In the South, Again

Sometimes I forget that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 made Missouri a slave state. So, in many ways we have been in the south since yesterday afternoon. Also, the famous Dred Scott Supreme Court decision began in a courthouse in St. Louis. At least the people of Missouri are not trying to figure out what to do with a statue of William Bedford Forrest. The WBF statue is gone from Confederate Park in Memphis, but the very large statue of Jefferson Davis still commands the Mississippi River.

Back to Missouri for a moment though: another cool name for a fireworks stand — Boomland. Yep. It occupies a huge old Nickerson Farms building at exit 80 on I-55. Also, the farther south we traveled in Missouri, the lower the gas prices became. We started in Omaha at $3.93 per gallon. By the time we hit the Arkansas border it was $3.35. Not to be outdone, gas prices continued to fall across Arkansas, to $3.19 in West Memphis. At this rate of decline, prices should be under a buck a gallon by the time we get to Florida!

The drive from St. Louis to Memphis is interesting. The green rolling hills give way to river valley and crops of corn, soybeans, milo, and rice (yes, rice). It is very green in southern Missouri and northeast Arkansas. We did not see any cotton, much less is grown here now than in past eras. We noticed that the Cotton Exchange in Memphis has been turned into a cotton museum.

A bit more than half way between St. Louis and Memphis is the town of New Madrid. The old town of Madrid is underwater. It seems that old Madrid slipped away due to tremors rating between 7.0 and 7.7 on the Richter Scale. Yes, I know that there was no Richter Scale in the early 19th century and that seismologists do not agree on the degree of shaking, thus the wide range of estimates. Anyway, the earthquakes and aftershocks of 1811-1812 reshaped the entire area and created what is named Reelfoot Lake among other new features.

The New Madrid fault is a failed rift that runs under the Mississippi River. Periodically, the fault gets restless. Things were really shaking here for a few months between 1811 and 1812. The rumbles were felt as far away as Massachusetts and southern Canada. I learned early on when I moved to Memphis that it was only a matter of time before a really big one hits again — I worked on a project with a group of seismologists. The next time will be lights out here. Most of the buildings aren’t built to withstand even minor shaking. The bridges across the river will go down, too. There is a earthquake simulator in the Pink Palace  Museum in Memphis, or at least there was. Try that out and you can begin to understand what is like when the land starts dancing. But, the simulator leaves some stuff out, like the building falling down on you. Remind me to tell you about The Pink Palace Museum and Piggly Wiggly grocery stores.

The mention of elvispigs and Memphis in the same paragraph leads me to, the website of the Rendezvous restaurant in Memphis. First opened in 1949, (a very, very good year), the Rendezvous is, to me, the best BBQ place in Memphis. I will note that there are purists and other Memphians who strongly disagree with me, so you may have heard about Corky’s or Interstate. Ignore them.

We ate at the Rendezvous this afternoon, and I pigged out on a big slab of ribs with beans and slaw. Mmmm. I first ate at the R in 1978 during an interview for a faculty position that I was eventually offered and accepted. And, here I was today 35 years later ordering the same dinner and liking it just as much. We added baseball and Beale Street to today’s lineup, but those stories will wait until later (though I’ve included a picture of the Elvis statue that resides on Beale Street). Paul McCartney is here tomorrow night and then there are those Grizzlies.

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