Spontaneity is key in travel as the most memorable moments lay hidden in the unknown. Four Sundays ago I looked at my mother and said, I’m going to drive to Memphis, do you want to come? Two days later we packed up the Corolla, and drove twelve hours south to West Memphis, Arkansas, and the sticky southern, summer heat. Like any last-minute, low-budget road trip, I was determined to see as much as I could while spending as little cash as possible. What initially started out as a trek to visit the Memphis College of Art, a contender in my ever-growing list of potential grad schools, turned in to a whirlwind, six state adventure.
Day one was a twelve-hour drive south from Ohio into Kentucky, Tennessee and finally Arkansas where we stayed in a one room cabin without running water. While sifting through gas station pamphlets on the bottom bunk we discovered that we were parked only thirty miles from Dyess Arkansas and Johnny Cash’s boyhood home. The decision to wake up early the next morning and visit this humble abode set the precedence of the trip: collect moments not things. As a photographer, this has been my life’s motto for quite sometime, no t-shirt can capture a place like a well-made photograph, and so we set out the next day, me with three different cameras slung casually around my neck.
Arkansas is flat. We spent the drive to Johnny’s house debating over what foreign crop was being grown in the fields consuming our vision. Ohio girls, our knowledge began at corn, expanded to wheat and stopped at beans. Turns out, according to the gas station lady, that Arkansas is the number one rice producer in the world, although you may need to fact check me on that. Dyess colony is an old farming community, one country block wide, small homes surrounding a little town square with a museum of sorts in the middle. The museum is where we stopped. The women there asked us if we wanted to go on a tour, with only one day and virtually no money, we kindly responded no. Instead we took a map, determined to find this plot of land on our own, which turned out to be a fairly easy task and a few red dirt roads later we stood, with no one around for miles, outside of a small white house surrounded by a chain linked fence. I giggled the whole time. Something about being in the middle of nowhere, seemingly stalking the past of someone so great, struck an odd cord within me. There was also something incredibly refreshing about being somewhere that had yet to be overrun by tourism, a stark contrast to where we were about to go.
I took some pictures at the Cash home, a few of the house and its sparse surroundings, the plastic porta-john placed there by the county, then we hopped into our car and headed to Graceland. They charged us ten dollars to park the car. We saw nothing but giant photos of Elvis and quickly discovered that you couldn’t actually go to Graceland unless you paid another twenty dollars to be driven across the street in a bus. Once again, we had little time and no money so we dashed around the corner, peaked at a patch of freshly mowed grass, snapped a touristy photo, and went on our way deciding that if anyone were to ask what it was like, we would pretend that we knew.
We ate Georgia peaches in a Tennessee park, a cool refreshing lunch on a day that was anything but. Our streak of tours we refused to pay for continued at Sun Records. A baby blue sky behind their sunny label was a photographers dream. Located on an inconspicuous street corner, it was beautiful, murals and stickers, old photographs and neon signs. We had ten minutes to spend there before my meeting (the whole point of the trip) and next to Johnny’s house, it was my favorite ten minutes of the day.
Our intent was to spend the evening on Beale, instead we ate the best pulled pork sandwiches of our lives at a dive called The BBQ Shop and drove back to Arkansas were we stood in the beer isle at a Kroger for a solid twenty minutes before grabbing a six pack of Natty and a box of wine. It was hot, sticky and the sky was black. Not fifteen minutes after making it back to camp, the heavens opened and rain poured down. We huddled up in our cabin listening to the radioman read off warnings of unknown counties from this unfamiliar place. The rain slowed and the sky turned post storm yellow, my favorite kind of light. Excitedly I slung my cameras back over my shoulder and ran barefoot out of the door and into the drizzle and lightning filled sky. A golden cast shone down to the west, I thought it was the most beautiful light possible in that place; I was wrong. Turning around, off to the east, a double rainbow boldly stood before me, a stark contrast to the black sky behind it. I juggled cameras, digital, 35mm and Polaroid, consumed by the desire to capture what stood before me. “Experiences over things”, I whispered to myself. No tour of Graceland could have gifted me with such a sight, nature’s gift to those of us blessed with being at the right place, time and mindset to see.
We woke up the next morning and drove to Mississippi, just to say we’ve been, then we turned around and drove north into Tennessee, Kentucky and finally Indiana where we crashed on couches at my dear cousins new, adult, apartment. We walked their dog and ate more BBQ, happy to be out of the car and onto our feet. The next day we woke up and five hours later were home, feeling almost as if it had never actually happened at all. Looking through and editing my digital files, I am reminded that it did, that there is some sort of proof that these stories are true and that the Corolla’s oil needs changed for a reason.