Wednesday 10th September. West Memphis, Arkansas USA
Where do I start? Daniel had phoned the editor of a local newspaper, who seemed interested to come round and interview me- Daniel assured me that there isn't much news in Conway! Unfortunately, the paper couldn't get their act together, and by lunchtime I knew I had to hit the road f I was to have a chance of making Memphis before dark. Daniel took me to a little Italian restaurant for lunch before dropping me off at the highway.
It was only a couple of minutes before I had a ride, although he was only going a few miles before he turned south. That seemed to set a precedent for the afternoon. I only waited in each place for a short time, but every lift was just a few miles; one was only to the next on ramp. Then I was dropped in a really lousy spot. It was obviously a bad neighbourhood, and the on-ramp was too narrow for a car to pull over. I hung out at the nearest gas station asking motorists where they were heading. Without my driveaway car and its built-in thermometer, I can't be precise about the temperature. What I can say for sure is that it was hot; damn hot. I was sweating like a pig, and it reminded me why I planned this trip the way I did, so that I'd be in the south now and not in June or July.
Finally, a guy said he could take me a few miles, to a better spot to hitch. That turned out to be a matter of opinion. There was just no traffic on that on-ramp. I grew impatient quickly and edged along the ramp until I was right on the interstate itself, which I don't like doing since it's slightly illegal. Just as I was about to sit my backpack down, I saw a cop car approaching with its lights flashing. In the faint hope that they hadn't seen me yet, I rolled down the embankment and plopped into a muddy ditch, where I crouched on hands and knees until the cop car *which turned out to be not a cop car, but a tow truck* passed. Before my paranoia had a chance to ease, a big black pickup stopped and I leapt in. He could take me as far as West Memphis, Arkansas, which is just this side of the Mississippi. On the other side of the bridge is Memphis, Tennessee.
That turned out to be not as good as it sounded. The area where he dropped me off didn't have a good feel to it. Motorists didn't seem as if they were even considering stopping for me, and it was getting dark. Memphis was only ten miles away- so near but yet so far. I had nowhere lined up to stay in Memphis, and I couldn't find a Memphis backpackers hostel in my Lonely Planet book, or in the hostel search engine on my website. My plan was to break the budget and shell out the thirty odd dollars for a cabin at the campgrounds near Graceland. I was hoping to have a look around at the Memphis nightlife tonight, then check out Graceland in the morning and move on to Nashville after lunch. That was the plan, anyway.
Eventually, a car stopped and the driver said he could take me to a better place to hitch. Gees, how many times have I heard that today? Once we got talking and he heard I was an Aussie, the plan changed. It seems his wife loves everything Australian- Crocodile Dundee, The Crocodile Hunter, anything. If I went back to meet his wife, he'd fix me a couple of sandwiches and if his wife was okay with it, I could stay the night. Apparently his wife Clara had given him a hard time in the past for bringing strangers into their home, but he was hopeful this would be different. It was. Clara almost leapt up from the sofa when I said "G'day!" She was like a child who discovered Santa Claus leaving presents under the Christmas tree. Of course I could stay, as long as she could listen to my Australian accent for a few hours.
I tried to do a bit of work on the computer after everyone had gone to bed, but I couldn't keep my eyes open. The last week or so is really catching up on me. Maybe I'm just not as young as I used to be!