Lorraine Motel

I stood outside

the Lorraine Motel

it was worth the drive

all that way downtown

through Memphis blues

and torrential hell

you see the roads

in South Louisiana

were mostly underwater

and the weight of traffic

was re-routing north

in endless convoys

of eighteen wheelers

queuing to be weighed

at each state border

but anyways

that’s kinda by the by

I’m glad I came here

on this rainy Tuesday

the museum was closed

no need to pay

just insignificant me

and a few curious others

wandering about outside for free

standing, looking

contemplating

this landmark location

in a nation’s history

the murder scene

that’s little altered

since April 1968

when that fatal shot of hate

was fired

from a boarding house window

across the yard

a moment captured

for us future generations

in black and white

a testimony for the world to see

on that famous motel balcony

and right outside room 306

now hangs a wreath

a reminder of the weight

he likely carried

the knowledge that

his days were numbered

and I am truly humbled

not knowing what to think

or feel

but some kind of sadness

I turn to leave

maybe one more witness

to this black guy

a taxi driver

who offers to take my picture

under the motel sign

with a cheery smile

and have a nice day

I’m humbled

once again.

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4th April 1968

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16th August 2016

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Time Traveler

I navigate my solo course by means of GPS, visitor centre maps and basic intuition. Mostly it works but the dash mounted Garmin likes to take me on the toll roads, especially in Sunpass Florida. So I use my UK smart phone or phablet which can be set to avoid such complications and is happier leaving the interstates for the more scenic and smaller highways.

But this is not without its own issues. When the connection drops out I find myself temporarily flying free and if needs be having to pull over into a gas station or grocery store car park to take stock of my whereabouts. This happened on the way down to Edenton, North Carolina with the added bonus of running out of gas in what was soon becoming a gas station free zone.

I was lucky with the Garmin. Having decided not to pay for one with the rental car it soon became apparent that it would be indispensable on my travels across the States. My couchsurfing hosts in Edenton kindly lent me theirs which they never used. Such kindness from strangers who had already opened their home to me, fed and treated me like their prodigal son returning.

So between the Garmin and the phablet and a dash of intuition I’m now doing okay. I cruise through interstate intersections with comparative ease and wonder at the layers of concrete human construction that curve and pan out in all directions like a child’s spirograph doodle.

Yesterday my Google sat nav lady unexpectedly welcomed me to Alabama. I pulled into the visitor centre for my free map and restroom break. There to the side was my selfie photo opportunity. I shared it to Facebook and my mum commented that I looked like a giant hedgehog. Well thanks mum!

And then it got a little weird. My phone and car started showing a different time to my watch. I was heading to a couchsurfing host in Mobile and texting my ETA. It suddenly occurred to me that there are time zones in the US, something that had completely escaped my attention in all the months of planning.

As a footnote to this traveller’s tale of confusion, I have decided to head north to Memphis Tennessee and the home of Elvis. I have a couchsurf host arranged in Tupelo where the man himself was born. It also means I get to avoid the weather chaos in southern Louisiana which has left the Interstate closed between Baton Rouge and north New Orleans.

And from Memphis I can strike out west to pick up the fabled Route 66. Won’t you come with me, as Billy Connelly might say.

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We are all curious

Next time you travel why not try Couchsurfing. This online global community of like minded travellers and inquisitive souls provides an opportunity to stay a night or two in a local home for free instead of isolating ourselves in generic motels, hotels and campsites.

It takes a little effort to organise especially when you’re on the road and travelling solo but the rewards are numerous. In this past week I have stayed in the homes of four different hosts, all of whom have been so wonderfully accommodating. In Washington DC my first host was so helpful and provided much appreciated tips on getting from the airport and seeing the city. She even procured free tickets to see a film about deforestation in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

My second host in Silver Spring to the north of DC allowed me use of a bike which gave me the freedom to explore the local trails. Together we cycled into town to visit the farmer’s market and eat oysters and clams. The night before I left he kindly invited me to share a meal out with his family. It was my first real experience of Thai food. Next day he drove me to the airport in his little convertible Mazda to collect my rental car.

I headed south along the Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park stopping at overlooks to marvel at the views and Swallowtail butterflies. My hosts that night cooked me a delicious meal and we sat out on their deck to listen to the night critters sing their songs and watch the fireflies dance their magic. In the morning I helped harvest beautiful ripe heirloom tomatoes, a tray of which I took with me to pass on to my next host in Edenton, North Carolina.

So I eventually arrived at my fourth host’s house after a drive which saw some minor moments of panic as I refuelled the car for the first time and struggled with intermittent phone reception which left my sat nav dropping out before my phone finally ran out of juice to leave me relying on my own instincts and the directions of strangers. Anyways, I made it and another delicious home cooked meal awaited me.

Their gorgeous house is right on the edge of the Albemarle Sound and surrounded by wildlife. We took their little ‘tin’ boat out to see the ospreys, kingfishers and turtles that frequent these creeks and waterways. There is a sense of very much being alive in this hot and humid Southern climate which hums with life. We drove and strolled around town picking up snatches of local history. And there in the afternoon, a river otter preened itself on the landing stage of their jetty.

It’s early morning now as I write these words to the backing track of cicada song. Today I head out once more, this time towards the Outer Banks and the ferry which will take me south to Charleston and new couchsurfing hosts. Everyone has been so very kind and welcoming. To have the opportunity to share their home and food and learn about their life and perspectives has truly been an honour.

Travel with an open mind and learn to be less judgemental. We all have a right to leave our footprints on this planet whilst being respectful of the landscapes we pass through. With some thought and planning, Couchsurfing can help connect us with people, their lives and surroundings, enriching our travels and leaving us with a profound sense of worth and fulfilment which most other vacations cannot hope to provide. Go out and talk. We are all curious at heart.

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Unstoppable

If I drop a dollar bill into every homeless hand

My time here would surely soon expire

My budget blown on generosity

For every sidewalk sleeper

Vietnam vet and shopping bag lady

Not forgetting the drunk crazy old folk

And needle scarred losers

Those shopping cart pushers

With their scant crusty possessions

Crashing out in sight of Obama’s windows

Where there’s no Air B&B availability

Or Couchsurfing opportunities

In the corridors of power

In the White House of Wonders

 

This has the feel of a Gil Scott-Heron ramble

A rapping ranting unstoppable revolution

Televised but never quite happening

Viewed through poverty’s dehumanised eyes

On every park bench and busy street corner

It’s tiring for us well-heeled jet-setting tourists

To step around and blindside this flotsam

That gets in our way and prays on our pockets

 

I eat my breakfast in air-cooled self-conscious

And take a stroll down R St NW

Past diplomatic cars and embassy immunity

The gentrified town houses stand in muted affability

No sign of the dearly unwanted here

No rumblings under filthy cardboard mutterings

There’s nothing here for them

 

So I sit by a disused canal in upmarket Georgetown

With flocks of sparrows flying back and forth

And passenger planes from Reagan International

A double decker bus on the bridge incongruous

I could be back home if it wasn’t for this humidity

And the subtle touches that tell me

This is the land of the free

for those of you who can but afford it.

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So here I am

After months of planning I have finally arrived. Washington DC in all its hot and humid secret service cordoned off monumental majesty. The National Mall underscores the belly of America’s capital city like the canyons and valleys of the west, its monuments and memorials laid out on proud display. Tourists struggle along in their over weighted thirsty hordes buying bottles of ice cold water from street vendors who probably fill them from taps.

I said hi to Mr President and found air-conned art in the National Gallery. Glimpses of Capitol Hill on the way. I find myself looking at the people not the paintings in galleries but I’m too shy to ask if I can take a photo of them. Walking up to the Washington Monument I decide to capture some of them as they capture each other and hope to immortalise their moment. Like the little boy holding out his hand as if to carry the weight of the giant needle with a grin. And the girl in the I love DC T-shirt standing in the WW2 memorial fountain.

My couchsurf host Anna has been so helpful and kind helping me get settled on these first days of my trip. Her apartment is small but even on a camping mat on the floor I have had two great nights sleeping. It helps to be thoroughly tired out, which I am. Traveling and cities certainly help in that respect. Tonight we are seeing a film about forest destruction in the Dominican Republic as part of the DC Environmental Film Festival. In the meantime I am off to another art gallery, this time the Hirshhorn which houses more contemporary work. So I best head off, it’s a 50 minute walk in this 90 degree heat. Water packed.

I shall leave Mr President to sort out or make worse the world’s problems. Crisis? What crisis? I’m on vacation!

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Wind from the Sea by Andrew Wyerth 1947. National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

 

So this is it

So this is it. The great adventure begins. Trundling along in a National Express bus. Dipping in and out of towns and cities. A midnight mystery tour. I look up and see the strangest thing. The cars on the opposite side of the motorway are all heading in the same direction as me. Maybe it’s a distortion of windows and mirrors. My mind playing late night tricks. But there at the head of the queue a blue light flashing. The Pied Piper police removing the traffic from a scene I’d missed.

Cardiff. Newport. Over the bridge. My ancestors tunneled beneath the Severn’s murky tides and brought the railway and globalisation a step closer. Forgotten heroes. Drunks. Fighters. Chancers. They came and went and left their names in local registers. Births. Marriages. Deaths. Smudged illiterate signings. Distant echoes. 

I’m not a good traveller truth be known. I can’t rest my head and close my eyes and fall asleep just anywhere. If it happens I run the risk of waking in a panic. Unfamiliar surroundings. Yin and yang. Feng shui. Bristol looks busy. Seats filling up. I’m learning to embrace humanity again. Understand that we are all the centre of our own universe. That we all matter. That each and every one of us has the same rights. The seat next to me has been taken. 2.20am. Watching the clock.

Learning to be a traveller again. Being a part of the ebb and flow of humanity. Mixing in. Chillin’ out. Translating nerves into excitement. Thoughts into words. You may read some of them later. I like to steal from conversations and mix the real with the imagined. Somewhere in the middle lies my life in all its poetic wanderings. You may just have stumbled in. Sit back and enjoy the journey.

I Could Be Your Guest (if you want)

Do you wanna host me?
Take me into your home and rest me?
I will be your world weary traveller
A dazed ‘n’ dusty highway reveller
My eyes sore from so many sunsets
Words jumbled in tumble weed alphabets
You could feed me your favorite food
Something authentically you to revive my mood
And fill my belly full of love and laughter
As we share a beer and chocolate for afters
The moon and stars can hear our hearts
Our poetry the panoply as the day departs

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(my two month solo road trip around America starts very soon on 25th July. I’d like to meet fellow poets and friendly people, share food and drink, words and stories. Maybe even perform at open mic nights. Do you have any suggestions? Would you like to host me for a night or two? I’m a very well-mannered Englishman and I’ll wash the dishes or chop the veggies and read to you. I have no idea where the road will take me. Send me an invite and I’ll come find you. This photo was taken on a recent holiday to Mallorca, a Spanish island in the Mediterranean Sea. But it could be anywhere. Sunsets are so beautiful – at their very best when shared)

you can find more of my poems by clicking on the next word -> here