The city of Clarksdale is the blues music capital of the world. From the crossroads, it was only a ten-minute drive into town. Once again, I’d put off looking for a campsite until the very last minute and was incredibly relieved to find an Expo Center with an RV Park that was unattended. There were only a few RVs on site. I pulled into an empty space and threw up my tent, then stumbled over to a Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen and choked down a sandwich, before hurrying back to hide out until the dawn. My track record for finding camp spots had been remarkable so far, largely due to Google Maps, and I was on the downhill portion of my journey by now, only two weeks to go.
Right at dawn, I headed back out to the Crossroads. The only thing I hadn’t sold for my music is my soul. That was OK these days. I was just lucky to be alive. Driving back through the cotton fields, I was still in a daze, almost the meditative state I rarely seemed to achieve. There was Sunflower River Road, the same intersection, railroad tracks, and trees. I got out of the car and started walking, the sun right at my back. My shadow stretched fifty feet ahead of me, up to the tracks, up to the trees. It was like a figure from a dream, or a sinner being illuminated by the fires of hell, only these fires were cleansing fires, what came out of them was a new being, a new way of life.
I sat down beside the tracks. Crickets were chirpings and a few crows were cawing. A power truck pulled over beside my car. A few minutes later a black truck pulled up next to it and the drivers began a short conversation. Beyond them I could hear cars whirring by on highway 49. The black truck moved down the road. Some yellow and red lights began to flash on the power truck and it crawled off as well.
A tractor was coming down the road now. What did I look like to the farmer? Just another blues nut, I imagine, trying to make his own deal. The noise of the tractor grew louder and louder. The chirping of the crickets seemed to swell. Right before the tractor reached me, I looked up and nodded my head. The farmer smiled and waved his hand. At least one of us had a job to do that day, actually both of us, if laundry counted as a job.
My act was looking pretty raggedy right about now. After leaving the crossroads, I went off in search of a laundry mat. It was still an hour and a half before the Delta Blues Museum opened. There was a laundry I found right across from Abe’s Bar-B-Q. After putting a load in the wash, I decided, with some trepidation, to call Avis because I was considering asking for the car for two more weeks. Everything was going so well, and as long as I could keep finding places to camp, I wasn’t spending that much.
When I got ahold of a representative I got a rude reply, however. Not only could I not extend my lease. She demanded that I return the car the next day. I took a deep breath and explained to her why this wasn’t going to happen.
It is true. I had put over ten thousand miles on the car in a month, but she didn’t claim that to be the issue. Even though she acknowledged that my reservation had been for six weeks, she said the lease I’d signed had only been for a month, and that it ended the next day. This was devastating to hear but what could I do, but plead and implore.
They must have been tracking my journey. They knew I’d been out on a rampage. Was this there way of getting back at me for taking advantage of the unlimited mileage clause? At last, the woman relented, and said I could bring the car back on the last day that I’d reserved it. Good god. To go out like that would’ve taken the wind right out of my sails. I still had big, big plans for the Mountain Bluebird.
A couple smoking a joint outside of the laundry mat helped me figure out the dryer. When my clothes were done, I drove to the Honson Plantation just outside of town, where in 1935, cotton picking first became a mechanical, rather than a hand-picked, operational. Here the famous piano player Pinetop Perkins once drove a tractor. It looked like a good place for a blues retreat, period equipment strewn around the property, and sharecropper’s shacks that looked like they could be rented out.
After that, I went looking for the Delta Blues Museum, passing the old Riverside Hotel, where Bessie Smith had died, following a car accident. The museum was on the corner of Delta Avenue and Blues Alley. The area it was in seemed to be enjoying some kind of renaissance, with various cafes, street art, and galleries, giving it a vibrant atmosphere. I walked past Bluestown Music and Deak’s Mississippi Saxophones, advertising live music, folk art, and cold beer. There was the Sunflower River Walk and banners celebrating Robert Nighthawk, Willie Brown, Son House, Charlie Patton, and Howling Wolf. Outside the museum was the Blues Mobile, a Cadillac as long as a train.
Cameras were off-limits in the museum. I could’ve spent a week inside, but on this occasion hurried through, my head already stuffed with information and images. I walked over to the Delta Blues Stage where someone had stenciled an image of Robert Plant.
Walking back to the car, I took a picture of Muddy Waters holding a microphone that was inside one of the windows. Reflected in that same window was a street lined with cars, a mural of other blue greats, and an image of myself, holding up my phone, looking into the past, the present, and the future at the exact same time. The next time I made it to Clarksdale, I’d be playing music there.