with a rare magnanimity that is nothing but infectious. In then end, it’s my home and I’m glad I got to see it.
One of my favorite memories now of the trip was driving through rural Tennessee and seeing dogs just chilling by the road outside their homes. Like you see in the movies, like you see in pictures from the Depression. It really seemed like a place time forgot, but these dogs didn’t know anything about that; they’re just living their lives happy and free.
“…Tell that engineer I said thanks a lot,
and I didn’t mind the fare.
I’m gonna set my feet on Southern soil
and breathe that Southern air.”
The next morning I awoke in Tupelo and was greeted with freezing temperatures. These temperatures, in fact, loved me so much they stuck around all day.
Through rain or shine, snow and sleet I was on a mission that day and I had a lot to accomplish before even making it Memphis. That’s why I hit the road at around 7:45. Yeah, you get used to hours like that when you need to cram as much into the day as you can! But where was a heading? Well, fun fact, Tupelo happens to be the hometown of Elvis Presley and you know how much I love Elvis. Graceland, this is not. It’s literally a one room country shack and epitomizes the phrase, “humble beginnings.”
Yeah, it sounds pretty cool.
Wait. Sounds? What do you mean, sounds? Truth be told, I did not have time to visit his home and as disappointed as I was, I had a couple of other things to bear in mind; 1.) I was going to get plenty of the King in Memphis and 2.) I had so many battlefields to see! And the first one was 20 minutes up the road at a place called Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield Site. Now reduced to just an acre in size, the battle was actually quite significant. The nearby city of Corinth was apparently the railroad junction of the western South and consequently, the Union was always trying to wrest control from the rebels. Eventually they succeeded (duh) but at this particular battle, Brices Cross Roads, Confederate major general, Nathan Forrest, pulled off a stunning victory and sent the Feds reeling in retreat.
I didn’t know any of this and I wanted to learn even more. Scattered in the fields they have a bunch of plaques describing the maneuvers, tactics, etc. and I really wanted to read them all. But remember Old Man Winter? Yeah… I probably spent ten minutes outside my car taking pictures before my fingers were frozen. I did get some good ones though and what struck me as completely bizarre was the fact that the “cross roads” are still there. Albeit paved, but still looking exactly as they did that morning 150 years ago. Spectacular.
As cool as Brices Cross Roads was, however, it was still chicken feed compared to what was next on my itinerary. A battlefield further up the road in Tennessee called Shiloh.
The Shiloh National Military Park is called such because in terms of historical significance, lives lost, and sheer size it’s right up there with Gettysburg. It was early on in the war, but the carnage was unparalleled in American history up until that point. There were more casualties at Shiloh than the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and the Mexican War combined. Anyone thinking that this war was going to be over and done with was quickly shocked into the reality.
Today, Shiloh is remarkably well preserved and to walk its fields and actually see what the soldiers saw was rather poignant. Unfortunately like most things, I was rushed and had to take the whirlwind tour, but I will be back. To Tupelo and Corinth as well. I was left with a real good impression of the area- nice people and lots to do.
The morning flew by and it was now noon. I was feeling anxious and desired much to get to Memphis, unwind, and prepare for my audition. (I will tell you, standing alone in a field at Shiloh, I took the opportunity to perform my monologues. In a strange way, I felt I was doing it for the soldiers but I’m sure they were all laughing at me and not with me.)
Two hours later I reached that city on the Mississippi and checked into the Sheraton downtown. WOW. I am not a person used to the finer things in life like first class or huge hotels with glass elevators so color me naive, I was impressed! The place was teeming with theatre people and the air was electric. There was an excitement I could feel in my bones and I was completely in my element, the same as if I were running around an old battlefield. UPTA was off to a great start and would continue to be great that whole weekend, but for the sake of brevity, I have to move on. My audition experience is a blog unto itself and this one happens to be named “Driving Through Dixie”.
I will say, however, that I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Memphis. The music scene is infectious and despite the craziness that was UPTA, I did manage to steal away to Beale Street Saturday night with some good friends. Live music, tasty beer, and a delicious catfish po’boy never seemed so good. Woo hoo!
The morning after now, found me agreeing to take some friends to the airport which was not a problem. I did have one last callback at 11:15 but their flights were an hour earlier than that, so still no problem. I figured I would have plenty of time left to make it back and therein lied the problem. Well, actually, the problem was that we had neglected to figure in stuffing five people into a tiny car with all of our luggage. I have never felt so crammed into a vehicle and truly know what a clown-car feels like. Which is fine and dandy, but I was worried about the tremendous weight this was not putting on my car and wondered if we would make it to the airport was an incident…
The answer to that one is no. A mere mile from the terminal, I hit a bump and heard the unmistakable “flap-flap-flap” of a rear tire. I clambered out and sure enough, it was totally busted. Everyone else got out and really wanted to help me, but I understood they had a flight to catch. They called a taxi (but were eventually taken by some police because, apparently we were not in a very good part of town) and I changed my tire as the biting wind slapped my face and the cold metal of the lug wrench wreaked havoc on my fingers.
But if that wasn’t bad enough, I found out much to my chagrin, that tire shops in Memphis don’t like to be open on Sundays! What gives? I had an audition to get to! Whatever, I drove back to the hotel on my doughnut and survived the callback. It actually went quite, all things considered, but when I was done I was faced with how to solve this problem. I googled Tires Plus. Nothing. I googled Big Ten Tires. Nothing. I googled Jiffy Lube. Locations in my area! Things were looking brighter when I got to the Jiffy Lube, but quickly sank back into gloom when they informed me that they wouldn’t have my tire until the next morning… For several reasons I did want to stay another night in Memphis and shell out a couple hundred more bucks… But what could I do? I told him I would be back but that I had to make a phone call. I called my mom and as I’m explaining the situation, I noticed a used tire shop open across the street! It was a miracle! The clouds parted and a ray of sunshine beamed down. In no time I was back on the road home.
Er, well, to Arkansas.
Yes, Arkansas, because it was right across the river and in one fell swoop I succeeded in checking two things off my list- crossing the Mississippi and getting closer to visiting every state. Arkansas made 25.
It was funny though, because I drove as far as the visitor center and the real nice ladies behind the desk asked me where I was going. I told them this would be as far I could go. They asked if I had come just “to say I’ve been to Arkansas.” I told them, “that’s exactly what I’ve done!” As you can imagine, laughter ensued and we had a pleasant time. That was a good first impression of the Mineral State though, and I look forward to when the road takes me that way again.
However, thanks to the tire situation, I was now grossly behind schedule. It was two o’clock when I left that visitor center and I knew I wanted to get as far as I could south. I bade farewell to Memphis and mused about the next time I would be back (in all likelihood next February for UPTA again!) and set my sights for the Gulf of Mexico, following that Big River all the way down.
I’m having a problem with the phone,
Sitting in my room, all alone.
Climbing the walls and pacing the floor,
Back and forth like a tide to the shore.
From Tupelo to the Cloud,
In every city and every town,
There is a struggle as old as time.
A battle of heart and brain,
Of passion and sense
Colliding in the streets like gas and rain.
You sit on the fence.
And look at the sidewalk.
Where a rainbow is formed,
From the opposing foes.
You gather new strength,
From your head to your toes.
You pick up the phone!
And hear the tone!
Of a women’s voice,
Politely say no…
Sometimes calling a girl,
Can be the hardest thing in the world.
Contrary to my Favorite Movie List, this list is those movies that I can live my entire life without seeing a second time.
Now whether they’re just dull, pointless, or full of terrible acting and/or directing and/or editing- this movies are dumb. Some of them I just do not care for, but SOME of them (and I mean the ones in CAPS) I HATE and wish they were never made….
1. Avatar (2009)
2. Spider-man 3 (2007)
3. The Davinci Code (2006)
4. KILLERS (2010)
5. The Bounty Hunter (2010)
6. The Road (2009)
7. Appaloosa (2008)
8. TRANSFORMERS 2: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN (2009)
9. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
10. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
11. Rocky V (1990)
12. Every Final Destination (2000- 2011)
13. Jason X (2002)
14. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) *Only because of Hayden Christenson*
15. Shrek 2 (2004)
16. The Incredibles (2004)
17. American Beauty (1999)
18. CLOSER (2004)
19. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
20. Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)
21. THE SECRET GARDEN (1993)
22. LITTLE MONSTERS (1989)
23. The Majestic (2001)
24. One Hour Photo (2002)
25. The Wicker Man (2006)
26. THE VANISHING (1993)
27. Date Movie (2006)
28. The Pink Panther 2 (2009) *and I thought the FIRST ONE was bad!*
29. Dragon Ball Evolution (2009)
30. The Wolfman (2010)
31. Black Christmas (2006)
Last Thursday I began a road trip from my home in St. Cloud, Florida (just south of Orlando) to Memphis, Tennessee. The reason for the trip was a huge audition festival known at the Unified Professional Theater Auditions, or UPTA, where I would hopefully land a job somewhere in the country far from my Central Florida base.
Now, of course, I had been planning this trip for months and while theatre was my main objective and focus, I immediately hit the maps and National Park website to determine what cool things would distract me along the way. Civil War sites being the primary concern. Of course. What did make this journey especially interesting, however, was the fact that I was doing it alone. All of my cohorts had flown to Memphis leaving me to my own wits. I packed light, with lots of canned goods and snacks, so as not to spend dough on anything I didn’t have to. Except coffee. I had to spend dough on coffee.
Anyways, at approximately 5:30 I rolled out of St. Cloud, onto the turnpike and headed north into the darkness with the rising sun as my friend. Along the way I noticed my car temperature plummet from a muggy 77 degrees to a cool 55 in only two hours. Donning my sweater and jacket, I would hardly take them off for the duration of the trip.
My first stop along the way was Horseshoe Bend National Military Park in Alabama, where General Andrew Jackson defeated the troublesome Creek Nation once and for all. History aside for the moment, I had to first pass through the hell hole that is southwest Georgia. I first traversed this wasteland in 2011 on the Andersonville trip and again last year for ACTF in Albany (see other posts, please!) and know what I am talking about when I describe it as a section of the country that God forgot. I’ve never been to the deserts out west, but I believe they have some grand majesty to them, framed by rising mountain peaks and a general mythology that speaks to the intrepid spirit of America.
And then there’s southwest Georgia. Desolate, hot, dusty, poor, uninspiring. Not the romantic vision of the South that you think of. No, coming from Florida, this is the back door to the Deep South and it isn’t very romantic. Well, whatever, I got through it and entered Alabama by way of Columbus.
*And for the record, I don’t mean to completely bash Georgia. The north country is beautiful and I love stopping in and around Atlanta when I can. Savannah is another place I would love to visit. Nonetheless, there’s no reason to visit the southwest corner of the state. Ever. Jimmy Carter left it and you should too.*
Now we’ll get to the history. Two hours later I reached my destination at Horseshoe Bend and learned a lot about something I really had never known about.
We all know the War of 1812, but hidden in that larger conflict was another war being waged between competing factions of the Creek Nation (the major tribe in Alabama, and Georgia). The southern Creeks believe the only way to preserve their way of life was to accept the United States as a force they could never hope to defeat. The northern Creeks, however, were known as Red Sticks and were determined to drive the white man from their lands. Boom. Civil War. Eventually this war began to threaten US interests and since we were already used to fighting the British, we decided to send Andrew Jackson down south to take care of the mess. Note: this is pre Battle of New Orleans Jackson. Okay, so what ended up happening was that Jackson with his volunteers COMPLETELY CRUSHED THE RED STICKS. Like, no mercy type crushing. The kind where you burn the village and take no prisoners. (He did spare the women and children, thank God).
As an Andrew Jackson buff, I was enthralled by this history, yet supremely disappointed when I learned that the peace treaty signed by Jackson and the Creek leaders, forced them to surrender all their land (remember- Alabama, and parts of Georgia), including those allied with Jackson! He did not care and stabbed them all in the back… I knew his Indian policy was shitty to begin with, but now I really can’t defend him on that. Yeah… say it ain’t so, Andy, say it ain’t so.
After this very enlightening sojourn, I hit the road again and knew I wanted to get as close to Shiloh, Tennessee as possible. Very quickly I realized I was not going to make Shiloh and decided to shoot for Tupelo, Mississippi instead. Essentially making a diagonal across Alabama, I saw most of the state and came to the conclusion that it’s as godforsaken as southwest Georgia! Exactly the same terrain, but with more road kill and covering the entire state! (I feel I can express all this now because I no longer fear Karma in the form of an Alabama state trooper pulling me over and dealing me a real-life My Cousin Vinny experience.)
Alright, alright, enough negatives. Surely something cool or whatever must have happened in Alabama? Well, when I drove through Birmingham it started to snow. Which as annoying as it was at the time, I think it was the kind of unique randomness you hope for in a road trip. Also, as I was exiting the state I was treated to a really nice sunset. And I think there’s nothing more beautiful than seeing a sunrise or sunset on the open road. Thank you, ‘Bama.
Therefore, as the sun was sinking I was approaching that other pillar of Dixie, the State of Mississippi, and wondered what tomorrow would bring.
Or rather where was I going to stay for the night.
I entered Tupelo not long after dark and checked into an Econo Lodge where I was greeted by a pretty blond behind the counter named Tiffany. And truth be told, I decided on this motel because of her enthralling Southern lilt. It was a beautiful accent but alas, while she was very helpful, I could sense zero interest being returned. Ah well, perhaps I should have put on an accent? Either way, she will always be my Tupelo Tiffany.
Heartache aside, I got settled into the room. And while I traveled alone, this would be the only night I would spend by myself. In hindsight I am very thankful for this. There were a couple of moments that day where I felt pangs of loneliness. And I don’t mean it as angsty or as lame as it sounds. I just mean that when you’re experiencing something as cool as a battlefield you want company to share it with. That’s all. Jeez.
Anyways! I did get settled and realized that I would reach Memphis tomorrow and knew that I had to start focusing on my main objective. I didn’t want to be too distracted from all the awesome history!
TO BE CONTINUED
This is actually the description I’ve had on my Facebook for the past five years. But now as the sun is setting and a new dawn approaches you’ll be reading something different on my profile soon.
I love to have fun. I’m acting at UCF and want nothing more than to make it professionally either in theatre or film. I’ve been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with the BFA Program and I’m not going to blow it. I don’t pretend to be the smartest guy on Earth, but I know the value of hardwork, honesty, respect, and a firm handshake. I’m sensible enough to also know that faith, hope, love, and loyalty are what you need in this life to be successful and that it wouldn’t be possible without friends and family.
“Why go back to working? Why go back to the gym? To green leafy vegetables? To doing hard things? To trying & failing & trying again? Because it’s Tuesday? Because Wednesday isn’t promised? Because of landlords & undertakers & others? Answers are greeting cards. Platitudes. Slippery sloped. Banal. Unknowable & Involuntary, I think. But there is Grace. And She’s the quiet, strong ever-true voice who whispers, always lovingly; “Don’t think now. Just do…”- Stephen Adly Guirgis