Day 25 – The Mighty Mississippi

Sean’s Journal: I had originally planned to cross the great river on I-57 at the Illinois-Missouri border and travel across the state, south of St. Louis, through the region of the Ozarks, and just north of the resort town of Branson and the small town of Cassville where I know Vince did training for a manufacturer of electric fan motors. I felt a little sad to miss St. Louis. I know Vince has seen the Gateway Arch. Well, I decided to change my plans and take I-40 south from Nashville to cross the Mississippi at Memphis. This route will take me through Little Rock, Arkansas, and directly on to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where I look forward to visiting the Cowboy Hall of Fame. Yee-haw! 

The Mighty Mississippi. There is no geological feature of the continental United States that more defines the geography of our nation than this river. Otherwise, there are our seacoasts, the Appalachian and Rocky Mountain ranges, and the Great Plains. But, the Mississippi cuts across our nation from its northern to southern borders and has always defined the eastern vs. the western United States. Even though I crossed the river a few weeks ago near Davenport, Iowa, I am more excited to cross at Memphis in “the south.” I’ve always had pictures in my mind of this area during the time of the Civil War—before and after. I see a steamboat paddling along and hear its whistle blowing. Before I crossed the river, I took a detour to visit the ultra-colorful Beale Street, “Home of the Blues.” Then, I visited the National Civil Rights Museum built around the former Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968 just two years after Vince & Marie were married. I have always admired this courageous, eloquent, and visionary man.

The river, the food, the music, the people, the history—I’m glad I came to Memphis. When I chatted with folks on the riverfront and on Beale Street, there was a spirit of fun and frivolity in the air, however there are also melancholy echoes of the old south and the Civil War. Tonight, I stayed at a small campground on the Arkansas River near Little Rock. 

Vince’s Response: Well, young Sean, you’ve just scooped me. I have not been to Memphis. As a business consultant going back over three decades, I still associate Memphis with the headquarters of FedEx. They were a breakthrough company in those days. Of course, there’s the Elvis legacy. As for Arkansas, I have only driven along the northern border of the state and don’t know much about it except for three things: Bill Clinton, Walmart headquarters, and stories of the “Little Rock Crisis” that occurred during the early years of the Civil Rights Movement. Again, I have a business consultant’s perspective of Walmart. Sam Walton, its founder, was an American business hero during the second half of the 20th Century. 

Oklahoma Bound. Soon you’ll be entering the land of the “Sooners.” Sooners was the nickname given to those early American settlers who rushed across the state border to claim their piece of the prairie during the famous land rush of 1889. The University of Oklahoma football team adopted the name. As you get to Oklahoma City and then turn northward through Kansas, you’ll be back on the trail my son and I took, which you initially experienced at the beginning of your nationwide odyssey. 

Bookends: (1) About the Mississippi, I enjoyed watching the early Broadway musical, Showboat, with my mom, and in recent years with Marie. (2) The mighty river has always given me my geographical bearings as a citizen of the USA. (3) The Civil Rights Movement continues. I hope America will one day fulfill Dr. King’s dream.