Riding the Dog, Part III - The Life and Thoughts of Zach
Apr. 20th, 2005
08:21 pm - Riding the Dog, Part III
Updates of Past Legs
I think I found the place where we camped with google maps. We could see the mouth of a tributary river across from where we camped and this is the only river bend with a sandy beach between Memhis and Greenville in about the right place that has a reasonably sized tributary river.
Also here are good google maps of The Mud Island Marina in Memphis and the hotel I stayed at in Greenville (The marina that I got off the boat at is the dock directly to the west). If you zoom out you can see that in order to get to the Greenville Yacht Club marina we had to go past Greenville and then come upstream along a little inlet thingy for several miles. It was REALLY slow going going upstream with Faith's little motor. There were moments where we were just standing still with the motor at full speed. This was particularly interesting because we had to go around a moving barge/tow that was blocking the mouth of the inlet.
Fourth Leg - Greenville, MS to St. Louis, MO - 9 hours
On my first day in Greenville I decided to do my laundry as most of my clothes were dirty, wet from the river, and/or sandy from the beach. Laundry was the one service that the hotel didn't offer. I asked at the front desk and got directions to a laundrymat that was about a half a mile away. It was on Broadway. "You know about Broadway?" she asked me. "No." And that was that. She didn't tell me what I ought to know about Broadway, just how to get there.
So I walked to the laundrymat with my backpack full of clothes. As I was walking I found myself in what was definitely the economicly depressed portion of this already depressed Delta city. The sun was going down and I felt very out of place. Greenville is a predominantly black poor southern town. I'm none of those things. Oh well, I shrugged to myself, I'm sure the hotel person wouldn't have sent me here if it was actually dangerous. I'm sure my presence either confuses or amuses people but just because I'm different (and defenseless, and burdened with a large backpack) doesn't mean I'm in any danger.
As I walked I passed a building that was totally run down. Boarded windows, a hole in one door, missing door knob on the other door, graffitti on the outside, and no cars in the parking lot. There was a slightly imposing guy standing there who approached me and asked me "are you looking for the house?" Or something like that. I couldn't quite make out what he said because I didn't really expect to be approached and asked a question, much less one so confusing. "No, actually, I'm looking for the laundrymat." As I said it I looked all around me to get my bearings and figure out where I was and what was happening around me. I noticed that this totally run down building was in fact, the laundrymat. I found this out because among the graffitti was a hand written sign that said "laundry". "I guess I found it!" I said to the guy and walked into the building before the guy could really respond.
Once inside, I wasn't even sure if this was a functioning laundrymat. There were 30 or more machines in the place but they were almost all deeply broken. They looked to be about 30-40 years old or more. Most of them had their front covers removed or bashed in. Wires were hanging out of many of them. The coin slots on a lot of them had been clearly tampered with. In one corner of the room (which had muted light) there were three men who seemed to want to have their conversation in private as they were very much huddled in the corner. On the other end of the room was a woman sitting on a table waiting for her laundry and it looked like she was almost camped out there, she had a bag of fast food and clothes strewn about around her.
Seeing no working wash machines, no change machine, and no vending machine with detergent, I decided this place was a lost cause. I suspected it wasn't even a functioning laundrymat but actually an abandoned building that these other folks were just sort of occupying. As I left the guy I'd seen outside earlier asked me "Don't want to do your laundry in the Ghetto, huh?" "None of those machines work," I said. "Sure they do." I felt kind of embarrassed by that. If this really was the local laundry facility and it was good enough for these folks, why shouldn't it be good enough for me?
So I sheepishly went back in to investigate more closely. The woman who was waiting for her laundry saw my confusion and helpfully suggested the numbers of some machines that did work. Grateful for her helpfulness I asked where I could get change. She said the grocery across the street. So I left AGAIN. The guy still standing outside was laughing at me at this point.
When I returned with change I felt dumb again because I could have bought detergent at the grocery and I forgot. I eyed a box of powder detergent near the helpful woman and sheepishly asked "I forgot to bring any detergent, can I borrow just a little bit from you". She said "What?" And suddenly I realized a few stupid things about my request, I said "borrow" which was dumb because I wasn't going to give back and second I was asking someone in a VERY poor neighborhood to give me, someone with plenty of money, something for free. That's probably not cool. So when I re-asked I said "Can I maybe buy a cup of laundry detergent from you?", pointing to the box. "Sure, you can have some detergent." I grabbed the box and it was empty. I realized this wasn't even her box, it was an old discarded box. I tried to empty the dregs of it into my laundry (which was already running). At this point I figured even if I just used water to wash with only trace amounts of soap I'd survive until St. Louis. I just wanted to stop looking so stupid, especially since my very differentness had every new person that walked in the place staring at me, warily.
But then the woman walked over with a bottle of dish soap and started pouring it into my laundry. "This'll get it REAL clean!" she said as she kept putting more and more in. "Won't it overflow if you use that much?" "Nah, it'll get it REAL clean." Helpless to change the situation I accepted it and sat back down. I was a bit confused as to whether this woman expected me to pay her since I had offered to buy soap from her. But she had said she'd "give" me soap. And then the soap she gave me was totally inappropriate. Ugh. Would it be offensive to offer her a buck or two? Would it be offensive not to? I just did nothing and pulled out my book (Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary) and read until the laundry was done. Originally, I'd intended to walk around while my laundry ran but I really felt like I should just sit tight until this whole laundry episode was over.
When my laundry finally finished (about 2 chapters later) I moved to a dryer. There was no price labeled on the dryer (as opposed to the washer which had it's price scrawled in permanent market on the wall behind), so I just started putting money into the machine thinking it'd start eventually. Turns out to start it I had to stick my finger into a dark hole on the front of a machine, trusting that back there somewhere there was a button. There was. Thanks again to the very helpful woman for telling me this. Once again I was hit with this incredible quandry...was this woman being nice to be because she expected some kind of tip because she was SO poor? Or was she just really nice and offering her a buck or two would be insulting to her pride? *shrug*
Eventually my clothes were dry and I'd put in enough quarters for about 4 loads before realizing I had to push the button. So I gave the woman the dryer to use for her load. So in the end she got a buck or so worth of free dryer time due to my confusion.
I walked back in the dark, nervously looking around me all the while to stay aware of my surroundings. From out of nowhere several blocks down the guy I'd met in front of the laundrymat ran towards me, "hey you know me, I was in front of the laundrymat." "Yep." "Can you spare a cigarette?" "Don't smoke." "Ok." And then he just kind of stood there in front of me and I walked around him and he didn't follow.
Poor neighborhoods always make me nervous, but then it's even worse than that because it makes me feel so stupid (racist? classist? ignorant?) that I am nervous. I hate having my emotional fear response controlled by media images instead of reality, but I simply lack the experience of reality to have any other accurate image available. I don't want to brazenly ignore real dangers but I don't want to avoid doing things due to a false perception of danger.
After a few days of working, doing laundry, and eating delicious food at "Southern Nights" (a random mostly empty restaurant near the hotel that had incredible seafood) it was time to go catch the bus to St. Louis. I looked on google maps and thought "oh 3.9 miles isn't that far, I don't need to order a taxi".
Well with MANY pounds (I need to find a working bathroom scale so I can weigh my load) of clothes and laptop and papers and keyboard and external harddrive and such on your back in 85 degree weather with no water 3.9 miles is quite far. I ate at a local pub and set out. It took me about 2 hours or so. I saw some interesting neighborhoods and bullfrogs in a highway ditch. When I arrived at the station the station I was out of breath, sunburnt, soaked in sweat, dehydrated, and blisters on my ankles were bleeding into my socks. I'm the only white person in sight, I'm clearly a northerner. And I present a 21 Day greyhound pass, that was issued in Champaign, IL, asking to go to St. Louis. "Man, what are you running from?" were the first words out fo the guys mouth. I told the whole story of coming from a boat on the river, that the boat was pilotted by some crazy dudes who were heading for the panama canal ("must be a big boat", "nope not at all"), that I walked all the way from the river, and slowly the guy understood how I came to be there. He was really curious and interested. Every single person I met in Greenville was interested to know where the hell I came from. This wasn't really a tourist town. "Are you a student?" "What are you running from?" "How did you get here?"
On the Bus
The bus ride saw another bout of incredible productivity. I'm so much more productive on the bus than even sitting in a hotel. I don't understand why. Well I do. I'm offline.
There was a 1 hour layover in Memphis so I found a little tourist trap to eat Mexican food at. The food was HORRIBLE and overpriced. Oh well. I needed calories to replace all I'd lost on that horrible walk.
Back at the bus station I found that every passenger was being subjected to a rare Greyhound security check. Some dude was wanding everyone and searching all their bags. He announced that if anyone had a gun or a knife or other such thing we needed to hand it over now. We could either pay $5 to have it put in a special envelope and given to the driver (we'd get it on arrival) or we could lose it or we could not ride. Well I had my brand new Leatherman Wave with me. Damn.
For context here, about 3 or 4 years ago in Chicago was the only other time I've gotten subjected to the completely arbitrary and rare Greyhound security. That time they decided that my keychain (which was a giant silver safety pin (with a blunt tip) with a torquise rock inlaid, a gift from my mom) was a weapon. They took it and insisted that the only way I could keep it was to pay $5 to have it express mailed to my house. I didn't get a receipt for it or my $5 and needless to say I never saw it again. I assumed that operation was some kind of scam and so I was ready to absolutely distrust this operation as well. But I was powerless to do anything but what I was instructed. The driver wouldn't let me on the bus with my knife in my possession. I couldn't even put it in my checked bag under the bus! These are some folks who want their 5 bucks.
The knife affair led me to meet some crazy old truck driver libertarian dude who also had a knife confiscated. We swapped conspiracy theories about the security state and he told me all about his grand plans to become rich by starting a business to ship knives to their destinations from airports. He also told me about how he'd gotten screwed out of his pension by the factory he used to work for. This was one very nice, lonely, and completely wacked dude.
Everyone on the bus around me had questions about my laptop. "Are you online?" "You must love your work the way you've been at it!" "Actually, I just love being done when I get off the bus."
The bus driver was some kind of slave driver. She was CONSTANTLY yelling at people on the bus who were talking and having a good time to quiet down.
Finally at 1am I arrived in St. Louis where I was met by skywind8 and ddbrown. Waited about 20 minutes for the slave driver to deign to open the luggage compartments so I could get my bag and knife. Got everything and headed to their house where we settled right into bed.
The City Museum
This might have been the most amazing place I've ever been in my life! Nothing I can say about it and no pictures I can post of it can really encompass how completely incredible this place was. It's an old factory building in an industrial zone of St. Louis that some amazing genius decided to turn into a playground. It's a private building, this isn't a city project. It also isn't really much of a museum. What it is, is a complex interlocking structure of sculpture, caves, tunnels, slides and walkways. It's a playground for kids and adults alike. You can (and are encourgaged to) climb on, over, and through, EVERYTHING. There's an old shell of an ancient airplane that you have to climb three stories to get into and inside it there's a cockpit with all the buttons and switches you can imagine to play with and a great view of the whole area. The playgroundy bits extend from inside to outside. There's a 4 story cave complex with a spiral slide that goes down 3 of the stories.
The crazy thing about this place is that not only does it have all this room for child-like exploration, it is open until 1am, after dark they light a fire in a big pit, there's a stage with live music, and a bar that serves alcohol. So after dark it slowly changes from this kids and parents hang out to a hangout for older teens and adults.
There's also a giant dodgeball pit. It's like the ball pit at Chuck E Cheese or whatever but it's full of big rubber balls instead of little plastic ones. You can dive in or stand on the edges throwing balls at each other.
We spent a great number of hours there and I spent most of it pulling myself through tiny tunnels, climbing things, and jumping around. I spent most of Sunday and Monday being sore sore sore in muscles I didn't even know I had.
I fully intend to take all of my exploration minded friends back to this place as often as possible. I am particularly keen to get aethyric's kids to experience it!
Mostly just been chilling and working and trying to walk off the stiffness since.