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Road Trip - Part 5: Memphis

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The Cotton Exchange in Memphis The Cotton Exchange in Memphis

Google Maps said getting from Birmingham to Memphis was a direct route on I-22. It didn’t mention that I-22 begins at the end of a narrow farm road a few miles after exiting I-65; a freeway that begins in grass.

Five hours later we roll across the Mississippi River from Memphis, TN to West Memphis, AR on a through arch bridge, The Hernando de Soto. This enormous mass of flow that drains North America from four hydrological divides is affectingly know as The Big Muddy, a name easily understood from the islands and banks of the river that are really just mud.

We park on the river. A bank of riprap rose from the swirling current to a median of grass across the driveway from us. The RV park is on a flood plain and ‘permanent’ facilities have wheels under them. Power supplies are on raised platforms and a line on a building at the entrance marks the 2011 flood well above the doorway.

The river is alive with barges being pushed upriver and down, though downriver push boats look more like an accident waiting to happen as the rushing current makes it way to the Gulf. Barges are lined up side by side and end to end creating different size loads. One downriver push boat was maneuvering barges lashed five wide and seven long; enough space to start a small town.

Morning brings a break in weather with a few rays of sun. We head back across the river. I take the first good turn up the riverbank into a city of buildings without people and spot the sign for Lorraine Motel. We loop around, find a parking spot, and moments later stand ten feet below where Martin Luther King was shot to death; five days short of a forty five years before.

Memphis is famous for music. During daylight downtown is deserted yet nighttime is alive with lights and music from clubs up and down both sides of streets in entire districts.

After touring the Cotton Exchange we lunch at Bistro Café on Main Street, a pedestrian mall, where Buckley took his seat at the table and drew in all comers. If you are going to travel to new places be certain to travel with a cute dog.

One of those lunching locals picked us out, suggesting we might be interested in mid town. Purported to be a revitalized historic area near the University we spied a Rainbow Flag at the community center and knew we were home. They opened the place early when we stepped onto the porch and were happy to show us around a small house converted to an office, a community room, a small library and storeroom/bathroom. The atmosphere of the place is perhaps best described by their labeling of the area; ‘it’s rainbow friendly’.

The need to keep such perspective in a major metropolitan area clearly illuminates the freedom with which we occupy Wilton Manors. Gays are well served to travel more and help those in places such as Memphis know that it will be ok and they can be who they are.

The sky took back its sun as winter took hold by evening making a fire on the Mississippi fueled by its debris a particular comfort especially when joined by the Canadians parked alongside. The Canadians took a differing view on the declining weather. Rather than continuing their trek north from a winter in Texas they would stay a few more days as it was much colder on north.

Who you are and how you integrate is as much a choice as what the weather is and how you respond to it. It’s easier to be gay than rainbow friendly.

Ric Reily

Ric Reily is the author of two books, Money Is The Root Of All - Skip The Debt Habit, and Gregory’s Hero; and two blogs, LGBT Opinion In A Gay World and LGBT Personal Finance In A Gay World. He is a Member of the Board of Directors of Stonewall National Museum and Archives serving as Treasurer. His firm CFO On Call provides small business finance and operations consulting. Ric is married to John, his partner of 26 years, and lives in South Florida. You can reach Ric at

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