We weren’t supposed to drive down Money Road in Mississippi. At least not yet. We were supposed to leave north Georgia to visit Lexington, Kentucky on our way to Springfield, Illinois. We had a potential family to visit in Lexington, Lindsay’s best friend to see in Springfield and a Remicade infusion scheduled for the next week in St. Louis, Missouri.
But as a snowstorm was headed in from the northwest and we began to doubt those plans. It gnawed on me that we had to keep moving if we were going to achieve visiting all 50 states in less than a year.
The weather was turning in Kentucky the days we were supposed to arrive. Forecasters were predicting temperatures in the teens and as much as six inches of snow to fall the entire time we planned to be there.
Driving Rule Number 2 for us was no snow: No driving in snow, no playing in snow and no snow, period.
Having an issue with our refrigerator also stalled our plans to continue travel. It would run on 110-electric (“shore power”) but not on propane. As we planned to visit places off the beaten path and “boondock” for days on end, propane refrigeration was important to us.
We couldn’t head north. But we couldn’t really sit still. We weren’t going to be able to get someone to fix our refrigeration in Georgia on such short notice. We’d have to schedule an appointment somewhere down the road in a place we thought we’d be.
Good luck with that. Our itinerary was quickly being discarded. Who knows where we would be, and when we’d be there!
For a brief moment we panicked. We both felt like maybe we were forcing the trip and it would be better to backtrack home with our tails between our legs. At this point we had already put most of our savings into purchasing the truck and camper, buying our essential gear and making modifications and repairs. It was a little late in the game to backtrack all of those details. But it was also a little to early to call it quits.
It was just a brief moment of panic. Travel Principle #4 is “Don’t Panic.” So we pulled ourselves together one morning over coffee.
We’d have to suck it up. Somehow we’d have to move forward. We’d have to head south, somewhere, but not home.
- There was New Orleans, and a friend we had who could probably connect us with a family there on short notice.
- There was the Gulf Coast, but almost everyone and their RV was on Spring Vacation along the coast.
- And then there was Mississippi.
Running Down A Memory
Our decision to visit to the Mississippi was predicated on the fact that I had been there before as a filmmaker. In 2011 I was part of a crew that filmed a documentary that included a company in the town of Greenwood. We arrived at night on our first visit and something caused the FM radio station in our vehicle to go on the fritz.
After beating the dash a few times we pressed the source button and found ourselves surprised, and a bit relieved, to hear the classic sounds of the delta blues on an AM station.
When we heard Poe, the disc jockey, mention the radio station was broadcasting from Greenwood, we made it our goal to find the station and meet him. The next day we succeeded in wandering out of town along Money Road and I have been friends with Poe since that day.
So we were headed back to Greenwood!
Plans Are Deliberately Indefinite
Because we are wanderers, learning to throw our plans out the window, Lindsay was open to the idea of going anywhere there was not snow. It took nothing to convince her and the next day we headed west through Birmingham toward Mississippi.
I was unable to reach Poe before we left. But somewhere just before we crossed into Mississippi I received an email inviting us to visit him at his home in Columbus, just across the Alabama state line. He said that we were welcome to stop by his “Studio B” and stay as long as we’d like.
I wanted to see Poe and introduce him to Lindsay. But I also wanted to get to Greenwood. I wanted to show Lindsay the places where I spent so much time before as I remembered them to be. Surely I would see a familiar face and remind them of the times I spent in this small, Southern town. Certainly the town would be as charming as it always had been from the moment I first arrived seven years before.
Here, again, we learned to disregard the itinerary.
Continual Acts of Kindness On The Road
We ended up spending a rainy night parked in Poe’s driveway. He treated us to a great local meal of fried catfish, okra and green tomatoes where we met one of his former disc jockey protégés. We worked around his house, building a television shelf for his mantle, and tidying things up here and there. And we also gave a brief radio interview for Poe to use on air in the future.
By midday we headed west to Greenwood through the rain from the weather system that was dumping snow further to the north. It was a dreary day. I wasn’t sure what to expect anymore from our trip to Greenwood.
Memories Change With Time
The town was not as I remembered it. In fact, it had lost most of the magic I sensed it once had in previous visits. I had memories of places that seemed empty without the company I kept at the time. There was a BBQ restaurant that was now closed. And a hotel piano bar where I once played guitar for a hundred guests was vacant. The shops along the street were all empty, as were the parking spots that lined the road.
Travel Principle # 2: Your expectations are almost always incorrect.
Money Road: The Road Of Dreams
We headed out of town via Money Road, a two-lane highway that opens up into a former plantation. Poe’s radio station was along this road. So too was Robert Johnson’s grave. And, incidentally, so were my ties to Greenwood.
There was something liberating about leaving town and entering the old plantation. It was quiet, except for the wind through the cotton and soy fields. Occasionally a car would drive past. But otherwise you could sit in the middle of the road and stare for miles in either direction without incident.
The radio station itself stuck out like a sore thumb. Amidst thousands of acres of farmland and a few old fishing shacks and farmhouses stood three radio towers behind a small, white building.
This is where my friendship with Poe began years earlier. It’s where the delta blues was first broadcast in the area. Robert Johnson was buried less than a mile down the road behind an old white church. This road, Money Road, was the road of dreams.
Poe had cashed in his life’s savings to buy the old radio station. Robert Johnson had traded his soul for a chance to play the blues. Even I gave myself to dreaming once, of finding freedom in traveling down empty roads like this toward no place in particular.
The Call of the Road
I’ve never been called to Greenwood, though I’ve said I’ve felt its tug on me. But I have been called to wander. And I realized during this visit that it was not the town, but the road, that was pulling on me.
The road wanted me to let go of all I remembered of the town and of my expectations of it. It wanted me to look ahead at what mysteries lay beyond where I had been before. It wanted me to drive, and to look back once more in the rearview and let go.
And so I have.