On the Way to Memphis

Heading to Memphis for a business meeting a couple of weekends ago, I hoped against hope that something column-inspiring would happen. Because you can’t write about baseball or college basketball every week without being moved to the sports section.

My meeting was at the historic Peabody Hotel. I’d been in the lobby once several years ago to watch the world-famous duck parade, but I’d never stayed there. Maybe I could write about what a treat it was to lodge in luxury at someone else’s—and, no, it wasn’t the taxpayers’—expense. Or about how ridiculous it is that the Peabody charges $25 a night for parking. Maybe I could even write about the ducks.

But a hundred miles before I got to Memphis, something else happened.

I pulled off I-40 at exit 108 to gas up. The BP station looked clean and safe but was advertising regular gas at six cents-a-gallon more than the Citgo truck stop just a stone’s throw further down the highway. So that’s where I headed.

One of the first things I noticed about the truck stop was that the trash cans were lashed to the gas islands with yellow tape that said POLICE LINE, DO NOT CROSS. Hmmm. Maybe, I thought, strong winds in the flatlands of west Tennessee tend to blow giant trash cans away. Or maybe there’d been a recent rash of trash can thefts. I pulled up to a pump, got out of my car and unscrewed the gas cap, only to discover a small handwritten “Out of Order” note taped to the gas nozzle. So I jammed the nozzle back in place and drove to another pump.

No note in sight. But there was another problem. The pumps were clearly designed for someone much taller than I am. The little window that gives instruction was so far above my eye level that I had to keep jumping up and down to read what it said. Which ended up not working out all that well, so I went inside to pay.

“How much you getting?” the sullen cashier asked.

“Filling it up.”

“Come back in and get your card when you’re done.”

Which, of course, I did. And while inside, I decided to visit the restroom. Yet another problem. An earnest young sheriff’s deputy whose uniform said “Desoto County, Mississippi” was blocking the way. “You can’t use the restroom right now,” he told me. “I’ve got a prisoner in there.”

“Uh…okay.”

Apparently he felt bad about inconveniencing me, because he kept up a constant chatter.  “Yep. I picked this one up in Nashville,” he told me, “but I go all over. Alabama. Louisiana. Even Kentucky. I was supposed to go to California once but that fell through.” When his prisoner finally emerged, I saw that she was an ordinary-looking young woman whom I never would have pegged for a criminal had she not been wearing a lightweight metal chain—the kind you’d use to tie out a little bitty dog–around her waist. Attached to that chain were two other chains, each about two feet long, which ended in handcuffs clamped to her wrists. Definitely not the stuff of maximum security.

I had assumed the restroom was a one-seater but when I was finally allowed in I discovered three stalls—two regular and one handicapped—and two sinks. Had the deputy not known that? Or had he refused to let me go on in because he feared his prisoner might take me hostage?

I never got a chance to ask. As I headed back outside, I saw the young woman sitting in the caged back seat of a sheriff’s car with Mississippi tags. No sign of the deputy. I settled into my car, locked both doors and then turned to look one
more time. The earnest young deputy was opening a back door of the patrol car.
He handed his prisoner a frosty bottle of Coca-Cola and then smiled and gave me
a half-salute.

All of which, for some reason I can’t quite explain, I found a lot more interesting
than a handful of ducks waddling across the lobby of an overpriced hotel in
downtown Memphis.

(April 21, 2013)

 

 

 

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