It is done. I can shed the desert rags and take off the mountain boots. I am home, and it is done.
I walked into the Arcade at around 9:00 p.m. Then, I took a seat at the bar— just a few feet down from the last chair I held in Memphis, Tennessee. I remember downing a strawberry milkshake before I left, waving goodbye to friends and heading west across the great bridge.
That was 62 days ago. Finally, I’ve come home.
Ten hours earlier, I woke in Austin, Texas with nothing left to prove in the west. I was within spitting distance of home—relatively speaking—so I made a run for it. And when I finally spied the amber lights of the Hernando De Soto Bridge beckoning out over the delta, I wasn’t sure I still had a home.
Memphis, I knew, would be a different place than the one I left. And I am forever altered from the boy whose milkshake-loaded body tore away from the city two months ago.
Almost as soon as I slipped through the Arcade’s door, I felt at home. This was my corner. These were my neighbors and friends. And more than a few people came screaming up to me with arms wide open. “We knew who you were,” the waitresses said. “You don’t look that different.” Which, is a relief, because I feel completely different: I feel focused, determined, complete. I feel like two months in the wild wasn’t nearly enough, but yet, it might have been the perfect amount of time.
We talked for a while—cooks and waitresses and myself. This corner on what used to be a rough side of downtown belongs to us all. In a way, my adventure does, too.
I scarfed down a bbq chicken pizza and headed for the door, to one more hometown haunt before heading to bed; I headed to Earnestine’s.
There are few places that embody the gritty, ethereal and heartfelt bones of Memphis like Earnestine’s. It just happens to be the nearest bar to my apartment.
If you’ve been with me to the late Earnestine & Hazel’s Sundry Store—formerly a pharmacy, formerly a nightclub, formerly a brothel, currently a bar—you know the room. It’s the red one in the corner behind the stairs—adjacent to the all-black, mega-creepy room that nobody likes to go in.
Nate works down the hall.
This is my thinking room. It’s a little too ghostly for most people to sit in for long, but over the years I’ve become a welcome guest in the red room. I’ve celebrated birthdays, ballgames and deadline days in the tiny space since college. And it was here that I hoped a single beer mixed with the sounds of Memphis soul would put the final punctuation on Souled Outside.
I guess, in a way, I got it. But Souled Outside didn’t really end in with a calm period the red room. It ended with an exclamation point the moment I sat down at the Arcade and got swarmed by friends; and it doubled when another platoon of Memphians spotted me about 30 seconds into my E&H adventure under the blare of a brass band.
It was a night for hugs.
The sea of “welcome backs” was the end.
That says something about Souled Outside: it says that no matter how far I’ve roamed or how isolated I’ve felt, for 62 days, I was never truly alone. Somewhere inside, I knew that. Even when things got cold in the mountains of Montana, or dark in the deserts of Death Valley, or dangerous in the forest fires of California, I knew that people were watching. The whole time, I had friends and neighbors and family keeping score.
And the whole time, I had a city on a river waiting for me to come home.
The apartment is not quite ready yet. I won’t officially move back in for a few more days. In the meantime, I’ll catch up with family. But I’ll be back. And while my heart may forever look west, for now, the land of box Chevy’s and barbeque is still home.
It is done. And it is good to be back.
Editor’s notes: Thank you so much to everyone who became a part of this trip. You all have something coming to you, but for now, here’s to you:
Jeff & Karen
Brian & Pam
Jeff & Kelcie
Hannah & Zach
James & Ellie
Lance Mountain & Fam
Jeremy & Ashley
Charlotte & Waylan & Sparrow
Michael & Cristen
Randy & Ginny
Hank & Carol
Ken & Yukari
Aaron & Lesley
Emily & Chad
Tiffany & Kenneth
Mom & Dad (Told you I’d make it back in one piece)
…and everyone who took the time to call, text or comment on the trip. Now get out there and get Souled Outside.