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Memphis Blues
Desert Rat in the Tennessee Rainforest

Memphis Blues: The Final Chapter



A Continuing Web Diary


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Saturday August 30, 2003 - Culture Shock

Now we're finally suffering culture shock -- back in Arizona.

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Friday August 29, 2003 - Finally Done

From: Ronce
Sent: Friday, August 29, 2003 3:41 PM

Subject: Finally Done

All -

Just wanted to let you know that I finally took the rest of Grandpa's ashes to Durango like I said I would do a year and a half ago.

We (Jimber and I) took them out to the river behind the house, got on those big rocks at the edge of the river, and let them go into the water there.

I am very sorry it took me so long to do it, and am glad I finally got it done. It was very nice -- we said a prayer and I told him how much we all loved and missed him, and that we will see him again someday. I am glad that I had the opportunity to do it.

If I have anyone's email address wrong, please forward this on. I put in all the email addresses I had, because I wasnít sure which were current and which were not.

I just wanted to let you all know.

Hope you all are doing well!


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Wednesday August 20, 2003 - It's Murder, Especially the TV

Murder: Upon return to Phoenix, we find the number of murders have exceeded 250 in first ten months of the year, worse than Memphis.

Television: Despite the substantial number of so-called "Reality TV" shows, Memphis standard broadcast TV offerings are far better than Phoenix, including Cox Cable. There are fewer advertisements on Memphis standard broadcast than on Phoenix cable stations. Also, the highly successful CSI series is conspicuously missing in Phoenix at the time we arrive.

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Sunday August 17, 2003 - B-O-R-I-N-G

With a long way to go today, we leave at 9:00 am without breakfast. We plan on picking up gas and food down the road, but in the end breakfast gives way to junk food due to the limited cuisine on this stretch of I-40.

We enter Phoenix at 9:30 pm, stop at Jack-In-The-Box for supper, and take 7th street all the way across town to Yapper's house. Boy, what a really BORING place to drive in compared with Memphis; every street goes all the way across the valley -- no turns, no name changes, no capillary neighborhoods to crawl through. We will be imposing on our daughter this time until we can find a place to live.

And what the heck is this? A gas station asking $3.95/gallon!

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Saturday August 16, 2003 - Practice Makes Perfect

We sleep late, get up and leave the motel at around 11:00 am selecting another sugar-high breakfast at Sonic, and are finally on the road by noon. There are several armadillo carcasses on the road today, and more humidity this time through. The washboard is still very bad in westbound lanes thru Oklahoma City and west. And there are many skunk smells again today, as last night.

Ten miles out of Erick, Oklahoma there is a large meandering pond on our right lined with tall skinny white long-necked Ibus' with long curved bills -- maybe a hundred or more. Then, ten miles out of McLean, Texas there is a small building with an interesting single contiguous landscape painted entirely around it. Also today we spot many windmills, including one with a fan that has been beat into a rectangular in shape by the wind.

We enter New Mexico at 6:58 pm and Tucumcari at 7:30. Getting it right this time, we choose the Rhodeway Inn, a very nice motel for Tucumcari, then load up on sugar once again with a quick Sonic supper. Fortunately, the weather here is much cooler than it was two weeks ago.

We have 625 miles to go tomorrow.

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Friday August 15, 2003 - Up, Up, And Away

Our inspection out of the way the night before, we sleep well, throw our last belongings into the back of the truck and, grabbing a late breakfast along the way, stop by mom's house to say our goodbyes. With the good conversation and the unexpected visit by my soul mate's brother, Junior, we have a difficult time drawing it to a close; but we finally get underway about 3:00 pm.

Having gotten used to driving a 25-foot truck ten months before enroute to Memphis, it doesn't take us as long to adopt a velocity that will get us to Phoenix in three days, and we make good time to Conway, AR. Outside of Conway, highway construction forces all lanes into single-file for a period of miles with stop-and-go speeds down to 20 mph. We loose 45 minutes in the slow-down, but still reach Henrietta, OK, our goal, at 10:30 pm.

We're getting used to the La Baron motel at $34:95 per night, queen bed, good refrigeration, and room for the truck. They have a strategically placed convenience store, gas, road ice, and alcoholic beverages if desired. The Eastern Indian proprietors are also friendly. We're checked in by a cute lady, probably in her 70's, with an interesting accent in English and a more interesting choppy native language which she uses on the phone to talk with a friend while checking us in.

While weíre relaxing before bed a spider unexpectedly drops from the ceiling onto my soul mate, causing a moment of excitement. Then, after we're well settled in bed, another spider drops on her again and wakes her up by running across her skin. We leap up, and inspecting the ceiling, find a cluster of three waiting in an upper corner. I take a hand towel and slap the ceiling to drive them out of the corner -- and manage to get them all down and killed. We never find the two original spiders but eventually settle back into a good night's rest.

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Thursday August 14, 2003 - Last Minute Crime Update

We finished packing the truck today. We're exhausted, but not exhausted enough to bring in fast food and watch one last newscast before bedding down on our camping cots.

The Memphis School Board Wars, which have been going on ever since we got here, aren't letting up. Most weeks they monopolize the TV airways second only to the Doppler Radar broadcasts; there isn't a lot of room left over for George Bush's Iraq War. The subject this month is the great School Board Chair Controversy.

It seems that the school board has approved the purchase of twelve $1500 easy chairs for board members to use in their deliberations, which consist mostly of arguments between the Haves and the Have-Nots. The Haves want to spend most of the money on new stadiums and sporting equipment for metropolitan area high schools, and the Have-Nots want to use it to level expenditures on learning facilities, textbooks, and teachers between the inner city and outlying areas.

They have a screwy system in Memphis -- A school board that is racially balanced to match the population. Who would ever have thought of that? It makes for a lot of arguments, but it works, and it works well -- I dare say a lot better than almost anywhere else in the country.

So they have a lot of heated arguments, and they spend a lot of time in those chairs.

"If I have to spend so much time in meetings, the least I can do is use a chair that doesn't aggravate my back," one board member explains.

She's got a point. That many who voted for the chairs are those same individuals who champion the kids of the inner city hasn't gone unnoticed by the die-hards; it's ammunition to use against them, a crime in the eyes of the sports buffs.

But what about real crime in Memphis? Well, two things have come to a head just in the last ten days or so. First, there's the burglar who has been walking into homes while the occupants are awake and stealing them blind while they watch TV. This has been going on for weeks, and in some cases he has come in through the bedroom window and stolen things right off the nightstand beside the beds of sleepers. But not anymore; someone caught him at it this week and shot him dead.

Then there's the middle-aged woman who was raped by an intruder, and a week later shot the same intruder dead when he reappeared in her bedroom to do it again. One thing Memphians do well is take care of themselves.

We leave tomorrow.

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Wednesday August 13, 2003 - The E.R.

On our third day of packing the truck I manage to get myself bitten first thing in the morning by some sort of monster spider. My left hand swells up like a balloon. I hold out for a couple of hours, but at 10:30 it is still getting worse. Since we don't know what it is or how far it's going, we reluctantly decide to head out to the emergency room to have it looked at.

We take the usual shortcut from Airways Blvd across Person Avenue, cross the railroad tracks at the Robbie Lee Cooper Memorial Walking Bridge, and head down Hays Rd, Dunn, and Perry to Alcy before reaching Elvis Presley Blvd, and then turn toward Methodist Hospital South. The complicated walking bridge over the tracks is named for a small child that was hit by a train on her way to school. My soul mate remembers waiting for trains on many occasions on her way to school in the sixties.

It's raining again today, and we get drenched getting from the car to the hospital door just like we did last fall when we took my wife in for breathing problems right after reaching Memphis.

It's cold as a witch's you-know-what in the waiting room, with typical Memphis refrigeration pumping the temperature down to the low sixties in an effort to reduce humidity as much as possible. They're remodeling the building, and the waiting room is a long hallway lined with chairs.

This morning is an unusually racially-balance morning in this part of the city. There are three White people present, I note; two others and myself. A gabby White woman carries on incessantly from the time we sit down, bending the ears of several of the women sitting across from her. She tells her life story frontward and backward, explaining all the characteristics and personality anomalies of each of her children, her husband, and her dog. The women nod and smile dutifully, and heave a long sigh of relief when she's finally called away.

Everyone there, of course, is initially ahead of us. A gentleman who looks like Samuel L Jackson has two hand injuries. I ask him about his neatly bandaged thumb.

"That looks like it hurts," I comment sympathetically.

"It does," he says.

I ask how he injured it. He points to a couple of scars and sheepishly explains, "I got this one when I broke a plate on the table and it sliced my hand open."

"And I got this one when..."

I interrupt him to ask again about his neatly wrapped thumb.

"I let the saw slip and it bled all over everything," he explains.

There is a gigantic middle-aged man with a wooden leg, who is using a giant four-foot walker. They call him "Big Sane," he explains to a woman sitting down from him.

Someone calls the next person "Miss Givings." Like most people who wind up in an E.R., I think to myself, I have several.

There is a conservative looking middle-aged lady with watermelon breasts, and a White lady with narrow glasses and a swollen eyelid. And there's a Miss Crab -- Miss Shelley Crab. But she's not, I notice; she seems very nice.

Next is a family with a 2-year old cutie-pie with very neat cornrows all over her head. Her big brother, a boy old enough to know better, asks me for money for the pop machine. I direct him toward his mother.

Time flies while you're having fun, and so it is that by 1:30 pm I am already being invited into the examination room. Immediately through the door I observe about ten to fifteen beds, or examination stations. All in all, it's a fairly efficient looking operation except for the renovation that's going on.

The staff appears very busy doing those mysterious things they always do in such places to stay inordinately busy. In my examination station, I immediately notice the disheveled bedding left over from the last patient. The attendant asks me to wait while he replaces it and makes up the bed, then offers up an optional chair. I elect the chair. He asks me about my hand and comments that it is probably a Brown Recluse bite. He says the doctor will be in shortly.

In the bed on my left, an elderly gentleman mumbles periodically in a gentle bass voice, apparently to himself. His monitor keeps going off. Each time the attendant comes in to check it and explains that he must straighten out his arm in order to keep the IV flowing. Eventually he gets wheeled out to X-ray.

I idly watch the men on a scaffold in the hall putting tile into the ceiling matrix overhead. As he installs the tile the man moves his scaffold along on its casters by throwing his weight forward periodically to make it roll. In the bed on my right I hear the beginning of a complicated classical music composition, which stops abruptly when the woman answers her cell phone.

I wait. After half an hour the attendant sticks his head through the door and asks if the doctor has seen me yet. I say no, and he tells me the doctor will be right in. I wait another half an hour, all the while watching the construction work and nursing station through the Venetian blind covered windows from my room.

2:00 pm -- I wave down an attendant and ask permission to make a couple of phone calls. I call the realtor and request a rescheduling of our house inspection, and I call Enterprise to ask about getting the rental car back late. They give me until 5:30, a 2.5-hour extension. When I'm done I hear Samuel L. Jackson, two beds down on my right, calling home to let them know heís gotten his hand sewn up and is still awaiting release.

The man on my right is back. He looks like he has expired when they wheel him in. The first sign of life returns in the incessant beeping of his monitor behind the curtain. When he starts talking again I can actually understand some of the words. I realize then that the problem all along has been his Tennessee rainforest dialect. Who he's talking too when the attendants aren't there, though, I don't know.

At precisely 2:20 pm I notice the swelling in my hand suddenly looks like it's going down. I think the beeping of the neighbor's monitor is driving the swelling out.

2:25 pm -- The lady on my right coughs a long dry raspy cough that sounds like it's her last. No one comes running, so I hope it wasn't.

2:30 pm -- Cornrow Cutie and her family move into Samuel L. Jackson's vacated bed. I didn't see him leave, but I don't think he expired after his phone call. I have yet to see any doctors come through.

2:35 pm -- The doctor arrives to check out Cornrow's brother, the one that was jumping around in the hallway waiting room. Turns out he had injured his leg the day before and needed help making his bed this morning because his leg hurt. The gentleman on my left wakes up and demands food. The attendant gives him the Memphis equivalent of "Not here, SeŮior; not in the emergency room." After the attendant leaves, he contents himself with mumbling over and over something about black power. I wouldn't mind a little of that, myself.

2:40 pm -- It's the magic hour; the doctor arrives to check out my hand. No, it's not a Brown Recluse, and I'm not going to loose my arm. He thinks it's more of an allergic reaction.

"Maybe to a mosquito bite."

Right. He says I have nothing to worry about except possibly West Nile Virus. He says he'll be right back. He isn't.

2:55 pm -- I inquire about a restroom and am ushered through a nearby doorway with the admonishment that there are two doors which I must lock while there. A drywaller is washing out his Spackle bucket in the sink. While I'm standing at the toilet he opens the door to the hallway and leaves. There is a feminine gasp from outside as he re-closes the door. When I'm through I spin the water valves, but the trickle that was there before I started doesn't change.

3:03 pm -- The doctor finally returns. No temperature and no sign of infection; just an allergic reaction, a little cellulitis.

"Nothing like, what is that you [White] guys get all the time? No cidiomycosis or anything like that."

He says he's written me prescriptions to cover all bases: Benedryl, Prednizone, "a little steroid to help clear it up," and an antibiotic which I shouldn't fill unless I get an infection with the red streaks up my arm, like a rattlesnake bite. Thanks, Doc.

He disappears again. The elderly gentleman in the bed on my left is now snoring loudly. The attendant returns with all of the paperwork, and we're dismissed to the custody of the financial department at 3:20 pm. It's a good thing we had the foresight to stop at Dixie Queen for a breakfast sandwich on the way in.

Our stay in Memphis started in an emergency room, my soul mate's respiratory distress, and it has ended in an emergency room -- my spider bite, which was cured simply by sitting in the waiting room for four hours, a treatment which I believe will cure most anyone of almost anything.

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Tuesday August 12, 2003 - One More Cup

The garbage can has had about a cup of water in the bottom ever since we arrived last October. That's the amount that sticks to the sides of the container when you try to dump it then drains to the bottom when you turn it upright again. It hasn't evaporated in 8 months. I turn the can over today and leave it upside down; a few hours later it is finally dry -- until tomorrow's rain.

The Hound of the Hood departed this afternoon. He didn't ask; he just knew his job was done. He guarded the house for twenty days, including the entire four days we were gone; and now it's time to move on. Thanks, Hound; we wish you well. We miss you already.

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Monday August 11, 2003 - Un-Nerving, Penske!

We get up bright and early this morning and drive a few miles down Getwell Road to pick up the rental truck -- a 25-foot Penske. It's a bit unnerving to drive at first, but we quickly adapt; the mirrors are good and you can see down both sides of the truck without craning your neck. We get it home, and after several tries manage to back it into the driveway sufficiently to get the front-end off the street. We'll be packing it for several days.

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Tuesday August 5, 2003 - Return Flight

We fly out early this morning for an uneventful return to Memphis, pick up a rental car, and head home for a badly needed night's rest.

When we arrive our guardian angel, the Hound of the 'Hood is there to greet us; it is now clear to us that he does have a higher calling.

Power is back on. It reportedly came on yesterday, a few hours shy of two weeks.

Luckily, we had programmed an additional week into the schedule at the last minute to make up for time lost due to the power outage, so tomorrow we will start working toward completion of packing. We must pick up the truck on Monday.

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Monday August 4, 2003 - Tickets or Tires?

The parent plane tickets we expected to have waiting for us have, as yet, not materialized. There is a complication due to our daughter Panela's temporary layoff from the airline and the implementation of a new passenger database. We planned to leave Wednesday morning, so we will do it via plane or auto -- whichever materializes first. With the extra vehicle now in Phoenix, we could survive driving both a car and a truck back from Memphis if we had to.

I make an appointment and we take the Passport in for new tires, then drop over to visit mom and wish her happy birthday.

By the end of the day it looks as if we will be returning by automobile, but Panela is unavailable to confirm our decision. When we do reach her in the latter part of the evening, she has just returned with tickets in hand. Her ability to get the tickets at the last minute can be fully attributed to a flawed new 9-11 screening system, which probably should have required of us a three-day wait.

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Sunday August 3, 2003 - Three Days and a Dozen NPR Stations

Recapping the last three days, we got away from Memphis around 2:15 pm the day before yesterday. What a relief after eleven days with no refrigeration, no fans, no cook stove, no refrigerator, and no power. It was I-40 all the way into Arizona, then I-17 from Flagstaff to Phoenix. We cruised through the green mountains of eastern Arkansas, through Jacksonville, Conway, past Toad Suck Park and Buffalo Nat. River (whatever "Nat." stands for), through Pottsville, Russellville, past Hot Springs National Park, through Ozark, past Fig Trail Scenic Byway, Aux Ark Park (no, itís not abbreviated), and through Van Buren and Fort Smith. Visibility was hazy the last half of the day.

We hit Oklahoma around 7:10 pm and shortly thereafter the humidity dropped off significantly. There's an area through there where those decorative tall skinny Juniper trees grow naturally all across the landscape.

After dark we pulled off on a crossroad and stopped at Charlie's Chicken in Webbers Falls. A horrible storm hit as we pulled off the interstate and the highway patrol was busy closing the eastbound lanes. It rained torrents for a few minutes, drenching us just getting into the place and back out. The wind was so strong that shingles were standing vertically on one side of the roof, and I couldn't close the door when I came out. We sat there in one car and ate together while it rained, and then took off again after it blew over.

Once we got on the way we crossed Little Skin Bayou, Big Skin Bayou and Brushy Lake Park, went through Sallisaw and past Blue Ribbon Downs and Spiro Mounds, through Lake Eufaula, past Latawatah Road, and cruised into Henrietta, Oklahoma around 9:15 pm.

Next day, right after leaving Henrietta we passed near Tulsa, Wewoka, Potawatomie, and Kickapoo. If this is Li'l Abner territory I wonder if they have Joy Juice in Kickapoo? Then we passed through Oklahoma City and Choctaw, spied Sooner Road and the turnoff to Lawton and Waurika, and finally cruised into Texas through McLean, past the leaning Britten water tower at Groom and the largest cross in the Western Hemisphere at exit 112, and Alanreed -- a wide spot in the road. We passed Tiltrotor Drive (yes, it appears to be named after a helicopter part), Amarillo, Bushland (it isnít), Wildorado, and finally into New Mexico at around 5:00 pm their time.

Forty miles east of Tucumcari there was only one station available on the radio via the auto-scan function.

We stayed the night in Tucumcari at the Friendship Inn after picking up Mexican food at La Cita Restaurant. We must be getting back into the Southwest; it wasn't particularly to our taste, but it was a lot better than anything Memphis offers. Our first room didn't have adequate cooling, so we switched rooms. Cooling was better in the second room, but still under-whelming. And unbelievably, the motel didn't provide nighttime ice. It was cheap, but scratch them off our list for the next trip.

There is a long stretch of abandoned railroad from Amarillo west through Tucumcari -- maybe a couple of hundred miles -- and Tucumcari has been shrinking ever since they abandoned it, for the last 20 or so years. It would be a good place for a desert rat to find an inexpensive retirement home.

We got up at 7:00, picked up a McDonald's breakfast, and were on our way by 9:30 am. Despite the 200 miles without tracks, the stretch between Tucumcari and Flagstaff is still the train capitol of the U.S., apparently serviced by a north-south spur. Once we hit live tracks again we passed or met fourteen trains. There was even one long train sidelined miles from nowhere -- so far in the boondocks that only God and the guy who plays New Age music go there -- and that station was the only one found by tuning the FM dial manually, as the auto-scan function was not sensitive enough to catch it. So I cruised to the sound of New Age music for a good two hours before we were close enough to Moriarty to find another station.

After Moriarty, we hit Albuquerque, crossed the Rio Puerco and that tremendous lava flow for about ten miles between exits 94 and 89. One of those exits takes you to an ice cave and the Bandera Volcano. Then through Gallup, Joseph City, Flagstaff at about 5:00 pm, south to Camp Verde, Cordes Junction and Sunset Point. After a brief stop we plunged over the Mogollon Rim, down through Black Canyon City, New River, Anthem, and finally into Phoenix. The award winning Sunday Night Bob Corritore blues show on KJZZ, 91.5 FM picked us up at Sunset Point and lead us the rest of the way into Phoenix.

All in all, we made 380 miles the first day, 453 miles the second day, and 613 miles the last day. Back in Phoenix, we head across town and move in on our daughter, Yapper for the night.

Following is a list of some of the NPR radio stations along I-40:

89.1Eastern half of Arkansas, mostly classical
89.1KCCU - Clinton, Dunkin, Lawton, and points north
91.7Oklahoma City
91.3Twenty miles east of Amarillo
90.9Before Moriarty
89.1East of Albuquerque - plus 4-5 others, all close to 89.1
88.7[Flagstaff, KNAU

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Friday August 1, 2003 - Bon Voyage

We arise once again from a fitful rest, pull our cots from the open doorway, fold them double, and prop them against a wall. It is day ten of the power outage, and the day we must leave to deliver the vehicles to Phoenix.

A power substation is reportedly still being rebuilt. Well, they have four more days to work on it without our discomfort; tonight we will be in an air-conditioned motel with lights, a working TV, and an adjoining oversized restaurant with too few patrons.

We throw our bags in the car and bid the Hound of the 'Hood goodbye. We know he will be there to watch our house while we are gone. As we drive away in both cars, he watches until we're down the block and then plops back down in front of the door.

It will be three days to Phoenix, one day there, and then we'll catch a return flight to Memphis. We will be missing a large family birthday get-together for my mother by just a few hours. We thought it was going to be on her birthday, August 4, but we just found out it will be executed a day early to accommodate out-of-town visitors. We will be arriving only a few hours too late, and I am not only a black sheep, but I feel terrible about missing it.

In individual vehicles we can each select our own kind of entertainment. My soul mate puts on a stack of CD's, and I tune the dial incessantly for snatches of NPR. A short distance into Arkansas, I catch a news segment that New York City is without power for three days and everyone is sitting in their high-rise apartments complaining loudly about the heat. After ten days, I'm not sympathetic. In fact, I'm downright irritated. It's intolerant of them to complain on national news. Where's coverage of our ten+ day power outage. It's significantly hotter and way more humid in Memphis, and I haven't heard a single complaint in ten days. Isn't there any justice in the world?

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Wednesday July 30, 2003 - Not To Worry

Today as we're headed out of the house we catch the neighbor lady in the yard. The tree has been pulled off her car, cut into logs, and stacked on her curb along with 20-30 garbage bags of chopped greens. A neighbor with a chainsaw did it for her -- the neighbor that voluntarily mows her lawn twice a week. Luckily, it was a small tree with trunk no more than six inches in diameter (most of the downed trees are old growth forest, two to four feet in diameter). And her car is for the most part undamaged.

With no power, we've been worried about the house getting broken into while we're driving our cars back to Phoenix. We ask her if she would mind watching the house for us.

"Do you have a phone number I can contact you at?" she asks; "because the last time the neighbors who lived there left they got burglarized, and I didn't have a phone number to call them at."

Great! Just the thing we needed to hear.

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Tuesday July 29, 2003 - Don't Blame Us; It's Where We Come From

Before leaving Memphis for good we have much to do. Sites to see, places to visit, and clothes to buy.

Clothing in Memphis is smart, bright, and on the extravagant side of polished. It looks good, with classic lines and outspoken styles. There's nothing drab here like the desert earth tones so popular in Phoenix. They have the brightest suits and color combinations I've ever seen -- always on the edge of polish, but never over-done. Such clothes have to make you feel good. No wonder when you see a well-dressed gentleman walking down the street he's almost prancing as he goes. Even watching someone like that makes you want to dress like he does, feel like he does.

We've decided to upgrade our clothing to something a bit spiffier, as there is nothing comparable in Arizona either in class or price. We clean out our closets and take our old clothes to the Salvation Army -- the ones we have been wearing to the office and to the club. The lady behind the counter holds up a couple of items, glances at the man next to her and shakes her head from side to side just a little.

"Mmm, hmmm...," she says under her breath, her neck moving from side to side without tipping her head in that un-imitable manner.

They pick through the clothing piece by piece, frowns deepening. They look at each other, back at the clothing, and then back at each other again.

"Is there something wrong," I ask?

"I don't think we can use them," the man says apologetically, "Our customers wear better clothes than these."

The lady gets a perky look on her face and addresses my wife.

"Honey, these look like something the cat drug in. . .  Are you Amish?"

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Monday July 28, 2003 - Strange, But True

There's a knock on the door this morning just after breakfast. It's the TV neighbor from across the street. He needs a ride to work.

"I don't want to interrupt my wife's favorite TV show," he explains. "I'm running it off a power converter from my car."

I do a double take in my wife's direction.

"Why not?" she shrugs.

"Sure, why not?" I reply, "I'll get my keys."

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Sunday July 27, 2003 - Logs and Garbage Bags

Cleanup from the storm promises to be interesting to watch. We've already seen several caravans of utility trucks canvassing neighborhoods to remove and replace loose power lines. In our neighborhood, they have unfortunately only removed the down lines -- probably because as yet the supply lines are still down.

Starting the very next day, armies of tree cutters have been working all over town. Composed mostly of volunteers with chainsaws, these crews will be working for several weeks. They cut up tree trunks into logs of four feet in length, strip greens from smaller branches and cut them into similar lengths, bag the greens, and stack it all along the curb for later pickup. Some of these piles of logs are almost a story high, and there are several per block. City trash pickup schedules have not been changed except that the bulk trash pickup schedule has somehow been increased from every three months to weekly. Still, there will be piles of logs, bags, and crushed house materials to be picked up on every street for the next several months.

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Saturday July 26, 2003 - Orpheum Theater, Take Two

Tonight we're back awaiting the opening of doors at the Orpheum Theater. We've arrived half an hour early, but there is only a hand-full of people waiting. Lights are out, doors are locked, and there are no signs directing us to another evening.

Rambunctious carloads of young people roar back and forth on the street this evening, loud music blaring. A thumper6 stops at the light, then continues on its way, thumping long after it is out of site. We wait.

We wait in the early evening heat for almost an hour and then give it up. We won't have another chance to visit the Orpheum before returning to Phoenix -- so much for the $2.00 tickets, the cool interior, and my wife's childhood memories.

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Friday July 25, 2003 - The Orpheum Theater

While we should really continue our packing this evening, my wife has an idea.

"I hear the Orpheum Theater is showing Breakfast At Typhanys for only $2.00 a seat. I've always wanted to show you the inside of it and we could get out of this heat and humidity for a few hours."

"Good idea," I respond.

We knock off the packing early this evening and drive into old downtown. The Orpheum is on the corner of Beale Street and S. Main, a stylish architecture of the area of stylish theaters -- plush to an extreme, with gargoyles on the exterior and allB. We purchase our tickets and head for the mezzanine, my soul mate's favorite place to sit. She has never sat downstairs, but it's not nearly so plush. The last time she was in the Orpheum was in the early sixties when Blacks were required to go to the mezzanine.

"The Mezzanine is better, anyway," she says.

I have to agree.

We get settled into our seats just in time for the movie to start. It's been a long time since either of us have seen the movie, and it promises to be a lot of fun. But before we get through the credits the screen goes dark.

As we sit there in the dark, there appears to be a commotion in the projection booth, and then the lights come on. We sit there for another two or three minutes waiting for the movie to resume, then an employee comes out on stage and announces that the projection bulb has burned out and they don't have a replacement. The crowd, which is now talking in a low din, gets significantly louder at this news.

"We're going to give you all passes so you can come back after it's fixed," he assures us; "if you'll all stop by the ticket booth in an orderly fashion we'll issue the passes on the way out."

This gets the crowd moving and we spend the next hour gradually working our way out of a packed theater to the street, single-filing as we go by the ticket booth.

"Come back tomorrow night," the clerk assures us as he hands us the passes, "it's all arranged."

We head home to a hot and stuffy house, watch our 1.25" pocket TV for an hour, and then hit our double camping sack there inside of the front door.

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Friday July 25, 2003 - The Heat Is On

Today was my soul mate's last day of work. We now have six days to finish packing before we leave to return the cars to Phoenix, power or no power.

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Friday July 25, 2003 - 300,000 Houses Without Power

The full impact of the storm and resultant power outage is still sinking in. The storm put egg on our faces concerning the value of TV Doppler Radar coverage. Essential Overkill may be the correct description. The storm has taught us the importance of the coverage, although it didn't do us the intended good because we were asleep until a moment or two before it hit, and without power we couldn't follow it on TV afterward. Also, it was over in ten seconds, not time to go in and turn on the TV after we became aware of the danger first-hand. Maybe if they figure out how to have the Doppler radar warnings wake you up if anything worthwhile comes up. . .

As to the storm, it was a windstorm rather than a cyclone -- a linear wind in the neighborhood of 140 mph. A more accurate count finds 300,000 houses without power, and a number of them crushed by trees. Several people are dead, crushed by trees in their own beds. On Carnes Avenue, just behind our street a tree branch has gone down through the roof, piercing the ceiling and floor of a bedroom, and disappearing below the foundation. The couple is scratched up a bit in their bed, but otherwise unharmed. A number of trees have crushed their garage with the car still inside, and branches break through several windows taking over the kitchen.

Tree Fallen On House, Orange Mound - July 25, 2003

With power lines down all over town, the first concern has been electric shock. Fleets of utility linemen have arrived from Arkansas, Mississippi, and who knows where else to help in the reconstruction. We have seen as many as fifteen in single file driving through our own neighborhood, all the same color and markings, and with Arkansas plates. Even so, the job is expected to take weeks to complete5.

The problem with trees in Memphis seems to be that their root systems do not go into the ground because of all the water on the surface. So the trees really are flat on the bottom.

And we have other problems. First of all, we can't cook because our stove is electric. We have a camping stove, but bottle gas is scarce to nonexistent. There are food stores open; we just have to drive a little further to reach them. Without a refrigerator we've had to throw away at least a hundred dollars worth of food. We also have an ice chest, but ice is as scarce as bottle gas. At best, we have to go shopping every day for food and ice. Shopping takes forever because there are three times as many shoppers and you have to drive from store to store looking for ice.

So what about restaurants? Two thirds of the restaurants are closed, without power. The last third are overrun with patrons. Either you have to wait two or three hours at a sit-down restaurant or an hour and a half at a fast food restaurant. At the fast food restaurants the drive-through lines are blocks long and there is so much confusion that you'd better take what you get, regardless of what you ordered. Employees are overworked, parking lots are full, and there's standing room only inside. We've found that fast food suits us as well as anything else, but it takes two hours of driving to find one that's open and not already out of everything.

We've been all over town looking for ice. Open grocery stores are usually out, but one evening we came across a Schnucks that had a four foot cube pallet of ice just sitting out on the floor. It was being bought up so fast that there wasn't even any reason to put it in a freezer. We purchased two bags and got home almost before it lost its frost cover. But not usually. We finally stumbled across a small shop on McLemore that has a steady supply of ice if you don't mind waiting a maximum of one hour; they're bringing it in from Arkansas every hour for about sixteen hours a day.

But we have even more problems. We weren't able to return some rented movies until today because the video shop was closed. Today they were open without power just to let people return them with no penalty. Driving to that shopping center used to be an almost straight shot up Greer to Poplar. Greer does jog slightly four or five times, but now it and neighboring streets are blocked by downed trees so that our path looks like a square wave with some eleven jigs and jogs.

Now driving Memphis without street or traffic lights is another matter altogether. Traffic moves at about 20 mph in the daytime, breaking at every intersection. With the tree canopy it's so dark at night that it is impossible to tell whether the intersection you're approaching is regulated or not, let alone whether it's the street you plan on turning at. You can't see the dark stoplights hanging above because of the trees above and behind them, so it's all the worse, with traffic crawling block after block; and of course there are so many people out in the evenings looking for food that the usually mild traffic is a nightmare.

And with street lights out in the 'hood it's even hard to find your way home.

Finally, concerning our own activities, we have only five days to finish packing, and without lights we're way behind because we can only work in the daytime.

But the experience is, I must say, broadening.

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Wednesday July 23, 2003 - Storm Windows and Skeeter Bites

This morning we go shopping for window screen, duct tape and insect spray. By noon we've finished temporarily screening our doors and are busy fumigating the house.

My soul mate's mother is faring better than we are only because she has lived in Memphis for over sixty years and is used to the weather, but she does have the same storm window problem. What is it with Memphians and storm windows in the summer? We take the remainder of our screen and head to mom's.

We find mom unwilling to have her storm windows removed even temporarily. She cites security reasons despite the wrought iron security door with a lock that requires a key from either side to open it. After some discussion, my wife strong-arms her and we do the job anyway4.

With screens on our doors, tonight promises better sleeping, but when the hours arrive we find that not a breath of air is coming through them. For the remainder of the outage we endure immeasurable suffering each night, although we do eventually manage some sleep.

But the insect bites are another matter. Despite the best anti-itch treatments we can find, we are compelled to scratch furiously for the next several weeks.

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Wednesday July 23, 2003 - Hound Of The 'Hood

I've never mentioned the hound that lives in our neighborhood. He's been here since before we came. He seems to answer to no one, living nowhere, yet everywhere. Most of the year his usual hangout is in the middle of the street, a few houses east of us. He moves reluctantly when a car comes down the street, and only far enough to let the car by. He watches it pass as if to say, "I hope you have business here," and then plops back down in the middle of the street.

He's a formidable hound -- a mutt, I estimate, of the Heinz 57 variety. He's well fed, and large enough that no one misses with him. He never barks, and he acts neither friendly nor unfriendly. He's aloof; his mind is on something more important than people. And he has never shown any interest in us.

On this day, however, the Hound of the 'Hood takes up a new residence, inexplicably, on our front porch. He's there the first time we open the door this morning, and he has to move out of the way to let us pass. At least he's good-natured about it. He gets up and steps aside, then plops back down in front of the door as soon as we've cleared the porch.

We don't pay him any attention because we don't want to encourage him to stay. But he does. And he's there every minute for the next twenty days.

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Tuesday July 22, 2003 - Heat and Humuggity

The temperature is 98° this afternoon, with the usual 100% humidity. By mid afternoon we realize we're in for the long haul, and begin discussing our options for getting adequate ventilation into the house for sleeping. There will be no air circulation in this rental house with the glass storm windows that have remained in place all summer. We've long since checked the garage, and found no screens, so whatever we do will be on our own.

Reluctantly, I remove the storm windows from the front and back doors and prop them open. We then set up our camping cots just inside the living room door. But wishing for a breeze through the house turns out to be a pipe dream. With the tree canopy, no air moves this near ground level despite the pace kept up by passing clouds. If we only had a fan. . .

This first night is sheer misery. We're drenched with perspiration, and my soul mate's breathing problem returns. She sits up most of the night gasping for breath. It doesn't occur to us until the wee hours of the morning, but removing the storm windows is a bad mistake for another reason -- biting insects. If we got any sleep at all this night, it would be a surprise to us both. And by morning we're covered with hundreds of bites, probably from a dozen different kinds of insects, but mostly from mosquitoes and chiggers.

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Tuesday July 22, 2003 - Memphis Wind Storm of 2003 (So Much For Doppler Radar)

It is 7:10 am. My soul mate is in the bathroom preparing for work. I am lying in bed listening to the morning news. There is a peculiar rushing sound, like a train passing without the clickety-clack, and I feel my first rush of fear from an act of nature. Particles hitting the walls of the house at all levels, like hailstones, only smaller for the most part. It lasts about ten seconds, then lights and radio go dead and there is complete silence.

"The neighbor's tree just went down," my wife yells.

I become aware of a constant beeping coming from the computer room. It is the battery backups for three computers. I leap out of bed, run to the bathroom and look out the window. Most definitely, the neighbor lady's tree is lying on the ground, green foliage covering her car.

I rush into the computer room and take the computers down as gently as possible with no monitors on two of them, then turn off each UPS. Grappling with the portable radio, I turn the dial but there is virtually nothing on the FM band.

We finish dressing while waiting for the power to come back on, but it doesn't. We open the front door. There is no sign of wind, rain, or anything else. We step outside to look at the neighbor's tree. Hopefully, her car is not injured, although it will be impossible to use it until the tree has been removed. A glance down the street to the east suggests that Choctaw Avenue is blocked by more downed trees before the intersection.

It looks like we may not be going anywhere for a while. We leap into the car, back out of the driveway, head west on Choctaw and turn down Inman Place to Carnes Avenue. Carnes is blocked to the west by downed trees, so the only way out of our neighborhood is to the east in a spiral from our house. Two houses and a church are crushed by trees on the north side of Carnes. Power lines are stretched to the ground and broken in several places, pulled down by falling trees. Several of the downed trees are peculiarly flat on the bottom. There is no root ball, and in fact they don't even look like they have a taproot.

We return to the house. The telephone is still working, so my wife calls her employer. "Don't come," she is admonished.

I begin tuning the portable radio dial for storm information, and quickly find coverage on the AM band. They are referring to this weather anomaly as an "unexpected thunderstorm", but we have heard no thunder. It is still crossing outer parts of the city.

As the day wears on, we learn that NPR and other radio stations are off the air, there are a hundred thousand houses without power, and traffic lights are out all over town. During the brief storm traffic was stopped bumper to bumper on the south bridge across the Mississippi, and the bridge was shaking so badly that drivers were abandoning their cars and running to get off the bridge (which they thought was going to go down). Several semi trucks have been turned over in the downtown area; cars are trapped between downed trees on Sam Cooper Blvd. and Houston Levee.

Conclusion: Memphis is the only city I've ever heard of where you have to stay off the freeway to keep from being hit by a tree.

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Saturday July 19, 2003 - A Drive Up Elvis Presley Boulevard

Having recently made a firm decision to return permanently to Phoenix, we are already filling with nostalgia for this wonderful center of Black history and culture. One afternoon we take a slow cruise up the historic leg of Elvis Presley and S. Bellevue Boulevards.

Starting at our favorite coffee shop, the Gridiron Restaurant in South Plaza just north of Raines Rd, less than 3 miles from the Mississippi State line, we head north past our favorite Hot Wings restaurant, BJ's Buffalo Style Hot Wings & Things at Craft Rd and Elvis Presley -- the tiny building with red and yellow flames painted on all sides -- and on past Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. Visitors are standing at a graffiti covered wall on our right. There will be visitors standing there late into the night, apparently hoping to catch a glimpse of Elvis entering or leaving the mansion. On our left is Elvis' Boeing 727, the visitor center, and a number of Elvis memorabilia shops which will be packed long after the tours are ceased for the day. The famous Heartbreak Hotel standing a block west is large enough by day but will overtake the visitor center and airliner to become bigger than life after dark, just like Elvis, himself.

We climb the low hill and, coasting downward toward Winchester Avenue, pass our favorite Taco Bell restaurant. Stopping for a coke to go, I pause in the men's room long enough to hear the mournful cry of the dying smoke alarm whose battery has been complaining of slow death since our arrival last October.

Continuing north, we cross E. Winchester Avenue, a straight shot west to T.O. Fuller State Park via E. and W. Mitchell Roads. Then comes Hernando's Hide-Away at Brooks Rd, a 40's vintage club with interior balcony where, it is reported, they still get real low down on Saturday nights but have it closed up and spiffy before the church opens across the street the next morning. We would like to have experienced it back in the day.

In quick succession we cross highway 55, Nonconnah Creek, Interstate 240 - the Memphis Loop, and climb the hill past Rockafella's, a club where we see frequent limousines, ladies in formal dress and gentlemen in tuxedo's, to Alcy, the straightest route east to Airways Blvd. In a few more blocks we come to Norris Rd, the most traveled rout east to Airways Blvd via Ball and Ketchum Roads, which picks up Alcy just before reaching Airways.

Turning west on Norris takes you via E. and W. Mallory Avenues to Martin Luther King, Jr. Riverside Park, a stone's throw across Lake McKellar from Treasure Island. It is also the most scenic route to T.O. Fuller State Park via Riverport Rd, taking you through bayou country before reaching W. Mitchell and Boxtown Roads.

But we continue north, past the home office of Overhead Door, the largest manufacturer of garage door openers in the U.S., the Duke & Duchess, another fancy club, Mt. Carmel and Rose Hill Cemeteries, Hollywood Cemetery, Forest Hill, Temple Israel, and Calvary Cemeteries, as well as Lincoln Park and the old Hamilton High School, where my soul mate went to school -- but not before crossing the Jessie Turner Sr. Memorial Bridge, the United States Post Office Bulk Mail Center1, and the Betty Jean Jones Bridge, in honor of a child that was raped and murdered during the Civil Rights movement.

Before we know it we've come to J.T.'s Lounge, a popular dance club for people in search of a quality Saturday night. We celebrated New Year's Eve there, and nowhere have we experienced a more cordial group of people of all ages.

We pause for the light and the end of Elvis Presley Blvd at S. Parkway E., then continue north on what is now Bellevue. Turning east on S. Parkway E., originally a loop around early Memphis, is the best route from here to Park Avenue, which will take you east for miles. Park is in line with S. Parkway E., but you have to jog southeast and under the railroad bridge when you reach Lamar Avenue to get there. Staying on S. Parkway E. past this point will take you a short distance north on E. Parkway S., then west on S. Parkway E., again to Airways Blvd. Airways goes only south from here, but East Parkway S. continues north, crosses Poplar, and becomes East Parkway N. along the east edge of Overton Park all the way to Summer Avenue. Summer Avenue goes only east from here, but you can turn west on North Parkway into downtown to complete the loop.

But we continued north on Bellevue, past Bellevue Park and into downtown. We pass an ancient water tower atop a multi-story building, and then a giant ancient milk bottle atop another. Between the two we pass E. McLemore Avenue. Turning east on McLemore takes you to the best little ice supply in Memphis a few blocks east just before the street crosses a railroad track and disappears into a neighborhood quagmire2.

Continuing north we pass under a series of railroad bridges and reach the northwest-southeast junction of Lamar Avenue and E. E.H. Crump Blvd, which ultimately connects with highway 55 and crosses the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge across the Mississippi River, alongside the Frisco and Harahan railroad bridges. But once again, we continue north on S. Bellevue past Bellevue Jr. High, Bruce Elementary School, Central High, E.H. Crump Stadium and Linden Avenue to Union Avenue and the end of S. Bellevue Blvd the through street. At this intersection sits Methodist Hospital, a long-time landmark of Memphis. A left turn on either Linden or Union Avenue puts you into old downtown and ultimately two blocks, either south or north, of Memphis' famous Beale Street, home of Memphis blues. My soul mate is privileged to have frequented Beale Street regularly throughout her childhood.

S. Bellevue Blvd the residential street continues through the 'hood for two blocks more after a substantial jog at Union, and N. Bellevue Blvd manages to continue intermittently, after two more jogs, at Madison and Poplar, for a few more miles along I-40/240 north.

Having completed our tour, we jog east to Cleveland St. and, through an unexplainable series of turns navigated by my soul mate, manage to wind up on I-403, headed west past Winchester Park, St. Jude Children's Hospital and St. Joseph Hospital over the Hernando-Desoto Bridge across the Mississippi and into Arkansas in an effort to prolong our nostalgia a few minutes longer. Then, reluctantly, we head home.

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Monday July 14, 2003 - Two Weeks Notice

My soul mate turned in her two weeks notice today.

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Sunday July 13, 2003 - The Pink Palace

After nine months we have finally gotten around to visiting my soul mate's favorite childhood museum -- the famous Pink Palace, which, it happens, is only about a mile from our house on the north side of Central Avenue between Goodwyn and Greer Streets. It is much expanded since the sixties, and we spend a couple of hours looking at the myriad displays, featuring Native American, early Memphis, and African American artifacts. The highlight of these is two authentic shrunken heads from Africa -- pigmy, I suspect -- if there are pigmies in Africa; they're about 3.5" across and still have the hair intact. It is all as interesting to me as it was to my wife when she was young, and we have a hard time completing the tour in time for the planetarium show to which we have secured tickets.

The planetarium is my first, and it won't be my last. The show lasts nearly an hour, and we emerge late enough in the afternoon that most of the museum visitors have left.

A security guard approaches and volunteers to answer any questions. Like most Memphians, she is very smartly dressed and has a highly polished hairdo befitting African royalty. She spends a lot of time with us providing additional background on various exhibits. She seems to enjoy talking with us, and we with her. She tells us you can be married here for a minimum of $2000, and describes in great detail one such wedding that took place here the night before. From her description, we suspect it cost at least $20,000.

She also tells us about the time she won $65,000 at roulette down in Tunica, Mississippi, the regional gambling center. She let it ride because she was too drunk to play properly, and after several rounds they began to get alarmed and started advising her. She let it ride two more times. Then they helped her cash it all in and put it in a sack. She walked out to the parking lot carrying the sack, a move that recently resulted in the abduction and death of another winner, and rode home with her group. When she dumped it on the bed for her significant other to see, he was so surprised for a few minutes that he thought she had stolen the money. Next day they went out and bought a house. Yes, in the Memphis inner-city you can still get a very nice house for $65,000.

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Monday June 30, 2003 - Free At Last

I worked my last day today. Poor choice of jobs; may I be remembered as not being a quitter. We have 30 days to complete packing, arrange our return to Phoenix, and get in as much sight seeing as we can muster in that short time. My soul mate will turn in her resignation in two weeks.

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Saturday, June 28, 2003 - Deja Vu All Over Again

Out photographing landmarks, I make a Saturday stop at my favorite Taco Bell, not far from Graceland at Winchester and Elvis Presley Blvd, to pick up a quick diet cola. I haven't stopped by for a few weeks, but the young lady behind the counter greets me as if she remembers me. I hold out my money.

"You don't have to worry a bit," she says, instead of taking my money.


"You donít have to worry a bit."


She shrugs and the look on her face becomes even more pleasant than it was before.

"Thank you," I respond.

I pause for a moment, taken by surprise. As I put my money back into my pocket the realization comes over me that this has happened before -- last February.

"Thank you again!" I repeat appreciatively.

I smile broadly, and she beams back at me from within a thick forest of smart-looking micro-braids.

I fill my container and turn to leave.

"Have a nice day!" She calls over her shoulder.

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L. Fox



Previous Chapter


1The presence of businesses like Overhead Door and the US Post Office Bulk Mail Center in Memphis is due to Memphis' nationwide status as a shipping and transportation hub. It is also the home of Federal Express and countless other nationwide businesses.

2During the Memphis power outage of 2003 this was the only reliable source of ice we could find in town, with personal service and standard prices despite the demand; and it isn't even their primary business.

3You see, you really can't get there from here.

4Mom seems to be getting some air through the screen, but within a few days we will discover that she is keeping her main doors closed for security reasons. At her insistence, we eventually remove our handy-work and reinstall her storm windows.

5In the end, our neighborhood is without power just a few hours short of two weeks. All in all, it is 16 days until the last house in Memphis is relit.

6A vehicle with a boom box in it's sound system that amplifies the base track to the point where you cannot hear anything but the base drum emanating from the vehicle.



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