Driving Through Dixie, Part II

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.

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That church was there at the battle too.

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.

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The cross roads as they looked 150 years ago, outside of Corinth. I sure hope some bandits don’t show up… theatre joke…

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.

A monument to the boys from Minnesota who fought and died here.
A monument to the men from Minnesota who fought and died here.
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The Peach Orchard at Shiloh, and impromptu stage for me.

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.

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Ye old visitor center in West Memphis, Arkansas.

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.

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