Saturday, May 26, 2007

adventures of a sag driver

every four days, i am the SAG (support and gear) driver. that means i get up early, load 8-10 gallons of water in the back of the subaru, stand in the midst of people getting their bikes ready for the day, look important with my clipboard, check people off when they leave, then hit the road with my carload of water, gatorade, cheez-its, power bars, bananas, oranges, apples, bubble-gum, and pay-day candy bars.

i wait until the last rider leaves, then drive twenty miles down the route, giving a thumbs-up to everyone, and hoping i get a thumbs-up from them. heaven forbid i should have to stop and help someone with mechanical problems. me, the mechanical moron, with my yellow gloves on so i won't get grease under my nails, is supposed to know something. i guess by this time i do know a little bit. i can help change tires, but mostly i am good for moral support.

at the twenty-mile mark, i look for a place to park the car so everyone riding along can see it. i also look for a place where everyone can pee. we're all great at peeing on bushes and anywhere else we can find to squat.

each day, i try to have a theme for my sagging; for example, yesterday was called "farm implements". each time i stopped, it was by a huge carport of farm equipment. that way, everyone can choose which implement on which to pee. it's kind of exciting, in an odd sort of way.

after the farm implement theme du jour, it was time to back the car onto the ferry so we could yet again cross the mississippi. it was a fun and exciting ride. my friend, barbara, was with me in the sag, so she was navigating.

we drove seventeen miles down highway 77 and found an appropriate farm implement area. we sat and sat and no-one came.

"barb, i think they should be here by now. what's wrong?"

"i don't know. look at the cue sheet," she answered.

looking at the sheet, i wisely noted that we had forgotten to make a left turn on highway 210 about twelve miles back. i put the subaru in gear, backed out of the farm arena, and gunned it to the floor for the back-track. speeding along, we finally saw 210, took a right, and i gunned it even more. at long last, about 10 miles down the road, we saw our riders. driving ahead of them a mile or so, we had to skip the themed area, and settled for a tree with shade.

"where have you been?" asked jackie, the owner of the company (and of the subaru).

"let's just say we made a mistake," i answered.

everyone finished their gatorade and snack time, then continued on down the road.
barb and i wanted to get the car gassed up for the next sag driver, then we decided to get a car-wash.

after fumbling with the dollar bill changer for ten minutes, we entered the car-wash. the water started misting our tar-encrusted car. we then heard a "thud" eminating from the roof. i knew immediately what it was. the bike on top of the car was taller than the car-wash door. i slammed on the brakes; barb and i jumped out in the mist and began taking the bike off the roof of the subaru. we were both soaked, but glad to note we hadn't ruined the bike.

"i'll meet you at the dairy queen," barb said.

i continued through the car-wash, bicycle-less, another lesson learned by the sag driver du jour.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

two white wooden swings

they looked attractive, the two white wooden swings, hanging in front of a white building i thought was a closed grocery store. petunias in hanging baskets added to the intrigue of the place.

i stopped, hopped off my bike, sat down on one of the swings, was starting to listen to my phone messages, and dusty appeared on her recumbent bike. soon, pat and jan (sisters) joined us, followed by jenna and kathryn. we all chatted, then barbara and linda stopped. jenna and kathryn had stopped by a strawberry patch. jenna pulled a baggie-ful of strawberries out of her shirt back-pocket and offered them to us.

we sat, ate strawberries, spit out the tops on the grass, and continued our swinging. soon, everyone drifted on down the road, leaving barbara, linda, and i to swing.

all of a sudden, out of the house next door came a tall man in a t-shirt and pajama bottoms.

"let me open the store and let you in. i have some lemonade for you."

"that's nice," we said. "thank you."

terry ford opened the door to what we thought was going to be a grocery store and we all gasped! all we could see were rows and rows of bookshelves filled with rows and rows of books.

"i have 17,000 cookbooks, the second largest collection in the united states," terry explained.

in front of us was a 25-foot table set with colorful pottery dishes, glasses, silver, and napkins.

"i had a group here yesterday from new orleans, and tomorrow i'm having a home demonstration unit for lunch," he said. "i'm a professional chef. i go all over the u.s. and the world giving cooking classes."

"wow!", we exclaimed. "we wish you could cook for us."

"i'd love to," he replied.

at that moment, a man entered the store with two papers in his hand.

"he brings me the daily paper," terry said. "i'm recovering from a heart transplant, and i'm executive editor of the ripley enterprise."

he showed us his masthead and barbara tore it out so we could remember his name (as if we could forget).

"before we go, i wonder if you would show us your scars," i said. "i've never known a heart transplant patient before."

terry lifted up his t-shirt to reveal a 24" scar from his navel to his chest, plus various other round-looking incisions here and there.

"i have to take it easy for two more months, then i'm good to go back to traveling," he added. "my surgery was december 12."

"you're amazing," i said.

"i'd do anything for anybody. i realize every day is a gift. i should have been dead seven years ago. that's how long i waited for a new heart."

"thanks for the lemonade and for showing us your cookbooks," we all said. we had especially enjoyed looking at the one called "death warmed over", one which told the proper cuisine for serving at funerals.

mounting our bikes and taking off down the road from ripley, tennessee, we were all happy to have been sitting on the two white wooden swings at the right moment to have met terry.

wrinkled roosters club

gathered on the wooden deck of the old-fashioned corner store, they called themselves the wrinkled roosters. the store rooster strutted around on the deck, allowing all of us to occupy her space for a few minutes.

the wrinkled roosters club members, however, arrive at the deck early each morning to kibbitz, to gossip, to solve world problems, and in our case, to entertain the tourists. six of them, each funnier than the other, cracked jokes in rhythm.

"yow, we come here every mornin', then leave when our wives call us," the one they call catfish said.

"fortunately, none of us have our phones turned on," chimed in crawfish.

another fell in love with edith, our rider with a german accent. he was interested in taking her home, but she wouldn't go when she found out he smoked. that was a deal-breaker for her.

all six retired from manufacturing plants which have since closed. they named general electric, firestone, and others. one guy in overalls said the day he retired was the happiest day of his life.

after fifteen minutes of front-porch entertainment, it was time for us to get on our bikes and mosey on down the tennessee road.

"you got any money?" catfish asked.

"no, but i have lots of time," i answered. "you got the money, honey, i got the time."

"that's a song," the quiet one said.

"you guys need to start a band. you'd be hilarious," i suggested.

"silver fox here has a cd out. you can buy one in the store," volunteered crawfish.

"anyone famous live around here?" i asked.

"justin timberlake grew up at that last subdivision you saw. tom cruise was staying here when he was working on "the firm", and oh, yeah, carmen diaz stopped by here one day," catfish said.

sit on the deck long enough with the wrinkled roosters and the world passes by.

Monday, May 21, 2007

rock 'n' soul

beale street in downtown memphis is a happenin' place. as we drove through on sunday evening, i vowed to come back to it, and today, i did.

on the way, however, i stopped to see the ducks; you know, the ducks at the peabody hotel who come down from their penthouse palace at 11 a.m. each day to entertain the tourists in the lobby fountain, then return to their palace at 5 p.m., weary of adulation and flash cameras. as the ducks entertained the masses of tourists in the lobby, i slipped into the elevator, pushed the "s" button, and swished up to their rooftop palace.

it was a beautiful palace, fit for the cute ducks who inhabit it. from the skyway, i also could see a view of the mississippi, barges pushing who-knows-what down the waterway. in addition, on the top floor was a huge ballroom, reminiscent of times gone by. i almost could hear glenn miller tunes wafting out the door--or was that elvis singing "blue hawaii"?

moving on toward beale street, i spied the fed-ex center. i feel like i paid for at least a small part of it. right next to it was the rock 'n' soul museum, originally funded by the smithsonian, but now solely supported by people like me who wander in, put on mp-3 player earphones, and transport ourselves back to the beginning of blues and country music in this neck of the woods. on the mp-3, i could press a three digit number and hear any piece of music i wanted in its entirety. i listened to "just a closer walk with thee" by the blackwood brothers, in honor of my dad, who loved those guys.

i saw elvis' gem-encrusted performance outfit and punched in the number for "blue suede shoes"; i heard minnie pearl yelling "how-dee", followed by a funny one-liner she was noted for; i saw and remembered many of the vintage juke boxes on display, bringing back memories of feeding quarters to the one at the snack shack in liberal.

the whole experience was mesmerizing, ending with the asassination of martin luther king and a hope for a better tomorrow race-wise.

riding through a relatively unfamiliar part of the country has been educational. i have viewed nearly every stalk of corn in louisiana and mississippi, not to speak of every catfish farm. i have a better grasp on the ol' south, though i still don't know why they talk funny. their history is bedded in acrimony. their present is riddled with hurricane damage.

no matter where we go, everyone is kind to us and curious about what we are doing. they probably don't get the "why" part, tho. neither do i. it's just another adventure.

like the well-dressed, glamorous woman in vicksburg exclaimed when she heard about our journey, "oh, my gawd. i can't even ride around the block. if i did what you are doing, i'd have to have surgery to remove that bike seat from my big fat butt."

some days i feel the same way.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

took my breath away!

robert dafford's work ( takes my breath away. along the levee in vicksburg, mississippi, instead of seeing a huge concrete levee, robert dafford has turned the concrete into huge, detailed murals of the civil war, plus historical depictions of the vicksburg area.

today, i walked down from washington street to the levee below. i had read and heard about the murals since arriving in town last evening from my 85-mile bike ride starting in natchez. they were the only things i wanted to see here. now i know why.

upon reaching the bottom of the stairs leading down to the huge 15 x 20 foot murals, i noticed scaffolding in front of one of them. gallon paint cans on wooden planks sat on the scaffolding. to the side of the scaffolding sat robert dafford and his assistant, working on a mural featuring louis armstrong playing jazz in a bar.

"you have alot of paint," i wisely noted.

"we do murals all over the country. we have a seven-month project to do up north after we finish this one," he replied.

"are there very many muralists who do what you do?" i asked.

"there are five different mural companies who do this type of work. we are the only ones who do historical research, photograph the topic, sketch the exact mural, then paint it," he said.

about this time, i realize i'm dealing with a genius, perhaps the leonardo of murals. now i'm really appreciating them and him. his assistant is working on one section, too.

"how do you decide who gets to paint the big spaces of blue or brown?" i inquired.

"we work as a team. we all have our job," he said. "i'm the detail man."

"are you ever," i exclaim.

thinking i'm wearing out my welcome, plus interfering with the creative process, i said thank you and walked on.

leonardo of the mississippi, robert dafford. little did i realize i would not be able to stop thinking of the murals all day long....well, i guess i didn't think about them while i ate fried green tomatoes and fried pickles at rusty's grill down the street, but then i got right back to them.

black man from jackson, mississippi?

glenn sanford greeted me at the door of the h.c. porter gallery in vicksburg, mississippi. i recognized the name of the gallery because just that morning i had perused the vicksburg tourist magazine. i was drawn to the gallery because the magazine said h.c. porter worked in three medias: photography, printmaking, and painting. i wondered how an artist could do that.

looking at the work, i noticed the subjects were all black. glenn explained to me how h.c. first takes a photo, then silk-screens it, and finally paints it. it sounded very complicated and i imagined h.c. must be some kind of technological genius, all that serigraphy and all.

"here's h.c. now if you want to meet her," glenn said.

walking towards me was the antithesis of how i had pictured h.c. porter. h.c. was a tall, caucasian blonde, who when she heard i was on a long bike ride, started telling me about a friend of hers who does cross-country bike tours.

"excuse me a minute; i'll be right back," she said.

while awaiting her, i noticed her dossier on the wall and read it.

upon returning, h.c. talked about the plaza art fair in kansas city after i told her i was from kansas.

"i'm glad to clear up something i was wondering about. i looked at the children's art down on the riverfront and thought they had a great teacher. now i've learned that you are that teacher," i explained.

"oh, yes, i love working with children," she replied.

"i really must get upstairs to my painting," she continued. "i'd love talking with you, but i have 40 paintings to get done."

after she left, glenn explained to me that h.c. had gone to view the devastation of hurricane katrina right after it happened. she took 9000 photos, then selected 40 to make into paintings. he showed me some of the photos. they, like her other paintings, each showed one person in black-and-white photography, standing where their house had once been. they were in the eye of the hurricane.

in march 2008, the 40 paintings will start being on exhibit around the country. the project is called "backyards and beyond: mississippians and their stories.

h.c.'s motto for the project is: there is healing in the telling...and the being heard.

she is the perfect healer.

shake it out, baby!

pulling into a gas station/convenience store in downtown vidalia, mississippi, i notice things are a bit in disarray. the place to insert my credit card was quite unusual, enclosed with duct tape on all four sides. dubiously, i inserted the card, only to be told to see the attendant.

after walking in, using the restroom (which hadn't been cleaned since 1984), i approached the attendant's counter.

"shake it out! shake it on out, in the name of jesus!", the attractive xxxl-sized woman was saying to someone on the phone. hanging up from her auntie, she gave me her full attention.

"what does that mean and did jesus say it?" i asked.

"it means shake out your illness. get the best of it," she replied.

"good advice," i said.

after completing our financial transaction, she leaned over the counter to give me the receipt.

"what is that down there?" i asked, glancing down at the bodice of her mu-mu. i could see some writing on her bosom and wanted to know what it said.

"it says 'pookie', with a rose right down the center of you-know-where," she answered.

"what does that mean?" i asked again, leaving jesus out of it this time.

"it means that's where pookie belongs and if pookie ain't there, i'm goin' after him," she said.

"i'll tell you one thing. i wouldn't want to be pookie if you were coming after me," i joked.

"you got that one right, honey."

"bye-bye, and shake it on out," i said, slipping out the door.

sometimes you get more than gas at the gas station.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

life on the shoulder

meanderin' up the mississippi is a bit more difficult than i thought it might be. for starters, i came to the ride cold--meaning, without training. well, that is, if you don't count the 30-mile ride on the prairie spirit trail i did a week before departing for new orleans.

the first day looked fairly easy: take a ferry ride upstream seven miles to the zoo, get on a 22-mile levee trail, jump off, get on a highway following the levee, then ride 16 miles to our first motel. that was easier read than done. i went to bed at 8:30 p.m. and slept until 6:30 p.m. guess i should have trained.

then there was the second day. that also looked fairly simple--seven more miles than the day before--45 miles in all. that was definitely easier than the first day. perhaps i am getting in shape.

the third day was the killer, both in thought and in deed--85 miles. at the 50-mile mark, i simply packed it in, thinking i don't have to be a hero. it was also mother's day, and i knew my children wouldn't want their mother to be uncomfortable on her special day.

that day, i was lying under the shade of a huge oak tree, flat on my back in shivasana position with my eyes closed. "do you need any help?" a nearby voice asked. "my husband wants to know if we should call 911."

"no, thank you," i replied. "i'm just resting."

"do you need some ice?"

"yes, that would be great."

she returned in a few minutes with a baggie-full. i filled my water bottle, thanked her, mounted my bike, and was off after a pleasant 10-minute rest.

sometimes that's all it takes to make it to the end.

today, we are in natchez, mississippi, on a rest day. i need rest after driving the SAG wagon on an 83-mile day. that is another blog, however.