I have this strange personality quirk.
Well, I have several, but there is one that I would like to share with you here.
I visit places I have heard mentioned in songs that I love.
Yes, one of my bucket list items is to stand on a corner in Winslow, Arizona.
One day, I’ll make it to Hotel California (which really is an actual place but is located in Mexico, not California).
I think of Darius Rucker’s, Wagon Wheel when we drive past the sign for Johnson City on route 81.
And, of course, the entire family sings Take Me Home Country Roads at the top of our lungs when we travel through West Virginia.
We even drag the kids into it
Years ago, we discovered that the “hollow” was an actual place where you could really go “skipping and a-jumping,” we had the kids sing Brown Eyed Girl right next to the stream in the “hollow” while Christina and I recorded it on our phones on a visit to Northern Ireland.
On a Mission to visit all the places in Walking in Memphis
10 years ago, right after I finished presented my paper titled, “Location, Location, Location: The Archaeology of Prime Fishing Site Selection in the Delaware Valley” at the 2012 Society for American Archaeology Conference held in Memphis, Tennessee, I made it my mission to visit:
- Beale Street,
- Union Avenue,
- The gates of Graceland, and
- The jungle room –
All of the places that Marc Cohn immortalized in his 1991 hit, Walking in Memphis.
You can imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the sole remaining location in the song, The Hollywood, was not actually in Memphis at all but instead located almost an hour south in Mississippi! I had no car and no way to get there.
That is, until last week.
As we jumped back into the truck after I took Billy to Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous in Memphis for some of the best BBQ either of us has ever eaten, I figured it was as good a time as any to inform him that we were about to drive 80 miles out of our way on our already 1,300 mile long trip to Arkansas to visit The Hollywood. Surprisingly, he didn’t put up a fight.
The Hollywood Cafe was exactly as I pictured it in my mind.
The moment Billy and I entered I spotted a piano in the corner and wondered whether that was the actual piano that Muriel played every Friday.
Then, I realized the place was completely empty except for two women who were sweeping up and tidying the place. They both greeted us with southern accents and warm, genuine smiles and showed us to a table. Neither of us were hungry, but we had to order something. The waitress informed us that even though they are known for their fried catfish they also have the best fried dill pickles anywhere and we simply must try them. So, I ordered a plate of them with absolutely no intention of eating anything batter dipped and fried. Billy ordered a cobbler. When I asked if they had coffee our waitress exclaimed, “Honey, we got a Keurig in the back!” The cup of coffee was served in a mug adorned with a caricature of a pickle in a cast iron skillet wearing red sunglasses and holding what looked like a margarita with the words, “The Hollywood Cafe, home of the fried dill pickle” across the top.
When the plate of fried dill pickles arrived I got caught up in the magic of the moment.
Yes, I ate fried pickles.
Well, more accurately, I ate warm pickle slices because I attempted to peel away the breading in an effort to prevent consuming unfermented flour and the oil they were fried in. Turns out warm pickles are surprisingly good. But, it didn’t matter. It wasn’t about the fried dill pickles at all.
Those pickles, served to us by a waitress named Carebear in a completely empty cafe in the middle of nowhere, represented more than simply an appetizer. The act of eating them together on our father/son trip at a place I have been trying to get to for a decade, complete with all of the charm that the Hollywood Cafe had to offer was what it was really all about. And Billy felt it too. My 17 year old son had been sitting in the truck next to me for two straight days of travel and was actually happy to have driven almost two hours out of our way for his dad to fulfill some silly mission. And, it wasn’t even because he was even hungry. We had filled our bellies with incredible BBQ in Memphis an hour earlier.
Tackling food at the holidays
Right now, in the midst of the holiday season it is important to remember that the context of the meal is just as important as the food itself. Filling a table with loved ones, laughing and engaging in conversation all help. So does breaking out the fine china, setting the table and even playing music in the background. Make it a point to nourish your body and soul this holiday season – I promise, you won’t be disappointed!
Always a song as we travel
After we left the Hollywood Cafe, Billy and I drove through Mississippi for another hour before finally crossing into Arkansas and heading towards Little Rock. Our last cultural stop had nothing to do with music or food. Rather, we headed towards Little Rock Central High School where the Little Rock Nine incident took place in 1957.
And, of course, we played Collin Raye’s, Little Rock on Spotify and sang along as we crossed the city limits on our way there.