Monday 6 April
- Spend all day in Starbucks doing e-mails and this damn blog.
- My event at Clearwater goes well. People seem very pleased with it.
- Early night.
Tuesday 7 April
- Awake very early and depart before 6 am on 530 mile drive to Fairhope, Alabama.
- Florida seems a familiar and friendly place (from being a tourist so many times) but I've never been to Alabama. Drive at precisely the speed limit.
- Fairhope is a beautiful place, by the Gulf of Mexico.
- Arrive at church and learn that I've gained an hour!
- The Rev's wife shows me to a delightful, luxury guest townhouse which they are giving me for the night. If only I was staying here longer!
- I have a couple of hours to spare.
- Buy gas from a gas station with old fashioned pumps with mechanical meters.
- Go to sea food restaurant and eat delicious sea food gumbo. Have the tuna steak put in a takeaway box.
- 7:20 pm -- there are only three cars in the car park for my 7:30 pm event.
- They all arrive in a surge at the last moment, and some a few minutes late. It's quite a big crowd.
- Return to townhouse and sleep soundly.
Wednesday 8 April
- Awake at leisure. Eat tuna steak for breakfast.
- Spend a little time at the water, before leaving Fairhope.
- Head for New Orleans.
- There is something upbeat about New Orleans, although you can see signs of the flood. The road surfaces are awful. Some of the houses have been restored or re-built, others are just shells.
- Eat seafood gumbo in a seafood restaurant. Have the crawfish etouffee packed to go.
- The church has been demolished -- they bought the house next door and are operating out of that.
- The Rev takes me for a drive around the neighborhood. He shows me where the levees broke, just a few hundred yards away. They did not have adequate metal spike reinforcement.
- The little house church is packed for my session, which goes well. People are very nice.
- Afterwards, I head for Baton Rouge, reconnoiter location of radio studio for morning NPR interview, and check-in to hotel.
- Eat the crayfish etouffee and save the sweet potatoes for breakfast.
Thursday 9 April
- Eat the sweet potatoes for breakfast.
- Check out and go to WRKF studio for NPR interview with Jim Engster. He is a very gracious host.
- Hit the road to Memphis for my evening event.
- Drive through Mississippi.
- Suddenly realize I need a restroom very urgently (crayfish etouffee?). The 'town' of Enid in Mississippi has one little privately-owned gas station, with a rest room with a dirt floor and no wash basin. Nonetheless, I am very grateful for this. I have wet wipes with me.
- Get to Memphis and settle down in Starbucks near the library.
- Cindy Sakaan, the Director of Religious Education at the local church, joins me and takes me to the venue: Memphis Central Library. This is a very impressive building.
- Event goes well.
- After the event, she invites me to dinner at her sister-in-law's place: Raffe's Deli & Beer Garden. The Middle Eastern food is absolutely delicious, as is the non-alcoholic beer I try. (Regular beer is also available.) This place is wonderful.
- Raffe's husband is a Baptist-born American doctor who, as an intern, worked on Elvis's resuscitation team.
- Cindy tells me that, as Director of Religious Education, she arranged for the children to visit different places of worship. One local Baptist minister, in his sermon, said: 'There are three groups of people going straight to Hell:
1. Gays; 2. Murderers; 3. Muzzzlems'
1. Gays; 2. Murderers; 3. Muzzzlems'
- Retire to bed at Knights Inn, near the airport. I love the sound of aircraft on final approach.
Friday 10 April
- Eat baklava for breakfast.
- Check out of Knights Inn and head for National Civil Rights Museum. It's converted from the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King was shot. 'You can kill the dreamer, but you can't kill the dream.'
- This place brings tears to my eyes. What these people went through is heartbreaking, including the black teenagers determined to walk into that white school to be enrolled. What incredible courage!
- The progress which has been made in just half-a-lifetime makes me proud to be American. Oh wait ... I'm not. Darn.
- Head for Little Rock. As soon as I Ieave the museum, I cross a metal bridge and I'm in Arkansaw.
- Stop at KFC all-you-can-eat buffet. Some of these customers really should not be in an all-you-can-eat establishment, for their own good.
- Little Rock has some interesting hills. The church has a beautiful wooded garden.
- I'm being hosted here, by a delightful, intelligent, informed, articulate couple. They are vegetarians and will be cycling 59 miles tomorrow to a campsite, and then cycling back 59 miles the next day. I'm so pleased to be having a dialogue with typical Americans.
- Event goes well. Return to the house and retire to bed.
Saturday 11 April
- Depart at 7:30 am towards Baton Rouge, a distance of 370 miles. My hosts are heading out on their bikes at 8 am.
- Start listening to audiobook enroute: 'Eat, Pray, Love'.
- Stop at a McDonalds drive-thru.
- All I say is: 'Do you have decaff?'
- The electronic display indicates that I just ordered a Bacon Double Cheese Burger.
- This next part is too complicated for a skeleton blog.
- Finally proceed to last counter to collect coffee. She hands me the coffee. 'What kind of coffee is this?' 'It's a Regular.' Ye Gods!
- The Baton Rouge church has an electronic display outside, advertising my event!
- The event is very well-attended.
- Afterwards, drive the 275 miles to my uncle's house in Houston. This is an ordeal, as I am exhausted. Twice I stop for a 2 minute nap.
- Arrive at 3 am and sleep soundly.
Sunday 12 April
- Sleep until noon, but it's okay -- I don't have to check out!
- Houston event is a virtual disaster. It's Easter Sunday and there doesn't seem to have been much publicity. There are only seven members of the audience I'm not related to. Still, they are receptive and I give them a good performance.
- Afterwards, my uncle and his wife take me to an Indian buffet restaurant for dinner.
- Sleep soundly.