THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Down day, but fun
Mississippi Turning - to Greenville MS and slightly back

New friends, new experiences and some scary moments

Logan, from Pensacola FL
We shouted "Go, Cards!" but I doubt they heard
The Big Muddy from the top of the Arch
Logan looks quite at ease in Speranza's driving seat
We are
The Arch, from the park below
safe and well, let me make that clear at the outset. I made an error of judgement or two today, which gave rise to some unease; no worse than that. I know that both my mum and the Q's are reading this blog, so it's only fair to make that clear before continuing!

The day started well in Hannibal, MO. The Q & I were well rested after our boozy night and enjoyed our breakfast. Kudos to the excellent Garth Woodside Mansion B&B and thanks to our hosts, John and Julie, for a splendid time. Also for the parting gift of caramel-flavoured vodka. Apparently, the Q is enjoying some even now in his room and I look forward to trying some more myself when I am in the mood.

We arrived within minutes of each other in St Louis today, where we visited the Gateway Arch. We actually took one elevator (they call it a tram, though it's more like riding in a front loading washing machine) to the top from one side and took the other one down. So we have travelled the full extent of both its "legs". The St Louis Cardinals were playing and we could see the game in progress from far above. They lost, sadly. St Louis is a big baseball town and the atmosphere in the city was noticably dampened.

The lady who rode up the Arch with us was from New York. She was gamely seeking out such experiences in order to overcome her fear of heights. We tried to joke her out of thinking about it as our cramped car ascended, but she was the very embodiment of the concept of a white knuckle ride, so I am not sure we entirely succeeded. We rode down the other side with a lady from Penasacola Florida named Chris and her eight-year old son, Logan. He had seen our cars on the parking lot and wanted to know all about them. So we invited him and his mom to come to the parking lot, sit inside them and be photographed. I think he enjoyed it.

From the little we saw of it and the conversations we had with natives in our bar and our restaurant, St Louis seems like a great town. Certainly, it's a very sporty one. The Q spent quite a lot of time in the bar explaining the rules of baseball to me as the highlights of today's game were analysed to the nth degree. I don't claim to have grasped it all yet, but I am determined. It's clearly central to the American way of life, which - after all - I am here to learn about.

We drove from St Louis to Sikeston, MO where John & Julie had recommended the unique culinary experience that is Lambert's Cafe - "the only home of the throwed roll". It was really quite something. The Q has more experience of Southern food than me, and thought the ribs were not up to standard. I enjoyed the portion of them I was able to eat and look forward to enjoying better ones even more as I tour the Southern States. The Q's sporting dexterity stood him in good stead and he safely received the longest throw of the evening. I didn't drop mine either, but it was from much nearer. It is an odd experience, but fun!

Then things went a bit pear-shaped. The Q is running out of time and keen to make progress. Our leisurely pace so far had surprised him and he asked if we could skip the GRR and dash directly first to St Louis and then Memphis. We didn't book an hotel because we thought - if we didn't make Memphis - we could just find one when we ran out of steam. That happened at Sikeston, but the Holiday Inn there turned out to be fully booked. Tired though we were, we decided to strike out directly for the HIlton Hotel in Memphis.

I was low on gas and reluctant to buy the no-name brands. I have had to feed them to Speranza twice on this tour, for lack of an alternative, but they are not good for her. So I passed three junctions that didn't offer branded fuel and struck out with satnav guidance for a Phillips 66. It turned out to be closed but there was another in the satnav so I aimed for that. That turned out to be the same station from the opposite direction, so I ended up driving the next junction and turning round to head back before I realised what was happening.

Low on fuel now I came off at the next exit and filled up on what the satnav had promised would be branded gas. The station was independent however, and had changed to a no-name fuel. Lacking the wherewithal to proceed otherwise, I reluctantly filled her up. A group of rowdy young men arrived and surrounded the car. For a moment I was concerned, but then Speranza's charm did its job and they ended up posing for photographs with my willing permission.

Memphis was still over 100 miles to go. It was getting on for midnight and all respectable hard-working Americans (apart from the truck drivers) were tucked up and sleeping the sleep of the just. The route took me through Arkansas, which announced on the sign immediately after its welcome to the state, that "Speed limits are strictly enforced. No tolerances." This seemed to be for real as even the truck drivers slowed down, so my bed receded further into the future.

As I got close to the hotel, I positioned Speranza in the wrong lane. I was committed to the turn so then followed a tour through bits of Memphis the tourism officials don't mention. I passed rows of dilapidated caravans/trailers down a service road that the Satnav claimed would lead me back to the highway, but actually terminated in a filthy pool. I turned around and retraced my route, wishing as I passed the trailers and their - presumably - sleeping inhabitants, that an Italian V8 had a mute button.

A combination of fear and tiredness led me into various unprepossessing areas, my mind full of memories of Tom Wolfe's "Bonfire of the Vanities." There is no stealth mode in a Ferrari. She is meant to be noticed and therefore unsuited to social anthropology. Eventually, however, sometime between 1 and 1.30 am, I found my way back to the highway - approached the hotel from the opposite direction and found my way to its door.

I declined Q's kind invitation to a settling vodka, thinking it would only make writing my blog post for the day more difficult - as it certainly did yesterday! It's now well after 2pm and I am off to sleep, before exploring the more glamorous side of Memphis tomorrow.