After touring Graceland, I found a text message from Mr. Tennessee saying he was sick in bed with a 102 degree fever. Oh geez. Now what? Should I have a really short chapter on Tennessee, or should I go find some homeless man, take him out for dinner, and call it a date? Could I still call the book Fifty Dates in Fifty States if I didn’t have a date in Tennessee? I was leaving town that night. I didn’t have a lot of options. I texted Katherine, the girl who’s couch I had crashed on the night before. She was a friend of Jana’s, and she played on a co-ed kickball team. She had me a date within minutes.
I stood on a corner on Beale Street, trying not to look too dorky. I realized I should have asked Katherine something other than the guy’s name, since I had no idea what I was looking for. Was he white? Black? Asian? Tall? Short? Clean cut? Tattooed? I saw a guy lurking across the street and prayed that wasn’t him. He had a monk hair cut -- bald on top, encircled by a modified dutchboy, then shaved at the bottom. I don’t think he was a monk, since he was wearing jeans and was staggering a bit, presumably from the drink he held in his hand, so he could have been my guy, I guessed. But then my actual date rounded the corner, looking sober and sporting a fabulous head of hair. I liked him already.
We meandered up and down Beale Street, deciding on B.B. King’s for a drink. A blues band was playing, and it didn’t take long for my vocal chords to start hurting, shouting to be heard across the table. I worried about the onion rings I’d had for lunch and prayed I wasn’t grossing the poor guy out as I yelled at him. We got there at just the right time, I guess, because after a rousing rendition of “Proud Mary” (I was very happy that the near-elderly woman singing lead and doing her best Tina Turner impression did not collapse from exhaustion), the band was finished and we could talk in reasonable tones.
We split the Soul Sampler -- wings, potato skins, ribs, and fried pickles. I even tried one of the fried pickles and grimaced but did not throw up, thank you very much. Mr. Tennessee Take Two turned out to be a great guy and a fabulous storyteller. We decided to head to a different bar he’d told me about, but I thought I’d use the little girl’s room first. It was then that I decided there’s not a clean bathroom in Memphis. Okay, okay, that’s a really broad statement, considering I didn’t visit them all, but whereas my feet had stuck to the floor in the last one, I was sliding on the floor in this one. As I came out of the bathroom, a woman coming in literally fell down in front of me. She was wearing cowboy boots, which I supposed didn’t have the traction that my hiking boots did, and whoops, there she went. I wondered if she got anything free as a way of apologizing. Maybe I should start trying that.
Back at the table, the waitress apologized for not being around much. It seems Sir Charles Barkley had come in and her boss had sent everyone running to serve him like a king. We looked over and sure enough, there he was, big as a barn. People were interrupting his dinner to ask him to pose for pictures with them. Fame has to suck sometimes. Cold ribs aren’t nearly as good as hot.
We headed down the street to a place Mr. Tennessee had told me about that I found intriguing -- Earnestine & Hazel’s. It seems these two old ladies bought the place back in the sixties. Some sources say it was a sundry store, and some say it was a juke joint, but everyone agrees that you could rent a room upstairs. By the hour. Yep, it was a brothel -- supposedly until the early nineties, if you can believe it. Rumor has it that the Rolling Stones’ song “Brown Sugar” was about the ladies of the night they met here. It was pretty dead when we went in, being too early in the evening, but you could imagine the place in it’s heydey. Supposedly it’s even haunted, but I didn’t see anything.
I thanked Mr. Tennessee for a lovely evening and for being so adventurous as to say yes and help out some crazy dating traveler he didn’t even know. I wished him luck in life and love and kickball, then headed south to Mississippi.