I met them on July 2, 1976 at a KOA outside Nashville Tennessee. This campground was nestled between The Opryland Amusement Park and a Jimmy Dean Sausage slaughtering house. This bucolic spot was my first stop on my sixty-eight day, "Celebrate America, On Its Bicentennial Road Trip."
KAMPGROUNDS OF AMERICA (KOA) WAS FOUNDED IN 1962 BY BILLINGS MONTANA BUSINESSMAN, DAVE DRUM. TODAY THE CHAIN BOASTS 470 FRANCHISES THROUGHOUT NORTH AMERICA.
During a break in the volleyball action, the girls mentioned that they were on their way to Arkansas, (to a hippie commune). But they went out of their way to see the Grand Ole Opry. I injected my superficial knowledge of the old TV show, "HEE HAW." They were impressed when I rattled off the names of performers and quoted from comedy segments. I guess it was a surprise that a foreigner (from Brooklyn) appreciated Southern culture.
IN 1976, THE ORIGINAL OPRY HOUSE WAS A MUSEUM. IT HAD ALREADY BEEN REPLACED BY A LARGER, CONTEMPORARY THEATER.
When volleyball broke-up, I tried splitting the girls up so I could make my move on the one who stayed but nothing was working. Two guys came by and hit on them. The girls warded them off. I knew I was still in the running. I suggested that we make a barbecue together for dinner. Lynette said, "That's such a good idea but we arranged to meet people in town." I said, "Oh. How about the three of us going to the amusement park tomorrow?" Lu-Ann pointed to their badly dented and rusted VW Microbus and said, "Can you see it? One of the back windows fell out yesterday." Lynette said, " And there's something wrong with the air-conditioning. We need to replace the glass and bring it to a mechanic. Hopefully it only needs freon but between the two problems, it could be an all day affair."
Later, at the community campfire, I had gravitated to the two guys who unsuccessfully tried to pick-up the girls. They were from Connecticut. One of them said, he was sure that the girls liked me. I told him I wasn't so sure because they refused my offer to go the amusement park. He said, "You should still try."
An old-timer who was an employee of the campground extinguished the bonfire early and said that there was lightning in the near distance. The wind picked up and changed direction. I gave a sniff and for the first time all day, I couldn't smell the odor of dead pigs.
I said good-night and took the long way back, to see if the girls had returned. They hadn't so I went back to my tent. By flashlight, I scribbled some entries into my journal. Seconds after closing my eyes for the first time away from home, the calm pitter-patter of rain hitting my plastic shelter eased me to sleep.
I woke up from a nightmare that involved falling into a deep, black abyss. I was startled and sprang up in my sleeping bag. I didn't realize that the cold, damp object rubbing the side of my head was the roof of my sagging tent. Plus, I had the eerie sensation that the earth below me had slightly moved. Any notion that I might still be dreaming ended when a blend of thunder cracks, sheets of pelting rain and far off distressed voices got my attention. I blindly groped for my flashlight but all I found in the darkness was soggy earth. Suddenly the whole kit and kaboodle beneath me moved again...causing the tent to collapse on me.
I re-united myself with my flashlight only to see some of my stuff floating around in a quarter-inch of water. I crawled out into the storm and found my tent in a rivulet. I had to grab it or the current would have taken my belongings downstream towards the lake. I put everything onto higher ground and headed to the administration office. Forty-plus soaked and freezing campers had beaten to that tiny slice of heaven. The toothless old man who put out the campfire made a reference to Nashville's great flood of 1927 and handed me a dry blanket. Soon he returned with coffee and a doughnut. Moments later, Lynette and Lu-Ann came running in. They said rain water was flooding into their microbus.
My doughnut was already gone but I gave Lynette my coffee and Lu-Ann my blanket. I liked the way Lu-Ann was looking at me. At the precise moment that I advanced on her for a hug of mutual warmth someone said, "It's letting up." Lynette snarled, "We have to go Steve. C'mon Lu we got to get back and clean up the van."
I trudged through the mud and dragged my things to the office's porch. I draped my tent and sleeping bag over the wooden railing. Inside, I found a partitioned alcove that housed an arcade. I curled up on the floor, used my backpack as a pillow and closed my eyes. Through chattering teeth, I got two hours of semi-private, bad sleep.
The morning was bright and warm. After tending to my wet stuff, I waited in line at the laundromat. While my clothes were in the washer, I ventured out to find Lu-Ann. It was 8:30 but she and Lynette were already gone.
At the office I bumped into the Connecticut boys. Their trailer was unaffected by the storm. They invited me to join them for breakfast and Opryland. At the same time, the owners of the campground came in. The man who gave me the blanket whispered to them. The taller owner handed me a $4.50 refund, told me the next night was free and asked me if there was anything else they could do for me. When the shock of his hospitality wore off, I explained my situation. He offered to have an attendant watch my things while I was out for the day and have my tent and sleeping bag re-packed when they dried.
Everything was going my way. I had a blast with these guys and the day got better when we bumped into Lynette and Lu-Ann at the Log Flume ride. Lynette didn't look too thrilled but Lu-Ann took my arm and said, "You boys won't mind if I steal Steve away." The Connecticut boys smiled and left me in good hands. Lynette seemed jealous and didn't take well to the "third-wheel" concept. She never left us and even sat between us on some rides. A couple of times, Lu-Ann and I locked pinkies for a second or two behind Lynette's back but that was as amorous as we got.
It was twilight time when I said to Lu-Ann, "How about me and you going on the Ferris Wheel?" It was obvious that Lynette would never make it as a wing-man when she blurted, "We have to leave!" Lu-Ann looked at her watch and said, "We can't leave him here." Lynette said, "The back seat is musty from all the rain...and besides if we take him back, we'll miss the beginning of the show." Lu-Ann said, "We're going to see Roy Clark at the Grand Ole Opry..." I said, "I love when he sings, 'Ghost Riders in the Sky.' Can I tag along?" Lynette snapped, "No, we got two tickets and its sold out!" She grabbed Lu-Ann and led her away. But Lu-Ann twisted out of her girlfriend's grasp and came back to kiss me and say, "We're leaving for Arkansas in the morning. I'll never see you again." I said, "I'm heading west too. Can I get a ride with you to Memphis?"
It was the 4th of July, the exact 200th birthday of our country. I climbed into the back of the girl's van and began a three and a half hour period of nearly dead silence. I was still hoping to get a bang out of the holiday but Lynette assigned all the driving to Lu-Ann. Lu-Ann seemed to be an inexperienced driver and Lynette made certain all her concentration was in the interstate.
The back of their bus had no seats. So I positioned myself behind the passenger seat. That way, I had a constant diagonal view of Lu-Ann's profile. But she wasn't talking much. I tried to tolerate the situation but between the quiet and the stale, moldiness, I was both physically and emotionally uncomfortable.
At a pit-stop, my eyes locked onto the chest of Lu-Ann's tight, white tee-shirt. She was unencumbered by a brassiere so I fixed on her perky chili bean-like indentations as I told them of Memphis' huge bicentennial party. Lu-Ann seemed resigned to not getting further involved with me. I added. "There's gonna be fireworks over the Mississippi River. Its a once in a lifetime..." Lynette cut me off, "We're not stopping." I continued, "Even if you didn't want to see that...Beale Street is the 'Blues Capital' of the world. It'll be so cool. We can get some drinks and listen..." Lynette blared, "Stop it! We were supposed to be at the commune yesterday."THE THREE-SPAN SYSTEM THAT CROSSES THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER INTO ARKANSAS ARE, THE HARAHAN, FRISCO AND MEMPHIS-ARKANSAS MEMORIAL BRIDGES.
We got to Memphis and soon, the bridge to Arkansas was in sight. Lu-Ann pulled off onto the shoulder before the Front Street exit. Lynette said, "Get out!" I could see Lu-Ann was purposely avoiding eye-contact. I said,"Maybe I can come to the commune with you." Lynette leaned across the gap between the bucket seats and lifted Lu-Ann's shirt. Lu-Ann did not protest as Lynette suckled her boobs. Lynette stopped and began passionately kissing Lu-Ann. When Lynette stopped she said, "Where we are going, men are not welcome." She waited for my response but none came. She said, "What are you dense? We're lesbians you idiot. Haven't you figured that out yet?" I fought off the urge to say, "I don't care if she's a lesbian, she can go to her church and I'll go to mine." But I didn't. I just grabbed my things and slithered out of the van. Then dumbfounded, I stood and watched them vanish over the Harahan Bridge's crest.
A special thanks to RBOY who kept a journal during our 1974 working vacation in Disney World. That idea spurred me to chronicle the events of my bicentennial road trip. Then twenty years later, my itch to write was permanently ignited by my friend, crime novelist Charlie Stella, (a.k.a. CHARLIEOPERA). He heard some of my life experiences and told me that I was a natural story teller. From that compliment, I began to write. Along the way, in 2006, RFOURACRE encouraged me to start this blog.
MORE IMPORTANTLY, THANK YOU MY READERS, FOR YOUR CONTINUOUS SUPPORT!