Day 17: Old man Morris and the girl at Cordova

by James

We enjoyed a comfortable sleep on the night of our rest day, but I ended up waking up a few times in the dark; my body must’ve been fully charged and ready for road use.

Some time later, alarms chimed1 and we rose at around 6:30AM. After the awful heat we endured en route to Bolivar, we’d wised up and agreed to start earlier and take advantage of cool dawns. We cleaned ourselves up to (but not over) collegiate standards and started packing.

Once I hit the bathroom, I was pleased to find my left eye’s sclera a pearly white. I felt spryer than a greased tiger, so that put me at a clean bill of health. Plot arc resolved.

Mary Jean called us to the kitchen as we were preparing to leave and she proceeded to serve us a breakfast of steak and eggs that’d have Louie Anderson on a Wheaties box in two weeks flat. I made sure to pop a vitamin with the orange juice.

We led our bikes to the front of the house, shook hands with John and pecked Mary Jean, then rolled down the driveway for Memphis.

To Memphis
Pretty easy ride into Memphis.

Only a few miles out, Mike had a pretty solid gain on me. This hadn’t been the case generally in the past week of biking, but the day before we arrived at the Jordan’s, I had been lagging behind Mike. This hinted problems with my bike.

When Mike had fixed my spoke outside of Brad’s house, days earlier, he’d shown me a resistance he’d discovered in my rear hub. In other words, my rear wheel wasn’t rotating as easily as it should have been. The effect was slight, but we were unsure if the resistance would be exacerbated by the added weight of my body and the gear; now we seemed to have some evidence suggesting just that. We agreed to hit a bike shop at some point in Memphis and kept trucking.

Outskirts of Memphis
Just before hitting the city limits. One of my favorite additions to the Mike's Ass collection.

Around noon, we made our typical stop at a McDonald’s and sat in an especially air-conditioned corner watching ten-year-olds tear the roof off the play-place, their unimpressed mothers dug in to a collective droop. Our meal was value menu a la carte, as usual. I’ve started getting salads. Does that worry you?

We hung out a few hours to stave off the midday heat and then we cut out from the House of Arches. Only thirty more miles to Memphis.

I put on The Doors and pounded out the remaining distance to the city limits. Finally: our first big city.


Before finding our host-for-the-evening’s house, we had one mission: to find Morris’ Grocery and obtain barbecue sandwiches.

The night prior, Chris, one of the guests at the Jordans’ cookout, had given us a strong referral to Morris’ hut (“dude makes his own sauce and it’s unbelievable — all I know is: he uses Dr. Pepper.”). We’ve gotten few recommendations from the locals so far, but we take them all seriously, so we acted on Chris’ tip.

Once we took a few turns in Memphis, we came to a funky three-way intersection with a gravel driveway leading up a short hill. Atop the hill sat a boxy, worn structure made out of concrete blocks. On the structure was posted a sign that said “Morris Grocery BBQ.”

Morris' BBQ

We parked bikes and walked in to a bizarre scene.

The inside of the place was much, much bigger than it had appeared on the outside and, sparing a few wall-mounted coolers and a register-counter directly in front of us, the place was completely empty. The inside was cool and poorly lit.

Old man Morris sat behind the counter, a hot ten paces away from us, talking to a customer. We bounded up to the counter’s vicinity and began talking with the only other customer in the store, a very dark-skinned black man wearing a ball cap, drinking a paper-shrouded 32oz. can of High Life and missing a contiguous block of white keys from his otherwise pearly grill.

He immediately asked us where we were headed and, when we told him San Francisco, he asked many more questions pertaining to the trip. He eventually concluded, “you dudes are superman!” We told him all it takes is time and a little discomfort.

He told us more about himself: he’s from Mississippi originally, but spent many years in New York City. He lived in Queens, which is where my old man grew up, so we chatted on NYC a little more.

At this point, old man Morris finally took stock of us and asked, “yes?” while looking incredulously unsurprised and underwhelmed. I don’t think the dude would have batted an eye if a family of bears had walked in, upright and single-file, whistling Hey Jude.

I replied, “we were told that you’re a black man who sells cigarettes, alcohol, and delicious barbecue.2 We’re interested in the latter, and possibly the second.” Morris appeared to acknowledge this and began to make us sandwiches, eventually asking us “mild or hot?” to which we both replied “hot.”

Morris made the sandwiches while we took a cue from our new friend and made the ten paces to a cooler near the door, where we picked out three cartoonishly large cans of High Life, the extra for our host.

We finished the trek back to the counter just as Morris returned with the sandwiches. He’d overheard our conversation with the customer and asked a few questions of his own in dead-pan.

Morris finally said, “well, I’ll charge you boys for the drinks, but the sandwiches are on me.” We agreed, delighted. We paid up, bagged the sandwiches and swill, then shook hands with Morris and the dude. They wished us luck as we walked out the door.

Morris' delicious concoction
The Morris Concoction. Is that much slaw too racy for this blog?

Old man Morris is a sweet guy under his weathered guise, and I highly recommend a visit to his strange grocery if you’re ever in Memphis. Minutes later, we wolfed the sandwiches in an empty parking lot.

Mike in love
Mike, mid-inhale.

We hit the road for Cordova, a dense suburb on the outskirts of Memphis, which is where our host, Brittany, had an apartment. We’d received instructions from Brittany to waltz right into her empty abode, using methods which will remain undisclosed. I found this odd, considering that

  1. we only knew Brittany from the internet, and had only been conversing over the span of a few days,
  2. Brittany is a 19-year-old girl,

Brave girl. Despite disbelief, in we went.

We found a basic, clean apartment, too small for two but efficiently comfortable for one. A Marilyn Monroe poster hung above a fireplace, messages written in red lipstick adorned mirrors, and a few religious texts sat neatly open and content on leather furniture. Two ball-pythons sat coiled in a tank resting on the bar dividing the kitchenette and living room.

One of these is not like the others!

We began unloading our stuff when Brittany came strolling up the terrace. She wore thick-frame glasses and had light brown dreadlocks lassoed into a pony-tail. She was clad in loose-fitting mechanics clothes — she works on cars for a living.

We said hello and she walked into her place nonchalantly, as though we were the fifth herd of bicycling vagrants that day to dismount on her doorstep.

Mike and I alternated taking showers, talking to Brittany while the other cleaned. I found out that Brittany, at 19, was paying her own bills, working two jobs, and going to school full-time; she seemed more independent at 19 than me at 21.

Once the three of us were clean, we went out to a restaurant called the Ghenghis Grill, where they ”Khan-gratulate all graduates.”3 We ordered three Tsing-taos and, since I was the only one carded, Brittany got to drink. I told Mike later that about the only humanitarian work I’ve ever done consists of buying the underaged alcohol.

After the meal, we drove Brittany’s Dad’s standard-transmission Civic4 around Cordova while Brittany warned us about the draconian Memphis cops and the ridiculous sales taxes in Tennessee (9.x%).

At an intersection, Brittany powered through a yellow light, standard fare for Mike and I, but apparently not for Memphis: an unexpected flash strobed outside the car and Brittany said, “shit. There goes 50 bucks.” No cop to petition, no adrenaline bump; automated traffic cameras take all the fun out of moving violations.

We eventually got back to Brittany’s apartment5 and Brittany’s friend Heather came over. Freshly promoted, Heather was looking to celebrate by getting extremely sauced and she wanted to do so by hitting a club. While Mike and I were sympathetic to her aim, it was also close to eleven PM and the tacit agreement between us and our bodies6 was being invoked.

Brittany and Heather
Brittany, modeling the hilariously large can of High Life, and Heather to her right.

So, Brittany and Heather went out to what they described as a half-gay club called Spectrum while Mike and I became fast friends with Brittany’s couches.

Hamming it up on Brittany's furniture
Mike slowly melted into a sleeping position as the night progressed.

  1. there’s a euphemism

  2. which was exactly the description given to us by Chris

  3. hundreds more of these goddamned puns were littered throughout the restaurant

  4. over 350,000 miles on the thing and counting. The car would squeal on turns because of “worn bushings,” according to Brittany.

  5. without interpolating a jail cell

  6. they’ll pedal all day if we get to bed an hour after sundown

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