SEEN AND UNSEEN
If thou be'st born to strange sights,
Things invisible to see…
We are closer to things invisible than to things visible.—Novalis
My son and I have just returned from an eight day tour of the Southeast, visiting family and friends we’d not seen in quite a while, in Nashville and in Jackson, Mississippi. The following are things seen and unseen on our mini-megatrek.
1. Starbucks Coffeeshops on the Palestine Highway. US Highway 79 out of Round Rock, Texas is my old favorite “northern route” to Jackson, avoiding as it does the east Texas mess of Houston / Beaumont / Lake Charles (yes, LC is just more of east Texas), as well as the flat-lined boredom of I-10 from Tres Leches to Houston altogether. 79 by contrast is a lovely rural meander through such towns as Rockdale, Thrall, Gause, Buffalo, Easterly, Palestine (that’s Palesteen, for the untrammeled), Hearne, Henderson, Jacksonville, Carthage and then into the none too pleasant burg of Shreveport. For our purposes, it meanders all the way to Nashville, but you never know what off the beaten paths amount to through Arkansas—they can sidewind through mountains that add hours to what looks like a simple jaunt on a less than topographical map. Our plan was to take 79 to Henderson, then 41 through Tatum and on to Marshall, where we’d pick up 59 to Texarkana and then I-30 and I-40 it to Little Rock and on to Nashville.
(I’d first discovered the Palestine one Christmas Eve, as I sailed down its dark length, a phantasmagoria of Christmas lights through its farms and wee burgs, mother and father and sleeping babe on their own pilgrimage: babe woke at one point to marvel at an enormous moon, shortly before we all hit our wall in Gause and dozed in front of the PO.)
We left TL in the wee hours and watched the sleeping SBs (they don’t open till 6) as we sailed through New Braunfels, San Marcos, Austin, and Round Rock, confident that we’d find at least one lurking up the Palestine—it is, after all, a “US” Highway and what enterprise these days has blazed through these United States more than the wildfire brew off Mount Rainier (Bentonville, Arkansas miasma excepted, of course)? But, 79 was a ticker tape parade of nada. The town that bears the highway’s name? None. Jacksonville, population 24,000—ditto. Marshall, similar population to J-ville (I actually thought it bigger), also untouched. Surely, we thought, Texarkana’s 60,000 residents would have access, but no, the coffee drought continued.
I’m droning on as if I am some Howard Schultz sycophant, when in truth I find his brew too hot, too strong, and his robotic coffee seller at the corner of Wurzbach and I-10 in TL a diabolic intrusion into my early morning fogs. I do love his HearMusic store in downtown TL where I can wile away four hours over a café mocha, listening to all the albums I sold at a garage sale in New Orleans, in preparation for my transmigration to Moscow, Idaho, albums I was sure to replace with their CD upgrades (how many of us have made that ridiculous statement?). Still, if I am not exactly a fan of HS’s brew, I am even less a fan of the brown lifeless grunge to be found in the Valero “cornerstores” and their ilk, foisted upon travelers nodding off behind the wheel. Much as I may love Barq’s root beer in a black cow/root beer float, I’m looking for higher octane to keep me from straying across the median or center stripe. For the road, a Café Mocha grande (I can’t bring myself to utter the word “venti”) does the trick, and my fellow travelers are safe from at least one dozing brother.
Howard and his baristas have whole other vistas awaiting them on the Palestine Highways of the world…
2. Sadness in Little Rock. I know his hometown is Hope, but I would have thought that at least a token of Bill’s recent 109 millions might have made their way to sprucing up the Arkansas capital city that gave him his start, but LR just seemed a sad and tired townlet, its poverty worn on its sleeves. It was the attendant sadness that was perhaps even more unsettling. Which is not to say that sad poverty should be hidden away: it needn’t and shouldn’t be: it was more a sense that we continue to have a long way to go in taking care of our people.
3. Nick Drake is “alive” and “well” in Little Rock. At least in Moe’s Southwestern Grill, that is. The last place I would have expected to hear the late enigmatic English popfolk jazzman. It’s like hearing “Tangled Up in Blue” in the neighborhood HEB, which I actually did, one fine day. God still lives in the radio waves.
4. Consequential Value is alive and well in Nashville. From his Thoreauvian hillside backyard (and on this website), brother-in-law Dave meditates upon the notion of consequential value. In his words, “I want to see a decrease in the amount of “stuff” that business throws at us and replace it with things or services that have real value, that make a difference–in the philanthropic sense, I suppose.” Admittedly, some very fun and lovely “stuff” was slipped our way during our Nashville visit, but the real consequential value was resting in the peaceable kingdom sister Laura and Dave have fashioned for themselves and the family they love and care for. I live in a home that is largely a peaceful and quiet retreat from the world’s bustle, and I found the same peacefulness in their hacienda on the hill. That’s bundles of CV.
5. It’s time to put Padgett Powell and Barry Hannah on the Endangered Species List. I am no longer surprised that neither is to be found on the shelves of the local mega-giants, but they were not even whispering their subversive mania from the fiction shelves of Vanderbilt’s bookstore. When in Jackson, I did not go to the Ozymandium of Lemuria (THE bookstore right next door to the Restaurant at the end of the Universe), where I know the two tricksters are well represented, both having appeared there in the past as, respectively, Hermes and Dionysus.
6. It ain’t church, if it ain’t got a beat. With Laura, Dave, and nephew Steph, we attended a very nice service at Saint Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, a service that was even more music-filled than our own Reconciliation’s here in TL and had some other differently nice touches. After the service, we wandered over to the church bookstore where, from the adjoining gymnasium I heard some amazing drumming. St. B’s has a very active ministry with Sudanese refugees and I had stumbled in upon their own largely drummed and chanted Anglican service. It took some effort for me to tear myself away: as much as I had enjoyed the earlier service, I felt like I was turning away from heaven itself. (Which reminds me that at Rec’s recent jazz mass, I was wonderfully surprised to hear the visiting band play Miles Davis’ “Seven Steps to Heaven.” As a brief Episcopalian in my youth, I was inured to the idea that the Episcopal Church was many things, but musical it weren’t. At Rec, with our choir, music is vouchsafed alive and well; more often than not, what moves me about any given service is music I am either singing or listening to.)
7. Global warming and Texas drought notwithstanding, thunderstorms do still exist. We found this little factlet verified several times during our Jackson visit, glorious grey monsters mounting to the northwest and spreading out across the sky while we swam in sister Julee’s apartment pool. First streaks of lightning and thunder cracks, and we were out until the next day’s déjà vu.
8. Driving habits die hard. I believe the last time I lived in Jackson (seven years ago), I was also convinced that you could still take a right turn off of State Street onto Capitol (as you could in my high schooled youth). This time, as I turned into oncoming traffic, I was met by one of Jackson’s folks in blue. All trip long, I’d been badmouthing how crass Texas license plates look compared to most other states’ (like American currency in relation to the rest of the world’s), but you can bet I was thankful I had those plates to fall back on as explanation for my touristic folly. Police officer graciously (and with a bit of a smirk) accepted my “We could do this back in high school” and wished us well upon our way.
9. My son is as much a sucker for minutiae as his father. Witness his gleeful reading of the book his grandfather gave him, entitled The Book of General Ignorance, in which we find out that it is possible to travel faster than the speed of light (as long as light is traveling through sodium frozen to minus 250 degrees Celsius) and that barnacles, bless their hearts, have the largest penises proportional to body size, though of course, blue whales still come in as champions of absolute size, with members often several feet longer than Yao Ming is tall. “Girth” was a word that came in for its share of chuckles, as in, the “girth” of that cetacean endowment is 18 inches, and we completely lost it for several miles down the Palestine as we contemplated NOT wanting to be crushed by a 150 pound whale testicle.
Shrimps, by the way, make the loudest natural sounds in the ocean…
10. With Howard Schultz, it’s all about which way you’re going. Coming into TL last night, I saw a billboard that informed me of an SB that is open 24 hours a day. I guess if you’re driving north out of town, that’s not considered a necessary public service announcement.
Labels: going, gone