Road Trip, Part One
Well, the big day (Tuesday, Feb. 1) finally arrived, and Doug B. and I headed out on our second annual roadtrip to the Mississippi Delta. Ultimate destination was to be in Memphis at the International Blues Challenge which was to start on Thursday. The IBC is an annual competition and is the largest gathering of blues performers in the world.
We had invited a number of people to join us for this adventure, but all of them had really good excuses for declining our invitation. Jailhouse Bobby, for example, told us that he was just too upset about the political upheaval in Egypt to leave home at this time. Jimmy C. told me he would love to go, but he was afraid my van would not hold up for this long trip. Raymond, another longtime and dear friend, told me he lost my telephone number and was unable to get back with me in time.
So, undeterred, Doug and I headed off into the unknown like teenagers on their first beach trip to Panama City. Oh yeah, we almost picked up a hitchhiker in Mississippi, but she also declined our offer.
We had decided that we would spend Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa Alabama, but instead of taking Mapquest’s suggested route along the interstates, we elected to take the backroads from Blairsville through Cartersville, Cedartown, Anniston and many small towns off the major thoroughfares.
As you ramble along, you see lots of things of interest, but I decided that I would not bore you with little details unless either sex or violence was involved. I felt that I should concentrate only on those things that had made a big impression upon us.
Near Cartersville we came upon a number of homemade signs advertising “old car tour” and what appeared to be a junkyard of antique cars visible from the highway. Naturally, we did not hesitate to pull off and investigate.
There we found Dean Lewis the owner and ‘curator” of this antique car junkyard. He explained that this was a guided tour, $20 per person per hour. Unfortunately, Doug did not understand and he got really excited until he realized, that Dean meant that we had to pay to take the tour, instead of us getting paid.
Dean told us that he had thirty-four acres and over four thousand old cars in various stages of deterioration, all for sale, and that we could even pack a lunch and do a self-guided tour if we preferred. Doug and I decided to pass, but we did manage a free fifteen-minute walk thru of a small portion of the junkyard, and saw lots of old cars. We knew some of these cars were really old, because the trees growing thru the broken windshields had to be at least thirty years old.
Inside one building Dean pointed out a beautiful Lincoln sedan, and told us that this beauty was Elvis Presley’s last car, and it was the prize of his collection, yet he would consider selling it for the right price. Doug was a little suspicious, because Elvis died before this car was made, but anyway, I already have two old Lincolns, so again, we passed.
Dean was a very friendly fellow, and took an immediate liking to Doug and me. He told us if we had time, he would show us something like we had never seen before. Of course, we quickly accepted his offer and spent the next hour touring Dean’s private estate a few miles away.
There Dean gave us a free tour of a number of buildings and structures, which he had designed and then built by hand. Most of these objects and places were covered with stained concrete, most with free flowing, abstract lines. Many of these structures contained what he called “subliminal” images of animals, designs and even one of Jesus. He would ask us if we could see the images, but he stopped doing that after I mistakenly guessed that the Jesus image was the late Janis Joplin.
There were concrete tunnels, caves, a concrete ark, a thirty-foot waterfall with secret sleeping quarters near the waterfall pool, and numerous other creations. We were looking at years of hard work, the products of a creative mind, and many thousands of dollars invested.
Due to the time we had spent with Dean, we opted to postpone our trip to the cowboy museum in Cartersville (which I understand rivals any cowboy museum in Texas), and bypass the science museum also in Cartersville, and finally to skip the Silver Comet Trail museum in nearby Cedartown. We planned to return perhaps on a day-trip to tour these places.
Doug and I ate lunch at Knights in Cartersville, a really beautiful building downtown that started out in 1889 as a hardware store. We mused as to whether the original owners of the hardware business would really approve of their fantastic building emerging one hundred twenty-five years later as a bar with free-flowing alcohol, and late night loud music and dancing. The old photos of the stern-looking original owners suggested that they might have some issues with such . . . progress.
In the afternoon, we made our way through rain and wind to Tuscaloosa, the home of the University of Alabama, and where the late Coach Bear Bryant is still revered. There are buildings, a street, and many things named after him throughout the city, including a bar simply known as Houndstooth, which is an obvious reference to the houndstooth hat the Coach always wore during football games. The magnificent frat houses, the President’s Mansion, and other University structures were pretty impressive.
The nitelife was really subdued on this Tuesday nite, perhaps because it was Tuesday, cold, and raining, but we also were told that nitelife was down overall because so many college students chose to socialize via the Internet, Facebook, and Twitter from their dorm rooms instead of frequenting the bars downtown. I didn’t know what to think about that. Still don’t.
But one place was packed, and that was the original site where Dreamland BBQ started in 1958 by Big Daddy Bishop. Big Daddy and his wife Miss Lilly are both gone now, but their story . . . and their bbq . . . are really impressive. Legend holds that Big Daddy, who was a brick mason, prayed to God to give him direction as to quitting his masonry business, and either opening a BBQ restaurant or a mortuary. One night soon thereafter, he had a dream, and he dreamed that he owned a highly successful BBQ business. He followed that dream, quit his masonry job, and opened Dreamland BBQ. Now there are multiple locations in the Tuscaloosa, Mobile, Birmingham, Huntsville and Atlanta areas and the business is being franchised throughout the Southeast.
Doug and I enjoyed great ribs that night in the place where it all started, and agreed with the business’s slogan, “Ain’t Nothing Like it, Nowhere.”
Before retiring for a good night’s sleep, I decided to call my wife and tell her where I was and what I was doing. I had postponed telling her about this trip until I was safely in another state. She advised against any future contact and hung up.
NEXT: I’ll tell you what happened on the second day of our journey, including the visit to Indianola, Mississippi (home of BB King), the birthplace of Kermit the Frog, hot tamales at the Whitefront café, gambling on the Mississippi, our scary visit to Reds Blues Club and the wonderful music on Wednesday night at the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale.
Keith Murphy is a twice-divorced, thrice-married senior citizen, born and raised in Georgia. He got his education on a South Georgia farm during Jim Crow days, as well as a BA and law degree from the liberal, liberal arts university, Mercer, located in Macon.
He has a daughter that is a lawyer, a son who is a jet pilot, a dog named Merle, and his first wife is happily married to a wonderful guy, named Mike.
Keith retired from a lucrative law practice several years ago, recently went busted a la real estate, and now concentrates on having fun, espescially nurturing his Cooter Brown Emporium business in the scenic north Georgia mountains.
His most recent loves are his new Brazilian wife, and the Delta blues.
Editor's Note: Keith Murphy recently took a roadtrip from Blairsville, Georgia, through Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Memphis, and then back home to Georgia. This is an accurate account of his trip, so he claims. There are four parts which will be published in MLASJ. The editor considers his bio alone worthy of publishing.