Cocoa the dog slept with us all night. She growled at Karl when he came to bed, but deigned to allow him to have about a third of the bed.
This morning, our host Brian took us to the Missouri Botanical Garden, a gem in the middle of St. Louis. In addition to the usual lovely flowers, herbs, scented garden, and Japanese garden, they had unique urban gardens showing a variety of mulches, composting techniques, and ideas for small spaces. There was also a stunning exhibit of site-specific glass art by Dale Gilhuly throughout the garden.
Brian was a passionate and knowledgeable St. Louis tour guide. He practically had us convinced to move there! I guess it helps that he is a St. Louis native, and a history professor.
One thing that struck me was the openness in STL of the city’s connection to the Civil War and slavery. All around was evidence of wealth made off of slave labor, including the Botanical Garden itself, which was essentially the plantation of its founder, Henry Shaw. Of course Boston, and New England more generally, gained wealth from slavery as well, but it is hidden behind the façade of the “free” north and the – very real and powerful – abolitionist movement.
As we were driving through St. Louis, I noticed some protestors, and sure enough it was the Planned Parenthood. We also noticed a lot of anti-choice signs along the highway, including a huge handmade “vote pro-life” sign, painted red, white, and blue, on the side of a barn. I thought of my former colleagues at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice of MO, and was doubly impressed by their good work in the face of such a hostile climate.
We got on the road around 12:30, 55 south all the way. Our soundtrack was Uncle Tupelo, then Paul Simon’s Graceland, then the King himself. Finally, we put on some Willie Nelson. I know he’s not from Tennessee, but I figured it was close enough.
55 south goes through Arkansas for about an hour. It was my first time in the state, so we stopped at the welcome center. The woman behind the desk was excited to see us, and dutifully recorded our visit in her log. Unlike my friend Helen, I think it counts as visiting a state as long as your feet touch the ground – except in an airport - so I’m checking Arkansas off my list. (Helen’s standard, I believe, is an overnight visit.)
We decided to stay overnight in Memphis, so we got a room at the Red Roof Inn. We stopped by Riverside Park and took some pics of the Mississippi. Then we headed over to Graceland on Elvis Presley Blvd. On the way there, we passed a visitors’ center with a banner welcoming Bush and Prime Minister Koizumi from their trip last month. We decided to go to Graceland after hours because admission is $22 per person, plus $6 parking; so it would have cost the two of us $50 to tour the mansion (planes and other features extra). 95% of me says that it’s a ripoff; 5% of me thinks we should have gone anyway.
Driving back into town, we saw a spectacular sunset. The sun was a fiery red ball as it set behind what we believe was an oil refinery. Flames shot into the sky from smoke stacks as the sun sank.
Speaking of oil refineries, as expected, gas prices have been much cheaper ever since we hit Ohio – an average of $2.65. This compared to the $2.98 we paid on the Mass Pike, which was the cheapest we’d seen in months.
We ended our night on Beale Street, home of the blues in Memphis. We bought some cheesy souvenirs, and laughed at the “Big Ass Beer” cups for sale. We looked in vain for vegetarian food, and then returned to the hotel for a dinner of hummus and crackers from our cooler.