Friday, May 23, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 16: Sallisaw, OK - Memphis, TN. Friday, May 23, 2014

     I was shocked to see that it was bright outside when I got out of bed and opened the curtains of the cabin. I checked the time: 7:00 am. I was so used to being up earlier that it felt like most of the day was already gone. I wasted no time packing my motorcycle and was out of the campsite by 8.

     I only had about 300 miles to the next campsite on the Arkansas side of Memphis, so I wasn’t really that concerned about getting there on time. I did want to fit in my last oil change of the trip as well as a desperately needed wash for my motorcycle, since those things always take a lot of time.

     The weather that day was fantastic. It was just warm enough that I wouldn’t have to wear any layers including my leather jacket, but it was cool enough that I wasn’t spending much time pulled over by the side of the road for Gatorade breaks.

     I was hoping to see the city of Little Rock, but the interstate took me around it. It was just another city to me, so I didn’t feel like I missed out on too much. I pulled over at a rest stop and had a small chat with a truck driver. He said that he had finished the 72 ounce steak in Amarillo. The secret was to cut the steak up into tiny pieces to the point at which he could eat it with a spoon. That way the steak takes up less room in the stomach. I finished off a bottle of Gatorade and heading back on the road.

     I had had a lot of conversations with truck drivers, and my journey gave me a high respect for them. I knew what it felt like mile after mile in complete isolation, and only sparing time to eat and sleep. The road can really get to you after a while. It can make you crazy, and the only socialization that you get is short small talk with random strangers.

     About 50 miles before I reached Memphis, my motorcycle started rumbling terribly. It was vibrating so strongly that I didn’t think I would make it to Memphis. I knew it was the chain just because of the way the ride felt, and I was worried that by the time I reached a mechanic that my sprockets would be toast. Most shops don’t carry sprockets for a 1973 CB750, so if they were shredded, my trip was over. Even if they had to replace just the chain, I would need it readjusted 500 miles later.

     I went straight to a Honda dealership on the Tennessee side of Memphis. I had them do an oil change and tighten the chain. I waited anxiously for an hour and a half in the dealership lounge, but I had to calm myself down so I talked to another motorcyclist. He was a heavy, older man, who said he had a Honda VTX cruiser and was getting it serviced. Whenever the weather was good, he would take it down to Mississippi for a day.

     I told him about my journey, which he found amazing but somewhat hard to believe. Maybe it was the way I phrased it:

“I’m from Columbus, Ohio, but I made a quick stop in San Francisco before coming here to Memphis, Tennessee”.

     I told him I was just a teenager, and he said that they should make a documentary about me. I said I had a journal, which he thought was a great idea. Our conversation didn’t last too long before his bike’s oil change was done. At about the time that he left the dealership, a representative called for me.

“Your oil looks very good. It’s not sludgy or burnt, so your engine must be in very good shape. As for the chain, it was very loose, but we tightened it. Both the sprockets and chain look good.”

     I let out a major sigh of relief. Labor and parts set me back about a hundred dollars, but I was so glad that I would be back on the road.

     I went to the campsite, but not before stopping at a gas station and having a freak out moment where I thought I lost my credit card. I found that I had put it behind my driver’s license when I left the dealership, but I really didn’t need any more scares for the day. I ended up talking to an older gentleman for 15 minutes who had a custom motorcycle shop, and wanted a picture of my bike since he hadn’t seen one in a long time. He said if I ever wanted to deck out my motorcycle, I could bring it to his shop. After he took a few pictures, I headed out of the gas station parking lot.

     When I reached the campsite half an hour away, I bought a tent spot, unloaded my luggage, and headed straight back to a car wash next to the dealership where I had my bike serviced. I wasn’t worried that anyone would steal my stuff. There were other motorcyclists camping near my tent spot. I trusted that they would make sure no one took anything.

     Memphis had the most cops of any place I have ever seen. They were everywhere on the highway, and there were five parked across the street from the car wash. I even saw a guy being arrested as I was waiting for my motorcycle to cool.

     I couldn’t immediately wash my motorcycle because the engine was still too hot from riding on the highway. To pass the time, I sparked up a conversation with a guy who was detailing the wheels of his clean, late model, black Dodge Charger.

     He noticed my bike, and said that he used to ride a similar bike when he was little. His dad once bought a beat up old motorcycle and spent 3 weeks welding parts together to rebuild the frame and get the thing running. I said that there was a lot of money in building custom motorcycles, asked if his dad ever thought about it. He said that at one point his dad did own a custom shop, but he had several strokes that prevented him from continuing, and now he was living in Mississippi on social security checks.

     He said that he had a late model Honda VTX cruiser, but he didn’t ride it too often. People in Memphis have no regard for motorcyclists on the road, and it was kinda dangerous. I told him about my lane sharing experiences in LA, to which he told me I could do it in Memphis but it wasn’t legal. He asked if he could get a picture with my motorcycle because, like the gentleman at the gas station, it had been so long since he had seen one. He gave me his phone and I got a few good shots before giving it back to him. Before he left, he gave me a free salad coupon good at the Wendy’s nearby. He said he was a manager at a Wendy’s that was further than the one up the street, and if I went the extra distance and mentioned to the staff that he sent me, they would take care of me. I really appreciated the offer, but I was in the mood for some Memphis ribs. 

     I cleaned my bike, but not before getting a bill stuck in the wash vending machine and going around the corner to a laundromat for change so I could use the coin acceptor instead. My motorcycle looked fantastic after the wash, and I went to Leonard’s Pit BBQ.

The outside of Leonard’s Pit BBQ

     Leonard’s Pit BBQ looked pretty ordinary from the outside, but it all ends there. Inside the restaurant there was a 1940s or 50s era truck smack dab in the middle of the dining room, with 50s style decor on the walls.

The dining room of Leonard’s Pit BBQ 

     Memphis is known for its ribs, so I ordered a slab of dry ribs. As I was waiting, I saw two people stop and check out Liz, including a police officer. I don’t think any kind of Harley could attract as much attention as my bike did that day. When ribs arrived at my table, I found them to be even better than the ribs I had in Kansas City from Jack Stack BBQ. They were incredibly tender and spicy, but not overwhelming so. I don’t think I’ve ever downed a slab of ribs as quickly as I did at Leonard’s.

     I passed the police officer on the way to the restroom. I was still wearing my shorty gloves (the kind that only motorcyclists wear), so he knew the bike belonged to me. We had a short conversation about the bike. He couldn’t believe it was in such good shape for its age. He told me he had a Victory motorcycle, but not one of the big touring bikes with all the fairing. It was a stripped down, naked sportster. He also said he wasn’t a police officer. He was a security guard for the restaurant. The crime rate in Memphis was even worse than I thought. Even as I went back to my table, I saw the waitress with a security device, and she was about to reach for my wallet to put it behind the front counter. She told me that I clearly had never been to Memphis before. I won’t make that mistake again.

Even better ribs! 

I went back to the campsite just outside the city. To no surprise (even in Memphis), no one had touched my stuff. I set up my tent and got inside, but I struggled to fall asleep.

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